At the start of NFL training camps this summer, there will be plenty of uncertainties.
How will the rookies adapt to the NFL? How will new coaching staffs and roster overhauls impact teams? Who will win position battles?
One thing that has not changed from last year is the competitiveness of the NFL East. Still considered the toughest division in the NFL, the NFC East has had at least two teams make the playoffs every year since 2002—when the NFL went to a four division format—with the exception of 2004, when the Eagles were the only team. In that same time span, three teams have made the playoffs twice.
The level of competition in the East has only increased heading into 2009, starting during free agency and continuing through the NFL draft
The Washington Redskins made the biggest splash early on in free agency, adding All-Pro defensive tackle Albert Haynseworth to their line, following that up by drafting four defensive players with their first four picks in the draft. For years, the focus in the NFC East has been strong defenses and Washington is now fitting into that mold.
The Dallas Cowboys have been the most confusing team in recent years.
With a roster full of talent, you can not help but wonder what the problem with America’s team has been. That problem could be out the door now, with the release of guys such as Terrell Owens, Adam Jones, Tank Johnson, and Greg Ellis.
These players have been a thorn in the side of the franchise for a few years now, and wherever they go they seem to cause chemistry issues behind closed locker room doors.
Dallas’ offense remains potent, with targets such as Jason Witten and Roy Williams for Tony Romo. Add a healthy Marion Barber and a healthy Felix Jones to the mix, and Dallas should have no problem lighting up the scoreboard.
The Cowboys are have aged on the defensive side of the ball, which will allow teams to expose them, but unless teams have a high enough powered offense to put up 30+ a game, Dallas is still a contender.
The Philadelphia Eagles had what is looking like the best 2009 draft of any NFL team. Philly has been heavily criticized in recent years about the lack of attention to their offense.
Last year, the Eagles began to rebuild the weapons surrounding Donovan McNabb by drafting the electrifying DeSean Jackson. Staying with the same trend in this year’s draft, the Eagles added another burner in Jeremy Maclin. Along with Maclin, the Eagles drafted highly touted running back LeSean McCoy, who will serve as a very nice compliment to the elusive Brain Westbrook.
McCoy will be inserted right away to pick up those tough short yardage situations that the Eagles have struggled with in the past few seasons. They also added two other guys who could contribute right away—in tight end Cornelius Ingram and corner-back Victor Harris.
Ingram was a steal in the fifth round for the Eagles and is a dynamic player with the athletic ability of a wide out.
Harris could be looked at as an eventual replacement for Brain Dawkins since both share the same qualities as ball hawks lurking in the secondary.
Also, look for the Eagles to excel on special teams once again. Maclin and Harris were both special teams stars in college, pairing those two with Jackson can make the Eagles even more explosive.
These three teams present huge challenges for the New York Giants, who produced very little on offense in the last five games of 2008.
While the Giants have improved through free agency on the defensive side of the ball, the jury is still out on whether or not the offense can recuperate from the lose of Plaxico Burress’ presence on the field.
By adding wide receivers Hakeem Nicks and Ramses Barden through the draft, and with Steve Smith, Domenik Hixon, Mario Manningham, and Sinorice Moss—each gaining another year of experience—the Giants will look to replace Burress’ production with a number of targets rather than one home run hitter.
Through the past two seasons the strongest part of any Giants team has been the defense and specifically the pass rush.
As players such as Justin Tuck and Mathias Kiwanuka wore down as a result of their own injuries and the injuries of other players at the end of 2008, the Giants decided to beef up the strongest part of their team even more.
By getting back Osi Umenyiora from knee surgery and returning all of the front four from last year, the Giants look to have one of the best defensive lines in the league. Not only did they add Chris Canty and Rocky Bernard to the line through free agency, but also tacked on Michael Boley to fill the hole at weak side linebacker.
Given the strength of all teams in the NFC East, it will be a very competitive division, not just this year but for the next few seasons. The Giants’ will not only have to work the young guys into the system quickly, but will need to get better production out of them than last year.
But after suffering a drastic decline at the end of 2008, you have to think the Giants will be looking to make a statement early on in the season (a good time seems to be when they open up the Cowboys new stadium on Sunday night Football).
Two teams out of the East will make the playoffs again this year.
Partly because I think the competition is so good that the teams will beat each other up with no team running away with the division.
Clearly, it will be difficult for the Giants’ to repeat as division champions with the talent that other teams now have.
But the Giants have also made upgrades during their off-season and still have the best defense in the division, which is the most important component of winning in the NFL East.
That makes them the favorite to repeat as NFL East champions.