Rivalries. Tradition. Hatred. (Expletive) you (expletive)-head.
These are words that most die hard NFL fans associate with one of the most historically intense and competitive divisions in the history of football: the NFC East.
The NFC East is so special because there really isn't one standout marquee rivalry. Some could argue Cowboys-Redskins, but are those games really any more intense than Giants-Eagles, or Eagles-Cowboys?
In a division that frequently doesn't have a losing team, a division that frequently sends teams to the Super Bowl, there is absolutely no shortage of talent.
2009 is no different.
Without further ado, the top ten performers in the NFC East through the first nine weeks of the 2009 season.
To be completely honest, this inclusion has as much to do with London Fletcher's performance on the field as it does with my compulsion to include at least one Washington Redskin on the list.
However, Fletcher has hauled in an impressive 75 tackles (55 solo), good for fifth in the league. Granted, this might be more of a product of having Albert Haynesworth stomping on people's faces in front of him rather than anything else, but hey, the fifth leading tackler in the league deserves some credit, even if he does play for the 25th ranked run defense in the league.
The sole running back on the list, Ahmad Bradshaw's first half performance ranks ninth among his counterparts in the NFC East.
Through nine games, Bradshaw has totaled 515 yards on 103 carries for four touchdowns. His 5.0 yards per carry number is the tenth best mark in the league, and his numbers are even more impressive when set to the backdrop of Brandon Jacobs's 617 yards and only two touchdowns on 48 more carries (and a majority of the goal line work).
Bradshaw represents one of the only big play threats the stumbling Giants have left on their roster after their main big play threat went all Second Amendment on his right leg over the summer, and for that he has earned his spot at No. 9 on the list.
The big play defensive back who cut his teeth in New England has made his presence felt in Philadelphia from the first minute he donned an Eagles jersey, and this season is no different.
Through eight games, Asante Samuel has registered five interceptions—good for third in the league— along with 23 tackles, eight passes defended, one forced fumble, and the single worst tackle attempt on Zach Miller in history.
The only thing holding the 28-year-old ball hawk back from being higher on the list is, in fact, his below average tackling ability, which has unfortunately been exposed by the likes of Miller, Dallas' Miles Austin, and others throughout the first half.
Regardless, quarterbacks both inside and outside the NFC East will always think twice before tossing the pigskin in the direction of the ever-vigilant Asante Samuel.
Many were wondering how the former NFL Sack King would respond to an entire offseason of injury and rehab. Through nine games, it absolutely appears that those concerns were 100 percent unfounded.
Osi Umenyiora has totaled 5.0 sacks through nine games this year. While that number might appear pedestrian (good for only a 14th place tie league-wide), Umenyiora has had to deal with far more attention from opposing offensive lines due to key injuries to some interior defensive linemen (namely, Chris Canty).
Also, injuries in the secondary have allowed receivers to get open quicker, thereby decreasing the amount of time the quarterback holds onto the ball, making sacks harder to come by.
His big play ability shines through in his other statistics, as his 5.0 sacks have totaled 52 total yards lost (over 10 yards lost per sack!) by opposing quarterbacks, a mark good for fourth in the league.
He has also forced three fumbles, recovered two of them, and returned one for a touchdown.
Osi and the Giants' front seven might be having a down year by their standards, but one cannot ignore the force at the end of the defensive line that is Osi Umenyiora.
Steve Smith has been one of the most pleasant surprises of the 2009 Fantasy Football season. He probably would have been one of the most pleasant surprises of the non-Fantasy Football season as well if it hadn't been for the Giants stumbling into their bye week with four straight losses.
However, the contributions Smith has made on the field cannot be ignored. Through nine games, Smith is the league leader in receptions with 61. With those catches, he has accumulated 719 yards and five touchdowns, good for fourth and T-10th in the league respectively.
He has also tied for third in the league with 37 first down receptions, showing his ability to make the big catch when it matters.
Smith would rank higher on the list, but over the last five games he has caught only one touchdown pass and has yet to eclipse 70 yards. Regardless, Giants fans everywhere should consider themselves lucky to have such a sure handed replacement for the unsure-minded Plaxico Burress.
As a lifelong Cowboys fan, I have nothing but the utmost respect for Donovan McNabb. Time and time again, with sub-par receivers, McNabb has seemed to come through when the Eagles needed him most—as long as it didn't involve keeping his lunch down in the final minutes of the Super Bowl.
Aside from the year and a half with T.O., DeSean Jackson represents the only true number one receiver McNabb has ever had at his disposal, and he has taken advantage accordingly.
