Who Will Be The Beast of the NFC East?
Last season opened up all the hype one could hope for in a particular division. Sure, the New York Giants had won Super Bowl XLII in dramatic fashion over the heavily-favored New England Patriots, but they were not the only big men on campus.
It was, after all, the Dallas Cowboys, America’s Team, that had won the division with a 13-3 record in 2007 only to fall to the Giants during their tremendous run in the playoffs. Throw in a little of the Philadelphia Eagles’ perpetual optimism, add a dash of Washington Redskins spending spree, and the gauntlet had been thrown down. But, the expected clash of the New York and Dallas titans that was to settle the NFC Championship was not to be.
Despite barreling out to an 11-1 start, the Giants flailed following the loss of star receiver Plaxico Burress to a self-inflicted gunshot wound and lost 4 of their last 5 including a playoff loss at home to Philly.
The Cowboys’ season was a roller coaster ride, one that came crashing to a halt with a miserable December and an unforgettable, unforgivable, embarrassing 38-point drubbing in Philadelphia, 44-6.
Washington showed a flat-out inability to score and those pesky Eagles found their way to the NFC championship game only to lose to the Arizona Cardinals in a heart-breaker.
But, what’s past is prologue. Organized Team Activities (OTAs) have begun, within the next 60 days the teams will enter training camps, and the 2009 regular season will be underway soon thereafter.
So, the hype machine is cranked up extra early and we will breakdown each team’s offseason reshuffling, their relative strengths, and how this will impact the Giants in 2009.
2008 Quick Hits: No team in the league looked as solid as the Giants did through Week 12. But the off-field incident involving Burress resulted in an injury/suspension for the remainder of the season. It truly did impact the on-field play as the Giants and QB Eli Manning lost their number one receiver and biggest go-to playmaker as well as watching their scoring average plummet 11 points (29 per game to 18 per game) over those last six games.
The formidable defensive line also swooned late as their depth was ultimately impacted from the loss of Osi Umenyiora all season to a left knee injury.
2009 Outlook: Arguably the biggest defensive addition to any roster in the league, the G-Men will get Osi back, and his ability and leadership are more important than ever. Free agents DE Chris Canty, LB Michael Boley, and DT Rocky Bernard plus No. 1 draft pick WR Hakeem Nicks add some serious talent and depth to what is already a stacked roster.
However, with the release of Burress and departure of veteran Amani Toomer the chasm remains at the number one receiver spot. Even the tremendous potential of Nicks in addition to the capable play of current WR Steve Smith and TE Kevin Boss are not enough to fill that role. Expect an even bigger emphasis on the ground attack along with increased opportunities for Boss and rookie TE/H-Back Travis Beckum.
The RB duo of Brandon Jacobs and Derrick Ward were the first teammates to rush for 1,000 yards each since Cleveland Browns RBs Earnest Byner and Kevin Mack did so in 1985. Despite Ward’s departure in free agency, the Giants will pound the ball with Jacobs, Ahmad Bradshaw, Danny Ware, and rookie Andre Brown—a little return to the days of yore and the Bill Parcells era.
2008 Quick Hits: On November 23, 2008 the Eagles suffered a demoralizing 23-7 loss at the hands of the Baltimore Ravens. Star QB Donovan McNabb was benched after a dismal first half performance in favor of Kevin Kolb and the sky of the football world in Philadelphia was officially falling.
However, this act lit a spark under McNabb and the team as they won six of their next seven games including two huge playoff wins on the road. Head Coach Andy Reid was hailed as a great motivator by many and they advanced to the NFC Championship for the fifth time this decade.
2009 Outlook: After logging 13 years at the safety position with the Eagles, team leader and captain Brian Dawkins moved on in free agency; an influence that could be missed. Outside of that there were no other significant departures.
