Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles in a Fistfight for the NFC East

Jason TurnerCorrespondent IMay 30, 2009

The NFC East is arguably the toughest, most highly contested division in all of the NFL. During the last ten years there has been a team from this division in the NFC Championship game seven times. In that span there has been a representative of this team in the Super Bowl three times.

The dominance of the NFC East is not a fad. In the 16 year span between 1980 and 1995, teams from this division went to 15 NFC Championships games and came away with nine wins in those matchups. During that era, the NFC East is credited for eight Super Bowl wins, or one every other season.

This division has regained its dominance over the last few seasons. The Giants won Super Bowl XLII over the Patriots in 2007, and the Eagles have represented the division in the NFC Championship five times in the last eight seasons including last year. Not to mention the fact that the Dallas Cowboys have one of the league’s most talented rosters.

In 2009, this group of teams will be a strong as ever. The Philadelphia Eagles seem to be the consensus pick to represent the conference in the Super Bowl after an offseason that saw them make some key additions.

The Cowboys hope to rebound from the disappointment of last season, and the Washington Redskins have made some roster moves that should make them even tougher in ’09.

To remain competitive, each NFC East team has altered its roster through the draft and free agency. Every franchise in the division is looking at some major changes, and must make the proper adjustments in order to have a shot at postseason play. This isn’t the AFC or NFC West; you have to be on top of your game to take home this division crown.

The Dallas Cowboys came into 2008 with lofty goals. After going 13-3 the previous season, Dallas felt like they could be on their way to a Super Bowl last year. Somewhere along the way, among a cloud of distraction and turmoil, the Cowboys fell apart.

They finished 9-7 and were eliminated from the playoffs following a week 17 massacre at the hands of the Philadelphia Eagles.

After an offseason moves that will hopefully rid Valley Ranch of unneeded controversy, Jerry Jones is hoping that the franchise will be able to rebound from last year’s failure. But every other team in the division has been hard at work keeping up, if not passing, the Jones’.

The Eagles

The Eagles fell short of Super Bowl aspirations last season when they fell to the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC Championship game. After finishing the regular season 9-6-1, Philadelphia seemed to put everything together just in time for a playoff run.

The Eagles have a very talented team on both sides of the ball, and have to be the odds on favorite to win a division and conference championship in 2009.

On offense, the Eagles were ninth in the league overall last season. Despite not being known for their wide receivers, Philly ended 2008 with the sixth rank passing game in the league. This team had the highest powered offense in the NFC East last year.

The Eagles come into this season with some new names and faces. The Eagles spent their first pick of draft to shore up its wide receiver corps.

Jeremy Maclin will be asked to make an immediate impact, and was taken to give the Eagles another target to go along with Desean Jackson. Jackson proved to be a valuable playmaker as a rookie with 62 catches for 912 yards and a touchdown both in the air and on a punt return.

Rookie LeSean McCoy, who was taken with the clubs second draft pick, will be asked to replace Correll Buckhalter and compliment running back Brian Westbrook.

McCoy is a versatile runner who, like Westbrook, has the ability to make plays in the passing game. The Eagles were only 22nd in the NFL in rushing last year, and they were 21st with only 3.5 yards per carry.

To bolster the running game and revamp the offensive line, Philadelphia replaced Tra Thomas and John Runyan with Stacy Andrews and Jason Peters.

At tight end the Eagles hope to replace L.J. Smith with a combination of Brent Celek and draftee Cornelius Ingram from Florida. Also, Leonard Weaver was added as a fullback who can block, and make plays as a receiver.

I think the Eagles have made some great improvements to their offensive unit. The Acquisitions of Maclin, McCoy, Andrews, and Peters helped to both fill gaps and build for the future. It is not without good reason that Eagles fans are excited with the cast that now surrounds their franchise quarterback Donovan McNabb.

On defense, Philly has lost their heart and soul. The departure of free safety Brian Dawkins left a tremendous void both in the Eagles locker room, and on the football field. Dawkins was an eight time Pro Bowl selection who was named First Team All-Pro on four occasions.

Quintin Demps will replace Dawkins at free safety, and the Eagles could be looking at replacing disgruntled corner Sheldon Brown who is unhappy with his contract.

Other than those two spots, most of last year’s defense will be staying intact. This Eagles’ defense ranked among the best in the NFL in yards allowed (third), pass defense (third), and rush defense (fourth). Philadelphia was also third in sacks with 48, and fourth in points allowed with 289.

If the Eagles’ offensive rookies can contribute this season, and the defense can survive the loss of a Philadelphia icon, this team has a great chance of winning the Super Bowl this season. The Eagles should be an NFC powerhouse in 2009, and are the biggest obstacle standing in the way of the Dallas Cowboys and a possible division crown.

The Giants

Last year was a tale of two seasons for the New York Giants. Although they enter last year as the defending Super Bowl champions, and finished as the NFC East division champions, the Giants were not the same team after the loss of Plaxico Burress. Despite finishing 12-4, the team lost four of its last five games after Burress shot himself in the leg on November 30.

While missing his primary target, Eli Manning passed for only 818 yards or 163.6 yards per game. New York’s passing game fell off by almost 50 yards a game in that span, and the Giants’ quarterback threw only two touchdowns to four interceptions.

In addition to releasing Burress, the Giants also have parted ways with unrestricted free agent Armani Toomer leaving two gaping holes to fill in the passing game.  

To address their wide receiver shortage, the Giants took Hakeem Nicks and Ramses Barden in the draft. Nicks was one of the top pass catchers in the draft, and the 6’6” Barden was taken to replace Plaxico as a possible red zone target.

These rookies will join Steve Smith, Domenik Hixon, Sinorice Moss, Mario Manningham, and David Tyree in an intense training camp battle for playing time.

