The NFC East's War of Attrition

Wes ODonnell@wesodonnellFeatured ColumnistMay 29, 2009

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ -  JANUARY 11:  Brandon Jacobs #27 of the New York Giants runs the ball against the Philadelphia Eagles during the NFC Divisional Playoff Game on January 11, 2009 at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  The Eagles defeated the Giants 23 -11. (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

The NFC East has widely been considered the toughest division in football for some time now.  Dating back to 2005 the NFC has been represented by the East with at least two teams each post season and twice, 2006 and 2007, been represented by three of it's four teams.

From 2001 through 2004 the Philadelphia Eagles dominated the East, winning the division four seasons in a row only to lose in three straight conference championships and finally the Super Bowl in 2004.

Starting in '05 the NFC East caught fire and has seen no team win back-to-back division titles since.  In that time frame the Giants have won two, 2005 and 2008, and the Eagles and Cowboys one apiece, 2006 and 2007 respectively.

Eli Manning was drafted first overall in 2004 but did not become the New York Giants' full time starter until November 21st of that season (Week 11), but for full measure 2004 will be considered the start of the new era in the East, a.k.a "The Eli Manning Era".

Watching NFC East teams play each other is a battle game in and game out.  Each team has a heightened rivalry with one another that no other division in the league can boast and fans expect fireworks in every game.

Heading into the 2009 season the New York Giants will be looking to repeat as division champions, but the lately that title has come at a high price.

Three out of the last four seasons has seen the NFC East division champion lose their first game of the playoffs, and the last two seasons it has been at the hands of a division foe.

Last season, the Philadelphia Eagles walked into the Meadowlands and defeated the Giants after splitting the season series. 

The 2007 Giants, who lost both regular season games to the Cowboys, went into Dallas and knocked off the division champs on their way to a Super Bowl title.

In 2006 the division champion Eagles happened to beat the Giants in a wild card game, but lost to the New Orleans Saints the following game.  In '05 the Giants lost their home game against the Carolina Panthers.

Missing, but not forgotten in all of this are the Washington Redskins.  The 'Skins have not won a division title since 1999, but during the "Eli Era" have made the playoffs twice, '05 and '07.

Looking back on the division's history is important because these types of trends tend to repeat themselves and as seen here, these four teams know each other as good as if they shared the same locker room.

Heading into the season the Giants and Eagles look to be slated at the top of the division but followed closely by the Cowboys and Redskins.

The Giants and Eagles, last season's playoff representatives, both lost a few key members this off-season but also added serious play makers to the offensive and defensive sides of the ball making making them both appear stronger than last season on paper. 

The Giants parted ways with troubled wide out Plaxico Burress as well as veterans Amani Toomer, James Butler, and Derrick Ward.

Yet, the Giants made the most of their opportunities this offseason and added four offensive skill position rookies (WRs Hakeem Nicks and Ramses Barden, RB Andre Brown, and TE/H-Back Travis Beckum) in the draft that will all get the opportunity to contribute early.

They also beefed up their defense adding veteran talents such as DTs Chris Canty and Rocky Bernard, as well as WLB Michael Boley.

The Eagles saw long time hero Brian Dawkins head to Denver and traded Lito Sheppard to the Jets, but jumped all over the draft and free agency.  They added tackle Jason Peters in a trade with Buffalo, a steal in some eyes, and also nabbed highly touted rookies Jeremy Maclin and LeSean McCoy as well as a possible steal in TE Cornelius Ingram.

The Cowboys' much publicized divorce from Terrell Owens has left them, and especially WR Roy Williams, in a very tight position and quarterback Tony Romo will have nobody else to blame this season if things go wrong.

Head Coach Wade Phillips is definitely one to keep an eye on as well.  His seat is extremely hot and will only get hotter if the Cowboys falter early against a schedule that has last season's top two seeds, New York and Carolina, visiting the New Dallas Cowboys Stadium Weeks Two and Three. 

The Cowboys also made a few head scratching moves in the draft and need to rely on a few less proven players to make impacts this season if they want to succeed in a division that saw almost every other team improve.

The Redskins biggest concern has to be with quarterback Jason Campbell.  Redskins' owner Daniel Snyder made this a bit more of an issue than it should have been, but was publicly involved with the Jay Cutler and Mark Sanchez sweepstakes this off-season.

The confidence of Campbell, and his ability in Coach Zorn's system, will be the key for the Redskins if they wish to make a push for the playoffs.  Last season they went out and got offensive help in the form of two early round WRs and a TE.

This season, they went after a pass rusher in rookie Brian Orakpo and will look to put more pressure on arguably the league's most stacked divisional roster of starting quarterbacks. 

Getting out of this division alive will be a true test in itself and the division winner must be weary of the possible wild card contenders from the East because being division winner means nothing if a team cannot handle its rivals for a third time in a season.

As for the Giants, to be successful in this division they have to learn from their past.  Go back to the tapes of how the Eagles and Cowboys defeated them last season and correct those mistakes first and foremost.

All NFC East teams adjust very well to their rivals when the second game comes around and allowing these teams to exploit them only leads to other teams doing exactly the same thing.  This cannot happen to the Giants again this season. 

The Giants can handle any one of these team's best shots and just have to play within themselves to truly succeed.

Play calling, execution, and adjustments will play major roles this season for the Giants and they should be ready for all three of them.

It's not about a division title, it's about getting to the playoffs.  Whichever team can make it out of this gauntlet still intact will have the best chance at making a run to the Super Bowl.

This Giants team has been there before and they have what it takes.  With a bit more consistency, patience, and improved play calling, the "Eli Era" could soon become a term feared by New York Giant rivals.


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