Monday, August 31, 2009

NFL 2009 Preview - NFC East

Dallas Cowboys

Last Year: 9-7

Whether you're talking about Jessica Simpson or Terrell Owens, Tony Romo should benefit from some "addition by subtraction" in his life this year. Owens has lost a step, struggled to fight off press coverage, yet still demanded the ball. Roy Williams seems like more of a WR2 ideally, but he should put up better numbers this year as he becomes familiar with the offense. Patrick Crayton also WR2 quality, more of a possession receiver. TE Jason Witten is the team's go-to receiver and will almost certainly put up another Pro Bowl season.

The Cowboys have an impressive stable of backs, led by 5th year Marion Barber III. Barber is an effective weapon but probably shouldn't be used as a full-time guy. He won't have to be if Felix Jones is healthy this year He flashed big play ability as a back and on kick returns last year. He's still got a lot to work on at the pro level skill-wise, but the talent is there. Tashard Choice being the third back means Barber might be the third most talented RB on his team. Which is really saying something about Jones and Choice. With this decent O-line and good running game, Romo has the ability to make the offense work.

The defense should continue to be above average. They've replaced Canty and Zach Thomas with Olshanky and Brookings - not a lot of difference. In the secondary, Pacman and Anthony Henry are gone. They've had Mike Jenkins waiting in the wings to start at the vacant CB spot. They also signed Gerald Sensabaugh to start with Ken Hamlin at safety. Once again, players are changing, but the results should be the same.

I expect Romo to take the next step forward, and the defense to remain solid, so the Cowboys have a shot at the playoffs even in this tough division.

2009 Projected Record: 10-6

New York Giants

Last Year: 12-4, NFC East Champs

Eli Manning got way overpayed this offseason. Even by cutting his interception total in half, he was still just an average NFL starting QB. Even worse, that kind of "career low" interception total at this point in a career seems very fluky. There's more bad news, as Plaxico Burress is off to jail for 20+ months. There are a number of competitors for his and Amani Toomer's former spots. Domenik Hixon replaced Burress last year and, somewhat surprisingly, delivered as the team's go-to guy. Steve Smith has emerged as an adequate possesion WR2. Mario Manningham and Hakeem Nicks are young unproven talents who may be expected to contribute. TE Kevin Boss has replaced Shockey without the team missing a beat.

On the ground, the team lost Derrick Ward to free agency, and promising rookie Andre Brown to injury. They still have a formidable, if not dependable, backfield. Brandon Jacobs is one of the best runners in the game, but is very very injury prone. Ahmad Bradshaw has only had 90 career carries, but has looked impressive. Danny Ware is even more of an unknown, and will likely get some carries.

On defense, Osi is back, and the whole front 4 rotation is among the league's best. They'll have to do a good job to conceal a sudden weakness on the team: linebacker. In the middle, Antonio Pierce appeared to have lost a step last year. At OLB they look to be below average: Boley and Sintim. In the secondary the only change is losing the underrated James Butler at safety. The biggest change is the loss of Spagnuolo. As you can probably tell from my Rams preview, I'm a Spagnuolo fan and think his departure will have an averse effect on the Giants D.

Decline on both sides of the ball is not good in this division. Expect the Giants to be one of the more surprising playoff no-shows.

2009 Projected Record: 8-8

Philadelphia Eagles

Last Year:9-6-1 (lost in NFC Championship Game)

Michael Vick is making the headlines by being signed, but Donovan McNabb is still the quarterback. McNabb's inconsistent from game to game, but you know what you're going to get from him out of a full season. The O-line had no trouble with pass protection last year, but could be even better with the addition of Jason Peters and Stacy Andrews. You know what you're going to get out of Brian Westbrook too, a couple missed games, but effective otherwise. The team drafted LeSean McCoy but he would be a huge dropoff, both on the ground and in the passing game.

As a rookie last year, DeSean Jackson became the team's #1 playmaker by default. He's got very impressive quickness and speed, but still has a lot of developing to do. Kevin Curtis is a mediocre WR2. The team drafted Jeremy Maclin to replace him eventually, but he probably won't have much success as a rookie. Jason Avant is an OK slot option, and former WR1 Reggie Brown might not make the team.

On defense, the Eagles lost Brian Dawkins, but he has been significantly on the decline anyway. Other than that, the defensive players are mostly the same, with some added depth in the secondary. Coordinator Jim Johnson passed away and can never be replaced, but this is still his defense out there.

Really the whole team is mostly unchanged other than depth, coaching, and the O-line.

2009 Projected Record: 9-7

Washington Redskins

Last Year: 8-8

This will be Jason Campbell's second year in Jim Zorn's West-Coast-ish system. There's definitely a learnign curve, but Campbell is talented and has a good chance to break out this season. The Redskins need one of their second year receivers, Devin Thomas or Malcolm Kelly, can step up and take some pressure off the starters. Coverages began to focus exclusively on Santana Moss and Chris Cooley last season, and as a result the Washington offense was shut down. If someone does step up, Santana is in line for a great season - consistent Cooley gets his numbers either way. Also, if one of the young WR's step up, Antwaan Randle-El will have a rebound season in the slot.

On the ground, Clinton Portis is still in his prime. The team is expected to give him a few more breathers and use Ladell Betts more, but they'd be wise to get the most out of Portis they can without running him into the ground.

On defense, the Redskins have lost Shawn Springs and added Albert Haynesworth. They have Rogers to replace Springs, and Haynesworth is one of the most game-changing players in the NFL.

I expect improvement on both sides of the ball, so Washington could be a surprise division winner.
2009 Projected Record: 11-5

Current Division Future Odds:

(Disclaimer: I don't bet futures or suggest you tie up money for that long)

New York Giants +145
Philadelphia Eagles +185
Dallas Cowboys +285
Washington Redskins +405

Put 100 turnips on the 'Skins

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