1. Washington Redskins
In 2005, Joe Gibbs led the Washington Redskins to the NFL post-season for the first time since 1999, when Norv Turner was the head coach. And no team in the NFC was riding as much momentum as the Redskins were as they had closed out the 2005 NFL campaign with five uninterrupted wins.
What separated the Redskins from a lot of their opponents was their tenacity on defense. They were among the top ten defenses in the NFL throughout the 2005 season. Anticipate the same doggedness from their defense in 2005. The Redskins released their three-time Pro Bowl linebacker Lavar Arrington as he was just sullen under the Redskins system. The Redskins added former San Francisco 49ers linebacker and defensive Andre Carter to their defensive arsenal.
Offensively, Mark Brunell compiled a solid season in 2005. The 14-year veteran quarterback had a QB rating of 85.9, his highest rating since 1998. Brunell is expected to start at least one more season for the Redskins before the torch is passed to up and coming Jason Campbell. His age and health will be a factor in the Redskins success in 2006.
Running back Clinton Portis is one of the best in the NFL, but will his dislocated shoulder suffered in mid-August affect his performance? The Redskins foresee a vigorous and productive season out of Portis. But the Redskins recently dealt wide receiver Ashley Lelie to the Atlanta Falcons for power running back T.J. Duckett. Duckett gives the Redskins depth in the backfield.
Santana Moss and Brandon Lloyd will be the Redskins top receivers, and they added the speedy Antwan Randle El, who was previously with the defending Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Redskins are in a tough division and it will likely come down to an intense fight between the Redskins, Dallas Cowboys, and New York Giants. I give the edge to the Redskins because of their defensive toughness.
2. Dallas Cowboys (10-6)
Coach Bill Parcells may have already got a taste as to what it’s like to have Terrell Owens on his roster. Owens is loaded with talent, but his persona leaves a lot to be desired.
Owens missed over 12 days of practice while he rested his sore hamstring, much to the vexation of Parcells. Though the two appear to be on somewhat good terms, this was no way to start off the season. When Owens is at his best, he is one of the top three receivers in the NFL. That’s the Owens that Parcells and the city of Dallas envision.
Fourteen year veteran Drew Bledsoe is expected to start at quarterback for the Cowboys in 2006, though many feel that the younger Tony Romo may boast that job before season’s end.
Running back Julius Jones has shown flashes of endless potential when he’s healthy.
Defensively, the Cowboys should be sound.
The Cowboys will be a major player in the NFC East combat. Expect the old Dallas Cowboys versus Washington Redskins rivalry to intensify.
3. New York Giants (9-7)
Last season’s NFC East champions faltered in the post-season as they were shut out by the Carolina Panthers. The New York Giants will enter the 2006 NFL season with a chip on their shoulder, and some unfinished business. But can they keep up with the improved Cowboys and Redskins?
Eli Manning will enter his third season in the NFL, and with a year and a half under his belt as the Giants starter, the younger Manning could be poised for a breakout season. In the past, Manning’s novice mistakes proved costly to the Giants.
Manning will have the trio of talented targets with wide receivers Plaxico Burress and Amani Toomer, and tight end Jeremy Shockey.
The ever reliable running back Tiki Barber will soldier on in the Giants backfield for the tenth season.
The Giants added former Washington Redskins linebacker Lavar Arrington into their defensive scrimmage, but he recently left practice due to a knee injury. The Giants expect a full season out of their three-time Pro Bowl linebacker.
4. Philadelphia Eagles (5-11)
Just two seasons ago, the Philadelphia Eagles were playing the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl. One year ago, they found themselves in the NFC East cellar.
Several factors came into play as to why the Eagles stumbled in 2005. The malevolent divorce with wide receiver Terrell Owens took it’s toll on the Eagles, as did the injury to Pro Bowl quarterback Donovan McNabb.
McNabb will be back as the Eagles starter for 2006. A lot of skeptics are not convinced that McNabb can return to his 2004 Pro Bowl form. Not only because of the hernia he suffered throughout 2005, but his receiving core just isn’t as stacked as it once was.
Todd Pinkston returns as the Eagles receiver along with the up and coming Reggie Brown. Running back Brian Westbrook is one of the better receiving half backs in the NFL.
But McNabb’s top receiving beneficiary may be tight end L.J. Smith.
The Eagles’ defense will be led by a pair of familiar faces in defensive end Jevon Kearse and linebacker Jeremiah Trotter.
Gone are the glory days of the early 2000’s when the Eagles subjugated the NFC East. I would be surprised if they didn’t finish last in their division, much to the chagrin of the Philly fans.