Can the “Dream Team” Match the Hype (NFC East Preview)

The NFC East is has been one of the best divisions in the NFL as they have teams that could win any year. They also have four of the most legendary teams in the NFL as every team has a history that some teams would love. The Dallas Cowboys were one of the first teams to be in almost every home in the U.S. This gave them the moniker of “America’s Team” and has made them the richest team and the most recognizable team in the NFL. The New York Giants are also in this category as they were one of the original NFL teams and have been a staple in the New York sports scene for as long as the NFL has existed. The G-Men have also become one of the most recognizable franchises in sports and also have a winning tradition. The Washington Redskins are another legendary team that has a great tradition. The home to the Hogs, the nickname for the lineman on the Redskins in the 1980s and 1990s, the Washington Redskins also have one of the best rivalries in football with the Dallas Cowboys. The Philadelphia Eagles are possibly the least historical of the teams but still have a great history including two Super Bowl appearances. Altogether the NFC East has eleven Super Bowl Championships and can be one of the most competitive divisions in football. This year the NFC East will be competitive as every team has some major questions that need to be answered before a winner emerges.

Dallas Cowboys

The Dallas Cowboys have a glaring similarity to the Oakland Raiders as they have one of the most intrusive owners in the NFL. Jerry Jones has spent a lot of money to make the Dallas Cowboys one of the biggest brands in the world. This spending makes Jerry Jones very concerned about his investment and make Jones very involved in the management of his team. This can cause problems as it has in Oakland but Jones has seemed to find a better balance as he has been successful in his management of the team. In 2010 this formula seemed to fall apart as the Cowboys were expected to go to the Super Bowl, mainly by Jones, but did not come close. Jones moved his team into a new state of the art stadium that cost him $1.3 billion in 2009. In 2010 the Stadium would host Super Bowl XLV and Jones wanted his team to play at home. Instead the Cowboys got off to a bad start losing their first two games and then going on a five game losing streak after their bye week. The season got worse in 2010 as they lost their starting QB Tony Romo in week 7. With the loss of their QB Jon Kitna took over but nothing changed as the Cowboys continued to lose. After the 1-7 start the Cowboys fired their head coach Wade Phillips and promoted Jason Garrett to the top spot. Garret was able to change the culture but was not able to undo the damage. The Cowboys finished 6-10 and in third place in the NFC East. This year the Cowboys hope to improve on last year’s performance and take the NFC East crown.

In 2011 the Cowboys have not made sweeping changes but will be carrying their interim coach from 2010 into 2011. One of the biggest knocks against Wade Philips was his free approach to coaching where he joked with the players and let them essentially do what they wanted to do. When Philips was fired the Cowboys brought in their offensive coordinator Jason Garrett who completely changed the culture in Dallas. This change helped the Cowboys as they went 5-3 under their new head coach. As a result of this Jones brought Garrett back as the head coach in 2011 in order to make a run at the playoffs. The offence will be led by Tony Romo who returned from injury who has said he will be looking to become an elite QB this year. The key to this will be his relationship with his two young receivers in Dez Bryant and Miles Austin. He will have to overcome the change in his line as there will be two rookies in a line that ended his season last year. On defence there has been little to no player changes as the only signing was safety Abram Elam. The biggest change will be the coaching as former Cleveland Browns defensive coordinator and brother to Rex Ryan, Rob Ryan, will take over the Cowboys defence. He changed the defence to a 3-4 scheme and will increase the aggressiveness of the team. Along with this the Cowboys star defensive end, DeMarcus Ware will change from a defensive end to a rushing outside linebacker. The Cowboys will always be Jerry Jones team and a coach that can live with his interference will be successful. Garrett seems to be fine with this and if Romo can become an elite QB and Rob Ryan can translate the success of the 3-4 to the cowboys they will be able to have a close competition in the NFC East.

