Over the next few weeks I will preview and predict each NFL team's season by offseason moves, 2009 schedules, and predicted season win totals. This edition will discuss the NFC East. Win totals courtesy of Sportsbook.com and may have changed slightly since time of writing.
Dallas Cowboys: Nine
The Cowboys were a team with high expectations in 2008 and a 1-3 finish to their season saw them finish with a 9-7 record and out of playoff contention. In the season finale, with the playoffs on the line, the Cowboys turned in a stinker as they got blown away in Philadelphia 44-6 in large part due to five turnovers.
Instead of bringing in more big names in the offseason, Dallas opted for a potential addition by subtraction. In one of the biggest moves in the NFL during this offseason, WR Terrell Owens was cut loose, only to quickly sign with the Buffalo Bills. Clearly, management believed Owens many off-field distractions outweighed his on-field production.
Say what you want about the circus that follows T.O. wherever he goes, however there is little denial that the man produces. He also commands extra attention from opposing defenders and creates space for his teammates when he gets double-teamed.
Without Owens, the team will have to find a way to replace his 1,052 yards receiving and 10 TDs from 2008. It will be an opportunity for a player like Roy Williams to prove he was worth the large sum Dallas gave up to trade for him midseason last year. WRs Patrick Crayton and Isaiah Stanback will also need to step up if they want to have any success through the air, as TE Jason Witten will not be able to do it all.
Should Tony Romo go down for any extended period of time, the team will now have a younger replacement for him as they cut backup QB Brad Johnson and traded CB Anthony Henry to Detroit to acquire Jon Kitna. Other key additions are ex-Jag FS Gerald Sensabaugh and ex-Chargers DE Igor Olshansky to replace the departed Chris Canty.
Offensively, the Cowboys will lean heavily on their running game as the collection of Marion Barber, Felix Jones, and Tashard Choice could be one the strongest backfields in the game.
Their offensive line will also remain intact and should be a strength in 2009. For Dallas to rise to the top of the conference, they will need their defense to be as dominant as they were last year again. Dallas was fourth defending the pass and first in sacks for while being a respectable 13th versus the run.
In addition to Canty and Henry, gone are defenders Zach Thomas, Tank Johnson, Kevin Burnett, SS Roy Williams, and Adam Jones. LB Greg Ellis is also expected to be cut or traded anytime now as well. This could be an issue with so many new faces needing to plug holes on D.
In 2009, Dallas will face the league’s 11th toughest schedule facing opponents with a .518 winning percent from last year. Because of their geographical location and the fact they host several West Coast teams, the Cowboys have been spared from any major cross-country travels.
They will be featured in primetime on several occasions as they play three Sunday night games, one Monday nighter, and then a Thursday and Saturday night game. The fact that they’re facing a tough schedule in 2009 has a lot to do with their division as every team finished .500 or over in '08. Their division will face the AFC West this season though, which should be one of the easiest divisions this year.
In my opinion, Dallas will fall somewhere as an 8-10 win team in 2009. There are enough opportunities for them to pick up wins, but playing in such a tough division will hold them back from being elite in '09. In addition to their own division rivals, they face tough competition in Carolina, Atlanta, San Diego, and the always-potent New Orleans Saints' offense in New Orleans.
Personally, I would probably stay away from making a season win total bet with the Cowboys, but would lean to under nine wins.
New York Giants: 10
The Giants got off to a blazing start in 2008, winning their first four games and were far and away one of the league’s top teams through Week 13 with an 11-1 record.
The G-Men still finished the regular season as the NFC’s best team with a 12-4 record, but they stumbled badly down the stretch, losing three of their last four games and eventually made a quick exit during the NFC Divisional Playoff round with a 23-11 loss to the Eagles.
New York ranked high statistically in several major categories, as they boasted both a top-10 rush and pass defense. They were also fifth in sacks, which should continue to be a strength this year as well.
Getting things done through the air often posed problems for Eli Manning and company, as they only ranked 18th in passing yards. The absence of TE Jeremy Shockey, an injured David Tyree, and numerous distractions/injuries/suspensions which came with Plaxico Burress surely didn’t help matters.
