Tuesday, September 4, 2007

False Starts: The NFC East

. . .and the beat goes on. Today we take a pass through the NFC East and all of the wonders therein. Unfortunately, this edition of FS is going to be slightly shorter than normal due to time constraints, but that shouldn’t detract from the overall Objective Experience. So let’s cut short the intro and get down to business. . . .


Your certified-prescient picks in the 2007 AFC East:

4. New York Giants

This one could get very ugly very quickly. We all know that the New York media can create problems out of nothing, and they’re even better exacerbating small cracks in a team’s armor. When there are serious, deep-seeded issues, then it’s time to run for cover.

I’ve never placed a whole lot of stock in the whole idea of a “lame-duck” coach in the last year of his deal. I do think, however, when a team re-signs a coach for just one year, that could perhaps raise some issues. When that team’s former star running back claims that he retired because of said coach, you’re bordering on mutiny. Ladies and gentlemen, your 2007 New York Giants!

Tom Coughlin is toast. The players seem to despise him, and upper management seems to have little faith in his ability to win them back. A playoff run could save his job, but that isn’t in the cards and Coughlin will be in the unemployment line. The Tiki Barber retirement was a disaster; whatever your opinion of Barber and the way he handled things (and mine is, to say the least, negative), it highlights the issues in the Giants’ locker room.

At least Michael Strahan has decided to play. He “pondered retirement” for the entire pre-season, just now returning (to find a $200,000 fine waiting for him). He’ll team with Osi Umenyiora to form a potent pass rush duo, and middle linebacker Antonio Pierce gives New York a solid presence in the middle of the field. The rest of the linebacking corps is all-new, however. LaVar Arrington and Carlos Emmons are out, replaced by Kawika Mitchell and Mathias Kiwanuka. We’ll see if they can assimilate quickly enough. In the secondary, the Giants are counting heavily on rookie Aaron Ross to pick up the slack in a hurry.

Replacing Barber at running back poses a major issue. Brandon Jacobs moves from backup to starter, and Reuben Droughns joins the team as the primary back-up. Neither is in the same league as Tiki, so the passing game is going to have to step up. The offensive line, however, will likely prevent that. The Giants never replaced departed starting left tackle Luke Petitgout, and none of the other lineman are stars. Eli Manning has been criticized for his lack of accuracy, and while that’s undoubtedly on his shoulders the offensive line hasn’t really given him a chance to get comfortable in the pocket, either. Things aren’t going to go well in New York.

3. Dallas Cowboys

So, is Tony Romo a real NFL quarterback? I’m guessing no, which means the Cowboys finish third this year.

By mid-season, it was pretty much impossible to watch Ron Jaworski (who, by the way, is awesome) talk about anything except the bad habits of Tony Romo. The basic idea was that he had been getting stupidly lucky, making stupid plays that somehow worked out. Once teams got some film on him, they’d figure this out and force him back down to earth. That’s pretty much what happened: over his last five regular season games, he threw 8 picks to just 5 touchdowns, and the Cowboys lost to the Seahawks in the playoffs. That was the real Tony Romo, not the mid-season savior version.

It’s a shame, too, because the Cowboys have some pretty good offensive weapons. Terrell Owens drops a lot of passes but is still a force in the red zone, and Terry Glenn gives them a decent deep threat. The running back combo of Julius Jones and Marion Barber is distinctly above average, although Barber was the more effective runner this year.

Adding safety Ken Hamlin alongside Roy Williams helps to cover some of the latter’s deficiencies in pass coverage, and up front DeMarcus Ware can rush the passer with anyone. The Cowboys have a few other promising young linebackers (like Bobby Carpenter and Anthony Spencer), so we’ll see how new coach Wade Phillips implements his 3-4 scheme. The defensive line is ok-not-great, and the Cowboys have a pretty good pair of corners in Terrence Newman and Anthony Henry. Romo’s regression is going to doom the Cowboys, however.

2. Washington Redskins

The Redskins dodged a serious bullet when quarterback Jason Campbell avoided serious injury early in the preseason. He took an awful-looking hit to the knee and there were fears but Campbell could be lost for the season, but he ended up suffering only a bruise and will start in Week One. Injuries were the rule last season for the Skins, so maybe this bit of preseason good fortune signals a healthier 2007.

Santana Moss gives Campbell an excellent first option, and tight-end Chris Cooley works well as a bail-out receiver. The rest of the pass-catching ranks are a bit thin; Antoine Randel-El and Brandon Lloyd are acceptable, but not game-changers. Having a healthy Clinton Portis to couple with backup Ladell Betts in the backfield would help to the offense tremendously. Betts was good filling in last season, and if the Redskins can establish a reliable rotation behind Campbell they can take off a goodly amount of the pressure.

First-rounder LaRon Landry won the starting job at strong safety along-side Sean Taylor; if Landry lives up to expectations the Skins will have an excellent pair of starters. Like pretty much every other position on the roster, the safety spot is thin behind the starters, so when injuries strike (and they will somewhere if not at safety) Washington will be left scrambling to fill holes.

The Redskins added London Fletcher-Baker from Buffalo to upgrade their MLB spot, which should help a defense that was pretty awful last season once injuries struck. Washington will have to improve their pass-rush, regardless; end Andre Carter led the team with just 6 sacks last year.

1. Philadelphia Eagles

Offseason drama aside, the Eagles are one of the best two or three teams in the NFC and should emerge from the East with another division title. Drafting QB Kevin Kolb in the second round touched off a cavalcade of speculation as to Donovan McNabb’s future with the team, but in 2007 this is undoubtedly McNabb’s team and he will continue to play at a high level.

Brian Westbrook gives Philly one of the most versatile weapons in the NFL, giving them great production as both a runner and a receiver. He’s complimented by a competent set of receivers, although the departed Donte’ Stallworth does leave a hole across from Reggie Brown, the Eagles brought in Kevin Curtis from St. Louis. The Eagles have always liked to spread the field out using a bunch of receivers, so the loss of any single guy is rarely a major issue.

Defensively, Takeo Spikes takes over the weakside linebacker spot as Philly’s major offseason addition. Omar Gathier takes over for the released Jeremiah Trotter (who just signed with Tampa), and Chris Gocong won the third starting spot. End Jevon Kearse is returning from a broken leg, but Philly has plenty of depth in the defensive line in case Kearse proves unable to hold up over the entire season.

Basically, it seems pretty obvious that the Eagles are the class of the East, and I’d be shocked if they don’t win the division fairly easily.

Because of time issues, there’s a chance the NFC Central preview may not run until Friday. If that proves to be the case, then enjoy Thursday’s kickoff.

No comments: