2008 NFL Season Preview: NFC East

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2008 NFL Season Preview: NFC East

Man this is fun...getting Raider fans all riled up. I got Packer fans arguing with Viking fans about Brett Favre, even though I said I wouldn't talk about it. That is why you have to love the NFL. Everyone has an opinion and they're all right...well that isn't true. This website proves that.

Last week was the AFC West, and not everyone was particularly happy with me. I wasn't TRYING to get Oakland fans all lathered up; I was just telling what I believe to be the truth. (The irony is that I was trying to get people worked up over the Brett Favre thing and I had five times less readers.)

Raider Nation was, as I predicted, unhappy with my assessment of Raider Glory, or in my case lack thereof, this season, but let's not throw around the "b" word.

Bias is when you can't look at something objectively because of feelings you hold. Well, no one is objective about anything. Not REALLY anyway, not in any kind of true sense. There is just too much in our world that leads us to believe certain things that our lives are based in bias.

However, when a bias leads you to misrepresent facts, or even misunderstand facts because of feelings you hold, then it becomes a problem, particularly for writers. I hold no bias towards any sports franchise to the point that I cannot examine them objectively. That includes my own Green Bay Packers.

The only bias I hold in these previews are for good teams over bad teams. That is enough of that, time for the preview: drum roll please...

 

Dallas Cowboys: (2007 Record 13-3)

Offense: One of the biggest reasons the Dallas Cowboys have risen from recent mediocrity comes from the meteoric rise of side-slinging Tony Romo. The Wisconsin native got the starting quarterback job after Dallas essentially ran out of options in 2006 and has performed at a Pro Bowl level in the regular season ever since.

The biggest question facing THIS Cowboys team is: Can Tony Romo play well enough in the playoffs to stave off another first-game exit for the third year in a row?

With Terrell Owens, Jason Witten, and Patrick Crayton, the weapons in the passing game are plentiful, but teams who were able to control Jason Witten and contain, to some degree, TO, gave Romo fits. The Cowboys lack a true No. 2 on the outside, but they hope Terry Glenn can be that guy.

For the Cowboys though, their staple has always been a solid running game. Despite the fame of Staubach, Aikman, Irvin, Romo, and TO, the Cowboys offense has always been about the horses up front and the guy toting the rock.

Players like Tony Dorsett, Herschel Walker, and Emmitt Smith ran over defenses behind mammoth offensive lines. With Julius Jones gone, it is up to Marion Barber III to shoulder the load for the 'Boys.

"Marion The Barbarian" lacks the break away speed to be an every-down back in the NFL, and that led the 'Boys to the speedy rookie Razorback, Felix Jones. He possesses outstanding speed and versatility in the passing, running, and return games.

The Cowboys also added Georgia Tech RB Tashard Choice as insurance, in case Barber, who has never been a full-time, 17-week starter, wears down under such a heavy load. An improved running game would make a team ranked second in points and third in passing last year even more potent.

Defense: The Cowboy defense retains all of its Pro Bowl players from a season ago, but the depth took a considerable hit. Safety Keith Davis and corner Nate Jones left for Miami, while nickelback Jacque Reeves signed with Houston.

The Cowboys drafted Mike Jenkins from UCF to fill the nickel role, and he has outstanding speed and toughness. However, like many Cowboy corners in recent memory, he does not have great tackling skills.

This defense finished 13th in the league in pass defense, thanks in large part to a stellar pass rush from all-world OLB DeMarcus Ware. That means Ware will have to play at a Defensive Player of the Year level just to keep this pass-defense slightly above average.

Reeves may have played inconsistent at times, and Jones was not a major contributor, but losing both was not addition by subtraction. This secondary with Roy Williams and Co. remains vulnerable. Adding Zach Thomas does little to help a linebacking corps that struggles to hang onto interceptions as it is.

Overall: A 13-3 record was part weak schedule and part outstanding play. One week the Cowboys looked like the only team in the NFC even close to the New England Patriots, and the next, Tony Romo would be throwing the ball everywhere but to the guys with stars on their helmets.

This is an extremely talented roster, but more Pro Bowlers than the Patriots last year was preposterous. Dallas remains a top-tier, even if overrated, team, but may come back to earth a little bit in 2008. Another NFC East Crown, with an 11-5 record and a first-round, home, playoff game sounds about right.

