A Writer's Reflection: The 2009 NFC East Preview
Football season is just a day away, and I can't put into words how excited I am.
I met with Robert Allred of the Cowboys, John Fennelly of the Giants, and Jack Anderson of the Redskins – three of my favorite writers on Bleacher Report – to put together an NFC East preview for this season.
Along with myself for the Eagles, we have all four teams represented to voice our opinions on what should be yet another competitive NFC East race.
Here are the questions below, along with answers from myself, John, Jack, and Robert.
1. Rank the four NFC East quarterbacks in order.
Cody (Eagles): McNabb, Romo, Manning, Cambell. All are above average...
Robert (Cowboys): Donovan McNabb has been the best quarterback in the NFC over the past decade, so until he starts to show a decline, he still has to be number one in the Beast. Romo would be my second, followed by Eli and then Jason Campbell.
Jack (Redskins): McNabb, Romo, Manning, Campbell
2. Predict the wins of each NFC East team this season.
Cody (Eagles): Wow. That's tough. I had said the Eagles are winning the Super Bowl several months ago, but a lot has happened since then. Most of it bad. As of now, I have to go Giants 12, Eagles 11, Cowboys 9, and Redskins 9. And I have the Eagles as the wild card with the Cowboys and Redskins just missing out.
Robert (Cowboys): I really have no idea. Speaking of my team, the Cowboys, I have been going back and forth all season. I think that they could be a very special team and win 12-13 games, or I think they could turn in another 9-7 kind of season. If you twisted my arm, however, I would peg the Eagles and Giants both at 11-5, the Cowboys at 10-6, and the Redskins at 8-8. I think we will see three teams from the East back in the playoffs this year.
John (Giants): Giants 12, Eagles 10, Cowboys 10, Redskins 8
Jack (Redskins): Giants: 11, Eagles: 9, Redskins: 9, Cowboys: 8
3. Which one player from another NFC East team would you most like for your own?
Cody (Eagles): DeMarcus Ware. We absolutely need a linebacker and Ware is probably the best in the game. He might be the single best defensive player in the game.
Robert (Cowboys): It would have to be Osi Umenyiora. While I think that Anthony Spencer will fill in nicely for Greg Ellis, I would love to have Osi and DeMarcus Ware play opposite each other. You can never have enough great pass rushers, and with Ware, Umenyiora, and Spencer, opposing offensive coordinators would not be able to sleep the nights before games against the Cowboys.
John (Giants): Jason Witten
Jack (Redskins): DeMarcus Ware
4. Which one player from another NFC East team do you respect the most?
Cody (Eagles): Jason Witten. He is probably the best tight end in the game.
Robert (Cowboys): For some reason, I have always had a soft spot in my heart for Donovan McNabb, despite the colors he wears. He has put up with a lot of crap since coming into the league, including a lot of abuse from his own fans, but has kept his cool, stayed classy, and has continued to prove that he is the best NFC quarterback of the 2000s.
John (Giants): Donovan McNabb
Jack (Redskins): Donovan McNabb: He takes so much heat in Philly and still defies the critics.
5. Which is the most intense rivalry among the NFC East teams?
Cody (Eagles): How do you pick just one? That whole division is a rivalry. But I have to go Eagles vs. Giants over Eagles vs. Cowboys or Cowboys vs. Redskins, largely because the Eagles and Giants have met in the playoffs in two of the past three seasons, and these two teams are the two favorites to win the division this year.
Robert (Cowboys): The Cowboys and (fill in the blank). In recent years, the Cowboys fans typically have reserved the majority of their hate for whichever of the three other teams is the better one at the moment. Right now that would be the Eagles or the Giants, as they have both ended one of our past two seasons. The other three teams all hate the Cowboys more than any other.
John (Giants): This ebbs and flows. Traditionally, it was Dallas-Washington and NY-Philadelphia, which makes sense again these days because of the talent.
Jack (Redskins): Redskins-Cowboys (Yes I'm biased)
6. Who will play in this season's conference championship games and the Super Bowl? Which team will emerge as a Super Bowl champion and who will take home the Super Bowl MVP?
Cody (Eagles): In the NFC, it will be Eagles over Giants. In the AFC, it will be Chargers over Patriots. As of now, I see the Chargers winning Super Bowl XLIV, and Philip Rivers taking home the MVP award.
Robert (Cowboys): The NFC is wide open. I really believe that any of these teams CAN make the Super Bowl, and I can also see a situation play out where NONE of them do.
