The Four-Way Coin Toss in the NFC East

More than any other division in football, the NFC East is in a state of constant flux. Maybe it doesn’t boast the infamous title of its NFC South contemporaries, who have yet to champion a consistent division winner since the NFL initiated league-wide division restructuring in 2002, but it still holds the title of one of the toughest divisions in all of football. It’s so tough, in fact, that it has been unofficially dubbed the NFC Beast, which implies the fierceness of competition it annually presents.

While three of the four super bowl champions in the past four years have come from every NFC region not including the West (but not for a lack of trying-both the Seahawks and Cardinals had their dreams crushed by shoddy officiating and a spectacular touchdown catch by Santonio Holmes, respectively, at the hands of the Pittsburgh Steelers), perhaps no winner has had a more impressive run than the 2007 New York Giants. They entered the playoffs as a wild card, defeating Tampa Bay, Dallas, and Green Bay on the road, and also closing the door on the 18-0 New England Patriots’ hopes for the second ever undefeated season in league history, winning their first super bowl since 1991.

The NFC BEast: where super bowl expectations happen annually.

This season, like most others, the NFC favorite resides in the Beast. And this season, like most others, will no doubt result in a series of no-holds-barred grudge matches that will ultimately produce a viable contender for the super bowl, courtesy a quartet of sextets per each division participant.

Washington Redskins

According to quarterback Rex Grossman, the Redskins are primed for a division upset. That’s curious, considering that the Redskins possess the least amount of talent in the way of blue chip players when compared to their Beast counterparts. Perhaps I was being gratuitous in the title of this column, as I in no way think this is a four-way coin toss. It’s more like a triangle match of rock, paper, scissors, and the Redskins are playing the part of curious bystander.

Outside of their defense, their roster is hardly desirable. They host a committee of running backs, all of whom are either castaways from previously unsuccessful campaigns or washed-up veterans, a duo of unproven quarterbacks, a solid second wide receiver in Santana Moss who assumes the duties of a number one wide receiver, which he has shouldered without complaint, but whose receiving totals are more a result of a career of upward mediocrity than downward excellence, and a duo of tight ends that either can’t stay healthy, can’t produce, or can’t keep their naked bodies from popping up on the internet.

The Redskins were so bad offensively last year that they benched Donovan McNabb in favor of the aforementioned Grossman. The combined touchdowns and interceptions thrown by Washington’s quarterbacks was 21 TDs to 19 INTs for a 57% completion percentage and a total of 4,261 yards. Not one of their running backs reached 1,000 yards rushing, nor eclipsed the 4-touchdown high set by leading rusher Ryan Torain. Suffice it to say that the cream of the crop does not reside in the District of Colombia.

But not all is bad in the nation’s capital. The Redskins have compiled a promising linebacking corps. Bookending London Fletcher and Rocky McIntosh with Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan may work wonders for head coach Mike Shanahan. It lays the groundwork for what is sure to be a hard-nosed defensive team. The names in the secondary have more often looked great on paper than played well on the field, but let’s not forget that the Redskins were the only team in the NFC East to beat the pre-Michael Vick Eagles, the Green Bay Packers, and the Chicago Bears (with DeAngelo Hall picking off Jay Cutler 4 times. Count ‘em.), all of whom were playoff teams. How they did it? Holding them to a combined 39 points; that’s a 13.0 ppg average. Impressive numbers against even the lowest of teams, let alone three playoff participants and one super bowl champion.

Needless to say, the Redskins have amassed a talented defensive unit; just not in any skill positions on offense, and not enough to overcome their talented division rivals. This season, the Redskins are good for at least one win against the Cowboys (they always seem to split their meetings, regardless of their records), two losses against the Giants (the Giants love playing the Redskins-it’s as close to a guaranteed W as the Saints over the Seahawks in the opening round of the playoffs. Oh, wait…), and, at most, one win against the Eagles.