Philadelphia Eagles

The Philadelphia Eagles had one of the best stories in the NFL last year as they gave Michael Vick the reins, eventually. The Season started with the release of Donovan McNabb and Brian Westbrook. McNabb had been the QB for years and moving on without him forced the Eagles to look at Michael Vick and Kevin Kolb as their starting QB. The decision was made that Kevin Kolb was to be the starting QB week 1. After facing the Packers in week 1 Kolb was injured giving Michael Vick the chance to take over. Vick and Kolb fought it out as each were injured a few times but the job eventual went to Vick. Vick carried this job and became the comeback player of the year after having one of his best seasons in the NFL. Vick was a recreated QB after spending time in jail for illegal dog fighting charges. In 2010 he changed from a running QB to a pocket passer that could escape the pocket if need be. This created problems for all other teams as they had to focus on Vick and ended up letting him do what he wanted. The Eagles finished the season with a 10-6 record and beat the New York Giants on a last-minute punt return that gave them the advantage in the NFC East title race. They won the East and moved on to face the Green Bay Packers in the Wild Card game. They lost this game on a last play INT by Michael Vick ending their season. This year the Eagles have made the most noise in the free agent period and have the attitude of Super Bowl or bust.

The 2011 Eagles are almost completely different as they have had the most active free agent period in the NFL. The activity started on defence where they made the biggest moves including signing the biggest Free Agent name Nnamdi Asomugha. The signing of the second best CB in the league began a flurry of signings that changed the face of the Eagles and made them a Super Bowl favorite. The signings included Cullen Jenkins, Isaiah Trufant, Jarrad Page, and Jason Babin. The defence also added Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie in a trade that sent Kevin Kolb to the Arizona Cardinals. The defence will be strong in the passing game as they will have three Pro Bowlers to shut down the opposition. The run defence will be a bit of a question as the front seven will be led by rookie middle linebacker and brother of Pro Bowl OLB Clay Matthews, Casey Matthews who was drafted in the 4th round out of Oregon. The offence will be led again by Michael Vick who may have his weapons back as Brent Celek and Jeremy Maclin will be back but DeSean Jackson has yet to report to camp as he is holding out for a new contract. They will also have former Giant Steve Smith as a temporary solution to the contract issue. The Eagles also signed Ronnie Brown as a compliment to LeSean McCoy. The Eagles have also added backup QB Vince Young who will provide an interesting ripple to the offence when he returns from injury. Having two fast QBs in an offence will let the offence run a number of tricks plays where Young and Vick can either run or throw to each other or throw to a WR or any combination of these. This will give the Eagles a powerful offence and a good defence that many consider a favorite for the Super Bowl. Vince Young has already called this team the “Dream Team” but can they manage the hype or will the number of stars on the team cause them to fold when it matters?

New York Giants

The New York Giants have had a habit of falling apart late in the season and in 2010 this was no different. The Giants had some high hopes in the beginning of the season as they started 5-2 before their bye week. After the bye week the Giants went 5-4 and lost two key games to the Philadelphia Eagles and the Green Bay Packers. The biggest part of this collapse was the inconsistency of their starting QB Eli Manning. Last year Manning had 31 TDs but also had 25 INTs that continued to hamper the Giants. Along with this the Giants had to do without their star WR Plaxico Burress who was serving time in jail. This forced Manning to throw to a number of receivers that were not #1 WR material. The offence led the league in turnovers with Manning’s 25 and another 17 fumbles that became the biggest issue for the Giants in 2011. The defence tried to make up for this as they led the league in takeaways with 36 and were ranked 7th overall. The Giants were also hurt by a tough division where they ended the season with a 10-6 record but could not win the division. Their late season loss to the Eagles proved costly as the Eagles took the division. This led to rumours of the firing of head coach Tom Coughlin after have a few disappointing seasons. The rumours turned out to be false as Coughlin will return as the head coach for the Giants in 2011. The Giants will be looking to be more consistent this year as they compete against a strong division and will need to be the best they can be to make the playoffs.

