NFL Gridiron Gab Pre-Camp Division Previews: NFC East

Hands down, from top to bottom, the most balanced division.  The most unpredictable.  The most highly anticipated, and by far, the most hyped.  The NFC East is the equivalent to baseball’s AL East.  In all likelihood, its a four-team chase for supremacy.  Any team can reach the postseason.  Hope abounds, intrigue abides.

While albeit there’s a tremendous blend of balance in the air, this is still Dallas’ division to lose.  However, it won’t be a walk in the park, as New York, Washington, and Philadelphia all could easily finish at or above .500. With plenty more to say, I’ll leave at this: there will be no loss for drama with these storied franchises colliding head-to-head this fall.  Let the fierce trash-talk begin!  Your NFC East: “Where there is little to no gap from first to last.”

Dallas (11-5) – On paper the most talented team in Big D since ’95.  They have the ideal mix and right pieces to participate at home come the first Sunday of February.  To lift status from good to great, they need their two most pivotal pieces, Tony Romo and Felix Jones, to elevate their games to the next level.  If this duo rises to their ability, this team will find itself in new places it hasn’t visited since the days of Aikman-Smith-Irvin.

With just as much prowess on the defensive side of the ball as on the offensive side, there’s no reason America’s Team should not exceed last year’s final stopping point.  Two things hold them back from arriving at their ultimate destination:  Safety concerns, and the fact they may not possess home field advantage in the Playoffs.

New York (10-6) – While he has a Super Bowl ring to boast and show, Eli Manning still scares me.  Though proven and loaded beyond belief with such a stellar supporting cast, he still has his old “oh, no Eli” moments where he can be the weak link on a potential Super Bowl candidate.  Why does he still like to visit the old Eli of yesteryear?  Eli Past needs to be put away for good, and Eli Future has to step up to the forefront consistently for the G-Men to excel.  This can’t be the Old Adventures of New Eli.

All of this is frustrating for Tom Coughlin and fans when you consider the play makers at Eli’s disposal.  Call me a bit skeptical of him being able to carry the load if the running struggles persist.  His arsenal sets him up for success, but if the ground game is lacking punch, it could be another long year in the Big Apple -especially if the Jets are successful again.

When you give up more than 40 points in your last three losses, it’ll leave you with a sour taste heading into next season.  Defensively, the pass rush remains, the secondary, when healthy, offer a bevy of sensational options, yet it may come down to injury-prone guys like newly acquired veteran Keith Bulluck and underachieving Michael Boley at LB to get this defense back to where it needs to be.

Championship-level, Super Bowl-caliber defense?  Will a slew of gifted defenders up front and in the back make up for the void left in the middle from the departure of of their retired leader Antonio Pierce?  New stadium and all, someone needs to fill Pierce’s shoes not only on the field, but off it.  This could mean the difference between another mediocre 8-8 season and a satisfying 10-6 playoff appearance.

Washington (10-6) – New mastermind game-planner at head coach, a poised, decorated top-notch signal caller, and a fresh upgrade of bookend tackles —what’s missing?  The arrivals of Shanahan, Donovan, and two quality offensive linemen should propel this squad to at least seven or eight victories.

You cannot underestimate the impact of pairing offensive guru Mike Shanahan with Donovan McNabb.  You saw what McNabb did with Reid and remember what Shanahan accomplished with Elway?  I know you have to reminisce quite a ways with the ladder, but the former is not far from removed.  Clearly, the duo has lots to prove and the urgency is undeniably visible.  They want to show their former clubs/bosses they still can get the job done.  Couple that with Clinton Portis as revitalized man reunited with his former lead guy and the new switch to a 3-4 defense, isn’t this enough for the Nation’s Capital to be gleaming and beaming, bursting with optimism?

So why will they finish third?  Other than the rivals they are looking up to, you can thank the front office and staff for their inability to fancy McNabb’s unglamorous targets.  Only one would imagine if they could land another bonafide pass-catcher to team up with speedster Santana Moss.  You see what McNabb did with Terrell Owens?  A potent big-play, deep-threat away?

Philadelphia (8-8) – The most intriguing of the fearsome fierce fanatic four presents the biggest boom/bust potential based on their electrifying, go-for-broke aerial display.  Led by a Cougar entering his fourth NFL season, the offense will be the Eagles calling card.  You know they can outgun you, but can they out perform and duel you when the gun is out of ammunition?  Kevin Kolb is the real deal, but how much stock can you invest in a three-year pro with only two starts?

Overall, I like what they did via draft, improving the pass rush (Brandon Graham, DE-LB, Michigan) and safety position (Nate Allen, S, USF) but I don’t believe this club will be able to fly beyond the regular season, any further, they would need for two things to instantly happen:  Defense regains its blitzing style and mentality, its luster and mystique from their late great DC genius Jim Johnson and Andy Reid has a complete personality makeover, a stunning rebirth balancing the pass out with the run -I’m sure LeSean McCoy would love for this to come to fruition!

Certainly, you can entertain both ideas, but each seem way more than unlikely, yet, nonetheless, this McNabb-less team features an extremely bright future for many years to come.   If they continue to stick to their ways by rebuilding, remodeling, and reloading the right way, in the month of April, there’s optimism and hope for city of Brotherly Love, Rocky, and Cheese steaks to return to the top of the NFC East, sooner, rather than later.

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