Sunday, August 22, 2010

NFL Preview 2010: NFC & AFC East

By Andrew Jones

Also see: NFC & AFC North | NFC & AFC South | NFC & AFC West

NFC East

The NFC East is one of the two conferences (the other miraculously being the NFC South) that has seen all four of its members make the playoffs in the last three seasons. If you predicted any four of these teams would win the conference and any of the remaining would take a wild card slot, I wouldn't argue with you. They are all very talented. They all have a combination of youth and experience, but they can't all go 10-6 and make the playoffs. Well, I guess they technically could, but they won't.

Dallas Cowboys

The Cowboys continue to add to their arsenal of weapons for Tony Romo with the addition of rookie WR Dez Bryant. This makes them extremely deep in the passing game. A four wide receiver set with Miles Austin, Bryant, Roy Williams, and Jason Witten seems like an absolute nightmare, does it not?

Add to that two solid running backs in Marion Barber and Felix Jones and there is little question of the potency of this offense. My only concern is the offensive line. Two starting members of the offensive line, Kyle Kosier and Marc Colombo, are out at the moment with injuries and may or may not be available for the Week 1. Both are knee injuries, not a great place to be hurting as an offensive lineman. Having those two healthy would mean a lot less time on the ground for Romo and a few more yards for Barber and Jones.

DeMarcus Ware had a decidedly worse season in 2009 than is typical for him with only 11 sacks and 57 tackles. Compare that to 2008, when he had 20 sacks and 84 tackles or even 2007, when he posted 14 sacks and 84 tackles. I can understand the sack numbers decreasing because people began to key on him more, but nearly 30 less tackles is not so easy to dismiss.

Without Ware's pass rush, the secondary struggled against the pass and unless the Cowboys find a way to apply more pressure, I can't see the secondary improving from 2009.

The schedule for the Cowboys is not easy. They have three very difficult road games in Indianapolis, Minnesota, and Green Bay. Throw into that mix a strong division, a home game against New Orleans on Thanksgiving, and the Cowboys are not going to have many easy wins on their schedule. They're going to have to bring it week in and week out.

I think they are the most talented team in the division and will show it going 11-5, but losing in the first round of the playoffs.

Washington Redskins

The Redskins had a bad 2009; however, they had a great offseason. Acquiring Donovan McNabb took them from 4-12 under Jason Campbell to 7-9 or 8-8 under McNabb. Add to that a better coach in Mike Shanahan and the Redskins could truly be formidable if McNabb were five years younger or if his health holds up, especially considering the mediocre offensive line present in Washington.

The real question for this team is can three washed-up running backs gain enough yards for any sort of balance on this team. If you had told three years ago that the Redskins would have a backfield of Clinton Portis, Larry Johnson, and Willie Parker, I would have concluded the Redskins were going to win the Super Bowl in wishbone formation. As it stands, the three of them combined probably won't reach 1,500 yards.

The previous regime spending all that money on Albert Haynesworth has to have Shanahan about ready to cry. That being said, the front seven of the defense are still solid and shouldn't give away any games. A healthy Haynesworth stuffing the run like the old days in Tennessee would surely help, though.

This team truly has the potential to be very good. It also has the potential of crumbling very quickly. It is filled with veterans who have had good careers, but are still hanging on to the threads of talent they have left. I think overall the team is just too old and won't produce immediately. This will be the best year of the next three for the Redskins, but it will only end at 9-7, missing the playoffs. Shanahan needs to get some fresh legs in the backfield (which he is obviously good at), but more than anything, he needs to get the offensive line functioning so those fresh legs aren't ripped off every down.

New York Giants

The Giants won the Super Bowl three seasons ago and they have completely fallen off of the list of elite teams. The Giants define middle of the road. They went 8-8 in 2009 and were ranked 11 in passing yards, 17 in rushing yards, 15 in pass defense, and 14 in run defense. Could they be any more middle of the road?

At one time, Brandon Jacobs looked like the running back of the future: fast, huge, unstoppable. But he rushed for 3.7 yards a carry last season. That sounds pretty stoppable to me.

Steve Smith had a breakout year, making fantasy players around the world confused and bewildered due to his name.

Overall, Eli Manning had a good season in 2009, but he is so inconsistent. In Week 5 against Oakland, he had a perfect quarterback rating (though he only threw 10 passes in the 44-7 slaughter). In Weeks 6, 7, and 8, Manning posted ratings of 61.0, 47.5, and 55.7. Throwing for 4,000 yards has never been so meaningless.

