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Dallas Cowboys

Key Additions: Terrell Owens, Mike Vanderjagt, Bobby Carpenter, Kyle Kosier

Key Losses: Keyshawn Johnson, Larry Allen

Offensive Outlook

The Cowboys went out and made the biggest splash in free agency this offseason on this side of the ball by bringing in former 49ers and Eagles receiver Terrell Owens. TO has been struggling this preseason with a hamstring injury, but when healthy he is one of the games best. He will have to adjust to an offense other than the West Coast for the first time in his NFL career, but as long as he’s healthy there is no doubt he will make a huge impact on this offense. Whether it’s positive or negative, well that’s up to TO.

Another key addition that the Cowboys made on offense in the offseason was tight end Anthony Fasano in the second round of this year’s draft. This addition is key because it will enable the Cowboys’ transition to their new offensive set of two tight ends and one back to run that much smoother. This formation is important for Dallas because it is designed to give maximum protection to quarterback Drew Bledsoe (who was sacked 50 times last season) while also being able to attack defensives in multiple alignments. Fasano, one of the better blocking tight ends available in the draft, also has above average hands and teamed with Jason Witten gives Bledsoe two very legitimate options in the passing game.

Starting opposite Owens at receiver will be Terry Glenn who is coming off a 62 catch, 1136 yards and 7 touchdown season and has looked great in the preseason in Owens’ absence. Glenn should benefit immediately from the likelihood that Owens will see the majority of the double teams and he still has the speed to continue to be a serious deep threat in this league. Julius Jones returns to the line up as the starting running back, and teamed with Marion Barber III gives the Cowboys two nice options at the position. Jones isn’t really a between the tackles runner a style Barber is more suited for, and due to this it’s likely Barber will see his share of carries this season. The use of both should enable both to remain healthy, and each are likely to see a lot of carries in an offense that if given the chance would love to run a more ball controlled system.

The achilles heel, and only real reason the offense would not be able to run a ball control style, is the offensive line. Once a strength in Dallas, but due to injuries and mediocre depth, it has become really the only glaring weakness on the entire team. Larry Allen is gone after not seeing eye to eye with Parcells, but Kyle Kosier was brought in to replace him at left guard. Flozell Adams should return from his knee injury of a year ago, but he has been banged up in the preseason already so nothing is guaranteed. The Cowboys also brought in Jason Fabini to shore up the right side of the line, but he is 32 years old and has minimal experience at right tackle. Marco Rivera was brought in last year and is known as one of the better guards in the league, but problems with a herniated disk have forced a decline in his skills for the past two seasons. If the starters can gel quickly the talent is there, but if they cannot stay healthy the depth is mediocre at best.

Despite their deficiencies along the offensive line they seem to have enough talent there and it shouldn’t hold this offense back from improving their overall ranking of 13th of a year ago. They have two very good starters at receiver and tight end, and if Julius Jones can stay healthy the same can be said at running back. Bledsoe needs to minimize his mistakes (17 interceptions last year), and given the improvement of his supporting cast it’s very likely that he will. Overall I think this will be a top five unit and has the talent to be the best in the league.

Defensive Outlook

As with the offense there is a lot to like on this side of the ball as well. They are loaded at just about every position and should improve upon their number 10 ranking from a year ago. They transitioned to a 3-4 look last season and this season with the added talent should perfect that alignment. Chris Canty and Marcus Spears were drafted a year ago to anchor the defensive end positions, and they should do so for years to come. Both saw significant playing time last season and should be ready to start full time and be very effective at their respective positions. Jason Ferguson will start at nose tackle, and despite his struggles last season in a new system, still remains one of the league’s best run stoppers.

Linebacker is a postion that Bill Parcells prefers to have big and physical players, and in Bradie James, Bobby Carpenter, Akin Ayodele and DeMarcus Ware he has just that. All are young, but with the exception of Carpenter are experienced in this 3-4 defense. Ware is entering only his second season, but he started all 16 games last year as a rookie. All are above average in coverage and have the speed needed to cover the entire field. This is one of the best linebacking corps in the league and the depth is above average as well with Al Singleton, Kevin Burnett and former defensive end Greg Ellis.

