2011 NFL Predictions: NFC East Preview of Grit and Grind and Ones Left Behind
The NFC East has always been one of the most distinguished divisions in the NFL for housing teams that have been pound-and-ground hard-nosed football teams.
With a long history of being one of the most competitive divisions that houses some of the greatest rivalries in NFL history, the NFC East has not changed one bit.
This year is shaping up to be very interesting with the formation of the media-anointed "Dream Team" with the Philadelphia Eagles setting the early favorite line. However let's remember there hasn't even been a meaningful game played yet.
Here is a rundown of the beasts of the East and where they will finish up.
To Beck or not to Beck? That is the question.
Washington is in a very interesting position. With the addition of Tim Hightower at running back, and Jabbar Gaffney to complement Santana Moss in the receiving corps, the Redskins find themselves considerably more effective moving the ball on offense than in previous years. A decent core of young talent here coupled with a good draft improves a Washington team that was stagnant in previous years.
This is, however, all contingent on which quarterback is at the helm. John Beck has shown the ability to lead the team and be effective but coach Mike Shanahan is very loyal to veterans which is why Rex Grossman is a strong candidate for the job. I feel the Redskins are better off with Beck overall as his abilities to throw the deep ball and conservative mindset offset the experience of Grossman.
If Rex wasn't who he was, I think it would be an easy decision but the fact remains that Grossman is always one snap away from disaster. If Beck is named the starter the Redskins aren't going to be a one-dimensional team. With Rex, they will rely too much on the ground game, which will limit the potential of the team despite the talents of Tim Hightower, rookie Roy Helu and Ryan Torain.
On the defensive side of things, there are some concerns over the durability of the defensive line and linebackers. They have a fairly decent secondary that would benefit from an offense that can manage the clock and score to help limit the amount of time the defense is on the field. At the end of the day, I think this team could be the sleeper in the East. Looking at the schedule, though, leaves me to expect a record of 8-8 this year with Beck or 5-11 with Grossman.
The "Dream Team" could very easily become the "Paper Tiger" quickly and that all depends on two key elements: if fragile Michael Vick can stay healthy and play a 16-game season for only the second time in his entire career, and if the offensive line can protect him to help ensure it. Backup Vince Young is damaged goods and was only an emergency acquisition when the Eagles traded Kevin Kolb. They could have done much better in this category.
The Eagles on offense have the ability to score as the receiving corps led by Jeremy McClain and DeSean Jackson need support from the rest of the group as they will face an uphill battle this year to repeat last year's numbers (16 TDs) between them. If the offensive line struggles as I think they will, there won't be much time for Vick to be throwing as he will be scrambling much more.
Defensively, I can't think of another team that was this talented in the secondary. Free-agent Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie will be great complements to Asante Samuel and provide nightmares to offensive coordinators and quarterbacks alike. The soft spot here is the linebacker position; there needs to be a little improvement in this area as I just don't see this group being anything more than average.
Overall, this team should be the odds-on favorite to win their division, but they still have to play and there are no trophies awarded for the best roster sheet. I have great concern with the Eagles' ability to protect Vick this year and the fact that such a new group is learning to gel in the secondary; when games start to count they should drop some wins because of this. This isn't popular, but I see the Eagles finishing 11-5.
A healthy Tony Romo is set to bring the Dallas Cowboys back to the forefront of the NFC East this year complete with his supporting cast of receivers Miles Austin and Dez Bryant. After a dismal 2010 season, the Cowboys stayed very quiet in the free-agent market and feel they have what it takes to compete in 2011.
Marion Barber has packed up and gone to Chicago which leaves Felix Jones and Tashard Choice as the No. 1 and 2 running backs on the depth charts. Look for rookie DeMarco Murray to make a presence known sometime this season as well, which would allow the Cowboys to pose more of a threat to defenses around the league. I don't know if Felix Jones is going to be enough for the 'Boys, though, to provide a dominant run game, but it should be above average.
The defensive side of the ball is also a concern here, as I just don't see a major threat at any level. The defensive line could use improvement and the secondary is very average compared to other teams in the NFC. If they will be successful, the linebackers will wind up carrying the bulk of the defensive pressure here.
The Cowboys are facing a tall order to win this division, but they can and have the potential. The 2011 schedule is moderate and should provide some difficulties against teams like the Jets and New England. Overall I see the Cowboys finishing at 9-7, mostly due to the defensive issues at hand.
Who do you think will Win the NFC East?
This team has always been one of the X-factors in the league. The Giants are a scary team when they click, but when they are having an average day at the office, they can be the most frustrating team in the league to watch.
Offensively, the Giants have an above-average quarterback in Eli Manning and above-average receivers in Mario Manningham and Hakeem Nicks. They are talented and can get the job done and rely on an offense that is efficient if the game goes as scripted by the coaches. I don't see the numbers that Nicks and Manningham had last year by way of touchdowns (20 combined) but I do see them posting respectable numbers in this category. The issue is if Eli Manning can have the time he needs to throw, as the offensive line is at times inconsistent.
Look for the running game to be the primary force once again for the Giants as Bradshaw and Jacobs should be fine since their size can make up for the lack of clear running lanes created by the offensive line. The Giants need to play hard-nosed football and manage the clock more than ever this year, as the defensive secondary is in serious trouble since losing key players to injury.
Defensively, the injuries that have visited this team early may be too much to overcome, and despite the overall talent on this team, I don't see them really making a push for the division title. All around, I see this Giants team breaking a lot of hearts this year and finishing 6-10.
If anything, the NFC East will provide an interesting storyline throughout the football season and should be relatively close until about Week 6, when you will see two teams start to pull away from the rest of the division.
Look for the Eagles and the Cowboys to establish themselves as the teams to beat in this division, however don't count out the Redskins, who could end up surprising everyone.
This has always been one of the toughest divisions in football and this year should be no different.
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