NFC East Preview: Why the Eagles and Giants Will be Teams to Beat
Last year, teams in the NFC East won a combined 38 games. Tied for second best in the NFL, the NFC East was also one of only two divisions not to feature a team with a losing record.
Just like the competitive NFC South, the NFC East worked to pummel itself all season long—with no team leaving the fray with a better than a 4-2 record.
The NFC East was the only division in football in which every team in the division had a winning record outside of the division.
And this year, the most interesting division in football just became more interesting. After the Giants shot themselves in the foot (pun intended), Dan Snyder started spending like Mike Tyson, Jerry Jones purged Dallas like Sodom and Gomorrah, and Philadelphia collectively pleaded with and apologized to their franchise quarterback, Donovan McNabb.
The 2009 offseason has shaken the NFC East like a Pierce Brosnan martini, and it will be served up like this:
1. The Philadelphia Eagles
Donovan McNabb is the best quarterback in the NFL without a Super Bowl ring. And this year, Philadelphia may have surrounded the 10-year veteran with the best offense he has ever had.
In his 10 years in an Eagle uniform, McNabb has appeared in the NFC Championship game five times. While he has only won one of those games, he is still widely regarded as one of the best quarterbacks in the game today.
Including postseason play, the Eagles finished the season 6-2 last year, defeating divisional rivals the Cowboys and the Giants along the way to a 32-25 loss to the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC Championship game.
After losing in the NFC Championship game once again, NFL front offices speculated that McNabb, who had been benched earlier in the season, might want a more appreciative city which would give him a chance to win a Super Bowl ring.
In response, the Eagles gave McNabb a reason to stay. The Eagles offense may be the most improved in the NFL this season, and Donovan McNabb will have more weapons to work with than ever before.
First and foremost, the Eagles offensive line will be even stronger than last year.
New right guard Stacy Andrews will join his brother—Shawn Andrews—to anchor the right side of the Eagles offensive line. Playing alongside his brother, the sixth year veteran who the Bengals had tried to put a franchise tag on, will strengthen an already formidable Eagle’s offensive line.
The Eagles also added 6’4”, 340 lb. left tackle Jason Peters to stabilize the left side of the Eagles line. The six year vet was acquired in a trade with Buffalo in the offseason this year.
The best part? The Eagles only had to give up three late draft picks to get him.
That offensive line will offer McNabb the best protection he's had in years. But the Eagle’s improvements do not stop there.
In the first round of the draft this year, the Eagles picked up Jeremy Maclin, a highly coveted receiver out of Missouri.
In 2008, Maclin caught 102 passes for 1,260 yards, reaching the endzone 13 times. The elusive six foot receiver also scored two touchdowns on the ground, offering the Eagles the possibility of running that ever dangerous and always interesting wildcat offense.
Maclin will join Kevin Curtis, DeSean Jackson, and Reggie Brown in the Ealges wide receiving core, and for the first time in recent memory, McNabb will have some real targets to throw to down-field.
Also, joining Brian Westbrook in the backfield will be LeSean McCoy.
The 53rd overall pick in the NFL draft, McCoy will act as an excellent compliment to one of the greatest all-purpose backs in the NFL. In two seasons at Pittsburgh, McCoy scored 36 touchdowns, and amassed 3,365 yards.
The Eagle’s offensive has the potential to be a juggernaut in the NFL this season, but their weakness may come in their front eight on defense.
A respectable secondary led by Sheldon Brown and Asante Samuel might be enough to hold the Giant’s and Cowboy’s average wide receiving cores at bay, but their no-name defensive line may experience difficulty against the likes of Marion Barber, Tashard Choice, Ahmad Bradshaw, and Brandon Jacobs.
The Eagles may be the favorite in the NFC East this year, but opponents will have a chance to beat them if they are able to control the ground game and run the clock.
2. The New York Giants
The Giants may have lost more than they thought when they cut Plaxico Burress in the offseason this year. After losing Plaxico Burress before their November 30th game against the Washington Redskins, the Giants went 2-4, losing once to the Cowboys, and twice to the Eagles.
However, the Giants do have reasons to be excited for the 2009 season.
Despite losing running back Derrick Ward to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Giants returned both Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs, and running back Danny Ware may be asked to play a role this season this well.
