For a stretch of years I have been picking the Eagles to win the NFC East. Is it blind loyalty or is it the fact that the Eagles have been playing the role of the top dog in the division for almost as long as Andy Reid has been in town? Call me a homer but the fact is the Eagles have been the best team year in and year out every year in the NFC East, even the disastrous post Super Bowl year they probably had the best talent top to bottom but injuries (and personal conflicts) derailed that season form the start. This year will be no different.The Eagles have everything it takes this year to make a run through the NFC towards another Super Bowl appearance. While teams like the Chicago Bears and New Orleans are the trendy and easy picks, the NFC is as wide open as it ever is, so why not the Eagles? Why not a team with a franchise quarterback with a mission to prove people wrong? Why not a team with the potential for a tough running game that could cause defenses to break their ankles? Why not a team with an improved defense? Why not a team that has revamped their offensive game plan? True, the Eagles have some areas to work on such as their defensive line, but they have some things working in their favor as well, like the schedule. Yes, the Eagles have all the makings of cruising their way to another NFC East championship and could be in the running for home field advantage in the NFC playoffs as long as the team stays healthy.
1. Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles will no doubt be lead by quarterback Donovan McNabb. McNabb has a history of playing well in the regular season, especially when people are doubting him. This year will be an important one for him. Coming off of a season ending injury last year, a year in which the praise and adoration of backup Jeff Garcia ran rampant, McNabb insists he is healthy and ready for the season opener. We’ll see how training camp unfolds, but if he truly is ready that would be a very good sign. The running backs are lead by none other than Brian Westbrook, a Pro-Bowl snub last season. Westbrook can do it all and clearly does not get the recognition he deserves. Perhaps if he had gone to USC instead of Villanova? Anyway, the offensive line is what really holds the offense together. The o-line was one of the most solid units last season and almost went completely unnoticed because the poor play of the defensive line irked many of the fans. Folks, if the Eagles do anything this year it will be because of the play of the defense.
The defense improved by signing of Takeo Spikes, who should take some of the pressure off of Jeremiah Trotter. Now Trotter does not have to carry the weight of Dhani Jones and the younger linebackers by himself. Spikes will add some new energy to the linebackers. The defensive backs and safeties are lead by Brian Dawkins along with Lito Shepperd and Michael Lewis. The questions remain on the defensive line. If Jevon Kearse stays healthy the line will be vastly improved already. Darren Howard will benefit from Kearse lining up on the opposite side, and the play of the young inside linemen, Broderick Bunkley and William Patterson, will need to improve early on.
A look at the schedule shows that the Eagles have some weak opposition to start the season with. The AFC division foes this year come from the AFC East, so pencil in a loss to the Patriots and watch out for the Jets game as well. Other interesting games come against the Bears, Seattle Seahawks and New Orlenas Saints. All three of those teams could win the respective divisions so if the Eagles are going to be the top team in the NFC, they will need to win three of those games. Pencil in the Bears game as a win because at that point it could be a high marquee game and the Eagles have been good in the past few years with high profile games at home in the regular season (forget about the Monday Night against Tampa Bay atrocity). Seattle is also home.
2. Dallas Cowboys
Putting all of my dislike for the Cowboys aside remember, I am not ready to say that Tony Romo is the quarterback of the Cowboys. He had some good games last year for sure, but were they great? While all of the Cowboys fans are quick to point out that Romo is the new top quarterback in the division the Eagles were dancing their way to the second round of the playoffs. The Cowboys have not won a playoff game since 1996. That tells me this franchise still has a long way to go before they are once agian the team to beat.
