Friday, August 18, 2006

NFC East

Hey!

Before I get on with my preview of the NFC East, just a little word on Golf. This weekend is the PGA Championship. Part of the rules of the tournament is that for the first 2 days, the winners of the previous 3 Majors (Masters, US Open and British Open) play together. And so that means that for the first time ever, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson played together today at the start of this very tournament. Indeed, never before had they won 2 of the first 3 Majors in the same year. Today, they both came in with identical scores of -3 (the leader is at -6). They will play again together on Friday, and who knows, they might be paired again on Saturday or Sunday. For the golf fan, and even for the non-fan, this is a sight to see. So if you have a couple of minutes this weekend, do tune in and watch it, if just for 5 minutes. It's worth it, trust me.

Now, onto my NFC East preview:

NFC EAST

1. Philadelphia Eagles (10-6)

Head Coach: Andy Reid (8th year)
2005 Record: (6-10)
Key Acquisitions: DE Darren Howard, QB Jeff Garcia, WR Jabar Gaffney, TE Matt Schobel.
Key Departures: LB Keith Adams, WR Terrell Owens

Overview:
2005 was a nightmare for the Eagles. After 4 straight presences at the NFC Championship, which were capped off with a loss in Super Bowl XXXIX, Philadelphia fell from grace in the biggest way. This whole mess of a season started in training camp, with Terrell Owens holding out for more money and taking shots at his quarterback, Donovan McNabb. The divisions in the team started then. What ensued was a rash of injuries on the defensive line which crippled the defense (the team finished 23rd in the league, their worst performance since def. coord. Jim Johnson’s first year), T.O.’s antics getting wilder as the season went on, eventually leading to him being suspended, and Donovan McNabb missing the last 7 games of the season with a sports hernia.

Every Eagles fan in the land hopes that 2006 will not be a repeat of the previous year, and fortunately for them, there is hope. With the departure of Owens, this is once again McNabb’s team. The star quarterback has been the unquestioned leader of this team for years now, and after last year’s debacle, the Eagles brass is quite happy to see him command his troops once again. While his accuracy is still not where it needs to be for this offense to truly flourish like the great 49ers offenses from the 80’s and 90’s, it is hard to find quarterbacks in this league who distribute the ball better than number 5. And even though he doesn’t run as much as he once did, McNabb is still one of the best scramblers in the league.

While McNabb gets all the press, the most important piece in the offense is RB Brian Westbrook. Westbrook’s speed and receiving skills create nightmares for opposing defensive coordinators. If he can stay healthy (he suffered an injury in the first pre-season game, but he should be ok for the start of the regular season), he will once again be the oil that makes the engine run for this offense. Still, Westbrook is far from being great between the tackles, and his backup, Reno Mahe is the same type of back. So short yardage situations figure to be a problem again, unless Correll Buckhalter can stay healthy for the first time in years.

The receiving corps, while it lost its superstar in the offseason, figures to be more than adequate. Tight end L.J. Smith had a breakout season last year, and plans are for him to be featured even more in the passing game. He will be backed up by ex-Bengal Matt Schobel, who has very underrated hands. The Eagles plan to use both a lot this year, especially in 2-tight end sets. At wide receiver, Reggie Brown will step into T.O.’s shoes. While Brown is no Owens, he made great strides as a rookie last year, and he has looked very good in training camp. If he and McNabb can find some chemistry, he will be more than adequate. And with a great offensive line, the Philly offense looks poised for a good season.

On the defensive side of the ball, things are looking up in the biggest way. Because Jimmy Johnson likes to blitz so much, pressure from the defensive line is essential so that the corners are not left to dry. This year, the defensive line, even with DE Jerome McDougle looking to miss significant time after being shot in the off-season, looks stacked. The arrival of DE Darren Howard from New Orleans will help the pass rush immensely. He and Javon Kearse look to form a dangerous pair. At DT, veteran Sam Rayburn and second-year man Mike Patterson will probably start, but rookie Brodrick Bunkley, Darwin Walker and Ed Jasper will all see significant time. Johnson likes to rotate his linemen, and he will have ample opportunities to do so here.

