Heading into the 2008, the NFC East was widely considered to be the best division in all of football—and with all four teams finishing .500 or better, it did not disappoint. Here is the scary part: 2009 should be even better.
The New York Giants won the division in 2008, finishing 12-4 and boasting one of the best defenses in the NFL—a defense that will be better in 2009 with the addition of Osi Umenyiora back from injury, and the free agent signings of Michael Boley and Chris Canty.
On offense, Eli Manning will be without favorite target Plaxico Burress. Look for rookie wide receiver Hakeem Nicks and rookie tight end Travis Beckum to try and alleviate some of the pressure on Brandon Jacobs and the Giants running game.
Philadelphia is the early favorite to win the NFC East in 2009, thanks to an impressive offseason. Free agent acquisition Jason Peters is an improvement over Tra Thomas at offensive tackle, and rookies Jeremy Maclin and LeSean McCoy look to add speed and depth to an offense featuring Donovan McNabb, Brian Westbrook, Kevin Curtis, and DeSean Jackson.
On defense the Eagles lose team icon Brian Dawkins to Denver, but bring in Ellis Hobbs from the Patriots. More importantly than Dawkins, Philadelphia is currently without defensive guru Jim Johnson, who took a leave of absence to battle a recurrence of melanoma.
Secondary coach Sean McDermott will take over until Johnson’s return. The Eagles have enough talent on defense to win a few games without their leader—but if Johnson cannot return, or is out for a prolonged period, things could get dicey for head coach Andy Reid and the Philly faithful.
The Dallas Cowboys want to forget about the two-game losing streak to end the 2008 season that kept them out of the postseason. The nucleus from that team returns in 2009, minus one Terrell Owens. The loss of Owens could prove huge for the Cowboys, who will rely on largely unproven Roy Williams to take over the top spot at wide receiver.
Tony Romo will look for Jason Witten early and often, and should rely more on an impressive stable of running backs, headlined by Marion Barber. On defense, DeMarcus Ware returns to wreck havoc on opposing quarterbacks. But it’s the loss of two key starters in the secondary, safety Roy Williams and cornerback Anthony Henry, that has Dallas coaches and fans nervous.
The equation is simple: improved secondary play and the Cowboys should return to the playoffs. If the secondary does not improve and the Cowboys miss the playoffs yet again, Dallas will more than likely be looking for a new head coach in 2010.
And then there's the Washington Redskins. Say what you want, but owner Daniel Snyder knows how to spend money. This offseason, his target was defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth. He cost a pretty penny, but coupled with rookie defensive end Brian Orakpo, should vastly improve the Redskins defensive line.
After repeatedly looking to bring in another quarterback, Jason Campbell is back under center for Washington. Chris Cooley and Santana Moss will be his favorite targets once again, but it could be the health of running backs Clinton Portis and Ladell Betts that ultimately decide Washington’s fate.
Look for the Redskins to improve slightly on its 8-8 record from 2008, but ultimately miss the playoffs in an overwhelmingly tough NFC East.