NFC East: Five Burning Questions Answered
The NFC East is among the most competitive divisions in the NFL, if not the most competitive. Three playoff caliber teams engage in a hard, bloody battle every year that exemplifies the emotions, struggles, and surprises that make football what it is.
Now, as we enter the 2011 season, many questions float around pertaining to this division, and this slideshow provides the answers.
Is THIS the Year for the Cowboys?
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Last year, the Cowboys were a complete dud. In the preseason they were a favorite to win it all in their own stadium, and they ended up 6-10, tied for last in the division with their starting QB sitting on the sidelines.
The answer: No. The Cowboys are a very talented team, one of the most talented in the NFC. However, they have problems at O-line that seriously need to be addressed, and there is one man standing in between them and a Super Bowl. His name is Tony Romo.
While Romo has proven to be effective in the regular season, he is never dependable in clutch situations and only has a single playoff win in his career, which was followed up by a blowout loss to the Vikings.
When January rolls around and the Cowboys are looking for someone to lead them in tough situations, Romo won't be able to deliver. I'd take my chances with Mike Vick or Eli Manning.
Oh, and the running game needs some work.
Well Then, Who Will Win the Division?
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This one will start out as a three-way race between the New York Giants, the Philadelphia Eagles, and the Dallas Cowboys. By the end of the season, however, it will come down to the Giants and the Eagles, the latter of which will prevail.
Why? Because all three teams seem to consistently put up similar records, but the Giants and Eagles are more complete teams than the Cowboys, and both can beat Dallas on a regular basis.
However, the Eagles seem to always come out on top against New York, which is the main reason they will take the division in 2011.
Expect the records to look something like this:
1. Eagles 11-5 - 12-4
2. Giants 10-6 - 11-5
3. Cowboys 9-7 - 10-6
4. Redskins 4-12 - 7-9
Who Has the Best Receivers, and Who Will Have the Most Productive Ones in 2011?
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Every team in the NFC East has been blessed with talent at the receiving position.
The Giants have Hakeem Nicks, Steve Smith and Mario Manningham; the Cowboys have Miles Austin, Dez Bryant and Roy Williams; the Eagles have DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin and Jason Avant; the Redskins have Santana Moss, Anthony Armstrong, and to a lesser extent, Joey Galloway. These are each trios' combined stats for last year:
Giants = 187 receptions, 2,525 yards, 23 TDs
Cowboys = 151 receptions, 2132 yards, 18 TDs
Eagles = 168 receptions, 2,593 yards, 17 TDs
Redskins = 149 receptions, 2159 yards, 9 TDs
Undoubtedly, the Giants have the best receiving corps in the NFC East, despite the fact that Hakeem Nicks and Steve Smith missed a combined 10 games.
And don't expect their spot to change; Eli Manning is a very capable QB and the Giants look like the most consistent group heading into 2011.
The Cowboys lack a run game and a good O-line, which is likely to negatively impact the passing game.
The Eagles have some great receivers and Mike Vick is one heck of a playmaker but his aggressive playing style has gotten him hurt several times in the past,and if he's gone for a couple games who's gonna replace him? Mike Kafka?
I don't think I need to mention what's going on down in Washington.
Which First-Round Draft Pick Will Have the Most Impact?
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Giants first-rounder: CB Prince Amukamara
Cowboys first-rounder: OT Tyron Smith
Eagles first-rounder: G Danny Watkins
Redskins first-rounder: DE Ryan Kerrigan
Those are 4 solid first round picks, and barring serious injury, all of those players are going to see a decent amount of playing time.
Tyron Smith is almost surely an instant upgrade at tackle for the Cowboys, Prince will be a key part of the Giants nickel packages, Danny Watkins will be a solid player at guard for the Eagles, and Kerrigan will step in as a DE opposite Brian Orakpo to form a pretty strong pass rushing duo.
However, this one is a toss-up between Kerrigan and Smith. Although Watkins and Amukamara will prove to be valuable players, the Redskins and Cowboys will be pushing for Kerrigan and Smith to start as soon as possible so they will have the opportunity to make much more of an impact.
Ultimately, my vote goes to Ryan Kerrigan because while Tyron Smith has to make up for a lack of talent on the O-line in a division with Trent Cole, Brian Orakpo, Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora, Ryan Kerrigan has it easier rushing alongside Brian Orakpo and should be able to put up some pretty impressive numbers.
Are Any of These Teams Contenders?
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Do the Redskins, Giants, Eagles, or Cowboys have what it takes to go all the way?
No, at least for now. The Redskins have a decent defense (although they should pick up a good linebacker at some point, London Fletcher is getting old) but the main problem lies on offense.
The most that can be said about the offense is that Santana Moss, Chris Cooley, and Anthony Armstrong are pretty good players. Ryan Torain and Keiland Williams look to be solid, but 2011 is a make-or-break year for them.
Meanwhile, the O-line could afford some help and they need a competent, non-John Beck player under center. If the Skins can get two first-round picks in 2012 and nail an OT and a QB, they could jumpstart their rebuilding process.
If Tyron Smith turns out to be a quality player, that could really help the Cowboys' chances in 2011. However, they aren't ready to win a Super Bowl yet. They need a QB who can be a leader in tough situations, and believe it or not, another pass rusher.
DeMarcus Ware is a beast, but once they reach the playoffs the better teams in the conference will have methods of shutting him down. He needs a threat opposite him.
And I'm sure Cowboys fans have their fingers crossed that DeMarco Murray is the answer for the run game.
They definitely have a shot at the NFC Championship, if not the Super Bowl. They were one interception away from the possibility of making a deep run in the playoffs, and this year things will probably be different.
They have tremendous speed on offense as well as several playmakers and the defense isn't too shabby either, boasting DE Trent Cole and CB Asante Samuel. Look for the Eagles to be in some big games in January.
They may be the most capable team in the division. Eli Manning is a way better QB than everyone thinks, they may have the most potent rushing tandem in the league, and Hakeem Nicks and Chris Snee highlight a talented group of receivers and offensive linemen.
Their defense is where they need the most help, although they upgraded the secondary with Prince Amukamara and they have a dominant line.
The main problem is the LB position. The Giants really need to sign a talented LB, but the problem is the money used to sign one would take away from the money available to re-sign key free agents.
The Giants may have to go through 2011 with a mediocre linebacking corps, but they could still contend despite it.