Man, this will be a fun division to watch. I mean, there's a slight possibility that all four finish above .500, and no reason that at least three shouldn't. They have the odds-on favorite to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl, a team that went to four straight NFC Championship Games quite recently, a playoff team that has improved this offseason, and, oh yeah, THE DEFENDING SUPER BOWL CHAMPIONS. Amazing.
Let's start with the Super Bowl XLII Champs. As is the custom for Super Bowl winners lately, a few key players have left the team. Michael Strahan retired, Kawika Mitchell is gone to Buffalo, Gibril Wilson is off to Oakland, and most recently Jeremy Shockey is living large in The Big Easy. Doesn't matter. This team was overloaded at DE with Strahan, as good as he was, and now Justin Tuck will play full-time alongside Osi Umenyiora and wreak havoc upon opposing QB's. Sammy Knight has been brought in to replace Wilson and Gerris Wilkinson will take Mitchell's spot. The main thing to consider is what the team brings back.
Eli Manning seemed to take a quantum leap forward in the playoffs last year, making Brett Favre expendable in Green Bay among other things like leading his team past the juggernaut that was the New England Patriots. He has become a new man, as he got married over the summer, with Justin Timberlake famously saying at the ESPY's, "he finally saw a girl naked". All kidding aside, it looks like Eli has finally become the leader the Giants have been waiting for.
Brandon Jacobs is an absolute load at RB, and if Ahmad Bradshaw can't get out of his own shadow, Derrick Ward is more than capable of spelling Jacobs. The line is strong with guard Chris Snee and tackles David Diehl and Kareem McKenzie. Plaxico Burress is coming of his best season arguably as a pro and veteran Amani Toomer solidifies the number two spot. Kevin Boss is a capable replacement for Shockey, as he showed at the end of last season. This team has an outside chance to repeat, though I wouldn't bet on it.
How about those Eagles? They might have the scariest cornerback trio in recent memory with Asante Samuel joining Lito Sheppard and Shelton Brown. They just better hope there's enough picks to go around. Trent Cole had a breakout year at DE while Brian Dawkins continues to be great at safety.
The Redskins could improve the most of any East team, and they went to the playoffs last year. Jason Taylor is a more than capable replacement for the injured Philip Daniels and new coach Jim Zorn quarterback knowledge seems to be working great for Jason Campbell so far. Clinton Portis should be strong once again at running back and the receiving core should be better with Moss, Randle El, and new additions Devin Thomas and strong receiving tight ends Chris Cooley and Fred Davis.
Corners Carlos Rogers and Shawn Springs are good veterans and London Fletcher never seems to stop tackling people. The football gods knew what they were doing when they had this team take LaRon Landry in last years draft, who now has the unenviable task of trying to make this team and it's fans forget about the tragic story of Sean Taylor, but I think he will be able to do it. He is a special talent.
On to Dallas. Could they be New England, 2008 version? I don't think they will be that good, but this offense should be extremely explosive once again. Marion Barber is now the number one guy, and draftee Felix Jones should provide some lightning to Marion the Barbarian's thunder, and will give him some rest so he can ease himself into the feature back role.
Everyone focuses on the offense, but the defense is way better than most people think. DeMarcus Ware is arguably the best pass rushing linebacker in the game, and a more complete player than counterpart Shawne Merriman. Zack Thomas comes aboard and should get a ton of tackles in the middle and the secondary is strong as well, with corners Anthony Henry and Terrance Newman with the enigmatic newcomer Adam Jones.
This team reminds me of Indy from about 2 years ago. Both have been surrounded by immense expectations, a dynamic offense and a solid defense, but seemed to hit a wall in the playoffs, with the QB taking the blame. Look what happened eventually in Colts town. Will it happen in Dallas? Yes, I believe it will, and possibly sooner than later.
New York 11-5
Look for my final division preview on the AFC East tomorrow and as always, I look forward to your feedback. Check out my previous previews.