Champions Looking to Repeat in the East (2012 NFL Preview: NFC East)

The NFC East has been one of the most interesting divisions in the NFL as there always seems to be something going on. This can be a good thing for these teams and their bottom lines but it can also be bad for the focus that these teams get. For the Dallas Cowboys the focus can be crippling as they are known as America’s team. Owner Jerry Jones would have it no other way though as he loves the attention and makes sure that the Cowboys are always talked about. It is not always for the best reasons though as the Cowboys have taken a reputation for drafting and signing players that always get in trouble. The Cowboys are the focus of a lot of attention in the NFC East and yet there is still room for more attention to spread. The Philadelphia Eagles take a lot of focus as well and when it is from their own fans it is usually negative. With the worst, or best depending on how you look at it, fans in the NFL the Eagles are always in the news because their fans make more noise about what is wrong with the team than anyone else. As the Eagles and Cowboys continue to be in the news usually for the wrong reasons the New York Giants tend to be in the news for the right reasons because they win. Many times being overshadowed by their NFC East brothers in the Jets the Giants continue to move along being one of the best teams in the league and are talked about when February approaches and afterward. Meanwhile the Washington Redskins have been the team that stays out of the news but that all changed this year with a draft pick sure to keep attention on them. With so much attention on the division the pressure is immense and the winner of the division is the team that can handle it the best which will be the way any of these four teams will win the division in 2012.

 

Dallas Cowboys

 

 

 

 

 

The Dallas Cowboys are seemingly constantly in a cloud of controversy as they continue to sign trouble players and seem to let it get to them. The Cowboys are extremely inconsistent as they have looked like a good team on paper for years but have yet to translate it on the field. They have also been hurt by Jerry Jones who seems to have some type of affection for players who love to get in trouble off the field. When a player gets in trouble off the field all of a sudden the team is stormed by questions about everything except football. That provides some big distractions for the team and in Dallas it seems to be a constant theme of the team. With all of these problems Dallas also plays in a tough division where any misstep can cost you a division title. Still with all of the distraction and the underachieving the Cowboys seem to be in the hunt almost every year. This was the case in 2011 when the Cowboys limped through the season but managed to get 8 wins leading into the final game. There they would face longtime division rival the New York Giants and with a win would clinch the division title and a berth in the playoffs. Again though, the Cowboys failed to meet their challenge as they lost to the Giants and were eliminated from the playoffs for the second year in a row. The Cowboys were a disappointment in the 2011 season as much more was expected of them after a playoff appearance in 2009 and a disappointing year in 2010. They were expected to bounce back but they could not do it as they once again failed to perform when it mattered. The 2012 season will be an attempt to reload and go for the division once again. An active offseason has led to more expectations from the Cowboys as a few jobs may hang in the balance if they fail to meet expectations again throughout the 2012 season.

The Dallas Cowboys made a good amount of moves this offseason but will keep their core group of players for another year. On offence the leader is Tony Romo who will look to shake his bad reputation and may possibly be fighting for his job. If he does not perform this year the signing of Kyle Orton was a clear sign that the Cowboys are ready to replace him. Romo will need to use a duo of receivers that are much the same as himself. Miles Austin and the always in trouble Dez Bryant are considered two good receivers but much like Romo have not met their true potential yet. One big positive last year for the offence was the emergence of DeMarco Murray as a legitimate back. Murray has become a go to player in the backfield as he has drawn some comparisons to the style of Emmitt Smith when he runs. The offence is good on paper but every year is the same question, can they perform up to what is expected of them. The defence for the Cowboys has a few problems but one of the biggest is the lack of the pass rush. The leader of the defensive line is Jay Ratliff who has the ability to put pressure on the QB but Kenyon Coleman and Jason Hatcher are not meant to stop the pass. In the linebacking corps the Cowboys will see a big change with Keith Brooking and Bradie James both released. The promising Sean Lee and Dan Connor take over while the Cowboys look to DeMarcus Ware to perform better this year. Meanwhile the secondary for the Cowboys has always been an issue and the Cowboys went out to get some help. They turned it around almost immediately as they signed the veteran Brandon Carr and drafted the best cornerback in the draft in Morris Claiborne creating a much better secondary. The Cowboys made some changes on defence but none really went to fix the biggest problem of increasing the pass rush as they will still need to improve in that respect. The Dallas special teams Dan Bailey will return to kick after a long preseason battle while Dez Bryant and Felix Jones try to provide consistency in the return game. The Dallas Cowboys are a team that looks good on paper with only a few holes but every season it seems to be the same thing. Although they could be good history is not good but still it is hard to say they will be out of the playoff picture as the Cowboys will likely fight for a playoff spot and may squeak into the playoffs.