Yes, Romo fumbled that field goal attempt but that is not the only reason the Cowboys were sitting at home after the first week of the playoffs. The wide receivers, as highly tauted as Terrell Owens and Terry Glenn can be, are aging. Anybody who watched Owens last year knew that he was not the same receiver he once was. It will be interested to see how he does now that his hand is better as well as how he adjusts to his third coach in as many years. Speaking of coach…
…It amazes me how many people are saying that Wade Phillips, the replacement for Bill Parcells, is going to take this team to the next level. Has anybody ever glanced over his coaching record? I did:
New Orleans Saints 1-3
Denver Broncos 16-17
Buffalo Bills 29-21
Atlanta Falcons 2-1
That is a winning percentage of .533 with zero playoff victories to boast about. Defensive mind, sure. But do you think he’s going to able to control this team, after he had lost control of the Denver Broncos before giving way to Mike Shanahan? Pardon me if I scoff at the idea that Phillips is going to lead the Cowboys to the promises land once more with Romo as the quarterback. The secondary for the Cowboys will need improvement as well. Roy Williams gets attention for his hard hitting, and sometimes his questionable tackling methods, but he hasn’t shown he can cover a receiver to save his life.
Road games at Chicago, Carolina, and Buffalo could prove to be tough match-ups, but some favorable home games could balance them out. New England, the Jets, and St. Louis all visit Dallas this season. Look for the Cowboys to make a run at a wild card spot.
3. Washington Redskins
The Redskins may be making strides towards getting better, but the prospects of making the playoffs this season probably are not too great for the Redskins this year. Like the Eagles, the Redskins are celebrating their 75th year of football this season. The play of Jason Campell is under the microscope after he performed well last season and the fans are supporting him and hoping for continued development. What has hampered the organization has been poor managment and that is what will continue to hold the team back this year.
The defense was atrocious last season, giving up 355 yards per game. As if giving up 5.7 yards per play wasn’t bad enough, the Redskins had a third down defense percentage of 43.7% (2nd worst in the division; Dallas had 43.9%). The signing of London Fletcher should patch up the defensive running game, and the Redskins signed Fred Smoot after he played for the Vikings for two years so that should improve their defensive backs as well. There are many more changes on the defensive side as well. After letting go of Troy Vincent, trading Adam Archuleta and losing Kenny Wright to free agency, the Redskins now have David Macklin, Omar Stoutmire and Jerametrius Butler. If any of these signings scare you, you should relax.
While these moves improve the defensive side, there is still a lot of work to be done before the Redskins return to the playoffs. The Redskins were 5-11 last year, but I’m predicting a run at .500 this year. 7-9 or 8-8 would be a good season for this team.
4. New York Giants
If there are any Giants fans reading this I am sure you are outraged. Go ahead and be outraged. But it’s not my fault that the backbone of the team, Tiki Barber, retired. It’s not my fault quarterback Eli Manning continues to not live up to his hype. And it’s not my fault Tom Coughlin hasn’t been fired yet. Add to the mix that Luke Pettigout, an anchor on the offensive line, is gone.
The spotlight will once again be on the development, or lack thereof, of Manning. The spotlight may be even bigger now that he performed poorly in two playoff appearances and his big brother Peyton has won a Super Bowl. He will have a new quarterbacks coach working with him this year too, Chris Palmer. Coughlin has been quoted as saying he will be looking for more consistency from Manning both with throwing and his attitude.
The defense killed the Giants last season. They did not play well late in games, and they did not play disciplined ball, which cost them a couple games along the way. New defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo (former Eagles linebackers coach) will have the task of getting that side of ball back on track. Also keep on eye on the Michael Strahan situation as he is rumored to be ready to hold out of training camp. Osi Umenyiora is also rumored to the possibility of a holdout. All in all, this team is a mess form the top down.
The Giants’ schedule is interesting as well. Home games against the San Francisco 49ers, New York Jets, and New England Patriots could be penciled in as losses. Don’t forget about the “road” game being held in London against the Dolphins. You know the English will love having the arrogant NFL players like Jeremy Shockey in town. Other road games in Atlanta, Chicago and Buffalo could mean trouble for Coughlin and company. They made the playoffs last season, but the likelihood that the Giants return are about as good as the chances that Shockey will not comment negatively on the coaching this season.