Despite missing two games due to injury, McNabb has thrown for 1,235 yards to the tune of ten touchdowns with only three interceptions. His 95.5 passer rating ranks ninth in the league, and his cannon arm is a large driver behind a big-play Philadelphia passing offense that ranks 11th in the league at 7.5 yards per attempt.
McNabb would be ranked higher, but his four victories as a starter have come over the Bucs, Panthers, Redskins, and Giants, and includes a road loss to (gulp) Oakland and a home loss to division rival Dallas.
Regardless, expect McNabb to have the Eagles right in the thick of things come December just as he has every year of his storied career.
Little-known outside of the NFC East, Trent Cole has been terrorizing opposing quarterbacks all season. Through eight games, Cole has accumulated 7.5 sacks good for sixth overall in the league, making him public enemy number one in the Eagles' plethora of nefarious blitz packages.
Much like Umenyiora, Cole doesn't just sack the quarterback, he sacks opposing quarterbacks for big losses. His 7.5 sacks have lost opposing quarterbacks 73 yards, the highest mark in the entire league.
It is a given that the Eagles will have consistent pressure on any quarterback they play, but Trent Cole has really assumed the mantle of a number one pass rusher. It won't be long until fans outside the NFC East begin to dread the day they see Cole lining up opposite their favorite teams' tackle.
Nobody knew exactly how hyphy this mercurial wide receiver from Cal would be until he electrified the entire city of Philadelphia with big play after big play his rookie year. There is no sign of a sophomore slump in sight either.
Through eight games, Desean Jackson has hauled in 26 receptions for 530 yards and four touchdowns. Oh yeah, and each one of those touchdowns was over 50 yards. Additionally, Jackson has made his presence felt on special teams, standing at fifth in the league in punt return yardage at 282 yards for one touchdown, and remains third in the league in yards per return at 15.2.
And yes, he has remembered to bring the ball into the end zone with him every chance he's gotten.
Combined with McNabb's laser-rocker arm, DeSean Jackson represents one of the most explosive receivers to come through the NFC East since Rocket Ismail (didn't see that one coming did you?).
It seems ridiculous to go eight spots on a Top 10 NFC East performer list before we reach one member of the 6-2 division-leading Dallas Cowboys, but a vast majority of the Cowboys' success this year can be attributed to a well-balanced overall team performance rather than pinpointed on five or six specific game breakers.
True, DeMarcus Ware is having a great year, but Jay Ratliff is making just as much noise on the inside.
True, Mike Jenkins is leading the team in interceptions, but Terrence Newman has more passes defended.
Jason Witten at times this season has been used as much as a decoy as Roy Williams has.
However, Tony Romo's performance through the first eight games absolutely stands out from the rest. Through eight games, Romo has spearheaded an offense that ranks third in the league in yards per game, and fifth in the league in points per game.
Individually, Romo's 2,215 yards and 95.8 quarterback rating each rank eighth overall in the league. He has thrown for 13 touchdowns and, more importantly, only five interceptions. To put that number in perspective, through eight starts in 2008, Romo had thrown 11 picks, and threw 10 in 2007 during the same period.
Tony Romo's new found freedom from T.O. and vastly improved decision-making have the Cowboys offense humming atop the NFC East at 6-2, all of which will be pointless of course if he and the 'Pokes can't finally come through in December and January.
Hands down, Miles Austin is the most surprising story of the 2009 NFL season (to non-Cowboys fans at least). Through nine weeks of NFC East play, there is absolutely no doubt he is the top performer in the division as well.
Before I go into the numbers, please remember that Miles Austin has only started four games this season, meaning for the first four games of the season he saw the field on at most 35 to 40 percent of the time.
Despite that fact, Miles Austin is one of the top receivers not only in the division, but in the league.
Austin has caught just 27 passes, but he has certainly made the most of them. With those 27 receptions, Austin has hauled in 617 receiving yards and is tied with Vincent Jackson, Vernon Davis, and Larry Fitzgerald for the league lead in touchdowns with seven. Keep in mind that none of the other three receivers on that list have less than 42 catches to Austin's 27.
Austin's 22.7 yards per catch also represent the top mark in the league, greater even than DeSean Jackson, who, despite only scoring touchdowns from greater than 50 yards, has a YPC mark of "only" 20.4. A great percentage of his yardage comes after the catch, as evidenced by his 266 YAC mark, good for seventh overall in the league.
And if you STILL need convincing that Miles Austin is a big play threat the likes of whom could put Speedy Gonzalez to shame, know he is the league leader with 20 receptions over 20 yards.
There is still a lot of football to be played in the 2009 NFL season, but it cannot be denied that Miles Austin has been the standout first half performer in one of deepest and most talented divisions in football.