 

Strengths:
Offence
– Tony Romo has been a very up and down player but he has been able to get things done and will continue to do so especially if his receivers step up this year and DeMarco Murray can continue his strong play from 2011

 

Weakness:
Distractions
– The Cowboys always seem to be in the middle of some controversy and this offseason was no different as Dez Bryant made headlines with his off the field issues and don’t expect that to change as Dallas seems to love players that get in trouble away from the game

 

Biggest Addition:
Morris Claiborne, CB (Draft)
– The Cowboys have been in trouble in the defensive secondary for years and with the new focus on the passing game they needed to fix that as they went to the draft to get the best cornerback in the draft in Morris Claiborne

 

Biggest Loss:
Laurent Robinson, WR (Free Agent, Jac)
– The Cowboys are not the strongest receiving corps and the emergence of Robinson last year seemed to finally provide a player that could be a main target for Romo but it was all for not as he left in the offseason

 

New York Giants

 

 

 

 

The New York Giants seem to be that other team in New York behind all of the drama that surrounds the New York Jets. It is an odd relationship because the Giants are clearly the better team in New York yet they seem to be overlooked. Although they may not want to change that as it has worked for them in the past few years. In 2007 the Giants snuck into the playoffs then made a great run past everyone to win the Super Bowl. Last year seemed like a carbon copy of the 2007 season as the Giant went from a team that needed to fire their coach to Super Bowl Champions. The Giants last year began great but in November began to lose as they went on a four game losing streak. Throughout this streak the Giants looked like they were going to fall out of the division and sit on the outside of the playoffs. Then the Giant shad that famous late season surge as they pushed to the end of the season and beat the Dallas Cowboys in the last game of the season to win the division. As they entered the playoffs things seemed oddly familiar in New York as the Giants seemed to be the underdog much like they were in 2007. Just like 2007 the Giants looked to take the underdog and run with it as they went through every team in the NFC to earn a spot in the Super Bowl. The Giants would face another familiar challenge as they would take on the New England Patriots, the same team they faced in 2007 for the Super Bowl. The Giants completed the familiar season with a Super Bowl win as they enter the 2012 season as the defending Super Bowl Champions. Still they will likely not get too much news with the Jets remaining a daytime drama. For the Giants though this may be exactly what they want as they look to go about their business and win another Super Bowl in 2012.

The Giants are in the same situation as every defending champion as at a quick glance they should have no problems. They are the defending champions after all as they proved they have the best team in the league last year. That is not the Giants though as the questions still circle about whether or not they can do it again with the team they have. On offence the team is led by Eli Manning who last year claimed he was one of the top five QBs in the league and then proved it. He will be back in another season where he seems to remain underrated. The Giants offence will rely heavily on Manning who carried the team in 2011 and might need to do the same this year. He will have back two of his favorite targets in Hakeem Nicks and breakout receiver Victor Cruz. As the passing game remains generally intact while the running game will be a big question for the 2012 season. Reliable running back Brandon Jacobs is gone leaving Ahmad Bradshaw as the starting running back. Bradshaw is good but Jacobs was better as first round pick David Wilson should get some touches to take the pressure off of Bradshaw. As the offence falls on Manning the defence will lean on the front four. The Giants defensive line is clearly the best in the NFL with Justin Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul forming one of the most feared rushes in the league. Despite their front four the Giants were still a defence that seemed to only step up when they needed but were not completely dependable. A large reason for this was the defence behind the front four. The linebacking corps is a solid group with Mathias Kiwanuka, Michael Boley and Chase Blackburn but none are big playmakers. The secondary is just as questionable with Antrelle Rolle, Kenny Phillips, Corey Webster, and Prince Amukamara all doing their part but none being a playmaker. The Giants defence will once again lean on the front line to provide most of the plays with the rest of the defence simply serviceable and not really there to make any big plays. The special teams are led by the steady leg of Lawrence Tynes while the return game is not too explosive as they are depending on Dominick Hixon to recover from his ACL injury. The Giants are a team that has much of the same questions as they did in 2011 but it didn’t phase them then. The Giants are good once again and will likely be in the top of the division but a repeat as champions is tough for even the best of teams.

