2011 NFL Preview: NFC East

I love this blog but it has been just so hard for me to find the time to keep it updated. Plus I typed way more then I usually did for each team. The season is just two short days away, and I still want to do my preseason power rankings. I am going to post my final predictions today, but thought I'd post what I had for the NFC East already. Sorry Redskins, you guys don't get a write up.

1. Philadelphia Eagles, 12-4.

By now we all know about Michael Vick's journey. He is back on top of the football world after signing his second $100 million contract. He is surrounded by playmakers all over the place, and the defense added talent and should be a lot better. The Eagles are being labeled a "dream team" after signing Nnamdi Asomugha.

So are the Eagles Super Bowl quality? Of course. Vick is just a small part of the Eagles offense. They have speed all over the place with LeSean McCoy, Jeremy Maclin and DeSean Jackson. All three players are among the fastest in the league and can catch the ball and outrun any defender. Of course, if you don't keep an eye on Vick he can do the same. But the problem with all these guys is that they are undersized, and thus injury prone. Vick's play in particular is highly susceptible to injury. He is in his 30's now but shows no signs of slowing down. He is what he is at this point. A very dangerous runner and a good enough passer, albeit not extremely accurate, to keep teams honest. He is the most unique weapon in the NFL. It will be the offensive line's job to keep Vick standing.

The defense cannot be overlooked. Not after they added two 6'2, physical corners. And oh yeah, Asante Samuel is a decent nickel back. It will be extremely difficult for teams to throw against the Eagles, which should allow the defensive line time to wreak havoc. The team added Jason Babin and Cullen Jenkins to an already deep group that includes Juqua Parker, Darryl Tapp, Trent Cole, Mike Patterson and Antonio Dixon. This is not even counting last years first round pick, Brandon Graham, who suffered a serious injury and might not even see the field at all in 2010.

The one weakness on the defense is the linebacking group. This has been a sore spot in Philadelphia for years, and probably will continue to be. Jamar Chaney is a solid player, but the other spots are up for grabs. Interestingly enough, the Eagles have two mid round rookies battling to be the starting middle linebacker. Greg Lloyd and Casey Matthews. Both players are relatives of much better NFL linebackers.

Overall, the Eagles have to be considered one of the favorites to hoist the Lombardi trophy this year. There is talent virtually everywhere on the field, and a lot of it. The defense in particular might be the deepest group of talent in the league. The onus is on Vick to show that he is worthy of that monstrous contract and can lead the Eagles to the Super Bowl. For all of his talent he has plenty of shortcomings. Most notably when he is not able to run. Does he have the intelligence to read defenses when Clay Matthews and AJ Hawk are rushing at him from every angle in front of a loud crazed crowd in Lambeau in January? If so, this long time great franchise may finally go all the way.

3. New York Giants, 10-6.

I made these predictions before injuries ravaged the Giants secondary. However, I did not make these predictions before Eli Manning started handing out interceptions like they were condoms at a teenage party last year. He hasn't stopped this preseason either. It's disconcerting because the Giants led the NFL last season with a staggering 42 turnovers. It is easy to see that is the reason they missed the playoffs, because they were in the top 10 of most offensive stastics. Manning threw 25 interceptions, though many of those bounced off the hands of receivers right into oncoming traffic. Manning lost two of his weapons with Steve Smith and Kevin Boss gone. They will be replaced in the starting lineup by Mario Manningham and Travis Beckum. Depth is worrisome at the skill positions.

The offensive line is good and should continue to open holes for Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs. Jacobs bounced back nicely from a miserable 2009 season. He averaged over 5.5 yards per carry and formed a punishing duo with the smaller faster Bradshaw, who rushed for over 1200 yards himself, although he coughed up an unacceptable 6 fumbles. It needs to be restated, if Manning and others can cut the turnovers down, the offense could be very potent.