Cornerback Terrell Thomas led the team in interceptions with 5 and tackles with 85. Cornerbacks aren't supposed to lead the team in tackles. While obvious credit is due to Thomas, the linebackers need to step up.

Expect another season of the good old-fashioned, unimpressive, middle of the road ending in a 7-9 record.

Philadelphia Eagles

All Philadelphia fans have every right to be angered by this prediction. Their team is extremely talented on both sides of the ball with perhaps the best defense in the NFC, but Kevin Kolb at the helm with Michael Vick next in line worries me. Add to that no Brian Westbrook and we could have a serious meltdown in Philadelphia.

The Eagles will have to rely on their defense and special teams to win games and while that can work, their defense just isn't stingy enough to win them ball games. In points allowed, they were ranked nine out of 16 in the NFC. Their defense causes pressure and makes big plays, but it still allows points and that will be the downfall of the 2010 Eagles.

I think they'll manage 6-10, but Kevin Kolb needs to show he is the franchise quarterback or they need to find a new one.

AFC East

The top three teams in the AFC East could all easily win 11 or more games. Question marks remain, but don't expect the guard to change so quickly. The Patriots still have life in them and they're the only team in the division with a solid quarterback.

New England Patriots

Tom Brady, Randy Moss, and Wes Welker are a unique group to have together in a pass attack. I don't know that they are the best combination in the NFL, but they likely make the top three.

A lot of people believe that the Patriots are not as formidable as they have been in recent years. Last year, they went 10-6, but they also went 8-0 at home. The only game they lost at home last season was in the playoffs to Baltimore. Their schedule last year was no piece of cake. They lost at Indy, at New Orleans, at Miami, at Denver, at Houston, and at the New York Jets.

This season, it's not any easier, but their most difficult games (outside of the division) are all at home. They get Cincinnati at home, Baltimore at home, Minnesota at home, Indianapolis at home, and Green Bay at home. They also have at San Diego and at Pittsburgh, but I truly think they'll be able to handle it better being at home.

The Patriots certainly could go 7-9, but I think they'll keep on top of their game and end up 12-4 winning the division and showing they're not to be cast aside yet.

New York Jets

The Jets are the popular pick this season. People seem to forget that Mark Sanchez is still the quarterback and he didn't throw for 2,500 yards last season. The Jets ran for more yards than they passed in 2009 and that is just crazy. Expect more of the same. Thomas Jones is off to Kansas City and Shonn Greene is expected to take the bulk of the carries being spelled by none other than LaDainian Tomlinson.

What will keep the running game going is the NFL's best fullback, Tony Richardson. Richardson has led the way for some great running backs or at the very least, he helped a lot of running backs look great, from Priest Holmes and Larry Johnson in Kansas City to Adrian Peterson in Minnesota and last season Thomas Jones in New York. Shonn Greene hopes to continue following Richardson to a 1,500-yard season.

The defense is fantastic. They are not only playmakers, but they don't allow anything. They allowed 10 or fewer points seven times in 2009.
If the running game holds and Sanchez doesn't lose games for the Jets, they'll be making another playoff run at 12-4.

Miami Dolphins

If the Dolphins would have acquired Donovan McNabb, there truly might be three 11-win teams in this division, but as it stands, the Dolphins quarterback is currently Chad Henne. I'm going to go ahead and say he will be incapable of making newly-acquired bad boy Brandon Marshall happy for more than a game or two.

The running game remains solid and the wildcat formation looms dangerous, but as teams get more used to the formation, it will begin to lose its effectiveness.

The defense is not all that great nor greatly improved. The lack of a solid quarterback and a stingy defense will keep the Dolphins playing the role of spoiler rather than that of contender. Weeks 11-16 are against possible playoff teams. Look for the Dolphins to crush some hopes, especially the Bears in Week 16.

Buffalo Bills

I have absolutely no faith in the Buffalo Bills. Trent Edwards has lost his touch. Lee Evans is no longer a solid number one receiver. C.J. Spiller is good, but running behind an offensive line that allowed 46 sacks in 2009. Spiller may have a decent season, but chances are the Bills will be behind so often that he'll barely get the carries he deserves.

The pass defense is solid, but they cannot stop the run, allowing 156.3 rushing yards per game in 2009.

I just don't think Buffalo is heading in the right direction at all. Edwards needs to go and they need a replacement fast to take the pressure off of Spiller, who could be a good NFL back if there was any balance on the team.

I'm sad to announce that the Bills will have the NFL's worst season, achieving a 1-15 record as C.J. Spiller wins Rookie of the Year honors despite the awful team he's on.

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