 

Strengths:
Passing Offence
– Led by Eli Manning the Giants have always had a good offensive team as manning can seem to make any receiver better including Victor Cruz who will be back to help the passing offence lead the division

 

Weakness:
Defensive Inconsistency
– The defence last year was good but then it was bad as the Giants could not seem to get a consistent performance on the defensive side of the ball as different parts of the defence seem to fall apart in different weeks

 

Biggest Addition:
David Wilson, RB (Draft)
– With the loss of Brandon Jacobs the Giants needed another running back to complete their two-headed attack alongside Ahmad Bradshaw and David Wilson will be that replacement who should make an impact immediately

 

Biggest Loss:
Brandon Jacobs, RB (Free Agent, SF)
– Ahmad Bradshaw is a good running back but Brandon Jacobs was better and his loss left a big hole in the Giants as a dependable straight forward rusher that they will attempt to replace with a draft pick in 2012

 

Philadelphia Eagles

 

 

 

 

The Philadelphia Eagles are another team with a lot of talk surrounding them yet they continue to underperform. The 2011 season was a year when the Eagles seemed to have finally figured things out. After an offseason of free agent signings the Eagles went into the shortened offseason with a lot of hype. The addition of some of the biggest free agents in the league made the Eagles early favorites for the Super Bowl. The team did not do much to temper expectations either with newly acquired backup QB Vince Young claiming that they were the “Dream Team” of the NFL. With all of the hype around the Eagles some expected them to go all the way while others tempered expectations. Still there as an expectation that after signing all of those big names the Eagles would at least be a playoff team. That didn’t happen though as the big personalities seemed to get in the way of the team. The year started promising as they beat the St. Louis Rams in the opening game 31-13 as the team looked to be what was promised. Then they began facing good teams and everything fell apart. The team could not do anything that they had promised and quickly the Dream Team became a nightmare. The Eagles finally seemed to figure it out a the end of the year when they went on a four game winning streak at the end of the year. The damage was already done as they were too far behind to grab a playoff sport as they sat in second place with an 8-8 record. The year the Eagles are looking to take the end of their season and build on it. With a full offseason for the team of superstars the Eagles are looking for a big improvement from 2011. This along with the shedding of some of the dead weight means that the Eagles have one goal in mind and that is to win a Super Bowl despite what many of the experts may say.

The Eagles had a rough year in 2011 as the team was in complete rebuild mode except they did not use young players to rebuild. The team was full of veterans but all came into the team as former superstars of their old teams causing problems on the new team. This year the Eagles are hoping that a leader emerges after a full offseason together. Vick is the key to the offence as he needs to stay healthy to give the offence a shot. He will have plenty of weapons to work with as Jeremy Maclin and DeSean Jackson have emerged as true threats for the passing game. Meanwhile LeSean McCoy is a good running back that can really provide a much-needed aspect of the team. The one issue that plagued the team in 2011 was the play of the offensive line that allowed way too many hits on Vick and McCoy. The end of last year saw the line get better and the Eagles are hoping that the trend continues especially if they want to keep Vick healthy. The offence is full of talent but the real issue will be if Vick can stay healthy because if he can’t the offence will not reach their potential. The defence has always been a quick defence with not a lot of toughness but a lot of that changed in 2011. The additions of Nnamdi Asomugha and Antonio Rodgers-Cromartie did not fit the original scheme of being cover corners. This year the Eagles will continue their late season adjustment in putting both corners in a more press coverage scheme that they are better suited to. This should help them to be a much better team against the pass. The linebackers are a small group but the addition of DeMeco Ryans should provide the impact player they have been looking for in the middle of the defence. The defensive line will be a highlight of the defence as Jason Babin, Cullen Jenkins, Derek Landri and Trent Cole form a great line that loves to pressure the QB. The defence for the Eagles will see some adjustments as they look to fit the defence with their talent rather than fitting their talent into their defence. The special teams will lean on Alex Henery once again this year while the return game will be handed to Damaris Thomas and Brandon Boykin. The Eagles are a team that struggled to figure everything out in 2011 but this year the team have finally began to adjusted to the talent they have. The hype has subsided but the Eagles seem better than last year as they could make a run at the playoffs and could even fight for the division.

 

Strength:
Unpredictability
– Usually the unpredictability is a bad sign for teams but with the level of talent and speed on the offence the Eagles are hard to read making it difficult for teams to plan for them as they can throw anything at you at almost any time

 

Weakness:
Defensive Size
– The Eagles have built a much better defence but there are still some major shortfalls when it comes to the size of the defensive team as they may find it hard to match the big offensive lineman in the league even with their speed

 

Biggest Addition:
Fletcher Cox, DT (Draft)
– The Eagles love to rotate their defensive line to keep the offence on their toes and the addition of Fletcher Cox will provide another solid option in the defensive rotation that should help to continue the strong defensive line tradition

 