As it has become the norm in the past years, Philly is more than set in the defensive backfield. Sheldon Brown and Lito Sheppard, back from injury, will man the corners. Superstar Safety Brian Dawkins will again lead the defense, and hard-hitting SS Michael Lewis will team up with him once more. Depth is solid here as well, with Roderick Hood, Donald Stickland and J.R. Reed all looking to contribute. If there is one weakness on the defense, it is at linebacker. Jeremiah Trotter is a warrior, but there isn’t much here beside him.

In 2006, the Eagles will play with a chip on their shoulders. They do not have the best talent in the conference, and they play in what might be the toughest division in the league. But in what will be a tough year, I believe the Eagles will show resiliency and come out on top of their division. This team has great intangibles and it will show.


2. Dallas Cowboys (10-6)

Head Coach: Bill Parcells (4th year)
2005 Record: (9-7)
Key Acquisitions: WR Terrell Owens, OT Jason Fabini, PK Mike Vanderjagt
Key Departures: OG Larry Allen, DT La’Roi Glover, WR Keyshawn Johnson, OT Torrin Tucker

Overview:
Dallas is back to being a big focus in this league. The days of Jimmy Johnson, Irvin, Smith and Aikman are gone. Welcome to the days of Terrell Owens and Bill Parcells! Parcells is the ultimate disciplinarian, and Owens is the ultimate problem child. Cameras will be over Dallas all season long, spanning those sidelines to witness the first T.O. outburst.

But while the Parcells-Owens storyline grab all the headlines, we seem to forget that the Cowboys will be fielding a pretty good team this year. The 2005 edition of the team failed short of expectations, but this year Dallas looks a bit more ready. The offensive line, while still a bit of a question mark, looks solid enough. Ex-Jet Jason Fabini will provide solid depth behind starters Rob Pettiti and the aging Flozell Adams. The loss of LG Larry Allen will hurt, but Kyle Kozier should an adequate if unspectacular replacement. Right guard will be manned by the ever reliable Marco Riviera, and C Al Johnson is a consummate pro. The biggest problem for this offensive line is that they are protecting a quarterback who is a sitting duck back there. There is no question that Drew Bledsoe still has one of the strongest arms in the league, and he also throws a pretty touch pass. He can make every throw in the book, and while he still manages a few bonehead plays every year, he has matured a lot with age, and doesn’t take as many chances as he used to. But he is the most immobile QB in the league, and for an offense that struggles with play-action because of the spotty play of the running game, that is not good.

Speaking of the running game, RB Julius Jones is back as the featured back. Jones is tough back who loves to run between the tackles. He fits Parcells’ style to perfection. Marion Barber, the third-down back, will back him up. It is reported he might see more action this year, helping Jones stay fresh. What should help these two mightily this year is the addition of Terrell Owens. For all his faults, Owens might be the best receiver in the league. He can take over any game, at any time. And with Terry Glenn at his side, he gives the Cowboys to big-time deep threats. Opposing defenses will be forced to back their safeties up, and that will help the running game a lot. With tight end Jason Witten, who made the Pro Bowl last year, rounding out the starting unit, look for Dallas to score a lot of points this year.

On defense, Parcells has done a great job building his unit through the draft. Last year, he added DE Marcus Spears and OLB DeMarcus Ware in the first round, and both had very good seasons. Ware is truly a star in the making. Look for him to get double digit sacks this year. This year, he added OLB Bobby Carpenter to the mix. With Ware and Carpenter, as well as Al Singleton, Kevin Burnett and Akin Ayodele, the linebacking corps is not only very good, it is very, very deep. The defensive line is also set with Jason Ferguson at NT and Chris Canty, Jay Ratliff and Jason Hatcher all vying for playing time opposite Spears.

