|Please Tony! Just once, come through for me!|
Continuing with our 2011 NFL Preview, let's finish up with the NFC East. In case you missed them, here are the other divisions I've previewed.
As a Dallas Cowboys fan, I'm much more familiar with this division than any other division. Also, as a Dallas Cowboys fan, I'm often sad, miserable, disappointed, and depressed...but that's not really the point. As always, the NFC East race should be interesting. The Eagles are the clearly the paper champion after spending $6 trillion in free agency. Of course, the Redskins spent approximately that much on Albert Haynesworth, and look where that got them...
1. Philadelphia Eagles: 13-3
Biggest Addition: CB Nnamdi Asomugha - I could try to be clever and pick someone else...but that would just be stupid. Depending on whom you ask, Asomugha is either the best or the second best CB in the NFL. Either way, there's a pretty clear seperation between Revis/Asomugha and everyone else. Adding a player of that caliber is always a big deal. We can argue back and forth about the long term worth of the deal they gave him, but for this year, it's a huge win. Asomugha's value comes in practically shutting off an entire side of the field. This will allow playmakers like Asante Samuel to get their hands on the ball more, and allow the aggressive defense to blitz more often.
Biggest Loss: S Quintin Mikell - It seems trivial to talk about Philly's losses after their grabbed every possible free agent, but Mikell is the one who stood out to me. Mikell won't be missed in coverage, but his ability to move up and play against the run would have been valuable with this group of cover corners. New starter Nate Allen is a talented former 2nd rounder, but his strength is in his coverage skills. Just seems like they would have been better off with a player like Mikell.
Biggest Question: Can Mike Vick play a whole season? The injury thing is a little overblown, to be totally honest. Vick has started in 15 games 4 times now, so it's not like he's getting hurt every year. Also, he was on the cover of Madden when he missed 11 games in 2003, so that doesn't even count. He got banged up a bit last year, but keep in mind that it was his first full year of serious playing time in quite a while. The Eagles added Ryan Harris and Evan Mathis to their offensive line, and they should help bolster a brutal 2010 unit. Still, the entire thing hinges on the play of Mike Vick, and the question is definitely legit. Vince Young is certainly a capable backup, but he's not Mike Vick.
Summary: I hate their strategy in the long term, but the talent this year is undeniable. They still have holes at LB and on the OL, but what team doesn't have some holes? A more immediate concern is the health of Jeremy Maclin, who might actually be their best WR. They don't seem to be releasing much info on him, which leads to a lot of concern. The signing of Steve Smith was a great move, but his health is also a concern. Given some of these concerns, I'm not willing to crown them Super Bowl champs just yet, but it's hard to think they won't win the NFC East. Beyond that, I don't know. Jason Babin and Cullen Jenkins seem to be getting a lot of hype as big time 'playmakers,' but I wouldn't be shocked if both of them busted out fairly quickly. In the end, I'll still take Green Bay and New Orleans over them...but not by much. And if Mike Vick gets it rolling again, watch out.
2. Dallas Cowboys: 10-6
Biggest Addition: RT Tyron Smith - I don't really know much about this guy, and I don't know whether he's ready to play right away...but he absolutely HAS to be better than Alex Barron. It's not possible to be worse.
Real Biggest Addition: HC Jason Garrett - Wade Phillips was an absolute disaster for the Cowboys and even a partial offseason of non-Wade coaching should make a world of difference. Anybody who watched an appreciable amount of Cowboys games over the past couple of years knows just how badly we underachieved. We were undisciplined, we committed stupid penalties, made unforgivable mistakes, and played like it was pre-season. Just horrible. Garrett did a really nice job once he took over last year, giving rise to my "Jason Garrett intentionally threw the season" theory (which I wholeheartedly believe!!!). The jury is still out on him, but he can't possibly be as bad as Wade. No way.
Biggest Loss: G Leonard Davis - Let's be honest, Davis didn't have his best year last season. He was overpaid, Dallas was up against the cap, and he had to be cut. It totally made sense. It also totally sucks. Even a below average Davis was pretty solid at RG, and ANY solid offensive lineman is valuable to the Cowboys. Davis made 3 straight Pro Bowls from 2007-2009 and his fantastic run blocking will be missed.