Biggest Loss:
Asante Samuel, CB (Free Agent, Atl)
– The Eagles are moving on into a new defensive mindset and the odd man out was Samuel but that doesn’t change the fact that he was the most consistent cornerbacks on the Eagles and he will be missed in the nickel package

 

Washington Redskins

 

 

 

 

 

The Washington Redskins have been the one team that has stayed out of the news and in the East that can be a bad thing. The Redskins have been essentially forgotten about over the past few years as they made little noise with any offseason moves or on field play. The Redskins are a team in the east that has plenty of history as they have been one of the most legendary teams in the NFL. This has not helped them much in recent years though as they have struggled to find a foothold in the East division. With the Giants, Eagles, and Cowboys fighting it out for the division title the Redskins have struggled. That remained the same in 2011 when the Redskins the season with a 3-1 record before the bye week. Then it came apart as the Redskins could not keep it going as they fell to a 5-11 record. One of the biggest reasons for that was the Redskins search for a QB. Rex Grossman and John Beck continued to fight it out all year to take the starting job. Grossman started the year as the QB but was quickly benched for John Beck who took over the team. That did not last very long though as Beck was benched after three games putting Grossman back in command of the offence. That second change did nothing either as the Redskins continued to struggle in their attempt to find a true starting QB. The Redskins went about the 2012 offseason looking for their new QB. A trade with the St. Louis Rams gave the Redskins that chance as they would take the second spot in the draft and have the chance at either Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III depending on who the Indianapolis Colts would take. The Colts took Luck as the Redskins took the Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III as they attempted to improve the team immediately. The Redskins are looking to their additions in the offseason to improve their team and enter the conversation in the NFC East.

The Washington Redskins were fairly busy this offseason as they looked to rebuild and improve immediately to join the fight for the East. When the Redskins drafted Robert Griffin III it was clear that the Heisman Trophy winner would be the leader of the team. Griffin has a great shot at leading an NFL offence as he has the ability to run if he has issues reading defences but still has the arm to be a good passing QB. In the passing game Griffin will have two veterans who he can lean on in Santana Moss and new addition Pierre Garcon. The Redskins will also look to their run game to support Griffin and after releasing Tim Hightower they will lean on Evan Royster and Roy Helu Jr. It is not the most promising as neither running back has proven that he really belongs among the starting QBs around the NFL. The offence is improved but it may go through some growing pains as Robert Griffin will need to deal with a porous line that may cause some rookie mistakes. Meanwhile on defence the Redskins is a very good yet underrated squad. Last year they played from behind most of the year and although they kept the team competitive it was not enough to gain the respect of the NFL. The Skins depend on their front seven to lead the defence as they have a group that can provide some great pressure. On the defensive line the Redskins look to Adam Carriker and Stephen Bowen on the outsides to provide most of the pressure while Barry Cofield holds down the middle of the line. The Linebacking is an even better unit with London Fletcher leading the way for some young talented linebackers in Ryan Kerrigan, Perry Riley, and Brian Orakpo. The secondary is the only real question on the defence as the loss of LaRon Landry left a big hole. To fill his spot the Redskins signed Brandon Meriweather who has his own questions after entering his third team in as many years. DeAngelo Hall and Josh Wilson will be patrolling the corners but will need to make bigger plays to help the pass defence. The defence is a good one with a few questions as they will need the front seven to step up and support the rest of the team. On special teams the Redskins will need to see some improvements from kicker Graham Gano and returner Brandon Banks to provide a steadier group. The Redskins are an improved team but there are still some major holes that a new QB cannot fix. The future is promising for the Redskins but their time is not now as they will likely remain out of the playoffs once again.

 

Strength:
Defensive Front Seven
– The Redskins have a good defence but the heart of it is their front seven as they continue to get pressure on the QB with different players in the seven defenders all able to make an impact at any moment

 

Weakness:
Offensive Line
– The offensive line is porous and that could mean big issues for the Redskins this year as a rookie QB will need to use is athleticism when the defences of the opposition get through the line to cause issues

 

Biggest Addition:
Robert Griffin III, QB (Draft)
– The Redskins needed a QB and they got one of the best in the NCAA when they drafted Robert Griffin who won the Heisman Trophy in 2011 and will use his good football mind along with his great athletic talent to make an impact in 2012

 

Biggest Loss:
Jabar Gaffney, WR (Free Agent, NE)
– Griffin would like to have as many receivers as he can get to help him out but the Redskins will only have two this year as Gaffney left in the offseason taking away another threat that Griffin could have worked with in the offseason

 

Prediction:
1. New York Giants
2. Philadelphia Eagles
3. Dallas Cowboys
4. Washington Redskins

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