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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

2012 NFL Preview: NFC East

How often have we seen a defending Super Bowl champ not be favored to win the division the following year?  New York didn't even lose many key pieces either.  Are the Giants not getting enough respect or is Philadelphia legitimately the team to beat?  What about "America's Team"?  Do they have enough leadership and character to make this a fight?  Is Robert Griffen III ready for his NFL initiation?  I can't think of a worse division to have to start your NFL career against.  Another knock-down-drag-out year of NFC East football is just around the corner.

New York Giants

2012 NFL Preview: NFC East New York Giants
2011 Review: Heading into the playoffs, I didn't have the New York Giants rated very high in my final season power rankings. Their rushing game was nothing special and their defense had problems all over the place.

To say they got hot and overachieved would be an understatement.

It almost seems completely irrelevant looking at their 2011 season outside of the Superbowl context, but I can't help to be skeptical for 2012. 

2012 Offseason: The Giants bring back a lot of the same players from 2011 which isn't always normal for a Superbowl winning team.  Manningham, Ross, and Jacobs are gone, but those guys are replaceable.

Cruz has taken over a starting WR spot and Nicks is the man on the other side. There will be a battle for the 3rd spot, but Hixon seems to have the inside track. 2nd round pick Reuben Randle will also see time on the field. Martellus Bennett was acquired in free agency and gives Eli another receiving option over the middle.

David Wilson was the top choice in the draft and will inject fresh juice in the backfield.

On defense they got Shaun Rogers who could wind up being a force in the middle, but we've said that before about him. Otherwise this unit enters the season with a solid group that feels really good about themselves.

Looking ahead: My main concern going forward surrounds the O-line. They got a lot of glitz and glamour in the draft, but what about the meat and potatoes?

The season win total opened at 9.5 and there has been big juice on the under. I have to agree with this. The team I handicapped all year was not the same team in the playoffs. They deserve full credit as champs, but this is not an elite team week in and week out.

Philadelphia Eagles

2012 NFL Preview: NFC East Philadelphia Eagles
2011 Review: Last year I put up my hand as someone who was hot on the Eagles, but not because of their "dream team" hype. Most of my optimism came from the continuity and consistency that Andy Reid brings to his team year in and year out.

In hindsight, defensive coordinator Juan Castillo was a mess for the first half of the year. Reading between the lines you could tell that the players were not on the same page and frankly I'm surprised he kept his job. The red zone was the worst I've ever seen, the turnover differential was ugly, and they blew a half dozen 4th quarter leads.

2012 Offseason: The good news for Philly is that they are stocked and loaded for another kick at the can and oddsmakers have made them division favorites. 

They re-signed most of their key guys and parted ways with Parker, J Jackson, Justice, and Samuel, and S Smith. From this group Samuel was the biggest loss, but they wanted to get Rogres-Cromartie on the field full-time as a regular corner. Boykin was another steal in round 4 and should challenge for time in the slot.

They acquired DeMeco Ryans for a necessary upgrade at linebacker and will back up what I think will be the best defensive line in the NFL.

Fletcher Cox was a huge steal in the draft and will join the likes of Jenkins, Babin, Cole, and Patterson.

Questions linger at safety where Coleman, Jarrett, and Atogwe will battle for snaps. Nate Allen is also expected to step up.

On offense you have game-breakers all over the place. The concern is at left tackle when Peters went down with a freak offseason injury. Those guys don't grow on trees and when your top priority as an organizatio is to keep Vick healthy, that's not the position you want to lose. Grabbing Demestress Bell was a good stop-gap, but it's still a worry.

Looking ahead:
Most of the season will not only rely on Vick's health, but also his progression. He hasn't really regained his elite level of play going back to late 2010. Can he cut down on the careles mistakes? Fumbles and interceptions could be an issue.  They also have to get Desean Jackson back to his dominating self.  Over the last year or so he has either been hurt or worrying about his money.  Now he got paid--will it help or hurt?

The offense will get the headlines, but the defense should be the true strength of the team. Juan Castillo will have no excuses this time around. The entire staff is likely gone without a deep playoff run.

The season win total started at 10 and there is trending juice on the over.  It would be hard to pass up on that regardless of their strength of schedule.

Dallas Cowboys

2012 NFL Preview: NFC East Dallas Cowboys
2011 Review: "America's Team" is nothing more but a distant memory at this point.  Another disappointing season has this team at a crossroads. Their pass defense was atrocious and their play in the red zone on both sides of the ball wasn't much better. The heart of the problem was their record against teams in the middle of the pack...1-4.

2012 Offseason: So where does Dallas go from here? A great start was inserting Brandon Carr in the secondary.  They also moved up to take Morris Claiborne in round 1.  Rob Ryan finally has something to work with on the back end. If the D-line continues to be a strength (boosted by 3rd rounder Tyrone Crawford), this defense could pose significant problems for opposing offenses this season.

Kyle Orton joins the QB club and is great insurance for Romo. Let it be known once again that I'm not a fan of Romo. He's the guy that has put up great fantasy stats, but doesn't back it up in crunch time. This is a common criticism of him, but until he proves people wrong the stigma will justifiably stick.

Romo will also be praying that Bryant, Austin, and Witten stay healthy this year. Depth isn't their strength right now.  Hurting their cause is Bryant's latest domestic problem. The O-line is also getting a bit of a reshuffle after Romo got banged around and sacked far too often in 2011.  New offensive coordinator, Bill Callahan, is also the offensive line coach so they should be ok there.

Vickers was an underrated pickup who should pay immediate dividends in the run game. 

Looking ahead: I don't often say this, but the Cowboys could be a big value team in 2012. If I had to choose between them and the Giants to upset Philly for the division, Dallas would be my choice. 

Vegas had them at 8.5 total season wins and I think that is on the soft side. I would have pegged them at 9 or 9.5 without looking at the schedule. They are the true wild card team of the NFC conference (assuming Romo doesn't blow it).

Washington Redskins

2012 NFL Preview: NFC East Washington Redskins
2011 Review: Whether you are a Skins fan or not, this organization ranks among the worst. Every year we ask ourselves "is this the season it gets turned around?".

2011 was no exception. Washington was 0-3 vs the top teams, 2-6 at home and 2-4 in the division.  They couldn't run the ball, score in the red zone, or take care of the football.

2012 Offseason: Enter Robert Griffin III.  Is he finally the savior that is going to put the Redskins back on the path of respectability? The first challenge is competiting within the division, and it's one of the main reasons why it's been so hard to make any progress.

The good news is there is early buzz that Griffen is just as equipped (if not more-so) to have an immediate impact as Andrew Luck. Only the football gods know that, but Washington has been looking for a franchise QB like this for what seems like forever.

Signing Pierre Garcon (otherwise known as Peter Waiter), was a solid move to give Griffen a nice option to start with. However, the news isn't great after that. They'll have to make do with what they got and hope someone else steps up.

Banking on Meriweather to be an impact safety is questionable since two teams with a need at safety have already cut ties with him.

Other than that the defense is in pretty good shape. There wasn't a whole lot they could do in free agency and the draft was all about Griffen, so carrying forward a strong unit on this side is a relief for Shanahan and company.

Looking ahead
: This season is all about Griffen. The season win total opened at a low 6.5 and money has come in very one-sided towards the under, but the recent success of rookie QBs in this league might have Skins-backers more optimistic than that.  I have my doubts--especially in such a tough division.

Up Next: NFC South
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