The defensive backfield is good, but not spectacular. Hard-hitting SS Roy Williams is the star of the group. He’s like a fifth linebacker out there, and he also plays with better positioning and takes better angles than he did early in his career. FS Keith Davis is back too. He is not a flashy player, and he can get beat deep, but he’s the best the team has right now. New addition Marcus Coleman figures to be a backup at best, and if he has to start, the Cowboys could be in trouble. At corner, Terrence Newman and Anthony Henry will start. Henry is a solid but unspectacular corner. Newman is all flash, but he takes too many chances. Veteran Aaron Glenn is back as the nickel corner.

The special teams have always been a big focus of Parcells, and they are good, but not great. The big addition here is PK Mike Vanderjagt. Vanderjagt has a big mouth, and he will go down in history as the guy who blew the 2005 season for the Colts (he missed a 46-yarder at the end of the Steelers game), but he is much better than any kicker Parcells has had in 3 years with the Cowboys.

In a very tough NFC East division, wins will be hard to come. And Bill Parcells, as much as we hate him in this corner, is a great coach, and he will probably be able to coax enough close victories for this team to compete for a playoff spot.


3. New York Giants (9-7)

Head Coach: Tom Coughlin (3rd year)
2005 Record: (11-5)
Key Acquisitions: LB LaVar Arrington, S Will Demps, CB Sam Madison, CB R.W. McQuarters, LB Brandon Short
Key Departures: S Brent Alexander, CB Will Allen, DT Kendrick Clancy, S Shaun Williams

Overview:
When Tom Coughlin took over the job of Head Coach of the NY Giants back in 2004, he inherited a team of aging veterans who wanted to know nothing of his disciplinarian ways. After all, the man Coughlin succeeded, Jim Fassel, had more of a laid back approach which fit the team’s any veterans better. But slowly and methodically, Coughlin rebuilt the team and won over the remaining malcontents. In 2006, this will indeed be Tom Coughlin’s team.

That being said, they key to getting to the playoffs will be QB Eli Manning’s consistency. After a rough rookie year, Manning showed flashes of brilliance last year, especially in rallying his team from behind. The younger brother the league’s best passer is one cool customer, and he doesn’t buckle under the pressure. Manning also has one strong arm and throws a very good deep ball. But he still has a tendency to lock in on a receiver, and his 52.8% completion rate was too low, and he did throw 17 interceptions. Yet, reports out of training camp say that his mechanics, especially his footwork, have gotten much better. If he can make the type of leap forward he made last year, he should have a great season. But that is a big if. One thing that will help Manning is continuality on the offensive line. Once a weak link in this offense, the line got a lot better last year. It was much deeper, and so it resisted much better in the face of late season injuries. Once again, Kareem McKenzie will man the left tackle spot and protect Manning’s blind side.

The receiving corps is strong. Everything starts with Jeremy Shockey, who enjoyed a very good season last year. While his blocking still leaves a lot to be desired, Shockey is a big body who has deceiving speed and is a matchup nightmare for coaches. The star receiver role, once property of Amani Toomer, is now Plaxico Burress’. The tall, lanky receiver developed great chemistry with the young QB last year, and he should have another big year. The aging Toomer has become a very good short-to-mid range target, but he doesn’t provide the big threat capability he once did. Second-round draft pick Sinorice Moss (younger brother of Santana Moss, and a steal at where he was picked), will be the 3rd receiver. Speedster Tim Carter also figures to see playing time.
Still, even with all those big names, the offense still lives and breathes with RB Tiki Barber. Once said to be too short and too small to carry an offense, Barber has become one of the best running backs in the league. Surprisingly tough, he can run inside, has the speed to take it outside, and is always a threat to take it all the way. Like Edgerrin James, Barber is also adept at picking up the blitz and is a very good receiver. If he stays healthy, he and is offense will both enjoy big years.

On defense, everything starts of the DE position, where Michael Strahan (11.5 sacks) and Osi Umenyiora (14.5 sacks) form the best tandem in the league. The defensive tackle position is not as strong and will suffer from the loss of Kendrick Clancy, a tough run stopper. Still, there is adequate depth all along the line, and this is far from being an area of weakness.

