New York Giants
This team might have won the Super Bowl in 2011, but it is important to note that they needed a season-finale win against the Dallas Cowboys just to make the postseason. The bounces also went right for this team against the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game.
That being said, they are still defending champions until someone unseats them.
It will take a few different things in order for this team to make it back to the playoffs and repeat as champions.
First, they need solid play from a couple rookies on the offensive side of the ball to make up for the departures of both Brandon Jacobs and Mario Manningham.
The Giants selected former Virginia Tech standout David Wilson with the last pick of the first round. Wilson possesses a tremendous amount of raw talent, but he needs to gain some more experience before he can be counted on as a consistent performer.
Rueben Randle should probably be able to match the production that New York saw from Manningham last season.
If those two step up, the Giants will be in a good position.
Another issue for this team is going to be pass protection. David Diehl struggled a great deal last season and is going to need to step it up at right tackle moving forward. He could actually face some competition from veteran Sean Locklear as well as youngsters Matt McCants and James Brewer.
Either way, that area of the offensive line needs to be solidified.
Moreover, David Baas struggled a great deal after coming over on a free-agent contract from the aforementioned 49ers. The Giants need to keep Eli Manning upright if they're going to win in 2012.
In the end, New York will find it a tough task not only to repeat as champions but to win the NFC East once again.
The margin for error really just isn't there at this point.
To say that the 2011 season was a disaster in Philadelphia would be a major understatement. They came into the year with Super Bowl expectations, only to lose four of their first five games before coming on strong at the end.
They were, by all accounts, all hype and no substance.
That has changed heading into 2012.
Eagles general manager Howie Roseman set out to deal with all these issues during the offseason.
He went out and traded for DeMeco Ryans, who is a major upgrade over what the Eagles had at middle linebacker last season. Mychal Kendricks was shooting up draft boards prior to April's event in Radio City Music Hall, and for good reason. The Cal product can absolutely fly to the ball and was probably the surest tackler in the entire draft.
Those two players immediately upgrade a previously weak linebacker group.
Both Brandon Boykin at corner and Vinny Curry at defensive end are also going to pay immediate dividends on a rotational basis.
Their offense has to be considered one of the most dynamic in the NFL. Michael Vick, despite struggling last year, possesses the athleticism and talent to be a dominating figure on a consistent basis. He needs to improve his decision-making process and avoid throwing the ball into extremely tight windows.
LeSean McCoy accumulated nearly 1,600 total yards and scored 20 touchdowns in a breakout 2011 campaign. Expect the 23-year-old running back to continue his rise among the best players at this position in the NFL.
With DeSean Jackson back in the fold and on a long-term contract, the Eagles also appear to be set at wide receiver. Jackson and fellow star Jeremy Maclin will make Vick's job relatively easy in the passing game.
In total, the Eagles should be a double-digit-win team and vie for a conference championship when all is said and done in 2012.
They just need all this talent actually to translate to the field.
This is another team that failed to meet expectations.
The Cowboys finished off the 2010 season by winning five of their final eight games under interim head coach Jason Garrett.
When Garrett got the full-time gig last offseason, expectations were incredibly high in Dallas. They had the talent at the skill positions and seemed to have a few solid components on the defensive side of the ball.
The bane of the Cowboys' existence last season was a failure to make big plays when games were on the line. Five of their eight losses came by a combined 20 points, which speaks volumes about the Cowboys' inability to perform in the clutch.
These issues weren't solely on Tony Romo, either.
For example, Dez Bryant struggled a great deal late in games. While the talented receiver put up 330 receiving yards in the first quarter of games last season, he barely matched that total in the second half.
For his part, Romo performed extremely well in the fourth quarter last season. The former Pro Bowl quarterback accumulated 10 touchdowns compared to just two interceptions, good for a quarterback rating in the triple digits in the final stanza.
Romo will have to continue that success and have other players step up if Dallas is going to make the postseason in 2012.
2011 breakout running back DeMarco Murray appears to be at full health and will take over the regular duties in the run game from Felix Jones.
Dallas went out there and added the best corner on the free-agent market in the form of Brandon Carr before trading up for the consensus No. 1 defensive player in the 2012 NFL draft, Morris Claiborne. Those two defensive backs promise to fortify a pass defense that struggled last year.
The talent is there. The indicators of success are there. Dallas just needs to put it all together on a consistent basis in 2012.
If they do, you can expect the Cowboys to challenge for the NFC East title.
The difference in talent between the 'Skins and the rest of the NFC East is apparent. Washington will not contend for a postseason spot and will probably end up in the cellar once again.
That being said, this franchise is going in the right direction.
The selection of Robert Griffin III has given Washington a true franchise quarterback for the first time in a quarter-century. The Baylor product is going to dazzle fans with exciting plays as a rookie and should be a Pro Bowl performer at some point in the not-so-distant future.
The Redskins also made the decision to surround RGIII with some real talent in the passing game. Despite Washington's overpaying for both Josh Morgan and Pierre Garcon, those two are going to help the team open up its offense.
The Redskins also have a tremendous number of young players on the defensive side of the ball. While there are issues in the secondary, mainly at safety, Washington has built a solid nucleus in the front seven.
They might be a couple years away from true contention, but Washington is definitely heading in the right direction.