Biggest Question: Can the defense get back on track? The offense received a lot of scrutiny for its struggles in the run game and pass protection, but at 24.6 points per game, it clearly wasn't the problem. The real issue was the 23rd ranked defense. The secondary was almost unwatchable at times, giving up nearly 4000 yards through the air. And that doesn't even count the additional 4000 yards Mike Jenkins gave up on pass interference penalties! In 2009, this same defense ranked 9th in the NFL, so clearly something was off last year. Which is the real one, we don't know. I'm not asking for the 2000 Ravens here, all I'm asking for is average. An average defense, and we make the playoffs.
Summary: This is a make or break year for the franchise. This particular core has fallen short of expectations time and time again. I don't expect there to be any more chances after this year. Romo in particular has become a lightning rod of sorts. He's got all the talent in the world, but his crazy decision making and injury history have caused Cowboy fans to consider the post-Romo era. As disappointed as I have been with him, I can't help myself. I love him! I want him to succeed! It's almost like I have battered wife syndrome with him! He just seems like a fun guy, and he's definitely fun to watch. Unfortunately, it's probably a bad thing when you always assume your QB will throw an inexplicable and utterly crippling INT. My hope is that Jason Garrett, himself a former QB, can bring out the best in him. Fact is, you can't ask for better weapons. Miles Austin, Dez Bryant, and Jason Witten are about as good as you can do in the pass game. Another make or break player is Felix Jones. The former first round pick has looked incredible at times, but blew a big opportunity late last year. The Cowboys drafted Oklahoma RB DeMarco Murray, so clearly the heat is on Jones. I expect the passing game to be the focal point, but they have to be able to establish a consistent running threat, or next year will be more of the same.
3. New York Giants: 9-7
Biggest Addition: G/C David Baas - After cutting Shaun O'Hara and Rich Seubert, the Giants were in dire of need of some help on the OL. Baas was a solid player for the 49ers and he's versatile along the line, so getting him was a pretty big deal.
Biggest Loss: C Shaun O'Hara - Unfortunately, Baas isn't as good as the player he will replace. O'Hara struggled with injuries last year, but he's a Pro Bowl player when he's healthy. It was more than a little surprising when they cut him loose, and I think they made a huge mistake in doing so.
Biggest Question: How is the Osi Umenyiora situation going to play out? It certainly is an odd stand-off, and one that the Giants need to deal with quickly. Defensive line has long been one of their key strengths, and after losing Barry Cofield, they can't afford to take any more hits up front. Umenyiora is one of their best defensive players and at this point in the process, he's totally irreplaceable.
Summary: They lost an awful lot this offseason. O'Hara, Seubert, Cofield, Rocky Bernard, Shawn Andrews, Steve Smith, and Kevin Boss were key components to their recent succes, and they didn't do an adequate job of replacing them. With the shorter camps, it's highly unlikely that any of their rookies is prepared to do that either. Another big problem last year was turnovers. Eli Manning threw an other worldly 25 INT's last season, leading to a -3 TO margin. Poor offensive line play was partly to blame for that, and that doesn't look like it will improve. All in all, they still have enough to compete for a playoff spot, but I expect them to be worse than last year.
4. Washington Redskins: 1-15
Biggest Addition: QB Andrew Luck (Next Year)
Biggest Loss: CB Carlos Rogers - I honestly can't believe they let Rogers walk for next to nothing. He didn't turn out to be the stud they thought they drafted, but he was pretty darn solid. For a pass defense that finished next to last, it's unforgivable to let your only good player walk.
Biggest Question: Are they being completely serious about John Beck? Like, the John Beck who hasn't played a down since 2007? The 2nd round pick who was so bad that the Dolphins, of all people, cut him after only 4 starts? That John Beck? As a follow-up question...are they intentionally trying to throw the season to get Andrew Luck? If so, they're doing a good job!
Summary: I'm being totally serious about them winning only 1 game. They are going with John Beck and Rex Grossman at QB. They are going with Ryan Torain and Tim Hightower at RB. They are going with way past their prime receivers and a completely brutal offensive line. The pass defense, already second worst, is now completely worthless. What is there to like? Seriously, this is one of the least talented teams I've ever seen! At this point, it wouldn't be surprising if they lost all 16 games...