Outlook: 6-10, 4th in the NFC East.

New York Giants

The New York football Giants are perhaps the most intriguing team in the Beast. Every year since their super bowl victory, they start off the season extremely hot and establish themselves as the favorites after their early success. And then the season goes on. Be it injury troubles, an inflated record based on an easy schedule, or a sorely lacking secondary that’s susceptible to big plays, they eventually falter down the stretch and allow their playoff position to be usurped. But up until about week 13 of every year, they are legitimate playoff contenders.

I don’t know what’s in the air lately, but Beast quarterbacks have been popping off at the mouth in succession. First it was Grossman claiming that his underwhelming Redskins would win the Beast, and then it was Eli Manning comparing himself to the incomparable Tom Brady. What’s next? Tony Romo saying that he runs a faster 40 time than Michael Vick? Let’s be real: the only way that Eli and Brady are alike is that the better they get individually, the less success their teams have. Eli is a remarkably improved player from his super bowl campaign, having recently amassed back-to-back seasons of over 4,000 yards passing, and 27 and 31 touchdowns thrown, respectively (although his latest season he was more daring than usual, throwing a ridiculously high 25 interceptions). Brady, on the other hand, has improved his efficiency to the point of masterfully dissecting defenses like Hans Zimmer constructing an orchestra, and seamlessly laid waste to NFL records en route to some impressive regular season campaigns.

It's not even close, Eli. What's that? Oh! You meant how you look ON the field. My bad.

Other than that, the two are nothing alike. Well, besides both always being compared to Peyton Manning, but that’s a story for another day.

The G-Men have had a string of bad luck, losing their first round draft pick to a leg injury for what could be the whole season, their star defensive end to contract disputes, their other star defensive end to a sore achilles, Eli’s safety net tight end to the proverbial black hole in Oakland, and their best possession/slot receiver to their division rival Philadelphia Eagles.

New York was lucky to re-sign safety Deon Grant, which helps bolster a previously unimpressive secondary, and get up-and-coming star Kenny Philips back from injury. If nothing else, their defensive backfield will experience marginal improvement. In addition to retaining Grant, they were also able to bring back fumblitis-ridden Ahmad Bradshaw, who, despites his troubles hanging onto the ball, can run with the best of ‘em.

The receiving corps may not have improved from last year due to the losses of Steve Smith and Kevin Boss, but they are another year older and, theoretically, progressed. Hakeem Nicks is rapidly gaining fantasy value among experts, as his athletic frame and huge hands give him an edge over most DBs in the league, and Mario Manningham looks to improve upon his success from last season.

Overall, the Giants are quietly building a dangerous team in the Meadowlands. If they can get some favorable bounces and avoid injury, they could very well win the NFC East.

Fortunately for me, I don’t see that happening-not in this division, at least. Chalk them up for 2 wins against the Redskins, 2 losses to the Eagles (but it’s always entertaining when they play), and a split with the Cowboys.

Outlook: 9-7, 3rd in the NFC East.

Dallas Cowboys

By all accounts, the Giants and Cowboys could very well end up switching spots in the NFC Beast’s pecking order. I am open to that possibility. This is just one man’s prediction, so take it as just that. In a lot of ways, last year was a blemish the Cowboys would prefer not to revisit. The memories alone are excruciating, so subjecting themselves to another season like that would likely result in a rash of mass suicides akin to the Jonestown Massacre.

As such, here are three reasons why the Cowboys will be a playoff-caliber team this year.

(1). The Cowboys have explosive talent in all their skill positions.

