The Beasts of the NFC East: Breaking Down the NFL's Toughest Division

Matthew ValentineContributor IMay 13, 2009

Historically speaking, the NFC East has always been one of the best divisions in football.  In a 19 year period from 1977-1995 the NFC East produced 9-of-19 Super Bowl Champions. As with all things this type of dominance over the NFL did not to last and the NFC East fell back into line with the rest of the NFL.

However, in recent years the NFC East has proven, once again, to be one of the best and most feared divisions in football with the New York Giants capturing the 2007 Super Bowl, and the Philadelphia Eagles running up a string of NFC divisional title games and one Super Bowl appearance.

The 2009 season should be yet another year in which the NFC East proves to be one of the most competitive divisions not only in the NFL, but in all of sports.

A Team by Team Breakdown:

New York Giants:

If you are going to break down a division you need to begin at the top, and that’s exactly where the New York Giants found themselves last season. With a 12-4 record, the league's number one rushing offense and the league's fifth best defense, the Giants seemed poised to defend their Super Bowl title. However, the loss of Plaxico Burress was too much for the Giants to overcome and the team was ousted in the first round by division-rival Philadelphia.

The 2009 Giants have all the tools to defend their division title and make another possible run to this year's Super Bowl. With a revamped defensive line and the return of Osi Umenyiora, the Giants may have the best defensive front in football and should continue to give opposing offenses fits with their formidable and versatile pass rush.

On offense the Giants have two main concerns: replacing the 1,000+ yards provided by running back Derrick Ward and filling the wide receiver voids left by the departures of Plaxico Burress and Amani Toomer. The Giants used the draft to supplement their needs and obtained a number of new targets for QB Eli Manning as well as running back Andre Brown to fill Derrick Ward's shoes.

The Prediction:

The G-Men should easily find themselves in contention for a second consecutive division title. However, they will have to rely on steady production from some rookies in key roles, which may hurt them in the long run. Yet, with such a strong defense, and a top ranked running game the Giants should find themselves in the playoffs.

Worst case scenario: 10-6 -Wild Card

Best case scenario: 12-4- Division Champs

Philadelphia Eagles:

The Eagles may have been one of the most surprising teams in the NFL last season. After essentially being declared dead at the halfway mark, the Eagles caught fire in the second half of the season and secured a Wild Card berth that many thought impossible. Eventually the Eagles' wings were clipped by the Cardinals in the NFC Championship Game, but it was still an unexpected and surprising ride.

Of all the teams in the NFC East the Eagles had the most productive off-season. They shored up their offensive line by stealing away Jason Peters from the Buffalo Bills, and made an excellent draft day move by trading up for WR Jeremy Maclin in the first round, giving McNabb a second speedy game-breaking target on the outside. The Eagles also addressed a need at RB by selecting LeSean McCoy in the second round; McCoy should be a nice compliment to Brian Westbrook.

On the other side of the ball the Eagles have some voids to fill, most notably one left by the departure of veteran safety and team leader Brian Dawkins. While Dawkins may have lost a step on the field, his ability to lead in the locker room may be a void that’s impossible to fill.

The Prediction:

The Eagles are the one team in the division that truly have the ability and talent to challenge for the division title. With a healthy McNabb and Westbrook, their offense is something to be feared. But will their defense be able to hold up in pressure situations without the leadership of Dawkins? It remains to be seen.

Worst Case Scenario: 9-7-Wild Card

Best Case Scenario: 11-5-Division Champs


Dallas Cowboys:

The Cowboys were easily one of the most disappointing teams in the NFL last season. All the prognosticators had the Cowboys cruising to the NFC title and a Super Bowl berth, but not one of them had them finishing 9-7 and out of the playoffs.

The Cowboys had one of the most confusing off seasons in the entire NFL. They didn’t address any immediate needs in the draft and released the supremely talented and supremely annoying Terrell Owens. Without a first round pick the Cowboys wheeled and dealed their way to an impressive 12 total picks in the draft. But as anyone will tell you, none of those picks seem to fill a need, or make an immediate impact for the team in 2009.

On offense the Cowboys are hoping that WR Roy Williams will emerge as the number one target for Tony Romo, a role he failed to fill in his brief time with the Cowboys thus far. At least the Boys can still rely on the pounding running style of Marion Barber between the tackles and the speedy running of Felix Jones on the outside.  

On defense the Cowboys replaced Zach Thomas and Chris Canty with Keith Brooking and Igor Olshansky, players who bring pretty much the same exact tangibles to the table. They can always rely on production from Demarcus Ware, but need their Inside Linebackers to play stronger against the run.

The Prediction:

Here’s a bold one—the Cowboys will finish 9-7.  I just don’t see the Cowboys offense being prolific enough to keep up with the Eagles or Giants and I also believe that Wade Phillips will be standing on a line by mid-season—it just won’t be the sideline, more like the unemployment line.

Worst Case Scenario: 7-9 –no playoffs

Best Case Scenario: 9-7-no playoffs


Washington Redskins:

More than any other team the Redskins fell victim to playing in such a tough division. They started out the season with a strong 6-3 showing, but faltered in the second half finishing at 8-8. Jason Campbell seemed to be getting better throughout the first half, but like the team regressed in the second half of the season.

The Redskins made a huge move in the offseason by acquiring defensive tackle extraordinaire Albert Haynesworth for the paltry price of $1 trillion, as well as overpaying for CB DeAngelo Hall and Derrick Dockery. Hey, at least they’re consistent.

If Haynesworth remains motivated after signing such a lucrative contract, and if the Skins find a way to keep Hall in mostly zone-coverage schemes then they should remain a top 10 defensive team.

There are some real problems with the Skins offense, though. First, they obviously don’t have much faith in QB Jason Campbell after trying to deal him for Jay Cutler, and then showing a large amount of interest in Mark Sanchez prior to the draft. Second, their O-line is not getting any younger, something that was exposed in the second half of the season.

The Prediction:

The Skins just don’t have what it takes to compete in this ultra-competitive division. If Campbell can put aside the organizations obvious distaste for him then he could perhaps lead this team to a better record in 2009, but it will be a struggle.

Worst Case Scenario: 7-9 -no playoffs

Best Case Scenario: 8-8 -no playoffs


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