However, if I am going to assume that someone from the East will represent the NFC in the big game, I am going to go with Dallas—simply because I see Dallas, New York, and Philly as tossups, and the idea of Dallas being the one to go makes me happier. If (when?) they make it to the dance, and if (when?) they win it, then DeMarcus Ware will have a beast of a game, wreaking havoc on Ben Roethlisberger (Or whomever) for 60 minutes and winning the Super Bowl MVP while solidifying himself as the best defensive player in football today.
That felt really great to put on paper, but that’s just a pipe dream right now. Let’s play the regular season first!
Jack (Redskins): Conference Champs: Patriots and Giants, Super Bowl Champs: Patriots, Super Bowl MVP: Tom Brady
7. How will Eli Manning – the highest-paid quarterback in the game – perform this season without Plaxico Burress? Will he be the cool and confident Eli who guided the Giants to a fourth-quarter comeback in Super Bowl XLII or the one who played like a rookie in last year's playoff loss to the Eagles?
Cody (Eagles): Well, first of all, I don't think Eli Manning was worth that contract. I think Eli Manning has a better group of wide receivers than most people realize, and I see him putting up his usual stats – a passer rating around 85.0 with 20-22 touchdowns and about 12 interceptions. And I see him putting up another poor performance against Philly in the playoffs.
Robert (Cowboys): Somewhere in the middle, I think. Anyone that knows me can testify to the fact that I cannot stand Eli Manning. I don’t know if it’s because of the dumb face he makes when he yells “dang” after every single play that goes wrong, his prima donna move leading up to the 2004 Draft, or the jersey he wears, but I do not like the guy.
That being said, he has vastly improved as a quarterback. I would go so far as to say he is a pretty darn good quarterback. Is he worth the contract he signed? No, but I can hardly fault him for signing the dotted line when New York was foolish enough to make him such a huge offer.
He is probably a top 10 quarterback in the league— or at the very least just outside that group— and I think he will (unfortunately) continue to improve. I do not expect him to put up great numbers, because he has never been a numbers guy, but I do think that he will play efficiently and help his team win.
John (Giants): Manning will have a Pro Bowl season. His new receiving coprs will prove to be much better than the old one.
Jack (Redskins): Manning has matured as a QB, but the lack of a true number one WR will definitely cause problems for him. If he can continue to sharpen his game and spread the ball around to his many receivers, things should be a step up from last year, but don't expect Peyton-like numbers from little bro, Eli.
8. The Giants captured the NFC East crown last season largely because of their style of smash mouth football with Brandon Jacobs, Derrick Ward, and Ahmad Bradshaw, who combined for close to 2,500 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns on the ground. This past offseason, Ward departed for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Will Jacobs and Bradshaw see a decline in their play or will the Giants remain one of the elite rushing teams in the league?
Cody (Eagles): The Giants will remain an elite rushing team. Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw are a dynamic duo. This team plays tough smash mouth football, and they will be tough to beat when December rolls around.
Robert (Cowboys): I think they will still have to run the ball quite a bit because they have lost a serious receiving threat in Plaxico Burress. However, I do not see Jacobs and Bradshaw alone combining for the kind of yardage that the three of them combined for last year. They are going to have to either find someone to step in to Ward’s role, or they will need to find more success through the air without Plax.
Will the Giants still be one of the elite rushing teams in the league? They might be, but probably not. That being said, Jacobs and Bradshaw are definitely still talents that defenses will have to account for, and I see them both having another productive season.
John (Giants): The Giants, barring injuries, will have a monster running attack this season.
Jack (Redskins): The Giants offensive line is one of the better run blocking units in the NFL so there won't be much of a drop off. Ward had the best vision of the three and it's not certain if Jacobs can carry a full load with his upright running style, but Bradshaw is the perfect change of pace back. Despite the loss of Ward, the Giants will again be a top rushing team.
9. The Eagles just recently added Michael Vick to their roster in a highly-publicized move. Will Vick help the offense or is he overhyped? Where will he play on the field? Predict how many total touchdowns (passing, rushing, receiving) Vick accounts for this season.
Cody (Eagles): I hate to say it, but I am not a huge Vick fan. At all. I think he is vastly overrated as a quarterback. I think he will be used mostly in wildcat-type formations, but I don't think he will account for more than two or three touchdowns this season.
Robert (Cowboys): I don’t see Vick having a huge impact this season. I think that we will see him on the field a couple of times a game, and I think that he will make a couple of plays, but I also don’t see this move as something that puts the Eagles over the top.