Sporting the 2008 NFL’s third-ranked defense and the ninth-ranked offense, the Eagles have great building blocks for this season. Add to that a steal of a trade with the Bills to obtain OT Jason Peters, playmaker additions like WR Jeremy Maclin and RB LeSean “Shady” McCoy through the draft and the team that we saw in December and January might very well be the one to beat in 2009.
2008 Quick Hits: First-year Head Coach Jim Zorn guided the ‘Skins into possible playoff contention with a 7-4 start to the season courtesy of the league’s fourth-ranked defense. However, consistent problems getting the ball into the end zone—they finished ranked 28th in scoring offense—led to a late season collapse that saw them lose four of their last five including contests to the lowly Bengals and struggling 49ers.
QB Jason Campbell showed marked improvement and Clinton Portis’ elite running easily made him the team’s most valuable asset.
2009 Outlook: By every measure, "Big Al" Haynesworth was the biggest offseason acquisition in the entire NFL. His dominance at defensive tackle was a big reason why the Tennessee Titans finished the regular season with a league-best 13-3 record, but the $100 million dollar price tag is the big reason they let him go. "Big" is a theme with Albert, you see.
Haynesworth’s addition coupled with drafting DE Brian Orakpo, an athletic marvel, will make waves in the division this year. Then again, Washington has spent a lot of money in the offseason before with very mixed results—and that’s being kind…
Zorn is known as an offensive guru but his reputation needs to start producing points or all the improvement from Campbell and the punishing ground game of Portis will be viewed as window dressing for a team that can’t find a way to score and win games.
I do not expect to see much of a philosophy change in Washington at all, but a little ‘wildcat’ from Randle-El may be used in the red zone to get them over that scoring hump.
2008 Quick Hits: After getting off to a rocky start, Dallas found themselves at 8-4 and ready for a return trip to the playoffs in 2008. But, a December NOT to remember unfolded and they proceeded to lose three of their last four, all of them to eventual playoff teams. Injuries to QB Tony Romo and RB Marion Barber were keys as the Dallas offense fell out of sync both on and off the field.
It would be easy to sit here and blame the now-former Cowboy Terrell Owens, but this debacle started at the top. Owner/GM Jerry Jones created an environment where the players have a direct pipeline to him which usurped what Head Coach Wade Phillips was trying to do on the field.
In-fighting and snipes surrounding Romo, Owens, and TE Jason Witten became public fodder and the inmates were running the asylum. A seemingly unnecessary and overpriced trade for WR Roy Williams put more pressure for the offense to get in sync when it is rare that a mid-season addition can ever have much of an impact at all in NFL.
Plus, the defense just gave up too many points, too many times. Finishing 30th in turnover margin is an easy recipe for a marginal football team.
2009 Outlook: Still in possession of a talented roster, there is some reason for optimism in 2009, since Murphy’s Law seemed to come into effect last season. Romo has had an entire off-season to work with Roy Williams, his new number one target, and Marion Barber should be healthy again.
Obviously, Owens was jettisoned in order to create some cohesion in the clubhouse, but when your top off-season acquisitions are DE Igor Olshansky (to replace Chris Canty) and solid 12-year vet LB Keith Brooking, then how much have you really improved your nine-win team?
Obviously, we are a long way from deciding anything, but this is a matter of taking a look at the off-season acquisitions and how they may impact the team as they performed last year.
I sincerely think the Giants need to make a move for a big-time wide receiver via trade. They flirted with Arizona for Anquan Boldin, more seriously with Cleveland for Braylon Edwards and while both of those teams seemed to declare those deals dead, I’ll believe it when the season starts in September.
Philly and Washington both went out this off-season and made big-time moves, the Giants acquired some solid pieces, and the Cowboys, well, didn’t do much. But, if you were to rank how much each team improved, the G-Men would be second at best and that’s no way to try to win a Super Bowl.
Can they win without a new number one? Sure. Should they take a chance at it not working out when they have the draft picks to make a deal? I say no.
Unless Osi changed positions this offseason…
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