When Plax was on the field though, he contributed and made opposing D’s respect the pass. In 2009 the Giants passing game could face even more struggles. Gone are Burress and Amani Toomer, and New York will now look for players like Steve Smith, Mario Manningham, Sinorice Moss, Domenik Hixon, Tyree, and rookie Hakeem Nicks to step up and fill the void left by those veterans.
The run game should remain intact and a threat, assuming Brandon Jacobs stays healthy, as they’ll look to form a new version of their Earth, Wind, Fire rotation from 2008. Derrick Ward left via free agency for Tampa but Danny Ware will look to step up and join Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw to form a potent trio.
On D, the Giants will be breaking in a new defensive coordinator in Bill Sheridan, however, an already stacked lineup looks to have gotten stronger this offseason. With the return of Osi Umenyiora from injury and the additions of Chris Canty, Rocky Bernard, and Michael Boley to an already star-studded group of D-linemen and LBs, the Giants may have one of the most impressive front sevens in the league.
The secondary saw the departures of S Sammy Knight and CB Sam Madison, but the addition of ex-Texans SS C.C. Brown. FS Kenny Phillips will also look to build upon his impressive rookie year in 2008 as he looks to solidify a spot in the starting lineup.
New York’s schedule in 2009 will rank as the league’s 10th most difficult. They begin the year with a tough stretch of four their first six games being on the road, yet overall on the year, they will never have to travel farther than a trip to Denver in Week 12.
The Giants will also have the benefit of playing some weaker teams in the AFC West and will have the advantage of hosting three West Coast teams making the long trip across the country when they play Oakland, Arizona, and San Diego at Giants Stadium.
Getting enough production from their receiving corps could be a problem in 2009, however the Giants running game and D should continue to be huge strengths for them. Last year left a bitter taste in New York after what had been a fantastic season. I believe the opportunities should be there for a similar season this year and that the G-Men will go over their posted win total of 10.
Philadelphia Eagles: 9.5
Philadelphia just barely made it into the playoffs as a Wild Card team in 2008 with a 9-6-1 record and then proceeded on a run to the NFC Conference Championship. They proved their doubters wrong as they pulled off upset wins in Minnesota and New York against the Giants before just coming up short in Arizona in 32-25 loss for their chance at a trip to the Super Bowl.
The Eagles' push towards the playoffs was a direct effect from how they ended off their regular season. A 4-1 record in their last five games put them on a roll which took them deep into the playoffs. The Eagles' difficulty of schedule will be quite comparable between this year and last. Last year, their opponents won 131 games, while this year they will face teams which won a combined 137 games last season.
The 2009 schedule doesn’t shape up to pose too many travel concerns or short weeks, however they will travel from a game in Oakland in Week 6 back across the country for a game in Washington the week after. This may pose a problem, because if there was one team Philly struggled with in 2008, it was the Redskins. While the Eagles split their games with their other divisional foes, they went 0-2 vs the 'Skins, including a real stinker in Week 16 with a 10-3 loss.
In my opinion, the Eagles will have to work on staying fresh throughout the year and hope for few major injuries. The injuries are already starting though, as RB Brian Westbrook looks like he will be shelved for the duration of the offseason as he’s having ankle surgery.
Keeping players like Westbrook in the lineup will be paramount to improving the Eagles 22nd ranking in rush yards from last year. The Eagles face a stretch of games from Week Seven to 14, where they play eight games against only one team that finished below .500 last year. That team is the Chicago Bears, and with Jay Cutler behind center now, they should definitely be improved. With an early bye in Week Four, this tough stretch of games could have a huge impact on how the Eagles season turns out.
Philadelphia made the effort this offseason to make some significant moves in hopes of taking that next step this year. They fortified an already strong offensive line by bringing in OTs Jason Peters and Stacy Andrews. The Eagles have one of the bulkiest O-lines in the game as they are looking at a potential starting five averaging 6’5" and 333 pounds.
