NFL Preview 2012: Predicting the NFC East
"To be the man, you gotta beat the man! Whooo!" — "Nature Boy" Ric Flair
Usually professional wrestling quotes are shunned when it comes to talking about sports, but in the NFC East it might as well be the truth.
Over the last several seasons, the NFC East has usually come down to the wire when it comes to that guaranteed playoff home game in January.
Last season, the New York Giants survived the onslaught from the Dallas Cowboys, Philadelphia Eagles and Washington Redskins and rode it all the way to the Super Bowl.
This year, the challenges for the Giants will be no different as the rest of the division looks to improve and take down Eli Manning and company before January rolls around.
Here is a look at how the NFC East could break down in 2012.
4. Washington Redskins
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Just so I can put this on the record, I love Robert Griffin III.
After seeing him shred the TCU defense for 359 yards and five touchdowns during Labor Day Weekend 2011, all of us watched as Griffin torched every test that was put in front of him and climbed all the way to the No. 2 overall pick in the 2012 NFL draft.
Now the question posing RG3 is if he can translate his skills to the NFL.
What Griffin has going for him is what could be one of the best deep balls in all of football. He also has a receiving corps that could be sneaky good with the addition of Pierre Garcon and holdovers Santana Moss and Leonard Hankerson (who will be rotating with Josh Morgan).
With a solid running game that will be led by...Evan Royster (wait)...Roy Helu (no)...Alfred Morris...somebody, the offense should be just fine in Washington. It's their secondary that I'm worried about.
The Redskins secondary is currently filled with two players that couldn't stick around on a Vikings defense that has been toward the bottom of the league the past two seasons in Madieu Williams and Cedric Griffin.
They also have a horrid replacement for LaRon Landry in Brandon Meriweather, and Josh Wilson doesn't exactly scream shutdown corner across from DeAngelo Hall.
While the Redskins will have no problem getting to the quarterback with Ryan Kerrigan (7.5 sacks in 2011) and Brian Orakpo (nine sacks in 2011), the secondary could force a lot of shootouts in D.C.
3. Dallas Cowboys
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There's never a dull moment in Dallas, is there?
The Dallas Cowboys finished up last season by tossing a 31-14 clunker in the Meadowlands to the eventual Super Bowl champion New York Giants. However, the Cowboys always find a way to add insult to injury.
There was Dez Bryant beating his mother. There was Miles Austin suffering another hamstring injury. There was Jason Witten's spleen (which could explode any day now). And, apparently Tony Romo doesn't want to hear anything about windows of opportunity.
As bad as that is, there are more questions surrounding the Cowboys offense, including troubles along the interior offensive line and the McFadden-like health status of potential breakout runner DeMarco Murray.
The defense isn't much better as their top pick, cornerback Morris Claiborne, has been sidelined for a majority of the preseason with a sprained MCL.
The Cowboys could overcome all of this and have one monster season to prove all doubters wrong, but they always seem to fold at the slightest hint of adversity. The safe bet is that the Cowboys will finish toward the bottom half of the division in 2012.
2. Philadelphia Eagles
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When you think of the Eagles' chances in 2012, you think of those hopes and dreams being tied to the health of Michael Vick.
Over the course of the preseason, the Eagles quarterback has already been knocked out of a game twice. These developments—which included a bruised pinky and ribs—forced the Eagles to find a Kevlar vest that would make Batman blush.
The Eagles offense needs Michael Vick to perform as they decided to keep Nick Foles over Mike Kafka as his primary backup. Nothing against Foles, but he's not going to give the Eagles the same explosiveness they would have with Michael Vick involved.
Their defense also remains a bit of a mystery—even with a solid addition in linebacker DeMeco Ryans. Remember, last season the Eagles added an elite defensive player in Nnamdi Asomugha, only to see their plan foil, thanks to defensive coordinator Juan Castillo (a former offensive line coach).
If Vick can stay healthy and the defense improves in their second year under Castillo, they could make a run at challenging the Giants for the NFC East.
1. New York Giants
Brad Penner-US PRESSWIRE
Like I said earlier, to be the man in the NFC East, you have to beat the man. Currently, the New York Giants are "the man."
The Giants roared to the Super Bowl off the momentum of their 31-14 Week 17 win over the Cowboys that sent them to the playoffs, but they were also able to offset a couple of free-agent departures and get better at several spots.
The Giants were known as an aerial team as Eli Manning threw for 4,933 yards and 29 touchdowns in 2011. However, they'll add a running game after spending a first-round pick on the explosive David Wilson.
Wilson will split carries with the incumbent Ahmad Bradshaw to begin the season, but he'll likely take over as the season wears on due to Bradshaw's pitiful performance (659 yards, 3.9 yards per carry in 2011) and his weak feet (missed four games last year due to injury).
They've also been able to add another weapon to the passing game with the addition of second-round pick Rueben Randle, who should help offset the loss of Mario Manningham.
The Giants defense is still the status quo in New York. They'll get to the quarterback plenty with Justin Tuck (double-digit sacks in three of the last five seasons) and Jason Pierre-Paul (16.5 sacks in 2011).
The secondary is a bit worrisome with Prince Amukamara battling an ankle sprain, but shouldn't be a big concern as the season progresses.
The Giants have too much talent and experience not to walk away with the NFC East championship, but this division always seems to be one of the wildest in football, and any one of these four teams could walk away with it at the end of the year.