 

Philadelphia Eagles (2007 Record 8-8)

Offense: Donovan McNabb battled injuries once again last season and yet was still able to throw for more than 3,000 yards, complete 61 percent of his passes, and throw nearly three times more touchdowns (19) than interceptions (7).

McNabb, when healthy, is a top-level talent at the quarterback position, and it doesn't hurt to have a guy named Westbrook in your backfield. WR Kevin Curtis was a pleasant surprise, while Reggie Brown was nothing short of a disappointment.

Former Wolverine Jason Avant came on strong for this team and provided depth on the edge. Adding DeSean Jackson (who remains unsigned) will be key for this passing game that lacks a true deep threat. Jackson has the kind of ability to take a hitch route for six from anywhere on the field, and that is something the Eagles desperately need from someone other than Brian Westbrook.

Speaking of Westbrook, the headline of 2007 for the Eagles was Brian Westbrook's transformation from underrated utility back to headlining superstar. Westbrook lead the Eagles in receiving with 90 catches and rushing with 1,333 yards.

The former 'Nova star has quickly evolved into the kind of run/pass threat the Saints hope Reggie Bush can one day become. Bring back a healthy Correll Buckhalter and talented second-year rusher Tony Hunt, and the Eagles' backfield is as tough as any to defend with inside-outside threats.

It helps to have one of the best offensive lines in the NFC, particularly one who runs the screen pass better than any team in football.

Defense: The Eagles made their upgrades this offseason on D. William James moved on to Buffalo, Asante Samuel moved to Philly. Advantage Eagles. Javon Kearse returned to the Titans.

Chris Clemons jumped ship on Oakland for the City of Brotherly Love. Advantage Eagles.

This Philly D, under coordinate extraordinaire Jim Johnson, finished in the top 10 in rushing (seventh), total yards (10th), and points (ninth). Adding Chris Clemons on the outside, opposite pass-rush ace Trent Cole, gives the Eagles a hellacious edge attack.

Even worse for opposing quarterbacks, the Eagles are as deep at corner as any team in the NFL with Sheldon Brown, Lito Shepperd, and Asante Samuel keeping receivers at bay.

Big names like Jeremiah Trotter and Takeo Spikes may be gone, but Jim Johnson knows defense, and this team will be a stingy group once again. The defensive tackle position is deep and versatile, able to plug the middle and collapse the pocket.

This was a defense that gave that vaunted Patriots offense fits with pressure from everywhere and a physical demeanor. This defense also gave Tony Romo and Terrell Owens problems in Dallas, one of the few teams who could do much of anything against that duo.

This defense is actually improved in 2008, and for teams in the NFC East, that is bad news.

Overall: The Eagles played hard-nosed football towards the end of the season, beating three teams in the final three weeks—all of whom were fighting for playoff positions. Keeping No. 5 upright for the whole season will be key. And if he can stay healthy, this team will challenge the Cowboys for NFC East supremacy.

Do not be surprised if the Eagles leapfrog the Giants and finish 10-6, snatching the last wild-card spot.

 

New York Giants (2007 Record 10-6)

Offense: I had faith in Eli Manning when he was coming out of school. He proved me right in 2007, putting on a virtuoso performance in the playoffs and leading his team to one of the most unlikely Super Bowl victories in history.

2008 may not be so kind to young Eli.

If he thought there was pressure just playing in New York, or being Peyton's brother, try playing the year after winning a Super Bowl.

Plaxico Burress wants a new contract, Ahmad Bradshaw continues to have legal issues—and there is speculation his run with the team is in danger—Amani Toomer is 50-years old, and there is no guarantee Jeremy Shockey even wears a Giants uniform next season.

The good news is Mario Manningham will likely become the No. 2 receiver next to Plax, and Brandon Jacobs proved he can carry the load, but beyond that, what is there?

Ward and Jacobs will be a potent one-two punch on the ground, and Jacobs has arrived as a franchise running back. That will ease the burden on Eli, that is true.

However, the Giants got away with a vanilla offense last year, and with an entire offseason to game plan, and the Super Bowl target on their backs, believe defensive coordinators will find a way to stop this team from scoring points.

In fact, this offense wasn't a prolific scorer in scoring anyway, ranking 14th in 2007. This was not a great offense to begin with, despite its success in the playoffs. Doing just enough offensively in this division will not cut it this year.

Defense: The biggest hurdle facing the Giants' defense is replacing Michael Strahan. No doubt, Strahan had lost his ability to dominate games off the edge, week in and week out, like he had earlier in his career. Luckily for the Giants, Osi Umenyiora hasn't.

