NFC East Breakdown
As we approach the halfway point of the NFL season we are beginning to see some separation between the good and bad teams in a number of divisions. Last year’s Super Bowl winning Green Bay Packers have yet to lose, traditional powers such as New England and Pittsburgh are off to good starts, and resurgent teams like San Francisco, Detroit, and Buffalo appear ready to contend for playoff berths in their respective conferences. One division with little clarity thus far is the NFC East. Historically the most competitive division in the entire NFL, the Giants, Cowboys, Redskins, and Eagles are all separated by two games and each still has a legitimate shot of walking away with the division title. With the NFC East Wild-Card berths likely coming out of the North and South divisions, these four rivals will most likely be slugging it out for one spot until the last snap of the season. Here is how I project the NFC East race playing out:
Current Record: 3-3 (tied for 2nd in the NFC East)
Projected Final Record: 6-10 (last in the NFC East)
Forecast: Enthusiasm was high in Washington after the Skins’ got off to a 3-1 start. Quarterback Rex Groosman was rewarding Coach Mike Shanahan’s faith in him by effectively managing the games, and Jim Haslett’s defense looked vastly superior to last year’s unit. This excitement has been tempered after two straight defeats in which we saw the reemergence of the turnover prone Grossman (who has been benched in favor of John Beck) and the loss of several important Skins’ players to devastating injuries. Even when their full complements of players were healthy, the Redskins were far from an offensive juggernaut. Now, with injuries to running back Tim Hightower, receiver Santana Moss, and tight-end Chris Cooley the ability of the Skins’ to run the ball and make plays in the middle of the field is severely limited. Additionally, regardless of whether Grossman or Beck starts for the Skins’, in comparison to Eli Manning, Tony Romo, and Michael Vick they are at a disadvantage in terms of the quarterback position against each divisional opponent they face. Shanahan rolled the dice by not upgrading the QB spot during the shortened off-season, and his current roster isn’t talented enough to make up for the shortcomings at this position. The defense will play hard throughout the season, but I believe the problems on offense are too glaring to overcome. While the roster has many promising young players on defense, Skins’ fans will be forced to wait at least another year before they return to the playoffs.
Current Record: 2-4 (last in the NFC East)
Projected Final Record: 8-8 (3rd in the NFC East)
Forecast: The self-proclaimed “DreamTeam” had Super Bowl aspirations at the start of the season following the signing of prominent free-agents Cullen Jenkins, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, and Nnamdi Asomugha. Sporting a sub .500 record at this point in the season has the Philly faithfully in full panic mode and Coach Andy Reid on the hot seat. What was lost in all of the preseason hoopla surrounding the Eagles was the susceptibility of the team’s front seven to be run upon (the linebackers are especially weak). Coupled with a Michael Vick led offense that leads the NFL in turnovers and the Eagles have found themselves in an early season hole that has left the team with little margin for error. The Eagles can’t be entirely discounted just yet; Andy Reid is still one of the best coaches in football, Vick has the ability to take over games and has numerous playmakers at his disposal, and if they can limit the turnovers many of the issues that plagued them early on will cease. However, given Vick’s reckless style of play I still have questions regarding his ability to stay healthy for the rest of the season. Additionally, I have a hard time believing the Eagles defense will be able to hold up as the weather turns colder and team’s continue to lineup and run the ball right at them. Andy Reid’s chase of that elusive Super Bowl ring will have to continue next year.
New York Giants
Current Record: 4-2 (1st in the NFC East)
Projected Final Record: 9-7 (2nd in the NFC East)
Forecast: The Giants have overcome a rash of injuries to key players on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball in getting off to a 4-3 start. Eli Manning is having a stellar season despite losing several of his favorite targets from previous years, and the defensive line is still one of the most formidable groups in all of football. They have a ton of players on IR already, and Coach Tom Coughlin is doing his best to win with the players that he has does have. A few reinforcements are on the way as Justin Tuck and Brandon Jacobs will return coming off the bye week. The Giants have been notorious in recent years for their fast starts and 2nd half of the season fades, and overcoming that stigma this year will be very difficult. They have a brutal remaining schedule, playing at New England, San Francisco, and New Orleans, with division battles against Philadelphia, Washington, and Dallas (twice) also still looming. Eli and that defensive front should keep them in most of their remaining games, but injuries and their Week 5 home loss to the Seahawks will come back to haunt them in the end.
Current Record: 3-3 (tied for 2nd in the NFC East)
Projected Final Record: 10-6 (1st in the NFC East)
Forecast: Watching the Cowboys play is equally exciting and maddening as they are an explosive yet often unpredictable team. The Cowboys are clearly one of the most talented teams in the NFL, but they struggle with turnovers, decision making, and closing out games; hence a team that should have at the very least 4 or 5 wins right now is stuck at 3-3. I am optimistic on the Cowboys from here on out for three reasons. First off, they have an abundance of talent on offense in the passing game, and with the emergence of DeMarco Murray they might have found a running back that can provide them with the balance they have been sorely lacking. Next, Rob Ryan’s unit ranks 1st in the NFC in total defense, and his blitz heavy packages seem to put DeMarcus Ware in situations where he can unleash havoc. And lastly, there remaining schedule (home games against Seattle, Buffalo, and Miami) is considerably easier in comparison to their division rivals. Dez Bryant might be right when he says the only thing that can stop the Cowboys this year is the Cowboys themselves, and if Tony Romo can manage to reel in his inner Brett Favre “America’s Team” will be NFC East Champions in 2011.