The Cowboys had one of the worst secondaries in the NFL in the 2004 season, but in 2005 improved from giving up 232 yards per game to only 207 yards per game. That may not seem like a drastic improvement, but in ’04 quarterbacks were completing passes at a rate of 62% and in ’05 that fell to 54%. They also decreased their passing touchdowns allowed from 31 to 18. Anthony Henry and Terrance Newman form one of the better cornerback tandems in the NFL, and savvy veteran as well as one of my favorite players in the league, Aaron Glenn, is more than adequate at the nickel position. Roy Williams is still one of the best run stopping safeties in the league, but he’s struggled more in the passing game the last two seasons. Keith Davis was retained and due to his salary will likely start at free safety. This is another good group on this defense, which overall should be a top five unit in ’06.

Overall Outlook

In Bill Parcells fourth year as the head coach in New York he took the Giants to the Super Bowl. He did the same in his fourth season as the Patriots head coach. He is now in his fourth season as the head coach in Dallas, and I really think he has a very legitimate chance to do the same with the Cowboys. They are a top five unit on both sides of the ball, and their special teams should be much improved with the addition of Skylar Green in the draft. I’d have them slated for more wins, but they play in probably the toughest division in the NFL and this year have seven road games against playoff caliber teams. Not to mention they’ll be hosting Indianapolis and Tampa Bay. Regardless this team will win a lot of games, and likely contend for the NFC East title that they haven’t won since 1998. Prediction: 10-6

New York Giants

Key Additions: Jason Bell, Will Demps, RW McQuarters, Sam Madison, Brandon Short, LaVar Arrington, Mathias Kiwanuka, Sinorice Moss

Key Losses: Kendrick Clancy, Shaun Williams, Will Allen, Kenderick Allen, Nick Greisen

Offensive Outlook

This was an offense that was ranked fourth overall in the NFL last season despite having a surprisingly below average red zone efficiency (27 touchdowns in 59 attempts). They still managed to be third in scoring, but had they been even 50% in the red zone they would have been first. I bring this up because Eli Manning is entering his third season as quarterback, and although he hasn’t been terrible by any means, improvement is needed.

Manning has a tendency to lock in on a receiver in the red zone, as well as on third down. He also has shown a tendency to throw off his back foot resulting in the ball sailing on him leading to interceptions. His plethora of weapons and strong offensive line leave no excuses for these mistakes, and if he improves upon them it will result in another huge year for this offense. If he doesn’t this team’s Super Bowl aspirations will quickly be dashed.

The rest of this offense is very solid and needs no mentioning, but due to a much tougher schedule in ’06 (from 22nd to 5th) will not be able to as easily mask the mistakes made by their young quarterback.

Defensive Outlook

Due to the pieces already being in place on the offense, in the offseason the Giants made a concerted effort to improve upon a defense that despite an easy schedule was only the 24th ranked unit in the league. They brought in five new defensive backs, and six of their eight draft choices were on this defensive side of the ball as well as eight undrafted free agents.

Due to these additions they have made on defense there is no doubt this will be an improved unit in ’06. But how much improved is hard to determine. When counting on so many new players the worry of a unit gelling is always there. And due to defensive coordinator Tim Lewis’ elaborate schemes involving multiple zone blitzes, the gelling curve as well as the learning curve becomes that much steeper. Due their below average talent at cornerback from a year ago the Giants weren’t able to blitz as much as they would have liked, a lack of talent they hope to have addressed in the offseason. The addition of Sam Madison and likely emergence of Corey Webster is what the Giants are mostly counting on to deliver the improvement in that area.

With the addition of LaVar Arrington at linebacker Lewis should be able to more freely switch from 4-3 to 3-4 alignments in game, further confusing opposing offenses. And as long as they do see an upgrade in the secondary Arrington, along with Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora (two of the best end rushers in the league), should be able to take more chances resulting in the Giants defense finishing among the league leaders in sacks.