However, Justin Tuck will not be the new Strahan on the outside, in fact, his quickness and burst gives him an advantage as a DT, but makes him just another guy as a D-end.

William Joseph left for the Raiders, making the interior even weaker. Additionally, the Giants lost their tackling machine Gibril Wilson at safety, and their two startinig linebackers Kawika Mitchell and Reggie Torbor.

For the Giants, the loss will be greater than the gain for the Raiders, Bills, and Dolphins respectively. Steve Spagnuolo is a hell of a coach, but integrating three new starters at key positions in this defense will be quite a task for a defense that finished in the bottom half in points allowed.

Kenny Phillips, Terrell Thomas, Bryan Kehl, and Jonathan Goff were drafted to fill some of these holes, but a Super Bowl team can't start four rookies as key cogs in Spagnuolo's complex blitz-scheme defense.

Overall: In 2006, the year after the Pittsburgh Steelers went on that great run and became the first team to go on the road three straight weeks and win a Super Bowl, Bill Cowher's team went 8-8 and missed the playoffs. Free agent losses, injuries, along with the Super Bowl bulls eye, all contributed, but the burden of winning a Super Bowl remains as onerous as the glory is euphoric.

Too many holes on defense and short-comings on offense make the Giants a 9-7 team (just a one-W differential from 2007) and on the outside looking in at playoff time.

 

Washington Redskins (2007 Record 9-7)

Offense: New head coach Jim Zorn will bring his version of the West Coast offense to America's capital in 2008. Unfortunately, the Redskins lack a No. 1 receiver, particularly one to excel in a West Coast scheme.

Drafting Devin Thomas and Malcolm Kelly is a start, but rookie receivers rarely make an impact, a la Randy Moss, particularly in an offensive system that will require them to take a beating going across the middle on slants, drags, and post routes.

Jason Campbell should like the new scheme because it will be similar to the offense he ran at Auburn as a senior, and it will allow him to use that strong arm to get the ball out quickly. The passing game's success will depend on how cohesive this group can get with a new system.

Luckily, the 'Skins still have a stellar backfield on which to rely. This team was one of the best running teams in football last season with Clinton Portis and Ladell Betts. However, Clinton Portis was shut down by Seattle's mediocre rush defense in the playoffs, showing the wear of 20-carry games, week in and week out.

Against division opponents, Portis averaged just 88.7 yards on 20.5 carries last season. At just 26-years old, Portis shouldn't be wearing down just yet, but with his history of injuries, and the kind of beating he took last year, it will be a situation to monitor in 2008.

Defense: The coaching issues continue for the Redskins, as losing Gregg Williams remains the biggest hit for the Redskins this offseason, including the retirement of head coach Joe Gibbs.

Gregg Williams' work with the Washington defense was the only reason the Redskins even came close to the playoffs, particularly with the week 17 performance against Dallas, holding the Cowboys to a franchise low one rushing yard, earning the 'Skins a playoff birth.

From a personnel standpoint, not much will change in 2008, which, for the most part, is a good thing. Shawn Springs, Carlos Rogers, and Fred Smoot make the defensive backfield talented and physical, particularly with a healthy Rogers.

LaRon Landry has looked like a superstar since he was at LSU and has shown flashes in Washington, but it will not be the same with the tragic loss of Sean Taylor.

The Redskins possess a solid, if unspectacular, front seven. Many people expected a pass-rusher or defensive tackle from Washington in the first round, instead they traded down and nabbed three of the best offensive players in the draft with Kelly, Thomas, and USC tight end Fred Davis.

Without being able to pressure quarterbacks consistently, the Redskins defense will struggle in 2008, despite the return of Carlos Rogers. The Redskins can really plug the run, but in this division, guarding players like Terrell Owens, Brian Westbrook, and Plaxico Burress will be a challenge (not that it wouldn't be a challenge for other teams, the 'Skins just see those guys twice a year).

Overall: A new offensive system, coupled with an inconsistent pass-rush, makes the Redskins an enigma heading into 2008. If one of the rookie receivers can catch on and Jason Campbell can get in tune in a hurry, this offense could be solid. However, questions on defense remain, and the Seahawks really highlighted Washington's weaknesses on offense and defense in that playoff game.

In a division that has gotten stronger around them, Daniel Snyder has uncharacteristically stood pat for the most part. That could mean a 6-10 season and Jim Zorn will quickly understand how tough it can be in Washington.

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