With the 2009 season nearing, I might as well go on a limb and test my credibility. For the next few days until the start of the season, I will be putting my smarts on the line and typing up some divisional outlooks.
From Monday through Thursday, I will be summarizing the NFL from east to west, two divisions at a time. First up is the NFL Eastern divisions, the AFC East and NFC East. The NFC East will probably end up being the league’s toughest division and the AFC East was one of the few divisions along with its NFC counterpart to have three teams with winning records last year.
Season’s almost here so let’s get started.
NFC East-Dallas Cowboys
The Cowboys aren’t the popular preseason pick that they were this time last season and I can understand why. The New York Giants are going to field a ferocious front seven this year and the Philadelphia Eagles acquired a lot of talent throughout the offseason. Most publications have been alternating between the two as their favorites but I have my doubts with both teams.
The Giants have a gaping hole at not one but both receiver spots and you can expect opposing defenses to sit on their run game until their unproven wideouts show they can be counted on. If the Giants’ receivers can step up then this changes the whole outlook but I can’t base a prediction on such a largely untested group. The Eagles defense isn’t as strong as it used to be and the acquistion of Michael Vick could threaten the chemistry of a title contender. Longtime leader Brian Dawkins is now in Denver and all-everything but often injured running back Brian Westbrook is already banged up before the season even starts.
The Washington Redskins had the least turbulent offseason of any NFC East member but the lack of a premier wideout and uncertainty surrounding incumbent quarterback Jason Campbell makes them a risky pick. The Cowboys however, still pack a wealth of talent and enter the season drama-free. The loss of Terrell Owens will hurt the vertical passing game but the emergence of sophmore running back Felix Jones adds another gamebreaker to an already explosive offense.
The much maligned Tony Romo will be expected to step up but he’ll have the weapons at his disposal to do just that. No other offense in the NFC East can match the ‘Boys talent for talent as Dallas has A-list prospects at each phase of their offense.
Dallas has probowl-type talent at the quarterback, running back, receiver and offensive line positions. And however you want to classify tightend Jason Witten, just make sure you classify him as the best tightend in the league.
The Cowboys defense is still stock filled with playmakers on a unit that led the NFL in sacks last year. The ‘Boys lost Roy Williams, Pacman Jones, Zach Thomas, Tank Johnson, Greg Ellis and Chris Canty and they still might be better on defense this year.
That’s because DeMarcus Ware is the most disruptive outside linebacker since Lawrence Taylor and head coach Wade Phillips will get another year to dive deeper into his rush schemes. Dallas gets the benefit of a third-place schedule and some favorable home dates against all the playoff teams from their non-divisonal opponents.
It shouldn’t be understated what boost the team will receive from the loss of a few troubling players and Jessica Simpson. And with Dallas slated to operate out of the league’s fanciest football stadium this season, the stars might be aligned for the team with the star on its helmet.
AFC East-New England Patriots
I really wanted to pick the Miami Dolphins to come out the AFC East but the same gripe I have with the Giants, I have with the Dolphins. I like what Bill Parcels is doing in Miami. He’s turned a 1-15 laughingstock from a couple of seasons ago into a competitive bunch with a bright future. Miami may have the best combo of offensive line and running backs in the division and their defensive unit is stacking up on young talent.
But Miami’s lack of receivers is the same sore spot that got them blasted out of the playoffs last year. The Buffalo Bills aren’t ready to take that next step just yet and the New York Jets will break in a rookie at quarterback. The New England Patriots went 11-5 without Tom Brady last season and his return undoubtedly will elevate the Pats back to championship contender status.
The obvious concern with New England is Tom Brady’s knee but for a quarterback known more for his quick release than his gamebreaking speed, Brady should be ok. He’s had a year off to rest his throwing shoulder and he looked awesome in preseason contests against the Eagles and Redskins. The offense will be explosive regardless of who’s starting at running back and the defense is going to field a nice mix of savvy veterans and talented rookies.
With backup signal caller Matt Cassell starting in Kansas City, the Patriots won’t be as fortunate should Brady go down again but a full season of playing without him gives the team confidence they can sustain a possible injury.
New England’s schedule is similar to the Cowboys. The Pats will get all of last season’s playoff teams at Foxburg this year when they play their non-divisional opponents. Atlanta, Carolina, Tennessee, and Baltimore are all home games for New England this year with their only major road test coming against the rival Indianapolis Colts.
Last year’s winning record without 2007’s MVP was impressive and Brady’s return is a definite plus. The Patriots last went 18-1 with Brady at the helm and New England retooled heavily over the offseason. A return to prominence should be in store.