Overall Outlook

Basically their offense, and probably the entire team, will go only as far as Eli can take them. What worries me there is the incredibly tough schedule they face to open the season (Indy, at Philly, at Seattle, Washington, at ATL, at Dallas, Tampa Bay). They were able to go 11-5 last season despite Eli’s mistakes and a below average defense, but as you can see this season’s schedule is a lot tougher than the last. They also played an extra home game last season when the Saints were forced to play in NYC because of Hurricane Katrina. I also feel the Giants more so showed their true colors last season when Carolina was able to shut them out in the playoffs. Outside of Manning I really like their offense, but if he struggles so will they. Their defense should improve, but they are asking far too many new players to come in and gel and due to the schedule will have to do so immediately. I see a 0-3 start for this team, a hole they’ll likely not be able to get out of. Prediction: 8-8

Philadelphia Eagles

Key Additions: Jeff Garcia, Jabar Gaffney, Darren Howard, Donte Stallworth, Matt Schobel, Ed Jasper, Brodrick Bunkley

Key Losses: Terrell Owens, Todd Pinkston, Mike McMahon, Mark Simoneau

Offensive Outlook

There has been a lot said about how this offense will perform without the services of Terrell Owens at receiver, and most have been highly skeptical due the Eagles lack of a signature go to guy. What people seem to forget is that Donavon McNabb was still one of the best quarterbacks in the league statistically before TO even showed up in Philly, and he did so with far less talent then he has at his disposal going in to this season.

Right off the bat the chemistry on this offense will be greatly improved sans Owens, and the health of this unit starting with McNabb is greatly improved as well. Brian Westbrook should enter the season healthy, and he has become a huge part of the Eagles passing game (especially in Owens’ absence). Teams have started to use bracket coverages with their linebackers and safeties to handle Westbrook due to Philly’s lack of a deep threat, a lack that no longer exists after last week’s trade for Donte Stallworth. Stallworth is a very fast receiver with adequate hands who should immediately come in and be the Eagles’ number one receiver. He, along with Reggie Brown, tight end LJ Smith and Westbrook, gives McNabb and play calling head coach Andy Reid some very nice options in the passing game.

Their almost certain success in the passing game (due to Reid’s play calling and McNabb’s spreading of the ball) should result in the Eagles having some much needed success in the running game. Westbrook is by no means a typical every down back in this league, but paired with any of the Eagles current back ups could make for a huge improvement in the team’s ability of running the ball. Injuries also struck a once solid offensive line last season, but in the draft they used two of their first four picks to address their lack of depth along the line. When healthy this is a very serviceable line in this offense, and now with the addition of Winston Justice and Max Jean-Gilles depth is no longer a concern and neither should be the offensive line.

Defensive Outlook

This defense made some nice additions in the offseason, which should help to avoid want caused their undoing a season ago: lack of depth. The additions along the defensive line of Darren Howard and Brodrick Bunkley are very nice upgrades and immediately improve the depth at the position. Darren Howard and Jevon Kearse should make up one of the best defensive end tandems in the league, and due to injuries along the line a season ago several players were forced into action and gained much needed experience.

At linebacker Jeremiah Trotter is the outspoken leader of this unit, and is still one of the best run stuffing players at the position in the league. Shawn Barber was brought back after three seasons with the Chiefs to compete with last season’s second round draft choice Matt McCoy for the starting position at weakside linebacker. At strongside backer Dhanti Jones struggled somewhat in ’05, so Chris Gocong was drafted this year in the third round to push him for playing time. Overall this is the weakest unit on the defense, but still a solid unit nonetheless.

Their secondary was another unit on this team that suffered several injuries to starters last season. Both corners, Lito Sheppard and Sheldon Brown, are Pro Bowl caliber players that are great cover corners and above average tacklers against the run. Michael Lewis is one of the league’s most underrated players, and coupled with Brian Dawkins finalizes what I think is the best secondary in the NFL. No unit plays as well equally as this one does against the run and the pass and due to last season’s injuries, depth and experience beyond the starters should no longer be a concern.

Overall Outlook

Quite Frankly the key to this team lies solely on the shoulders of Donovan McNabb (or is it his groin?). With a healthy McNabb this team again becomes one of the conferences best, and even though the drop off behind him isn’t nearly as great as it was a season ago (they signed Jeff Garcia and AJ Feely) no one runs this offense quite like number 5. His return, along with the health and improvement of the offensive line and Andy Reid’s play calling, should put this offense back into the end zone at a more consistent rate and back into the top ten overall. The defense, when healthy, is one of the leagues best and their additions along the line should fix their troubles in stopping the run from a year ago. The experienced gained by several players last season due to the onslaught of injuries will serve as a blessing in disguise and sure up most of their previous issues concerning lack of depth. They will also benefit from a last place team’s schedule for the first time in quite some time, and have a nice stretch of very winnable games to start the season. This is still one of the most well coached teams in the NFL, and if they are able to stay relatively healthy there is no reason they can not only contend for a playoff spot, but reclaim the division title as well. Prediction: 10-6