The linebacker position is also very strong. Antonio Pierce is back as the starting middle linebacker. He covers a lot of ground, but he does not take on blockers very well, and he needs help from his DT’s. The weakside position is Brandon Short’s to lose, but he will face tough competition from Carlos Emmons. Last year, Emmons played on the strong side, but he will be replaced by newcomer LaVar Arrington. Arrington has lost a step due to injuries, but he has a big chip on his shoulders. In training camp, he has been virtually unstoppable. He is a big guy, and can really run over people. If he stays healthy, look for him to have a big year. If he doesn’t, Emmons will be back playing in his position. Again here, very good depth.

The defensive backfield is more of a question mark. CB Sam Madison takes over the departed Will Allen’s spot. Madison does not have the speed or the hands he once had, and he struggled a lot under Nick Saban. The Giants hope a change of scenery will prove beneficial. The other corner will be manned by second year man and first year starter Corey Webster. R.W. McQuarters provides excellent depth and is the consummate nickel back. At safety, ex-Raven Will Demps will start alongside SS Gibril Wilson. Coughlin brought in a lot of bodies this year, and so there is again pretty good depth here.

The special teams are set with Jay Feely at kicker, the aging Jeff Feagles at punter (19th year), and Chad Morton as the main return man. Look for Sinorice Moss to also be featured as a return man.

All in all, this is a solid Giants team. But in the NFC East, because the division is so strong, it will all come down to 1 or 2 very close games. In the end, I believe that the uncertainty in the defensive backfield and the growing pains of Eli Manning will prevent the Giants from finishing in front of the Cowboys or Eagles. Still, it will be very close and will come down to probably the last game of the season.


4. Washington Redskins (7-9)

Head Coach: Joe Gibbs (3rd year)
2005 Record: (10-6)
Key Acquisitions: S Adam Archuleta, DE Andre Carter, WR Brandon Lloyd, WR Antwaan Randle El
Key Departures: LB LaVar Arrington, S Matt Bowen, CB Walt Harris, S Omar Stoutmire

Overview:
After a year of keeping his wallet in his pocket, owner Dan Snyder could not resist the temptation two years in a row and started to write big checks again, overspending for free agents Brandon Lloyd, Antwaan Randle El and Adam Archuleta. Still, none of these players is bad, and they could prove to be good, very costly, but good additions nonetheless. But unfortunately for the Redskins, the pre-season started on a rough note for them. They lost Clinton Portis to a shoulder injury. While he will come back, it is said that he will miss the first few games. Also, star cornerback Shawn Springs went under the knife this week and will miss the first 2-3 weeks of the season.

With the first 2 games of the season being against Minnesota and Dallas, the loss of Springs could prove costly. The Redskins have a very good starting four in the defensive backfield, with CB Carlos Rogers and safeties Adam Archuleta and Sean Taylor joining Springs. But because they blitz so much, the skins ask their corners to cover receivers one-on-one most of the time. While they do have good depth, none of the backups can match Shawn Springs’ skill set. That being said, keep an eye on second-year man Sean Taylor. He showed great things last year, and he is poised for a huge year. He has been a monster in training camp, and so far, he looks like the second coming of Ronnie Lott.

At the linebacker position, Washington is set. Warrick Holdman, Marcus Washington and Lemar Marshall figure to start, with Washington being the star of the group. Holdman had a rough year in 2005, missing 7 games, but he will look to rebound. Again, there is strong depth here. But it is on the defensive line that the Redskins dominate the most. Great defenses are built from the line out, and it is certainly true for this defense, which has finished in the top 2 in the league the last 2 years. DT Cornelius Griffin anchors the middle of the line, and Joe Salave’a joins him. There is good depth behind them, as both Cedric Killings and Ryan Boschetti can play. At defensive end, Andre Carter, who comes over from the 49ers, will claim Renaldo Wynn’s LDE spot. Carter has all the tools to be great, and while he has enjoyed good seasons in San Francisco, he never fully achieved his potential. Def. Coord. Gregg Williams will try to turn him loose. Opposite him, Phillip Daniels will start. Renaldo Wynn, a consummate pro who can play anywhere on the line, will rotate with both and see playing time as a tackle on 3rd downs.

