Undaunted, I'll venture into the congested jungle of the National Conference's eastern-most group, trying to separate the forest from the trees.
On the ESPN Special "NFC East Preview," the network's analysts selected the Eagles to win the division, followed by the Cowboys and the third-place Giants.
Big Blue fans in the Big Apple certainly had big red about the face.
While everyone has the right to their opinion, those are the types of picks I generally hate, as they seem to be an avenue to garner more attention opposed to a true objective analysis, a mere shot in the dark to say, "See, told ya!," in the off-chance of success opposed to just focusing on the teams.
Though the G-Men only finished 9-7 last season, it was a resilient nine-win season in spite of a fast start, and their ending was the type that only helps solidify camaraderie. Would anybody honestly argue that the Eagles and Cowboys locker rooms are in a more volatile position to go "kablooey!" if things start to go awry? For New York, adversity is a simple matter of been there, done that.
More than that, however, is that they have the division's best team, and the confidence of a recent Super Bowl win should facilitate an ever better regular season in 2012, minus the skid that skewed their final record last year.
Speaking of the above-referenced phrase regarding "separating forests from trees," Tom Brady found the Giants defense was both last year, heard in the Super Bowl XLVI highlight film describing the effort to throw against the unit. He mentioned that it was like trying to throw a football in a forest; the Giants linemen's long arms and intuitiveness made open throwing windows a premium luxury.
To think, this was after a season in which the defense struggled mightily due to injuries! Sure, the front seven accounted for 48 sacks, third-most in the league. When you have Justin Tuck, Jason Pierre-Paul, and Osi Umenyiora, you're going to harass opposing passers!
The real struggles came in a ravaged secondary. As the season progressed into the playoffs, a New York secondary that had been decimated by injuries slowly took shape as a capable unit.
Consider the team's struggles: Terrell Thomas, Brian Witherspoon and Bruce Johnson were all lost for the season. Likewise, top team pick Prince Amukamara missed the first nine weeks of 2011. The result was an awful struggle, led in part by Aaron Ross, one of the worst statistical corners by measure in the league.
An improved secondary, or so the G-Men hope, will only further boost Tom Couglin's club, and please note that the third-down dynamo himself, Eli Manning, hasn't even been mentioned yet. He's only the division's most reliable field general, both in health and performance!
Unlike Michael Vick, Tony Romo, and particularly, Robert Griffin III, Eli has twice doubled the total playoff wins by his division peers (two) in one postseason. That, coupled with the rest of the NFC East's unproven track record to win the biggest games in December, you know—the ones that decide who keeps playing, gives New York a clear nod.
As recently as last season, Dallas's late-season loss to the Giants, in which they led by a decisive score late, marked another huge letdown in a critical juncture. At home, instead of taking a commanding division lead, the Cowboys fell apart.
Sure, Romo had a magnificent statistical season. It certainly wasn't his fault they lost the Giants' game, which saw a massive defensive collapse by the home team. Still, every season seems to include a tailor-made contest or two, serving as a coat rack for Romo critics to hang their "non-clutch" jackets.
Last year, nobody could dispute that poor decisions by the quarterback in the second half cost the Cowboys wins in New York and against Detroit.
Dallas is a team rife with talent, but until they desist with their isolated meltdowns, nobody can reward them with full faith.
For the Eagles, the issues are quarterback health (and performance) and defensive play.
Will Juan Castillo, an offensive line coach by normal trade, returning as defensive coordinator, a move that surprised many expecting a change, cause laser-locked, scrutinizing eyes to look upon the unit's production? Will the defensive line improve on their lack of gap discipline in the run game? Will the secondary's gamely, if not quarterly, schematic meltdowns discontinue?
Even if the defense improves, the Eagles will depend on a certain No. 7. Michael Vick's hand and ribs have already been victimized by limited snaps in the preseason. After such peril so soon and so abundantly, one has to wonder just how Philly will "phare" without Vick, a near certainty for portions of 2012.
Last, and perhaps least (though not to the same degree), Mike Shanahan's Washington Redskins will attempt to be the surprise team of the division, hoping that RG3 serves as a spark plug in the way that Cam Newton did last season, albeit in his own way.
However, if the RG3 is to have success this season, it appears it will have to be in spite of his offensive line, a problematic area that Redskins' featured columnist James Dudko recently examined.
Defensively, fans hope defensive coordinator Jim Haslett’s aggressive 3-4 defense works well with their incumbent front seven, returning to the roster from last year. Nevertheless, the secondary is the problematic area on the defense once again.
The Redskins are close, and they could even be a borderline playoff contender in another division. For now, Shanahan's team will have to take solace in being "on the rise," which could translate to at or near the top of the division in a few years with enough improvement.
If the NFC East is truly up for grabs, as so many other analysts believe, it could be the result of a ridiculously hard schedule for each of its squads, having to play the AFC North (three playoff teams from one year ago) and NFC South (two playoff teams and the Rookie of the Year).
Once again, just like last year, teams' records in the division may fall a win or two short of truly reflecting their capabilities.
PROJECTED ORDER OF FINISH:
1. New York Giants (10-6) *fourth seed
2. Philadelphia Eagles (9-7)
3. Dallas Cowboys (8-8)
4. Washington Redskins (6-10)