Biggest Beast Will Rise from NFC East in 2009

Anthony SpauldingContributor IMay 14, 2009

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - DECEMBER 03:  Marion Barber #24 of the Dallas Cowboys runs the ball against the New York Giants at Giants Stadium on December 3, 2006 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

In every sport, there is always one particular division that shows how great the game really is.

Baseball has the American League East, featuring storied franchises such as the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox.

Basketball has the Southwest division of the Western Conference that showcases tough teams like the San Antonio Spurs and the Houston Rockets.

When it comes to football, most experts pretty much know where the strength of the league lies: the NFC East.

Dating back to the NFL division realignment in 2002, the NFC East has compiled a 242-205-1 record, good for a .541 winning percentage over that span.

In addition, the division has made 15 playoff appearances, winning 12 games, eight of which came during the New York Giants' epic Super Bowl title run in 2007 and the Philadelphia Eagles' string of NFC Championship game appearances.  

Despite its impressive track record for both regular seasons and postseasons, the NFC East is filled with four teams that absolutely hate each other's guts. All that matters to these hard-nosed squads is winning the division and having a shot at winning Super Bowl XLIV.

In order for these teams to reach these two postseason goals in 2009, they will have to play six crucial divisional games each, along with 10 already brutal regular season games against out of division opponents.

At the end of the day, the true question will be, "Which team will be the biggest beast from the East?" Let's take a look at how these four monsters will fare this season.

New York Giants

The reigning NFC East champions started last season on fire, going 10-1 in the first 12 weeks. With the league's top rushing attack and the fifth best total defense, the Men in Blue looked poised to defend their Super Bowl title from a season ago. 

But one bullet cost the G-Men a shot at another Lombardi trophy, as wide receiver Plaxico Burress accidentally opened fire on his leg at a Manhattan nightclub on Nov. 29, 2008.

This incident led to the Giants suspending the wideout for the rest of the season, causing him to miss the last six games, including New York's 23-11 divisional playoff loss to the Eagles. The Giants finished 12-4 on the season.

Despite the ugly tailspin, the G-Men look to return to their championship form, as they regain superstar defensive end Osi Umenyiora to go along with an already talented front line (Pro Bowler Justin Tuck, defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka, and newly acquired defensive linemen Chris Canty).

With defensive warriors like linebacker Antonio Pierce and cornerback Aaron Ross behind that front wall, it won't be a surprise to see the Giants produce another top five defense, even without former defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo.

As for offense, the Giants have to fill the gigantic hole at wide receiver left by Burress and veteran Amani Toomer. New York's first round pick Hakeem Nicks will give quarterback Eli Manning another target to throw to, but it won't the same as throwing to a 6'5" player with giant catcher's mitts for hands.

Luckily for Manning, he still has Brandon Jacobs and running back Ahmad Bradshaw in the backfield to pound the ball against NFC east foes in tight situations.

Prediction: 11-5, NFC East Champs

Philadelphia Eagles

After getting walloped by the Baltimore Ravens in Week 12 to go to 5-5-1, Philadelphia looked like roadkill on a highway. Quarterback Donovan McNabb was benched by head coach Andy Reid and looked to be on his way out of the city of Brotherly Love.

However, the five-time Pro Bowler resurrected the Eagles' season, as he helped them win four of their last five games, including a 44-6 beatdown of the Dallas Cowboys to clinch a wild card berth.

In the playoffs, McNabb led the Eagles to another appearance in the NFC Championship game, but they lost 32-25 to the Cinderella team of the playoffs, the Arizona Cardinals.

The Eagles have high hopes to make it back to the NFC title game and a possible Super Bowl appearance. Fortunately, they made many offensive upgrades this offseason, as they acquired offensive tackles Jason Peters and Stacy Andrews via trades and free agency.

These signees, along with draft picks Jeremy Maclin and LeSean McCoy, should give the Eagles an extra boost to an offense that scored 416 points a year ago.

As for the defense, Philadelphia took a big hit with the departure of longtime Eagles defensive captain Brian Dawkins. The seven-time Pro Bowl free safety signed a five-year, $17 million deal with the Denver Broncos after spending 13 years with the Eagles.

Philadelphia hopes players such as cornerbacks Asante Samuel, Sheldon Brown, and the newly acquired Ellis Hobbs can replace Dawkins on both the physical and emotional levels, especially when it comes to NFC East contests.

Prediction: 9-7, third NFC East, Wild Card berth

Dallas Cowboys

The Cowboys had the wildest season in recent history. They started 4-1 in the first five weeks, looking as if they could challenge the Giants for the top spot in the East. But a pinky injury to quarterback Tony Romo and a conflict between him and wide receiver Terrell Owens resulted in the Cowboys finishing 9-7 on the year to miss the playoffs by half a game to the Eagles.

Luckily for Dallas, the T.O. days are gone, as the disgruntled wideout was released by the team in March. Two days later, Owens signed a one-year deal with the Buffalo Bills.

Even though the Cowboys will miss Owens' production on the field, this transaction has helped the Texas squad overall. It has helped Romo and company focus on playing the game of football without dealing with drama-filled controversies. Owens' departure gives wideout Roy Williams the chance to team with tight end Jason Witten and become the big targets in Big D.

On defense, the Cowboys lost quite a bit from a below average unit that allowed 365 points, or 22.8 points per game, last season. With the departures of defensive end Chris Canty, safety Roy Williams, linebacker Zach Thomas, and linebacker Kevin Burnett, Dallas signed linebacker Keith Brooking, defensive end Igor Olshansky, and safety Gerald Sensabaugh, all of whom are projected to start this season.

These signees, along with rookie linebackers Jason Williams, Victor Butler, and Brandon Williams, look to accompany standout veterans such as DeMarcus Ware, Terrence Newman, and Bradie James in their quest to bring the Cowboys back to their championship days of the 1990s.

The key will be finding the true team leader to get them through the tough NFC East in the latter part of the season.

Prediction: 10-6, second NFC East, Wild Card berth

Washington Redskins

The Redskins went from being Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde in a matter of one week during the 2008 season.

Washington played tremendous football the first 10 weeks of the season, going 6-3 to sit in second place in the tough East division. But from week 11 forward, the Redskins turned into one of the worst teams in the NFL, losing five of the last seven ballgames to finish the season 8-8 and missing the playoffs.

Washington looks to make 2009 a year to remember. Owner Dan Snyder made a historic move this offseason, signing defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth to a record seven-year, $100 million deal in February.

The two-time Pro Bowler definitely bulks up an already big Redskins defensive front featuring defensive tackle Cornelius Griffin, defensive end Phillip Daniels, and rookie defensive end Brian Orakpo.

On the offensive side, the Redskins didn't add any more players to a unit that was outscored by the winless Detroit Lions last season 268-265.

Redskins management is also having a tough time deciding if quarterback Jason Campbell is their future since they played around with the ideas of trading for then Broncos quarterback Jay Cutler and drafting now New York Jets rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez.

If the Redskins can get back to where they were before their collapse last season, they can make life difficult for other NFC East teams and possibly have a shot at the playoffs.

Prediction: 8-8, fourth NFC East, miss playoffs


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