Rookie WR Jeremy Maclin will look to provide McNabb with another quality target while RB LeSean McCoy could see extended minutes should Westbrook be forced to miss any time.
The Eagles second-ranked secondary will have some new faces joining the mix which may make it hard for them to duplicate their 2008 results.
To start with, the status of defensive coordinator Jim Johnson remains in question as he deals with a case of skin cancer. Gone will be Lito Sheppard, Sean Considine and Brian Dawkins, either through trade of free agency and current starting CB Sheldon Brown has been staying away from camp so far, as he’s unhappy with his contract. Insert CB Ellis Hobbs, and safeties Rashad Baker and Sean Jones to fill the voids.
The Eagles overall have made quite a few nice upgrades throughout their roster as they embark upon the 2009 year. They are fairly solid on all ends of the field and should see some similar success to 2008.
However Westbrook is the spoon that turns the pot in Philly and his current injury status already has to be at least slightly concerning when looking to bet the Eagles 2009 season. Their division should beat up on each other all year and with my projections of the Giants and Dallas to also have successful years, it will be hard for there to be three teams with nine-plus wins again this year coming from the NFC East.
I envision Philly getting off to a very strong start, however they will stumble through Weeks Seven to 14 as I touched on earlier, making them a team I would bet under the 9.5.
Washington Redskins: Eight
The 2008 season saw the Redskins get off to an impressive 6-3 start, which kept them within striking distance of the NFC’s top teams.
However, things took a decided turn for the worst after their bye week in Week 10. After their bye, Washington only managed two more wins on the year to see their season nosedive to an 8-8 record and just barely out of playoff contention.
They’ll get an average strength of schedule this year as their ‘09 opponents bring a .492 winning percent and 125-129-2 record with them from 2008. Some points of interest throughout their schedule include being featured twice at home on a Monday night and also having the benefit of playing three teams who will be coming off Monday nighters and short weeks when they play the 'Skins.
One travel note to take into consideration will be after the Skins host the Saints on a Monday night in Week 13, they then have to travel to Oakland for their game the next week. A short week and a long travel could have an effect on them there.
The big concern going into 2009 will be if Jason Campbell can perform to the level he needs to for the 'Skins to reach the next level. The team has a good amount of talent around him, however the passing game was a definite weakness in ‘08 as Washington ranked 22nd in passing yards.
Management didn’t show much confidence in their starting signal caller this offseason as they publicly showed interest in both Jay Cutler and Mark Sanchez. How Campbell responds to this kind of controversy could make or break his year.
While Washington may have finished at the bottom of the NFC East last year, offensively they may have some of the most talented players, or at least the most experienced.
With Plaxico Burress and Amani Toomer being let go in New York, Terrell Owens being traded out of Dallas, and Philadelphia lacking a true, proven veteran, Santana Moss and Antwan Randle El could be some of the top receivers in the division, not counting the potential for many of the division’s youngsters like Jeremy Maclin. Along with new addition Roydell Williams and mainstay Chris Cooley, Washington has the potential to improve on last year’s poor passing numbers.
In the areas Washington struggled last year, they made the effort to upgrade those spots in the offseason. Washington ranked 21st in sacks allowed, so gone is tackle Jon Jansen and in are UFAs Derrick Dockery and Jeremy Bridges.
On the other side of the ball, the 'Skins ranked a poor 27th in sacks for and made a huge splash in free agency by signing Albert Haynesworth to clog up the middle of the field and allow his teammates to get more pressure on the QB. They drafted a potential instant starter in Brian Orakpo, brought in UFA DE Renaldo Wynn and cut ties with their one-year experiment of Jason Taylor.
Washington’s running game remains intact, as well as their secondary, and all but Marcus Washington in the LB corps. The 'Skins had a strong run game and already ranked high against rushing the pass.
With the improvements they’ve made and the potential I see for some of their stars, like many teams, if their QB can have a productive year, they should be a force in 2009, which will be lead me to bet over the eight wins.
For a preview of the NFC West check out my other article: NFC West: Betting the NFL Season Win Totals