The Giants were fairly silent in the offseason as they did not add any free agents and their top draft pick Prince Amukamara, CB was injured in training camp. Instead the Giants elected to keep the majority of their team but did lose a number of free agents. The biggest loss of the offseason was probably Kevin Booth, G/T or Steve Smith, WR as both will take away from an offence that is struggling with consistency issues. On offence the loss of Smith will be replaced by the return of Dominick Hixon. Manning will have to use all of his receivers again as the receiving corps will play through committee once again with Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham. The running game will be the same as last year as they will use Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs in a two-headed running attack that allows for a balanced Giants offence. The Giants will need to improve on their turnovers and play with consistency if they hope to compete with an improved division. The defence is one of the strengths of the Giants as they were ranked 7th overall last year and ranked 1st in takeaways with 36. This became the main reason why they did not make any changes on defence. The line will be led by Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora for now. Umenyiora may be on his way out as he has been locked in a contract dispute that has led to rumours of trades. So far the Giants maintain that he will not be traded but Umenyiora does not seem to be happy in New York and may not be there at year-end. The rest of the defence will be solid as Mathias Kiwanuka will head up the linebacking corps and Antrel Rolle will lead the secondary. You may expect to see their top pick in the secondary when he gets healthy but that may be the only change. Overall the Giants will need to perform to their potential to be competitive but this has not happened in the past few years. I would expect the Giants to be a good team again but with a tougher division this year they may miss the playoffs again.

Washington Redskins

The Washington Redskins have had a rocky few seasons and 2010 was not different as they introduced new coach Mike Shannahan. Their new coach was a sign of hope to start the season as they believed he would be able to turn around the Redskins. Along with the new head coach the added Donovan McNabb from the Philadelphia Eagles to fill the spot left by the departure of Jason Campbell. The arrival of Donovan McNabb was considered very good move but it did not last long. Throughout the season McNabb and Shannahan remained at odds and it eventually led to the benching of McNabb. This left Rex Grossman in the starting QB role but did not improve the offence. The controversy over the starting QB put a cloud over the Redskins that came along with another big disagreement. Albert Haynesworth has always been known as a somewhat lazy player and this was fortified when he came in overweight for the Redskins training camp. Their new head coach did not appreciate the lack of respect and had it out with Haynesworth. This was not the only problem however as Haynewworth also became very outspoken about switching to a 3-4 defence where he was not happy to play the Nose Tackle role. Haynesworth was eventually suspended and did not play for the majority of the season along with a benched Donovan McNabb. The Redskins finished the season with a 6-10 record and a lot of controversy. Many wondered what was happening in Washington as two good players were not given much of a chance to play. In 2011 Shannahan hopes that he will be able to show the Redskins fans he knows how to run a team.

The Redskins were embroiled in controversy last year but the two main causes were dismissed for the 2011 season. Donovan McNabb went into free agency where he signed with the Minnesota Vikings leaving Rex Grossman and John Beck in the QB position. Albert Haynesworth also left as the Redskins traded him to the New England Patriots for a draft pick. With these two players gone Shannahan hopes to establish a certain culture in the Washington locker room that will suit him and players that will follow along with the team, not just themselves. He will start with the reworking of the QB position as a competition during the training camp saw Rex Grossman and John Beck fight for the top spot. There was no clear starter decided upon but it looks like the Shannahan team, his son is the offensive coordinator, like John Beck. There may be some QB controversy this year as the demand for a change may be high if either John Beck or Rex Grossman do not step up. The QB will have some pretty good talent to throw to with the addition of Jabar Gaffney to compliment Santana Moss in the passing game. The running game looks to be improved to as Tim Hightower was one of the biggest offseason signings for Washington as they will use Hightower and Anthony Torain as a two-headed backfield. On defence the Redskins will need to improve drastically as they were ranked 31st overall. The Redskins seemed to focus on the pass defence first as they signed Josh Wilson, CB and O.J. Atogwe to play alongside DeAngelo Hall and LaRon Landry. With this secondary the Redskins will be strong in coverage but they may have issues in the defensive pressure up front. The Redskins added Barry Cofield and Stephen Bowen in an attempt to strengthen the pass rush but it may not pay off as these two linemen only combined for 5 ½ sacks last year. Their linebacking corps may be the best part of the defence with London Fletcher leading the way for converted lineman Brian Orakpo and providing a veteran presence for their #1 draft pick Ryan Kerrigan. The Redskins have one main thing going for them and that is that the team has a sense of belief that they can win the NFC East. That is the first step in winning the East but they will need to improve drastically and the changes they made are not going to be drastic enough. The Redskins will be a little better but will be facing too strong of a division to get out of the basement.

 

Prediction:

1. Philadelphia Eagles (12-4)

2. Dallas Cowboys (10-6)

3. New York Giants (9-7)

4. Washington Redskins (7-9)

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