But more importantly, the New York Giants returned the best offensive line in football, and they added Will Beatty to play understudy to Kareem Mackenzie in the second round of the NFL Draft.
Do not be surprised if Bradshaw is able to step into his role effectively this season. Derrick Ward’s success last season was due in large part to the fact that Brandon Jacobs was able to tire out opponent defenses before Ward hit the field.
In the three games, where Jacobs did not play last year, Ward failed to rush for over 75 yards.
In week 12, Jacobs sat out, and Ward carried the ball 20 times for a mere 69 yards.
In week 15 against Dallas, Jacobs was again sidelined and Ward rushed for only 64 yards.
Ward fed off of Jacobs success, and Ahmad Bradshaw will have the opportunity to do the same this year, using his speed to act as a great change of pace back for the New York Giants.
And while the Giants failed to acquire Anquan Boldin from the Arizona Cardinals, they still worked to improve their wide receiving core this season.
In the absence of Amani Toomer and Plaxico Burress, the Giants picked up Hakeem Nicks with their first round pick in the NFL Draft. Nicks, a 6’0” wide receiver out of North Carolina caught 68 passes for 1,222 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2008.
The Giants will also depend more heavily on Steve Smith, Domenik Hixon, and Mario Manningham this season.
All three are competent receivers, but the none of them have the size of Burress. The Giants offense will not have a serious down field threat this year, and that is why they will fail to repeat as divisional champs.
However, with the return of Osi Umenyiora to the defense, the Giants will not need to score many points to win games this year, and they should still earn a playoff berth in 2009.
3. The Washington Redskins
Call me crazy, but I think maybe, just maybe, this could be the Redskins year. The Redskins have the weakest schedule of any of their divisional opponents this year, with opponents posting a combined .492 winning percentage last year.
But more importantly, the Redskins had the fourth-ranked defense in the NFL last year, allowing only 274.3 yards per game, and 18.5 points per game. That 274.3 yards per game ranks behind only the Ravens, Eagles, and Steelers. But this year, the Redskins have made two key additions which have made that defense even better.
Adding Albert Haynesworth might have been the biggest move of the offseason this year. The 6’6”, 320 lb. defensive tackle is without a doubt the best tackle in the game, and his rush defense can be game changing.
The Redskins will also have a much improved secondary with the addition of cornerback DeAngelo Hall. With Haynesworth in the center, the Cowboys, Eagles, and Giants will be forced to throw the ball, neutralizing Jacobs, Westbrook, and Barber.
With that kind of a defense, Jason Campbell will not have to be a hero. Instead, the second year starter will be the ultimate game manager, putting the ball into the capable hands of Clinton Portis and completing a few passes to Santana Moss each game.
If Campbell can avoid turning the ball over, the Redskins will have a chance to make some noise in the NFC East this year.
4. The Dallas Cowboys
It’s make it or break it year for Tony Romo. Losing badly for the third consecutive year in a do-or-die situation, the Cowboy’s rock-star quarterback will be on the hot seat this year.
But playing without Terrell Owens may not be as much of a relief as Romo might think. Last year, mid-season acquisition Roy Williams caught only two touchdown passes for America’s team, while the always controversial Terrell Owens pulled in 69 receptions for 1,052 yards and 10 touchdowns.
The Cowboys may find that while Owens was certainly a headache, he was also a 1000-yard receiver, and they have failed to make any substantial offseason moves to replace him. Instead, Jerry Jones has become Bruce Wayne in the 2009 offseason.
Lavished owner of the Dallas Cowboys by day, living the luxurious life of one of America’s most renowned business men. But by night, Jones becomes a vigilante—ridding the Cowboys of the thugs and villains of the grid-iron. Jones rid the team of stars Tank Johnson, Pacman (Adam) Jones, and of course, Terrell Owens.
But wait, don’t forget that the Cowboys also lost five-time Pro Bowler Roy Williams (safety) this offseason as well.
The Cowboys have worked towards addition by subtraction this offseason, but it seems that there has been far more subtraction than addition. The Cowboys also released linebacker Gregg Ellis this offseason, and while Ellis’ time may have been up, the Cowboys have failed to add competent players to fill the void he has made.
Dallas’s defense ranked behind all of its divisional rivals last year, expect it to be even worse this season.
In what can only be described as a rebuilding year for the Cowboys, look for Dallas to struggle.
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