I think that Vick will be most effective when both he and Donovan McNabb are on the field, whether it’s in the Wildcat or if he lines up as a receiver and is a potential wide receiver passing threat. I have no idea what Vick’s numbers for the season will be, although I would venture to guess that he puts up 400-500 yards and three or four touchdowns.
John (Giants): His presence will do as much damage as it will good.
Jack (Redskins): don't see the Eagles as good fit for Vick. They already have a ton of speed and there isn't much room for him. McNabb still has a year or two left (and is light years better) so to me Vick is just an insurance policy in case McNabb gets injured.
I can't imagine more than two or three TDs this year for Vick.
10. The Eagles' defense has suffered a blow this past offseason, to say the least. Future Hall of Fame safety and team leader Brian Dawkins departed for the Denver Broncos via free agency. Longtime defensive coordinator Jim Johnson, arguably the top assistant in the game, passed away from a bout with cancer. And star middle linebacker Stewart Bradley tore his ACL and will miss the season. How much does this hurt the Eagles' defense? Will this team still feature one of the game's top defenses?
Cody (Eagles): It will hurt. I can't deny that. The defense is still one of the best in the game, bordering on elite, but you cannot replace a legend like Jim Johnson, a team leader like Brian Dawkins, and arguably the best defensive player in Stewart Bradley. With that in mind, I still think the Eagles will finish eighth or higher in total defense, but I don't see us winning the division any longer.
Robert (Cowboys): I still think that the Eagles have a top 10 defense. Sean McDermott has been with the team since before Jim Johnson, and has been fortunate to spend the majority of his career learning from one of the best of the best. I do not see Jim Johnson’s defensive ideals disappearing simply because a new coach is stepping in.
Instead, I expect to see the same blitz happy defense that has terrorized offenses for years, except with perhaps a tad less talent.
John (Giants): They are in big trouble. There is too much to overcome there.
Jack (Redskins): After a big offseason, the Eagles have been sent reeling with the losses of Johnson and Bradley. The defense will still employ the aggressive scheme that has made them so successful, but the absence of those three guys will prove costly.
The defense will be tough once again, but it won't be able to replicate the defense of years past. They will rank somewhere in the top 15.
11. Tony Romo will be entering his first season without Terrell Owens as his No. 1 receiver. How will this affect his play this year? Will Romo be able to find a No. 1 target in Roy Williams, who caught just 19 passes in nine games with the team in '08? And is there any truth to the rumors that Romo could be gone after the season if he doesn't win a playoff game?
Cody (Eagles): The Cowboys would be just flat out stupid to get rid of Tony Romo. I am not a Romo fan – at all – but he is a talented quarterback who is one of the ten best in the league. I think he will be fine without T.O. this season, a player who is on the decline faster than people realize. I don't think Romo will win a playoff game this season, but it's a team game. Quarterbacks don't lose playoff games. Teams do.
Robert (Cowboys): Romo is going to be a Cowboy in 2010, regardless of whether he wins a playoff game this year or not. The Cowboys have invested too much in him, and if they were to try and trade him, they would not be able to get fair market value for him. Just look at the Jay Cutler for Kyle Orton trade for proof on that.
Williams can be a perfectly good No. 1 option for the Cowboys, so long as the Cowboys commit to running the ball and involving their tight ends more in their offense. The Cowboys receiving corps is not necessarily bad, but it is very thin. If Williams, Crayton, Hurd or Austin go down to injury, then things can get very dicey.
However, they do have the best tight end duo in the league and arguably a top running back trio. If the Cowboys can move from pass happy to more of a control offense, then Williams might turn out to be the perfect man for the job. Not only that, but Romo’s job becomes much easier too.
John (Giants): Romo will have an average year. The Cowboys will run more than they pass.
Jack (Redskins): Romo will struggle mightily without TO. Williams is a good receiver, but he's not TO. After Williams comes a load of receivers with potential. Miles Austin and Patrick Crayton lead the group. Those aren't guys that Romo will be able to consistently depend on.
However, Romo is a playmaker and those are hard to come by. Should he fail to get the Cowboys that elusive postseason victory, the heat will be on, but Jerry Jones will give him another year to prove himself. Romo has only started for two and a half seasons and it would be a mistake to pull the plug on a QB with such potential as Romo's.
12. Last season for the Cowboys was marked by controversies surrounding many of the players – Terrell Owens, Pacman Jones, and Tank Johnson, to name a few. Owner Jerry Jones ridded his locker room of those three distractions and reportedly is focusing much more on team morale than ever before. Will this be a distraction in Dallas in 2009 or will the team be able to simply focus on football?
