Four of the top nine media markets in the United States are represented by the NFC East, and there’s no shortage of boisterous debate between the fans as to who the alpha team is. As such, the division itself is highly competitive, as these lucrative markets are attractive to free agents who wish to build their public image. With the level of competition being what it is, one has to expect frequent changes in the standings from year to year. Dallas stood tall last year thanks to a big week 17, but there’s no guarantee that 2010 yields the same.
QUESTION ONE: IS THIS DO OR DIE TIME FOR WADE PHILLIPS?
What was it we said about a competitive division? Phillips may have saved his own hide last year with Dallas’ first playoff win in thirteen years, but Jerry Jones’ expectations are consistently high. The Cowboys lucked their way into a few unlikely gems, like the undrafted Tony Romo and Miles Austin. In addition to a few good drafts during the Bill Parcells years, the Cowboys field a quality football team. However, those three Super Bowl titles in the nineties linger on the owner’s tongue, and he wants to know why Wade Phillips hasn’t gotten him another trophy for the mantle.
QUESTION TWO: CAN DALLAS’ OFFENSE HOLD UP?
The wide receiver position is beginning to get a little cramped in Dallas. Behind surprise sensation Miles Austin and rookie upstart Dez Bryant, there’s a running mouth that is aching to be catered to in Roy Williams. Williams and Bryant had an altercation at training camp that became public very quickly, as Dallas is never averse to controversy. Patrick Crayton demanded a trade, but then rescinded. Jason Witten, Tony Romo’s favorite target, has been playing with too many rib and leg injuries over the last two seasons. 2009’s number two offense has mutated a bit, but could still hold strong.
QUESTION THREE: AS A STARTER, WHAT DOES KEVIN KOLB BRING TO THE TABLE?
Kevin Kolb does not have Donovan McNabb’s scrambling ability, nor can he throw a pass as deep as his predecessor. However, the new starter makes up for McNabb’s lack of passing finesse. Those screen passes that McNabb had a penchant for overthrowing and underthrowing are no more. Kolb in particular is beloved by DeSean Jackson and Brent Celek, who seemed to have no issue in doing a Brutus impression with McNabb’s Caesar. Kolb will have bumps in the road, but since he was born into Andy Reid’s offense, as well as most of his teammates, he should be just fine.
As far as Donovan McNabb headed south to the Capital, it’s a yin and yang kind of deal. On the upside, McNabb is generally a safe quarterback who won’t throw too many interceptions. He works hard with new teammates to develop a duality in mindset, and will remain calm when things look bad. However, this is only McNabb’s second coach (Mike Shanahan), and the first to not have a pass-heavy mentality. McNabb may himself comfortable not having to throw so much, but it’s not a style that he’s particularly used to. It all depends on his ability to adapt to Shanahan.
QUESTION FIVE: HOW MUCH PRESSURE DOES ELI MANNING FACE?
After his heroics in Super Bowl XLII, a contract extension was around the corner for Eli Manning, and he got one worth nearly $100 million. That said, in 2009, a Giants team that started 5-0 degenerated into a team plagued by a lazy defense, a suddenly-stalled running attack, and an 8-8 record while Manning and coach Tom Coughlin looked on in bewilderment. All of the money going Eli’s way will surely be monitored closely, as the man who gets the most blame for failure is either the quarterback, or the biggest money earner. In both cases, that man is Eli Manning.
1. PHILADELPHIA EAGLES(11-5)
The NFC East, nine years out of ten, is close at the top, and since I’m a homer, I can rationalize the Eagles taking the division. Despite losing Donovan McNabb and Brian Westbrook, the Eagles offense still boasts all-pro DeSean Jackson, and fantasy must-haves Brent Celek, LeSean McCoy, and Jeremy Maclin. If Kolb stays confident and consistent, he’ll hit all of his targets. As for the defense, their biggest flaw (linebacking) is improved merely because Stewart Bradley is healthy, and then some through the addition of Ernie Sims. The defense must do their part to not undermine Kolb’s efforts, though.
I fail to see why Dallas can’t compete yet again, although a cloud of uncertainly hangs over both Wade Phillips (the axe) and Jason Garrett (coaching opportunities elsewhere). With Super Bowl XLV residing in Big D, this may coincidentally be the year Dallas’ window begins to close. David Buehler has to make up for Dallas’ eleven missed field goals last year, and the secondary sunk to twentieth best in the league, thanks to inexperience outside of Terrence Newman. For Dallas to succeed, Jason Garrett’s high powered offense has to be just that, and Miles Austin may need a repeat performance.
3. WASHINGTON REDSKINS (7-9)
Donovan McNabb and Mike Shanahan instantly improve on the yucky 4-12 season of one year ago. However, there are questions. McNabb adjusting to an entirely new system is one thing, but another is Shanahan’s dealings with the hands-on Daniel Snyder. Shanahan and former Raiders boss Al Davis clashed like mortal enemies before all was said and done, and Shanahan does not care for micromanagement. The maligned Albert Haynesworth still hasn’t been dealt away, and the morale problems among the defense may linger onward. The team will grow from 4-12 to be sure, but it’s going to be a painful process.
4. NEW YORK GIANTS (5-11)
The defense that ran through the 2007 playoffs suddenly gave up 27 points a game last season, and Tom Coughlin benched some of the non-hackers with little success. Antonio Pierce has gone out to pasture, and Fred Robbins finds himself in St. Louis reunited with Steve Spagnuolo, but the Giants found a coup in safety Antrel Rolle this offseason. Regardless, the team continued to go backwards as 2009 went on. Coughlin may need to look to 2011’s draft and free agent class to build Eli Manning a new supporting cast. At this rate, Super Bowl XLII begins to collect dust.
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