2008 NFC East Preview
There are several burning questions concerning, arguably, the most competitive division in football over the past few seasons. The NFC East is known for its great rivalries and smash-mouth style of games when any of these teams square off.
You have the defending Super Bowl champs in the Giants, and you wonder just how well they will respond to such a playoff run. Will Eli build off his excellent postseason performance and have a solid season? Can the Giants' defense perform at the same high level, despite some departures?
Aside from the Giants, all eyes are on Dallas again. Dallas made some interesting pick-ups this offseason by acquiring the troubled Pacman Jones and injury-prone veteran MLB, Zach Thomas.
Dallas fans are growing impatient with the team's lack of postseason success, and Wade Phillips can feel the heat from the front office as well.
The Eagles had a poor season, by their standards and are really hungry to return to grace in the City of Brotherly Love. Can a healthy McNabb orchestrate another playoff-bound season or is his time in Philly coming to a close?
The Redskins have officially moved on from the Joe Gibbs era and look forward to getting started with a clean slate. Can new HC Jim Zorn revive an offense that has been lackluster the last couple of years? Will Jason Taylor bring a spark to an aging defense?
Here's how they will finish when all is said and done.
1) Dallas Cowboys
Dallas looked like the team to beat in the NFC for the majority of the 2007 season. They didn't even get a chance to get the ball rolling in the playoffs, as the Giants came into town and pulled off the upset.
Jerry Jones was livid that they were bounced by their division rival, as they had handled the Giants both times during the regular season. He promised changes would come.
He controversially brought in Adam "Pacman" Jones in an attempt to give a boost to a secondary that was exposed at times. We all know Jerry Jones doesn't really care about the person he signs, just about the player.
Tony Romo really took big strides under the wing of OC Jason Garrett, and he looks to build off his sensational year. T.O. is still not slowing down, despite getting up there in age, and Jason Witten is one of the best TEs in the league.
Marion Barber is the primary back finally, and he will be joined by first-round pick, Felix Jones.
The defense was inconsistent last year, but overall they are above average. DeMarcus Ware keeps improving every year, and Greg Ellis won't stop sacking QBs. Roy Williams is becoming a liability in the pass game, and some even speculated he would be moved to LB or possibly even a cap casualty.
Big D will have another solid regular season, but what remains to be seen is if they can get it done in the postseason. There is a lot of pressure on this team to make some postseason noise, and Wade Phillips' job is most certainly on the line with Jason Garrett waiting in the wings.
I see them finishing above the division, but they will not live up to expectations again in the playoffs; Romo hasn't proved he can get a big W when it counts.
2) New York Giants
The Giants are once again getting no love. In the aftermath of their Super Bowl victory, the Giants have heard nothing but doubters for this coming season. There are more people talking about how they will fall than those that say they will be a force to be reckoned with, but the Giants wouldn't want to have it any other way.
Many are overreacting to the offseason losses that the Giants had. Michael Strahan is irreplaceable on and off the field, but the other players that left on the defense were not part of the team's core.
Gibril Wilson was a solid player, but he was also very inconsistent in his tenure with the G-Men. He excelled when he was brought on the blitz and was a decent run stopper, but was viewed as a product of the system. Jerry Reese would have liked to keep him, but not for the ridiculous price the Raiders gave him.
Kawika Mitchell really came on strong in the latter part of the year, but he too was not a major piece in the puzzle for the defense. Reggie Torbor was a career backup for the team until an injury to Mathias Kiwanuka opened up playing time.
These guys will not be as missed, as many would like to believe.
The emergence of Aaron Ross and Corey Webster gives the Giants a solid up-and-coming secondary, and first-round draft pick Kenny Phillips is expected to make an impact right away.
Justin Tuck is a prime candidate for a monster season now playing in a full-time role. Osi and Pierce will do their thing, and they also need to assume the new leadership position now that Strahan is gone.
We all know what Eli did in the playoffs, but it's time for him to bring that type of play to the regular season on a consistent basis. I have full confidence that he will only progress from here on out, and he will have plenty of weapons at his disposal.
Plax can rack up studly numbers if he maintains his health over this full year.
The Giants are not a flash-in-the-pan and they will return to the playoffs, as they keep their confidence and swagger from the latest playoff berth. Don't forget that the Giants are still the true "Road Warriors".
3) Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles' fans love-hate relationship with QB Donovan McNabb will continue this year, as it will be more of a loving relationship this time around. McNabb is almost two-years removed from ACL surgery, and that is typically the time when the player truly recovers from such an injury.
McNabb wasn't his same time-buying self in the pocket last year. You could notice that he didn't look confident in the pocket, and he got sacked a lot, at least by his standards. As the season went on, he began getting back to his old bag of tricks, as he looked a lot more mobile and more accurate with his throws.
McNabb is not done, by any means, and he can still run this Eagles offense to perfection. Brian Westbrook is the most underrated back in all of football, and he is trying to play his way to a new payday with the team.
The do-everything tailback is a terror to opposing defenses. Michael Strahan quotes in his book by saying he hated playing Westbrook the most because he was so good. Westbrook is the key to this team; as long as he stays healthy, the Eagles will always be in contention.
The defense may be the one thing holding this team back. Jim Johnson's crew is getting a little older and may have lost a step in their attacking style of play. But this is a smart DC and a smart unit; they are a max-effort team and can really bring the pressure when needed.
I like the Eagles' chances to return to the playoffs this year, as I see the NFC East sending three teams back to the playoffs like two seasons ago. The Eagles will have a nice bounce-back year, and McNabb will do it again without a quality No. 1 receiver.
4) Washington Redskins
The Redskins are a very unpredictable team. It seems like whenever they are picked to do well, they do poorly and vice versa. This team still has plenty of holes, but a lot of people like the Redskins as a team that will make a playoff push.
I don't see it. I just see too many question marks to go along with learning a new system under new HC Jim Zorn.
The 'Skins have a solid group of veterans, which is always a fine starting point for a team. The addition of Jason Taylor brings in a great pass rusher to team with Andrea Carter, who finally lived up to expectations last year by recording 10.5 sacks.
There is also MLB London Fletcher, who is the vocal leader of the team and still has a nose for the ball.
The defensive struggles lie within the secondary. Shawn Springs is getting old and has definitely lost a step, and Fred Smoot is serviceable. Sean Taylor cannot be replaced, but the emergence of Laron Landry will be a major factor for the defense.
Jason Campbell was a nice break-out candidate heading into last year, but he fell well short of expectations. He never seemed to get comfortable in Joe Gibbs' offensive set. Jim Zorn is hopeful that his West Coast offense will bring back the success Campbell had in such a scheme at Auburn.
Campbell is the wild card for this team. If he makes major strides, then the Redskins could be in for a very good year, but I am still hesitant to believe he will get to where he needs to be just yet.
He has a solid running attack of Clinton Portis and Ladell Betts, which he can lean on, but he needs to be a more accurate passer to keep defenses honest.
I see the Redskins as a year or two away from returning to the playoffs, but I have doubted them before, only to be proved wrong. Nothing would surprise me at this point.
All four of these NFC East teams are a tough matchup for any team. I look forward to watching another season of great intradivision battles.
Mark it down: The NFC East is the best division in football and the most exciting to watch. Who's ready for some real football?
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