Cody (Eagles): I don't think the Cowboys will have the distractions they had last season, but I just don't know if they are quite as good as they think. I would not be surprised to see this team miss the playoffs. Then again, I could see them taking the division. As of now, I have them at third place in the NFC East with nine wins.
Robert (Cowboys): Dallas is under a microscope in the sports media world, so I won’t go so far as to say that there will not be a single distraction this season. However, it has been an awfully quiet training camp and preseason, and that has been quite nice.
With TO, Pacman, and to a lesser extent Tank gone, there is definitely less to talk about in Dallas. However, that doesn’t mean that the media will not want to discuss Dallas at all next season. Love them or hate them, Dallas has a huge following and they garner a lot of media attention. If they are winning next year, then that is all you will hear about. However, if they are losing next season, then that too is all you will hear about.
Should Wade Phillips be fired? Is Tony Romo a bum? Was the new stadium a bad idea? These are all distractions that very well could rear their ugly head should things not go the Cowboys’ way.
John (Giants): They will focus on football but they are not the team they were in 2007, that is for sure.
Jack (Redskins): The team will focus on football, but the roster doesn't have the talent offensively it did a year ago. They will have to adapt to a run-first style considering they have three great backs in Marion Barber, Felix Jones and Tashard Choice. The run game will be a the key as the passing game is lacking a standout receiver.
Overall, it appears the Cowboys will take this year much more seriously, but if they don't change their pass-happy style, focus won't matter much.
13. The Redskins spent $100 million on Albert Haynesworth this past offseason. Will the move pay off for the team that finished in last place in the NFC East in '08? How will Haynesworth fit in the Redskins' defense?
Cody (Eagles): Albert Haynesworth is not worth the contract he signed, simply because few players other than Lawrence Taylor are worth that much money. Haynesworth will have a great season and probably make the Pro Bowl, but I don't think he will be enough to push the 'Skins over the edge. And I don't think he is the best defensive player in the NFL, as Sporting News rated him in their Top 100 NFL Players.
Robert (Cowboys): Albert Haynesworth is a thug, and I sincerely hope that Andre Gurode stomps on his face not once, but twice this year. But he is a great player, and he will be a help to a Redskins defense that really didn’t need that much help.
I do not think this move is as much about whether or not Haynesworth will come in and play to the level of his contract. Instead, I think the foolishness of this move stems from the fact that it was unnecessary. The money they used to bring him in would have been much better served to bring in someone to help their ailing offense.
Still, Haynesworth is a big body in the middle, and he is one mean dude. The Redskins defense has gotten tougher, no doubt.
John (Giants): Their line will be better, but they need more than Albert Haynesworth to compete in the NFC East.
Jack (Redskins): The Redskins have long been unable to pressure opposing QBs. Haynesworth gives them pressure up the middle, keeping the QB from stepping up in the pocket. That means more sacks for Andre Carter and other speed rushers.
Haynesworth also commands double teams, which will free up London Fletcher to be an even better run stuffer at MLB. Haynesworth's presence gives the 'Skins an opportunity to play aggressively with an already good defense.
14. The Redskins enter the season as odds-on favorites to again finish last in the division. What is the key for this team to stay competitive in a division that could easily boast three of the NFC's six playoff teams?
Cody (Eagles): Pray. The Redskins are overmatched against the three other teams in their division. To be competitive, the Redskins will need to excel in division play and hope the Giants, Cowboys, and Eagles suffer some key injuries to star players.
Robert (Cowboys): I think it all comes down to quarterback play. I don’t think that Jason Campbell needs to set the world on fire with his play, but he does need to be a consistently efficient quarterback if the Skins hope to do something special this season. Campbell has shown flashes of brilliance since he has taken over the quarterback duties, but he has yet to put it all together.
In a weaker division, this team is probably good enough to squeak its way into the playoffs, but in the East it is not going to work until their quarterback play improves.
John (Giants): They need for Campbell to get better, a lot better. Plus they need to stay injury-free and hope the other teams do not…
Jack (Redskins): The offense must rise to the challenge. With the defense projecting to be in the top five again, the offense needs to carry it's weight. The offense has to sustain drives, maintain field position and post 20+ points a game. If the 'Skins can score three times a game, that could be enough for this defense.
It all comes down to the trenches. The Redskins offense can get into a rhythm if the guys up front can hold their blocks. That's a big "if," but if the Redskins find their groove, it would go a long way to keeping opposing defenses honest.
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