The one thing that kept the Giants alive in 2008 was their ability to run the ball. Last season New York led the league in rushing with 157.4 yards on the ground per game. Their three headed backfield of Brandon Jacobs, Derrick Ward, and Ahmad Bradshaw combined to averaged five yards per carry and racked up 19 touchdowns on the ground.

However, the Giants lost a lot of punch when Derrick Ward left the team for the Buccaneers. Ward was the Giants best all around back, and their only runner who was effective catching the ball out of the backfield. This is a big loss to a team that will need to be able to run the ball effectively to remain competitive in the division.

To replace Derrick, the Giants drafted Andre Brown out of North Carolina State. At 6’0” and 224 pounds, the Giants drafted Brown due to the fact that he has the versatility to fill Ward’s shoes. The Giants will need a big impact out of this fourth round pick in order to maintain their success in the running game.

One thing that should help this offense is the fact that the defense should be better this year. Not that the Giants have a lot of room for improvement in this department. In ’08 the Giants had a top five defense, and finished fifth in the league in points allowed with 294.

New York was among the top 10 in the NFL in total yards allowed, passing defense, and rushing defense.

Known for their pass rush, New York finished sixth in the NFL with 42 last year. This pass rush should be bolstered this season with the return of Osi Umenyiora from injury, and the signing of free agent Chris Canty. Umenyiora missed all of last season due to injury, and will be a key addition to the defense in 2009.

Mathias Kiwanuka, who filled in for Umenyiora, will provide fresh legs and depth from the bench, and is more than able of getting to the quarterback himself.

Michael Boley and Rocky Bernard were also brought in via free agency and should both play big roles in 2009. Boley will join Antonio Pierce and Gerris Wilkinson at linebacker, and Bernard will provide even more depth to the defensive front.

In the secondary, Kenny Phillips will move into a starting role at strong safety to replace James Butler. Butler was signed by the Patriots as a free agent. The rest of the secondary including Michael Johnson, Aaron Ross, and Corey Webster is returning from last year.

The Giants have a lot of work to do on offense to replace some key components of their Super Bowl team from two years ago. I believe New York’s offense is going to take a step back this season, which could cost them dearly in the NFC East.

The defense will have to step up its game, and make plenty of plays early in the season to help the offense buy time to come together.

The Giants still have a lot of talent and will be a good team. But to win the NFC East you have to be a great team. New York has an uphill battle they hope to repeat as NFC East champions, and to do so they will have fill a lot of holes on offense.


The Redskins

Like last year, I expect the Redskins to wind up in the cellar of the NFC’s toughest division. Washington finished 8-8 last year, after starting the season 6-2. This team lost six of its last eight games in 2008, including three defeats at the hands of its NFC East rivals.

Daniel Snyder made a lot of moves in free agency as he always does, I’m just afraid he made those adjustments on the wrong side of the ball.

The problem with the ‘Skins team is the offense. Washington was at the bottom of the league in total yards, passing yards, and scoring. Other than signing Roydell Williams and Derrick Dockery, the front office made no moves to improve upon this team’s deficiencies. The Redskins can run the ball effectively, but their passing game is atrocious.

Jason Campbell is still at the helm in D.C. Despite rumors that the Redskins were involved in trade talks regarding various quarterbacks, the trigger was never pulled on a deal. Campbell is mediocre at best, and gives Washington no shot of winning a division crown.

The team’s wide receivers are serviceable, and Roydell Williams has shown flashes in Tennessee, but at 6’1 192 pounds, he really doesn’t bring anything to the table that separates him from the likes of Santana Moss and Antwaan Randle El.

Chris Cooley is still this team's go to pass catcher, and is coming off of an 83 catch 849 yard Pro Bowl campaign.

On the defensive side of the coin the rich got richer in Washington this offseason. Brian Orakpo was taken with the 13th pick of the draft to replace Jason Taylor who went back to Miami. Orakpo was one of the top defensive ends in the draft, and is projected to be an NFL star in the future. This rookie will be a day one starter coming into training camp.

The Redskins made another splash in free agency by signing Albert Haynesworth to a lucrative 100 million dollar deal which makes him the highest paid defender in the league. Haynesworth was a monster for the Titans top ranked defense last season and provides an instant upgrade to the Redskins defense.

To go along with these two key additions, the Washington is returning impact players such as London Fletcher, Rocky McIntosh, Deangelo Hall, and LaRon Landry. These players helped the ‘Skins to finish as the fourth best overall defense in the NFL last season. They were seventh against the pass, eighth against the run, and wound up sixth in points allowed.

In another head scratching offseason, Daniel Snyder went and got more tools for an already stout defense, and failed to address the team’s weaknesses on the offensive side of the ball.

I just don’t see how the Redskins will be able to be a serious contender for the NFC East crown. This is the only team in the division that I see as a sure thing to miss the playoffs.

In conclusion, the Cowboys have their hands full in the NFC East this season. They have made some moves to get better in 2009, but then again, so have the Giants and the Eagles.

But ultimately I see this division as a two horse race between Philadelphia and Dallas. New York can definitely be competitive, but they are no longer the team that won the Super Bowl just two years ago.

I’d have to say that the early favorite to take the NFC East crown would have to be Philadelphia or Dallas. Philly was able to destroy The Cowboys at the end of last season in a heads up battle for a playoff berth, but I believe Dallas is capable of much more than they accomplished in 2008.

The NFC East will be the toughest division in the NFL again in 2009. Whoever takes it home will have gone through some of the greatest teams in the league to do so. The franchise that turns out to be the beast of the east will definitely have to be the favorite to represent the NFC in this season’s Super Bowl.


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