I know what you are thinking. How can I trust a site named The Redskin Report to give me an unbiased preview of the NFC East? If there is one thing I’ve learnt over my 11 months of writing here, its how to put my Redskins favoritism aside and give an honest opinion on the division. I mean who else but a super honest guy would rank Mark Brunell ahead of Eli Manning in his QB rankings?
But that’s enough about my honesty, onto the predictions:
1. Washington Redskins (11-5)
When running down the glaring weaknesses of each NFC East team, you come with the Dallas offensive line, the Philly receivers, the Giants secondary and the Redskins, ummm, punter? And therein lies the difference between these four rivals, the Redskins are the most complete team of the lot.
That isn’t to say that the Redskins don’t have any weaknesses. Mark Brunell hasn’t exactly proved to be the most durable or consistent QB during his tenure in D.C., the offensive line depth is suspect and the nickel cornerback has impersonated a turnstile for much of the preseason.
But this is a case where the positives outweigh the negatives. The offense looks poised to take a step forward. The 05-06 Redskins late year run was accomplished with what amounted to a 3 man offense, new weapons like Antwaan Randle-El and Brandon Lloyd will improve the offense just by showing up. The strong defense returns nearly fully intact and Andre Carter’s pass rushing skills bring a new element to the team. This is the best team in the division and a serious title contender.
2. Philadelphia Eagles (9-7)
Yeah they have no receivers (and no Eagle fans, signing the second coming of Rod Gardner in Dante Stallworth doesn’t fix anything), and their running game is pretty suspect, but the Eagles are not a team to be taken lightly. Donovan McNabb is one of only a few players in the NFL who can win a game by himself. Most Eagle fans don’t appreciate McNabb and that’s a shame because he is one of the few true superstar in this league.
If McNabb goes down, the Eagles are screwed. Jeff Garcia is beyond wretched and AJ Feeley has been trash for his entire career save for that short stint with the Eagles back in the day that earned him a lot of money. No one is going to be yearning for the days of Mike McMahon or anything, but its a pretty bad situation. The rest of the Eagles’ flaws are the same as always: no every-down running back and a suspect receiving corp. One day they might figure out that they are allowed to actually spend all the cap room they save every year and fill these positions properly.
Unless Darren Howard turns out to a free agent bust ala Jevon Kearse, he should improve the defense. No one really noticed this last year, but the Eagle defensive line was just as bad at rushing the passer as the Redskins d-line. The rest of their defense is stocked up and should be as good as always. The Eagles have at least one more good year left in this team before they have to restock and rebuild.
3. New York Giants (8-8)
The Eli Manning issue has already been rehashed above, so I won’t go into it here, but Manning isn’t the reason the Giants will take a step back this year. Its not Tiki Barber’s age or their suspect secondary either. Its all about the murderer’s row of a schedule they face to open the year. The Giants open the season with the following games: Indy, @ Philly, @ Seattle, bye, Washington, @ Atlanta, @ Dallas. Yikes!
Rarely do you see an NFL team rebound from a slow start to come back and be a factor in a playoff race. Its very difficult to roll through 8 or 9 games when one loss could be the end of your hopes. Last year, the Redskins were sitting at 5-6 and it felt like the season was over; the Giants could easily be facing a 2-5 start and the pressure would be huge. Momentum is huge in the NFL, a bad team that wins its 1st three games can suddenly gain confidence and become a playoff contender. A good team that has a tough string of games can collapse faster than Todd Pinskton when Sean Taylor is bearing down on him (see last year’s Eagles team).
The Giants are a solid football team. Tiki Barber shows no signs of slowing down, although as we’ve seen recently with Curtis Martin, when aging backs slow down its rarely a graceful decline. Eli Manning still has the potential to come an average NFL QB if he push his completion percentage up a few points. The defense is solid and they are strong on special teams. But that schedule is a killer, and the Giants will be in tough to reach .500 in 2006.
4. Dallas Cowboys (6-10)
Maybe my math is off, but I just don’t see how a porous offensive line + a statue of a QB in Drew Bledsoe equals an Super Bowl contender. Somehow ‘experts’ who preach the importance of the offensive line have turned a blind eye to the Cowboys big weakness, all distracted by the shiny new receiver. Terrell Owens is good, heck he might even be the best receiver in the NFL right now, but the Cowboys are no better off now than they were a year ago and in the NFL toughest division that isn’t going to cut it.
You could copy and paste the last year’s preview for the Cowboys, substituting Owens’ name for KeyShawn Johnson and you’d get the picture of what to expect from this year’s Cowboy team. Can Drew Bledsoe lead a team to the playoffs anymore? Are Julius Jones or Marion Barber NFL caliber starting running backs? Will their volatile receiver keep his mouth shut? Can their secondary stop quick receivers? What kind of offensive line allows Phillip Daniels to get four sacks in a game?
If you ignore the offensive line, this is a strong team. They have a top notch receiving unit and their defensive seven has a chance to be very good this year. In any other division in the NFC they would be a playoff contender, but in this year’s NFC East they will be lucky to hit the .500 level.
Links: Collins and Campbell as number 2 QB? – Collins will back up during games, Campbell will start if Brunell is seriously injured