Taking a look around the NFC East, we find nothing less than a dynamic landscape of opportunity for all four teams to once again challenge each other for the coveted title of Beast from the East.
As much as I hate to recognize it, the Dallas Cowboys are the reigning beast. There is no point in having such a great title if it is not observed, but the margin between the 4-12 record of the cellar dwelling Redskins and the 11-5 mark set by the Cowboys and Eagles was five points per game.
Can McNabb and Shanahan make up five points per game?
In 2009, the Redskins lost seven games by five points or less, and five by three points or less. That certainly does not seem insurmountable.
The Giants were not their usual impressive-self in 2009, but they are the only current roster to win a Super Bowl. That fact alone demands respect.
Who can be slept-on in the NFC East?
If you have an answer to that question other than "nobody", you may be delusional.
Every team has unanswered questions and every team has strengths. In 2010, the team that loses the least amount of key players to injury will win the NFC East.
Losing a starting quarterback to injury can be catastrophic for any team, but there are key players for each team that can make or break this 2010 season. I put forward this brief analysis as we examine what may or may not be in 2010.
Cowboys Key Players
The obvious is rookie wide receiver Dez Bryant. Roy Williams has not lived up to the expectations, but if Bryant can live up to his billing, the Cowboys will be one of the most intimidating offenses in the NFL.
The less-obvious is defensive back Akwasi Owusu Ansah. Ansah has all the measure-ables to be a dominant safety in the NFL. He could be the one to complete the secondary and defense, permanently taking over the safety position.
But the story is about Doug Free as the starting left tackle. Free is a good offensive lineman, but he faces his greatest challenges against the likes of Trent Cole, Osi Umenyiora, Brian Orakpo, Dwight Freeney, Mario Williams and a host of top tier defensive ends in 2010.
If Free struggles, a blind-side blitz could dash the Cowboys dreams.
Eagles Key Players
The obvious is the newly appointed Kevin Kolb as starting quarterback. The Eagles offense has been explosive but inconsistent. If Kolb can manage to distribute the ball without making critical mistakes, the Eagles offense will continue to improve.
The less-obvious is defensive end Darryl Tapp. Tapp is a player that has consistently ranked at the top of the league in quarterback hits. If the Eagles start getting pressure on opposing quarterbacks from both edges of the front four, the defense will return to their elite status.
But the story is about Stewart Bradley, as he re-assumes his starting duties at middle linebacker. Before his third ACL injury ended his 2009 season, Bradley was the leader of the defense and the focal point of the scheme. Most players take time to rebound from these injuries.
If Bradley struggles, the Eagles could be scrambling to align their linebackers once again.
Giants Key Players
The obvious is the newly acquired safety Antrel Rolle. The Giants struggled in coverage and Rolle was the best proven talent on the market. If Rolle can earn his enormous pay-day and create some drive-stopping turnovers, the Giants defense could gain some much needed confidence.
The less obvious is running back Ahmad Bradshaw. As the Giants transition to a more pass heavy offensive game plan, the power running game will play less of a factor. Speed-back Ahmad Bradshaw looks like the better fit. If Bradshaw can sync-up with the offense, the Giants will be able to once again stretch defenses all over the field.
But the story is about Osi Umenyiora in his second season following his ACL injury. If Osi can fully squash his grievances and return to his 2008 form, the secondary will look better and the defense will dominate once again. Unfortunately, his continued frustration may compound his set-backs.
If Osi can't get centered, the Giants will have similar defensive struggles.
Redskins Key Players
The obvious is Donovan McNabb and his assumption of the quarterback duties in Washington. The Redskins offense has consistently faltered, and McNabb brings a new opportunity as the face of the franchise. If McNabb can stay healthy, he could be the long-awaited field-general guiding the Redskins offense.
The less obvious is running back Ryan Torrain. While the attention has been placed on Clinton Portis, Willie Parker and Larry Johnson, Torrain is the only player that appears as a potential long-term answer. If his knees look healthy, Shanahan knows what he has in Torrain as a former "Shanny-era" draft pick in Denver.
But the story is about Albert Haynesworth and his unwillingness to participate in the 3-4 defense. Haynesworth is a game changer, but at the moment we are only hearing talk with minimal action. When the mandatory camps convene, the rubber will meet the road. If Haynesworth fills one of the three positions on the new defensive front, the Redskins will have a dominant front-seven.
If Haynesworth continues his petulance, the Redskins may find more serious vulnerability on the defensive side of the ball.
The 2010 Beast from the East
Can and will someone dethrone the Cowboys?
Each team is no more than an injury or two away from slipping into the bowels of the East. Each team is no less than an impact player or two away from becoming one of the dominant teams in the NFL.
The race for the title is on and I expect a twisting, turning season with the healthiest team winning.
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