Thanks to major injuries to Prince Amukamara and Terrell Thomas, the Giants secondary will be attacked repeatedly. Aaron Ross has gone from nickel back and trade fodder to neccessary starter, and he will be tested all day long. He has been unable to stay healthy himself. The secondary has plenty of talent but was abused regularly last year. The best player standing is probably Kenny Phillips.

The front seven is in better shape, especially the defensive line, where Jason Pierre-Paul looks like he will be a major contributor in 2011. That is good news for a team that had 46 sacks last year. JPP should replace Osi Umenyora in the starting lineup, even though he had to crawl back to the team with his tail between his legs. The tackle position is worrisome, as the Giants will have to rely on young Linval Joseph and a few journeymen to play next to Chris Canty. Mithias Kiwanuka returns after an injury marred 2010 and will switch between linebacker and defensive end.

The Giants definitely have the talent to make a playoff push. There really is no excuse as they have talent all across the board. But this team has shown on multiple occasions that they are very undisciplined and are also known to give up on their head coach, Tom Coughlin, who probably would have been fired if the Giants didn't make a miraculious Super Bowl run a few years ago. If they can take care of the ball and show effort every game out, I think they can challenge for the divison. But they could just as easily throw in the towel and finish 6-10.

3. Dallas Cowboys, 9-7

All it took was a 1-7 start for Jerry Jones to realize what every football fan on earth has known for a decade plus; Wade Phillips is not a good head coach. The Cowboys replaced him with coach in waiting Jason Garrett, and this was a different team instantly. They were 3 point losses to the Saints and Eagles and a 1 pont loss away from the Cardinals from going 8-0 to end the season. Still, they had a 5-3 second half, with Jon Kitna, and showed plenty of promise for 2011.

If the Cowboys are going to return to the playoffs, it will be on the shoulders of the offense. Any fantasy football player should know that there is a plethora of wealth on this side of the ball. Tony Romo, Jason Witten, Dez Bryant, Miles Austin, Felix Jones are all being selected within the first four or five rounds of fantasy football drafts. And for good reason. Tony Romo was on pace for 4200 yards before his season ended. Miles Austin started just as hot with 31 receptions in his first four games. Witten is a reception machine, hauling in 94 passes for the second straight year. Dez Bryant flashed #1 receiver ability and should grow into that role sooner then later. Felix Jones will finally be the primary ball carrier. He has averaged over 5.5 yards per carry in his three years, and hauled in 48 passes last season. With emerging Pro Bowl tackle Doug Free protecting Romo, expect the Cowboys to throw all day. The running game will probably suffer as the Cowboys are going to break in a few new starters, most notably at right tackle (rookie Tyron Smith) and center (Phil Costa, replacing long time center Andre Gurode).

The reason I have the Cowboys at only 9-7 is their defense. Winning those games at the end of the season was nice, but Cowboys fans I know would have traded a few meaningless wins for a chance at Patrick Peterson. He would have made this a playoff team, but instead they are going to have to rely on Mike Jenkins and Terrence Newman again. Jenkins could bounce back to his 2009 form after a pretty weak 2010 campaign. But chances are Newman will continue to decline as he enters his mid 30's. Despite the Cowboys throwing a bunch of money at Orlando Scandrick, he is simply a nickel back. The two safeties are nothing to brag about.

It will be up to the front seven to ensure that the secondary is not abused, but there are holes all over the place here too. DeMarcus Ware and Jay Ratliff are two of the best players in the league at their positions, but there are aging veterans and unproductive youngsters all around them. Kenyon Coleman was signed to try to hold down one defensive end spot, but Marcus Spears, Igor Olshansky and Keith Brooking are all well past their prime, and Anthony Spencer has struggled since being a first round pick in 2007. Ware had as many sacks in one season (15.5) as Spencer has had in 60 games.

Simply put, this is a bad defense that will struggle in many key areas. The Cowboys definitely have the offense to make the playoffs, but I don't think they will be able to stop anyone. With a full off season next year they should be able to get some free agents into Dallas, but right now, they will try to see how far Romo's arm can take them.

4. Washington Redskins, 5-11

Jonathan Carrano

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