It’s been over six months since anything even remotely resembling football has been on television (unless, of course, you live in Canada, where their bastardized rendition of the Great American Game starts in July, has three downs, 10 extra yards and literal acres of end zone). It’s August and we’re all tired of the 162-game baseball slog; it’s time to start talking football again, and this week we're talking NFC East.
Dallas Cowboys (8-8)
Of all the free and wild finger-pointing that occurs in the world of sports no one gets more of it and deserves it less than Tony Romo. For whatever reason the media loves to lay the blame for the Cowboys recent struggles at his feet, but statistically, only Drew Brees has a better completion percentage in the last two years, only Brees, Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady have a better passer rating and only Brees and Brady have turned the ball over less.
With that we might conclude that Romo is numbered among the elite, but that’s just not the case; he’s the cutoff line between elite and very good mostly due to his 9-13 record since 2010 after going 38-17 to start his career. Part of the problem is injuries and part is just dumb luck (his turnovers, while tempered, tend to be costly) and his off-field issues certainly haven’t endeared him to the press. But it’s time to stop pretending like the talent isn’t there; it is.
He’s got a good group of receivers to work with in Miles Austin, Dez Bryant and Jason Witten but injuries are a major concern and with Laurent Robisnon off in Jacksonville the margin of error is next to none; if one of these guys goes down (Austin and Bryant have missed 11 games combined in two years; Witten is a about a hundred years old) their air attack and in turn their offense becomes extremely thin.
2012 Expectations: If everyone in the passing game, including Romo, stays healthy we could be talking about a top-five type group. On the ground their not much different than they were in 2010 when they averaged 148 yards for 8 TDs in the final eight games so they are capable of keeping opposing defenses on their toes. Their defense is mid-pack but where they might fall short is on the O-Line and that could lead to their kryptonite: injuries. But if they avoid them they could be looking at a wild card spot. 9-7, second in the NFC East.
New York Giants (9-7)
The Giants annual coup d’état came right on schedule last year, somewhere right in the middle of the season when they looked to be falling apart and everyone came calling for the head of coach Tom Coughlin. Then they blew the second half out of the water, won the division (albeit with a 9-7 record) and cleaned up at the Super Bowl, winning their second title in four years under Eli Manning.
But how much of that was pure and unadulterated timing and good luck? The Giants averaged a league worst 89 rushing yards a game last year and finished outside the top 25 in YPG given up on defense. Their offense (and wins) came almost exclusively through from their wide receivers going absolutely nuts with Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks posting an absurd 2728 yards between them to go along with 16 TDs. But Cruz (1536 yards) had the added benefit of being a nobody prior to 2011, a luxury he won’t be afforded in 2012 (so expect regression) and Nicks is already banged up with a broken foot so with not a single game played were already getting into second stringers, a role no longer occupied by the capable Mario Manningham. We’re thinking a fall off is in order.
2012 Expectations: Not a drastic one; this is still a capable team that should be able to win at least as many games as it loses, but the NFC East was a fluky division last year and both the Eagles and the Cowboys look better coming into 2012. Quite frankly breaking even might not be enough to break into the postseason. 8-8, third in the NFC East.
Philadelphia Eagles (8-8)
To say the 2011 Eagles season was a disappointment would be worth consideration for the understatement of the year award; they broke the bank in free agency and looked poised for 13+ win season but finished 8-8 and outside the playoff picture. At least they made it interesting down the stretch, winning their last four games in a complicated NFC East but it wasn’t enough.
2012 should be better but it’s not without its question marks. In a day an age when most NFL teams are running with two or three backs, the Eagles rely heavily on LeSean McCoy, a workload that always invites injury concerns. QB Michael Vick, not known as a great passer does have a great receiving corps in front of him in DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin and Brian Celek, but none managed 1000 yards last season and topped out at 5 TDs. Part of that is Vick’s tendency to run (and the sheer ability of McCoy) but the Eagles could benefit from air it out a little more considering the weapons available to them.
2012 Expectations: If this offense starts firing on all cylinders there may be no stopping the Eagles. They boast a top ten defense and the talent is there for that 13+ win season prediction. They have the added pressure this season of not living up to expectations, and the early going might be rocky with the absence of LB Jason Peters, further emphasizing Vicks need to get rid of the ball quickly (read: use his receivers) but if they can adapt their game to the well-rounded team they’ve assembled they should be able to walk all over the East. 11-5, first in the AFC East.
Washington Redskins (5-11)
Welcome everybody the era of RGIII, Heisman winner and rookie quarterback for the Washington Redskins. This guy can run, he can throw, he’s built like a running back with the arm of an elite passer. He averaged 10.6 yards per completion in his final year at Baylor and finished with an NFL passer rating of 130.2, the third highest of any QB selected in the past 20 years.
And he’s been drafted into the right offense. Mike Shanahan will have him running bootlegs and roll outs, and Griffin’s athleticism will allow him to move and get off plenty of competitions on a Washington team that has shockingly averaged 260 passing yards a game over the last two years with the likes a Rex Grossman, John Beck and an old ass Donovan McNabb calling the shots. The Redskins have a surprising amount of weapons upfront with Pierre Garcon coming in from Dallas, Fred Davis looking like the real deal in an era of over-hyped tight ends and Josh Morgan coming in to fill out the starters. In the past Shanahan hasn’t opted for too many wide receiver sets but with Santana Moss as the third choice and RB Roy Helu a more than capable receiver, he may play it as it lays and see what RGIII can really do.
2012 Expectations: If you haven’t noticed we might be sold on the ‘Skins this year. In all seriousness this team looks more than competent but there is a catch: RGIII has never played a pro game. It sure looks like he’s got all the tools to be great and with the recent success of other rookie quarterbacks it seems like they’re coming out of college a little more prepared for the pros. But there is simply no way to tell how his game will adapt. Conservatively we’ll say 7-9, fourth in the NFC East but we might have to eat our words.