On the offensive side of the ball, the loss of RB Clinton Portis will hurt a lot. Portis is a slasher type runner who is as good as it gets in this league. And even though he initially had trouble in Joe Gibbs’ offense, he eventually caught on and enjoyed a great season last year (1,516 yds, 11 TDs). Since there isn’t great depth behind him, with Ladell Betts as his main backup, this figures to be a problematic issue if he can’t come back soon. Last year, Portis carried the offense and enabled QB Mark Brunell to work the play-action fake and buy more time for the receivers to get open.

Speaking of the receivers, Santana Moss enjoyed a career year for the redskins last year, evoking shades of Gary Clark’s best years. Like Steve Smith of the Carolina Panthers, Moss is a smallish receiver who’s greatest attribute is his speed. But boy can he run! And in new offensive coordinator Al Saunders’ offense, speed is a must. Remember, Saunders coached the Rams-like KC Chiefs offense in the last few years, and he is trying to implement a similar scheme here. Last year’s other starting receiver, David Patten, will have to fight off Brandon Lloyd, a bust with the 49ers, and Antwaan Randle El for his spot. The Redskins would probably love for Lloyd to seize his chance and capture the role, and use Randle El in the same way Mike Martz used to utilize Az-Hakim with the Rams. Still, bet on Randle El being the starter opposite Santana Moss when the season starts, giving the Redskins the smallest pair of wide receivers in the league. James Trash provides great depth as well. But the guy who will benefit the most from Saunders’ arrival with the team will be TE Chris Cooley. Saunders loves to use the tight end a lot, especially against zone defenses, and Cooley, who had a nice season last year with 71 catches, will probably be featured a lot.

At quarterback, Mark Brunell returns in what will probably be his last season as the starter. Jason Campbell is the QB of the future, and will probably be anointed as the starter as soon as next season, but he is clearly not ready yet, and he will hold the clipboard again this year. Brunell, after struggling mightily 2 years ago, came back strong last year and had a good season. If the offensive line can protect him well again this year, he should be okay, but he clearly is on his last legs. Todd Collins, who came over from the Chiefs and played under Saunders, is the backup.

Like the Giants, the Redskins are caught in a bad spot in this ridiculously strong NFC East. And with the early season losses of key players like Portis and Springs, it will be tough for them to challenge for the division crown. Also, I see Brunell as the worst of the 4 starting quarterbacks, and the most likely to get injured. So, it what will be a game of numbers, I see the ‘Skins as being the ones who will lose the most games in the division, and so they will wind up at the bottom of the pack.

7 Comments:

At 3:36 PM, Blogger Veillotron said...

Whaazzzzzuuuuup!
This weekend, a few things happened:

1) Chelsea won 3-0, with Lampard scoring once. Very good start to the season. Shame I couldn't see the game.

2) I didn't see the game because I was busy visiting Budapest. I had a lot of fun with Alexis and Felix-Antoine, aka Fafar, but boy is it a shitty town!!! It has a nice waterfront, but apart from the castle, there is not much else. Prague is much better. And the worst is that pretty much everybody is fuckin rude and nobody smiles.

3) Pakistan decided to walk out of the England test when the ref claimed that had tampered with the ball. But this is cricket we are talking about, and so nobody on this blog gives a shit (at least, I hope).

Now, on to the reply to the Dwarf's magical NFL review:

a) The Eagles will be better this year, but the prediction I make is that the key to the offense will not be Westbrook. And it will not be McNabb. t will be Jeff Garcia, the Porn Star Maker. I think McNabb is overrated. He's a bit like McNair, although I much prefer the Nair to the Nabb. I just hope Nabb gets injured so that Garcia can show off his skills. This offense will suit him well, it will be like when he was back in SF...