Washington Redskins

Key Additions: Adam Archuleta, Andre Carter, Brandon Lloyd, Antwaan Randle El, Christian Fauria, Roger McIntosh, TJ Duckett

Key Losses: Ryan Clark, LaVar Arrington, Robert Royal, Patrick Ramsay

Offensive Outlook

With the several additions made to this offense in the offseason most were calling for a much-improved unit and some were even ready to hand the division to the Redskins before the season even started. Now the preseason has come and gone and this starting offense has yet to find the end zone or even crack the scoreboard for that matter. And although it is just the preseason, this ineptitude could be more of a sign of things to come than some Washington faithful would like to accept.

This offense is learning a new scheme under first year offensive coordinator Al Saunders, but for the most part the existing basis was kept in tact. Still the starters and the back ups have looked completely lost at times in the preseason. Another problem has been starting quarterback Marc Brunell, who I like a lot but seems to have possibly hit the wall. He’s struggled mightily in the preseason and finished 16 of 35 passing for 174 yards with only 233 total yards to show for the drives that he was under center. Part of this is no doubt due to Clinton Portis’ absence for most of the preseason, but some of it is likely due to all the new players at receiver on this roster. Brandon Lloyd and Antwaan Randle El are bona fide talents at the position, but if they don’t have their timing down with the starting quarterback their worth is significantly diminished. And to add insult to injury Santana Moss, who is coming off a Pro Bowl and career year with 84 catches and 1483 yards, has also looked pretty bad in preseason as well.

Their offensive line is still one of the league’s best, but issues concerning lack of depth could catch of to them in the upcoming season. I like for this offense to at some point start clicking and implement effectively what Saunders is trying to achieve, but the questions remain as to when and will it be too late. And if Brunell or Portis miss any significant time it might not even matter.

Defensive Outlook

This unit is still one of the ten best in the league, but unlike the other teams in the division lack of depth is a serious issue. Defensive end may be the only position with any real depth as they signed Andre Carter to start opposite Phillip Daniels with Renaldo Wynn there to back up the both of them. Cornelius Griffin, the Redskins best lineman, along with the much improved Joe Salave’a round out the defensive line, a line that if you only factor in the starters is one of the league’s best.

Linebacker is this defense’s clear weakness and with the loss of Lavar Arrington really lacks any playmaking ability. The reason the linebackers aren’t nearly as glaring a weakness on this defense as it should be is because defensive coordinator Greg Williams doesn’t rely on the position as much as he does his line and secondary. This is also the main reason Lavar Arrington didn’t fit in here because his style is more suited to free lancing and being able to make plays all over the field. Williams uses his linebackers more so to prevent the big play, and less on making the big play for the defense. Rocky McIntosh was brought in to replace Arrington, and he is much more suited to this style and should see significant playing in his rookie season.

The secondary is one of the league’s best and is led by big time playmaking free safety Sean Taylor. The only thing keeping this kid from becoming the league’s best defensive player is himself, and when on the straight and narrow there is no better nose for the ball in the NFL. Carlos Rogers is coming off a rookie season where he started five games, and paired with Shawn Springs makes for a nice duo at corner. Adam Archuleta was brought over from St. Louis to start at strong safety alongside Taylor, and together the two will make up one of the most physical safety pairs in the league.

Overall Outlook

There is one thing to go 0-4 in the preseason, but it’s another thing to do it and look absolutely horrible at every facet of the game no matter who is on the field. There is something else going on in Washington and I’m not sure what it is, but whatever it is is clearly affecting this team. The Redskins were one of the surprise teams a season ago and managed to go 10-6 and return to the playoffs for the first time in years, but did so by having one of the easiest schedules in the league. This year the schedule is much tougher, and even though their defense finished in the top 3 a season ago, they did so by only facing a top 10 offense four times. Also, if Clinton Portis or 36-year-old Marc Brunell were to miss any significant time this season it’s unlikely the Redskins currently have a player on their roster to adequately replace them. This team no doubt has top ten overall talent, but something is definitely wrong in our nation’s capital and I don’t mean only at the White House. The talent is still there for them to win more than they lose, but a playoff birth this season seems unlikely. Prediction: 9-7

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