Power Rankings the NFC East, Training Camp Edition
The NFC East is that one true black-and-blue division in the NFL. Everybody hates everybody and everybody knows everybody pretty well. You will see a lot of upsets within this division because the defenses know the offenses pretty well and every game is filled with so much emotion.
What also makes this division so special is that there isn't really an elite team—yet—and there isn't really a bottom-feeder either. The Giants won the Super Bowl, but they squeaked into the playoffs and needed to win their last two games just to make the playoffs. The Redskins have spent a lot of time on the bottom of this division, but I wouldn't call them a bottom-feeder. They may have the least talented team in the division, but they did beat the Super Bowl champion Giants twice last season.
Ranking this division is actually pretty difficult. The top three teams finished within a game of each other. The bottom three teams all did a lot to improve their roster as well. Every team in this division should expect to see an increase in wins this season. That doesn't mean that all four teams will win more games this season, but they have done enough to believe that they should.
These franchises have also done a pretty good job of keeping their coaching staffs intact. Andy Reid has been running the Eagles since 1999. Tom Coughlin has been with the Giants since 2004. Mike Shanahan and Jason Garrett have been the head coaches of their teams since 2010. That means neither team has had to learn a new offense or get used to a new head coach and his way of doing things for the last two seasons. Continuity leads to consistency in the NFL.
Rankings these four teams from worst to first is difficult because you know you will be wrong. Things are never as they seem in the NFC East.
Here are my NFC East power rankings and a breakdown of each team heading into the season.
4. Washington Redskins
The Washington Redskins are the easiest team to figure out in this division. They have a rookie quarterback and the most holes on both sides of the football. They should still win somewhere between five and seven games this season, but they are at least one year away from being a serious contender in this division.
The Redskins gave up a lot to draft Robert Griffin III. They had to. They have had a carousel of quarterbacks since the late 90s. They needed a franchise quarterback they could build around for the future and could also start to bring sellouts back to Fed Ex Field.
RG3, or Bob Griffin if you're Osi Umenyiora, is going to help this team win games that it couldn't win last season. Defenses have to account for his pinpoint accuracy on the deep ball, along with his speed. He will have his ups and downs, but he is definitely an improvement over the team that finished 5-11 with Rex Grossman and John Beck running the show.
The front seven is one of the better groups in the NFC. Ryan Kerrigan and Brain Orakpo are one of the top edge-rushing duos in the league, and there is a lot of depth on that three-man defensive line. The secondary is where the defense is going to get picked apart. They don't tackle well, and they have had problems guarding against the big play in the past.
The offensive line is another huge question mark. Left tackle Trent Williams has looked fantastic so far in training camp, but the other four spots are a mystery right now. Protection for your quarterback is huge when you have a rookie under center. You don't want a player like RG3 taking too many shots right away.
The Redskins are still in the last stages of a rebuilding mode. They are a nice team, but they aren't a playoff team yet. You can't expect a rookie quarterback to win the NFC East. It's just too tight of a division to let a player learning on the fly to win an NFC East title in his first season.
3. Dallas Cowboys
No, this falls on the front office.
The biggest issue with the Cowboys front office has been with their ability to find players in every round of the draft. Anybody can find a good player in the first or second round, but it's the players you select in the next five rounds that really give you solid depth.
The 2009 draft was especially bad for the Cowboys. The only player from that draft that had any impact was their ex-kicker, David Buehler.
Depth is huge in the NFL. The stars get all the attention, but it is the backups and rotation players that really separate the contenders from the pretenders.
The Cowboys have a lot of really good players on both sides of the football. They have about eight or 10 Pro Bowl-caliber players, but the drop off after those players is pretty significant. Lack of depth will kill you.
We have seen time and time again that the Cowboys will falter in the final two months of the season. I believe it is because they are seriously lacking in depth.
2012 should be no different. The Cowboys have to get more depth on both sides of the football before I will buy this team as a serious contender. When the Giants and Eagles are a little down in the regular season, like last season, they have a shot in the East. Otherwise, they are clearly the third-best team in the NFC East.
2. New York Giants
The New York Giants are the defending Super Bowl champions, but that doesn't make them the favorites to win the NFC East. Remember, they were a loss in Week 16 against the Jets away from watching the Philadelphia Eagles in the playoffs.
The Giants weren't a dominant regular season team. They got hot when they needed to, and they managed games to perfection in the playoffs.
The Giants still have their flaws. Their best cover corner, Terrell Thomas, just tore his ACL for the third time. They lost another cornerback, Aaron Ross, in free agency. They are thin at corner, again. They will have to rely on second-year man Prince Amukamara and rookie Jayron Hosley. Both corners are very unproven. This will be an issue all season long.
The Giants weren't a good defense last season. They had a great pass-rush, but they finished 29th against the pass and 26th overall. This defense is an injury to Jason Pierre-Paul or Corey Webster away from being one of the five worst in the NFL.
The good news for the Giants is that Eli Manning is fine. He was great all last season. The Giants were riddled with injuries last season, but Manning and his receiving core stayed healthy. Until that changes, this team will compete for the division and a playoff spot.
1. Philadelphia Eagles
The Philadelphia Eagles should be the favorites in the NFC East. They have the most talent and a scheme that fits that talent. It might be a bit presumptuous to pick a team over the defending Super Bowl champions to win the division, but consider that the Eagles have beaten the Giants in seven of the last eight games.
The Eagles finished 8-8 last season in a year that was filled with turnovers, injuries and complete dysfunction that has never been seen before during the Andy Reid era. That should change. The corners will play press coverage, which means that Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie should go back to playing at a Pro Bowl level.
The defensive line had its share of ups and downs in its first year in the wide-9 scheme. The front four racked up 46 sacks, but when they weren't getting sacks, they were giving up big plays right up the middle. Clearly, they weren't fully comfortable in the scheme last season.
They were also lacking a legitimate middle linebacker. DeMeco Ryans will change that this season.
This defense is on the verge of becoming elite. Juan Castillo jokes aside, they were dominant in the final four games last season, and they were tied for the lead league with 50 sacks. The defense should be much better this season. The defensive line will better know their assignments in the wide-9, the corners will play a very tight press coverage and the sack total should increase by at least five or 10 sacks.
Michael Vick is the key to this season. It doesn't matter how good your defense is, if your quarterback can't take care of the football or stay healthy, you are going to struggle to win games. If he can limit the turnovers and manage to stay healthy in 2012, this team will be in every single game this season at the very worst. They should have a shot to win every single game.
The NFC East is the Eagles' for the taking. They have the most talent from top to bottom. It wouldn't be surprising to me if this team won 12 or 13 games in 2012.