Dwarf, I don't like the fact that you call Manning the best quarterback in the biz. I don't like to brand guys who didn't win anything loosers or chockers (the 2 best quarterbacks to play the game never won a SuperBowl - Dave Krieg and Jim Kelly, and Jeff Hostetler did...), but I am starting to think that this guy REALLY is a chocker. He NEVER won anything in his life. From the tender age of 5 up to know, he NEVER won any title. And it's not because he was on shit teams and didn't have any support... He's always had amazing offensize weapons. And he does well during the season, but in the playoffs he crumbles like a little bitch. SO screw Manning, and his little brother cuz he's also a stupid bitch.

And I hope Joe Gibbs gets hit by his own Nascar shitride and that pestulous rats eat his remains. He should not have won the Superbowl in Feb 92.

So I hope that in this division, Philly and NYC do well, one with Garcia, and the other with Manning. And I know he's not in this division, but I hope Brett Favre wins his second SuperBowl.

 
At 5:59 PM, Blogger The Dwarf said...

Indeed, Veillotron, a beautiful win by Chelsea. And it almost turned 4-0 towards the end as Shevchenko almost scored. The Champs are indeed back!

tomorrow night I will post my preview of the AFC North, and possibly the NFC North too, although that's not as sure...

 
At 8:08 AM, Anonymous huy said...

i concur, Manning always whine and moan like a bitch after each playoff meltdown......blaming the ref, blaming the D, hell blaming his own OL. maybe he should consider toning down on those funky hand signals and gestures before each snap. we all know football players are getting dumber and dumber...maybe it's confusing them more than anything. also, i agree that the Nabb and the Nair are both a bit overrated, but they'll class act who played hurt and did wonder with little supporting cast they had....very much in the same way a certain Krieg did. So i hope this year's superbowl will showcase the both of them. Superbowl XLI: battle of the Mc's, Nair vs Nabb

 
At 11:31 AM, Blogger Veillotron said...

It would indeed be good to see a battle of the McDees...

By the way, this Pakistan/England cricket thing is getting out of hands... Masses of people are burning the ref's picture in Pakistan, and it's on the news every 5 mins... The President of Pakistan even called the captain of the Pakistani team to get the lowdown...

I wonder how much of a scandal it would have been if the captain had punched his coach in the face, like the Blue Jays did...

By the way, when is the hockey season starting, and when are we going to do a pool?
And are we going to do a NFL pool also? This year, I ma trying to beat the record for the number of pools lost...

And somebody needs to call the Dick and the Sweetness...

 
At 11:35 AM, Blogger Veillotron said...

MESSAGE TO SWEETNESS:

Dear Sweetness,

I still do not have internet. Unfortunately, Tiscali provides a really shit service, and they couldn't fix the problem with my line before I ran out of patience (that would be 2 months of patience, which I think is really good). So I fired their asses this afternoon. So I will not have internet for another 4 weeks I guess now... I really am living in a 3rd World Country.

I hope you read these ligns, Sweetness, otherwise you will not know what the fuck is going on.

Chow,

Veillotron

 
At 11:43 AM, Blogger Veillotron said...

One last thing on my weekend trip to Budapest:

a) them Budabitches weren't nice to me and my friends, and they were punished for it. During their crappy National Day, a huge storm broke out and ruined the party. A bunch of people were hurt and 2 of them died - including the evil cab driver who overcharged us on Saturday evening. Now, his soul is rotting in Hell. If you don't believe me, go check to news on the Internet. SO morale de l'histoire: learn to smile and be nice to me and my friends.

b) I told Felix that he would have a son in a not too far future, and that he would call him Dan-Hubert.
So his full name would be Dan-Hubert Veronneau, Dan-Hub pour les intimes. (Dan-Hub, l'equivalent phonetique du fleuve Danube, qui passe a travers Budapest...). Et bien hier Fafar a rencontre une modele Viennoise du nom de Anna Huber (vous pouvez voir des photos d'elle sur l'Internet). Dan-Hubert, fils de Anna Hubert? Coincidence? I don't think so...
Et en plus, si jamais Fafar divorce de Anna Hubert et qu'elle gagne la garde de son fils, il s'appelera Dan-Hubert Huber.

 
At 8:31 PM, Anonymous SweetLP said...

Got your message, veillotron.

 

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