The NFC East is once again the toughest division in football. This division has everything: four legendary coaches, three teams coming off of nine wins or better, two Moss brothers, one Manning, and of course, Terrell Owens
part 2. In 2005, the NFC East was a bloodied division where only two games separated the Division Champion New York Giants
from the third place Dallas
Cowboys. In 2006, the Giants, Cowboys, Redskins, and Eagles are all capable of winning. The difference will come down to injuries and execution.
TOP DOG: NEW YORK GIANTS
The reigning division champs are once again the team to beat. The Giants had 2 of the top 7 sack leaders on their defensive line in Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora. Add first round draft pick Matthias Kiwauka from Boston College and outside linebacker LaVar Arrington and the Giants once again have probably the toughest pass rush in the NFL.
At linebacker, Antonio Pierce was having a career year until an injury on Dec. 11th against the Eagles ended his season. A healthy Pierce on the field in 2006 gives New York their defensive leader and a solid front seven will dominate the line. Sam Madison anchors a young but aggressive secondary.
At offense, NY Giants added a third threat at receiver with second round pick Sinorice Moss out of Miami. This adds a speedy receiver who can stretch the field to the bog bodies of Plaxico Burress and Amani Toomer. Make a special note of Redskin’s games when Sinorice Moss will face off against brother and Redskin’s receiver Santana Moss.
Eli Manning will be heading into his third season at the helm for his Giants. His numbers have gotten consistently better though he will be looking to improve upon his 24:17 touchdown to interception ratio. Tiki Barber will be the workhorse again behind Manning after a Pro Bowl season for the fourth straight year and Jeremy Shockey will look to build off of his Pro Bowl season of 2005.
The Giants have a top ranked defense and talented offense that should take them deep into the playoffs. Keys to their success will be ball possession and limiting mistakes. Their defense was tied for the top turnover ratio last year with a +12.
THE RETURN OF TERRELL: DALLAS COWBOYS
9-7 was an improvement from their dismal 6-10 performance of 2004 but the Cowboys fell apart in the second half of the season losing 4 of their last 6 including losses to the Redskins and Giants. The addition of Drew Bledsoe in 2005 brought new life to a dismal offense. “The team of misfits” Bledsoe, Glenn, and Keyshawn Johnson lead an offense that averaged 325 yards per game, two-thirds of that coming through the air. Look for those numbers to increase with the addition of Terrell Owens to the lineup. Johnson is gone but the speedy slot receiver in Glenn mixed with the big body/big mouth of Owens gives Bledsoe an excellent 1-2 punch.
Speaking of 1-2 punches, the backfield of Jones and Barber combined for 1500 yards on the ground and 13 touchdowns. Not happy with the line performance of a year ago, the Cowboys drafted two offensive linemen and dropped longtime Cowboy Larry Allen and tackle Jacob Rogers. Expect Parcells to bring in a few more to compete come training camp. The Cowboys offense will live or die on the arm of Drew Bledsoe and that arm needs excellent protection. The line was weak on the outside and in order for Bledsoe to get the ball to Owens and Glenn, he will need protection. Mark your calendar on October 8th for Owen’s return to Philadelphia and what could be better on Christmas the Cowboys vs. Eagles?
DeMarcus Ware and Roy Williams anchor an inconsistent defense at best. The miracle comeback by the Redskin’s in Week 2 can best sum up the Cowboys defense. The talent is there but the ability to finish was often in question in 2005. Parcells will demand improvement in 2006 and brought in veteran safety Marcus Coleman form Houston who played under Parcells when he was still with the Jets from 1997-1999.
Their offense is the show and it will pack the seats but everyone knows that without victories this group could begin resembling Desperate Housewives rather than a football team. An aggressive defensive will need to learn to hold offenses and let theirs win the game. This division could come down to Dec. 3rd and the top ranked Giants defense versus the top ranked Cowboys offense at the Meadowlands.
RUN OR DIE: WASHINGTON REDSKINS
Mark Brunell threw for more than 300 yards only twice in 2005, both losses. He only threw for more than 200 yards in seven games last year. In their last five games, Brunell never threw for more than 160 yards. All five games were wins. The reason? Clinton Portis went for over a 100 yards in each game.
The Redskin’s will return their big three: Brunell, Portis, and Moss and hope to put together another magical year in the nation’s capital. Additions of Brandon Lloyd from San Francisco and Antwaan Randle El form the Super Bowl Champion Steelers as well as a healthy David Patten will hopefully allow Brunell to distribute the ball more. Tight end/fullback Chris Cooley will also be back after recording a career high 71 receptions last year.
On defense the Redskins look to build off of a top ranked defense. 5 of their 6 picks in the 2006 draft were defensive players including second round pick, linebacker Roger McIntosh. The Redskins have an unselfish team style defense with an excellent front seven. They have the potential to score from defense on every play which will be needed considering their schedule this year.
Facing probably the toughest midseason schedule in the league in 2006, the Redskins will face Dallas, Philadelphia, Tampa Bay, Carolina, Atlanta, and then Philadelphia again consecutively. These six games will make or break their season. Make a note of the Dec. 30th final game of the season. If they have survived, that game could decide the division champion.
CAN WE GET A DO OVER?: PHILADELPHIA EAGLES
2005 was just not the Eagles year. First McNaab gets hurt. Then Terrell complains. Then he plays through injury. Then Terrell complains some more. Before the season was over, we were watching Mike McMahon running around Veteran Stadium throwing the ball to any and everybody.
In the off-season, the Eagles finally unloaded Owens and McNaab will be healthy for 2006. They still have Westbrook. They still have Jevon Kearse. They still have Jeremiah Trotter. They still have one of the best secondaries in football with Michael Lewis, Lito Sheppard, Sheldon Brown, and Brian Dawkins. They even brought in Terrell Owens ex-49er teammate Jeff Garcia in case McNaab needs a breather.
The statistics and team of 2005 needs to be crumpled up and thrown in the trash can because one cannot expect a repeat performance like that from an Andy Reid team. They are getting back to basics and back to the formula that got them to three consecutive NFC championships.
Look for them to continue to throw on offense and look for a certain skier named Jeremy Bloom to have a breakout rookie year when he touches the field. Anyone who saw him play at Colorado knows the kid can run. Expect the Andy Reid brain trust to find a way to utilize that talent.
On top of cleaning up their house, the Eagles also have the benefit of an easier schedule this year than in the past. Of course, they will have eight very tough division games including the October 8th return of Terrell Owens to Philadelphia. They will, however, face the Texans, 49ers, Packers, and Saints in the first six weeks of the season. This may give McNaab and the Eagles an opportunity to gain some confidence and some momentum as they head into the toughest end schedule in football.
They will finish up with Indianapolis, Carolina, Washington, NY Giants, Dallas, and Atlanta. In that stretch, all 3 division games will be on the road. Don’t get me wrong, the Eagles have to prove that last year was just a fluke. They are by no means the team to beat, but if you add in a home game against the Titans, the Eagles have a chance to make a run. If they can win the easy ones and grab 1 or 2 wins from their division rivals at home, the Eagles may head into that last stretch in first place in the division. With Andy Reid riding that type of momentum, the Eagles could win 9 or 10 games, possibly even make the playoffs. Of course with all four teams in this division the number on key will be health. Whoever has a full roster heading into December will have the best shot at a seat in January.