2011 NFL Previews by Division: NFC East
The NFC East has long been perceived as the best division in conference. Some of that is warranted: No division has had fewer combined losing records since the new four division per conference format was instituted in 2002. All four teams have made the playoffs more than once in that span. Three teams have won the division more than once in that time.
But some of it is hype, as only two teams have made it to the Super Bowl, and only one has won it (the New York Giants after the 2007 season). Individual teams have also been over-hyped.
The Dallas Cowboys are a perennial pick to go all the way, and have just one playoff win since the 1997 season. The Philadelphia Eagles have lost multiple home games in the playoffs in that time. The team from Washington with the name too offensive to use has been almost as offensive on the field, consistently posting losing seasons after making among the biggest splashes in free agency.
Ultimately, the NFC North and AFC South have as many conference and Super Bowl titles as the East, and the NFC South, AFC East and AFC North exceed this division in that regard. That leaves this division as at best the third most accomplished of six divisions...will this be the year they get to the next level?
This year, it was the Philadelphia Eagles that won the offseason.
These and more moves that I care to continue to list led me (as a fan of the competing—and World Champion!—Green Bay Packers) to wonder how they could possibly be under the league's salary cap. It led Young to coin the Eagles the "Dream Team."
Playing in Philadelphia is pressure enough. Being known as the Dream Team only increases that, and it should be noted that no team has ever won the free agency market and Super Bowl the same year.
That is because in a game that requires so much teamwork and chemistry, introducing a lot of new parts is not the best way to win a title. Doing it when there is five weeks rather than five months to gel is even less likely to do it.
But the Eagles have most of the talent that won them the division last year. They are also the only team in the NFC East that is better on paper than last year. Those realities make the Eagles almost as likely to win the division as the other three teams combined.
New York Giants
If the key to success in the NFL is truly controlling the line of scrimmage, the New York Giants would be not only the best team in the NFC East, but the favourite to win Super Bowl XLVI. They have a top-tier offensive line and arguably the best four-man defensive front in the game.
Despite what he thinks, Eli Manning is not an elite quarterback—that list includes Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, and probably Ben Roethlisberger and Philip Rivers. But he might be the best of the rest (I would still put him behind Michael Vick), and probably in the top quarter of starters in the league.
Besides a good line to sit behind, he has an elite running game and pretty good receivers. That makes for a potent offense.
Unfortunately, a better determinant of success is the turnover battle. While the Giants forced a lot of them last season, they committed even more.
This could not have made disciplinarian coach Tom Coughlin happy. It is also a good bet he will correct the problem somewhat in 2011.
What he cannot correct is the injuries that are already piling up once again, or the weak secondary that is key to stopping the potent passing attacks that have become essential to title-bound teams (the 2001 Ravens are the last champion to win without one). Thus, I have the Giants barely squeaking into the playoffs.
The Dallas Cowboys were supposed to be the team to beat last season. In a way, they were, as 10 teams pulled off the feat.
On paper, they have lost more talent than they gained in free agency. But some of that talent (such as Roy Williams) they are better off without, and Tony Romo has returned from injury.
Sure, the team was 1-5 in games Romo started and 1-4 in games he played extensively in. Jon Kitna officially went 5-5. But Romo was not the cause of those losses, coaching was. Kitna's passer rating was about 10 points lower than Romo's.
The bad coach is gone. Jason Garrett did well enough (5-3) to have the interim tag taken off his title, and carries some of the winning mentality developed when he played for Jimmy Johnson two decades ago.
That alone is enough reason for this team to be optimistic. But they still have problems on the offensive line and secondary, and are no longer strong at running back. That is too many problems for a team that has not learned how to win—they should finish over .500, but miss the playoffs.
Washington Offensively Named Ones
(Sorry, I will no more refer to a team by this one's official name than use any other racial slur. Do not bother telling me it is not one—just because it is no longer used does not mean that is not its origin.)
Daniel Snyder knows how to make money. He does not know how to win football games, and like Jerry Jones and Al Davis (who at least once was among the brightest minds in the game), has not learned his limitations enough to stay out of the way.
But I am beginning to wonder if Mike Shanahan is following in his nemesis Davis' footsteps. Last year, he say Donovan McNabb in favour of Rex Grossman. This season, he is settling on John Beck!
Maybe a lack of quarterback knowledge is why Shanahan has just one playoff win since John Elway retired. With probably the least competent starter in the most important position, he needs an incredible defense and running game to be a winner.
He has at least an above average running game. But his defense was horrible against the pass (something teams stopped doing late in games with leads) last season, and no moves made are promising enough to expect that to turn around.
On the plus side, they found someone to dump team cancer Albert Haynesworth on. Thus, their roster addition by subtraction may outweigh their subtraction by subtraction, but they will suffer double-digit losses.
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