Say what you will about Tony Romo, but the man can ball. When he’s not playing hide and seek at his bachelor party, he’s organizing coach-less practice sessions. When he’s not throwing touchdowns, he’s throwing for first downs. Most of the hate directed at Romo is more a product of him being the quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys than him being an unlikable public figure. Regardless of what the new quarterback ranking system puts him at (11th), Romo is undoubtedly a really good quarterback. His best statistical seasons dwarf those of some of his contemporaries, as he has thrown for as many as 36 touchdowns (2007), and as many as 4,483 yards (2009), the former of which his team lost to the eventual super bowl champion Giants, and the latter of which his team dispatched the Eagles for its first playoff victory since the mid-90’s. Neither playoff exits rest on the shoulders of Romo, despite what the paparazzi and talking heads would have you believe.

Aside from quarterback, the most sought after position in the league, the Cowboys have a deadly trio of weapons in Miles Austin, Dez Bryant, and Jason Witten, the former who is arguably a top 10 receiver, and the latter who is arguably the best overall tight end in the league. Besides that three-headed monster, the Cowboys have axed Marion Barber in favor of Felix Jones, a bigger role for backup Tashard Choice, and some inevitable snaps for rookie Demarco Murray.

(2). The Cowboys improved upon their weaknesses from last year.

Their weakest links last year rest in their defense’s inability to stop any quarterback (seriously, DAVID GARRARD, Wade Philips? Are you serious?) from throwing all over them, and their helpless, aging offensive line. The Cowboys shored up both parties, drafting athletic rookie Tyron Smith to play right tackle opposite left tackle Doug Free, and adding depth to the rest of their offensive line by grabbing David Arkin and Bill Nagy in later rounds. Center Andre Gurode is still out following off-season knee surgery, but he’s scheduled to be back sooner rather than later, and when he does, the offensive line will be at full force. That should help their running game immensely, as well as increase the chances of keeping a healthy Romo under center.

The “D” in “Dallas” is likely to return this season, considering who the Cowboys brought in to bolster that side of the ball: Rob Ryan. That’s right; the “other” Ryan brother; the same Rob Ryan who coached in the dark abyss of the AFC North teams (Cleveland) and led them to victories not only against the New Orleans Saints, but also the 14-2 New England Patriots. The other loss the Patriots suffered? From the hands of none other than Rob’s twin brother in New York, Rex. Rob will get a shot at both his brother’s New York Jets and also the league’s best coach, quarterback, and team in the Patriots.

Ryan brought in some familiar faces with Abram Elam (safety) and Kenyon Coleman (defensive end) to help his new team acclimate to his new blitz-happy system. He retained the talented players who under-performed last season and whose subpar play directly contributed to the Cowboys’ defensive woes, safety Gerald Sensabaugh and corners Mike Jenkins and Terence Newman. If they play anything like they did in 2009, the secondary should be drastically improved. Likewise, if their defensive line manages to produce another pass rusher to take some of the pressure off other-worldly star DeMarcus Ware, the Dallas defense could very well be a top 10 force.

(3). The Cowboys play against the NFC West and AFC East.

Come on. The NFC West is the least threatening division in the NFL, and the AFC East is more top heavy than Christina Hendricks. The former had a winner-takes-the-division regular season finale between the 7-8 St. Louis rams and the 6-9 Seattle Seahawks, the result of which was a 7-9 division winner from rainy Seattle. The latter vaunts the annual favorites led by Brady/Belichick, and also the league’s most boisterous head coach/defense in Rex Ryan’s Jets. Assuming that the Cowboys lose to the Pats and Jets, they should still theoretically maul the Miami Dolphins and Buffalo Bills, not to mention their opponents from the West.

Did I just compare the Jets to Christina Hendricks? Wow. I really did miss football.

Not including the Pats and Jets, the Cowboys’ biggest test will come from within their division, as they’re likely to split the season series with each of their divisionary opponents.

Outlook: 11-5, 2nd in the NFC East.

Philadelphia Eagles

Let me clear something up: the winner of the division will not necessarily go further in the playoffs. It’s not uncommon that the wild card team will advance further than the division winner, as seen by the Green Bay/Chicago tandem last year, or the Giants/Cowboys tandem in 2007. Check the expectations at the door.

From nearly any point of view, the Eagles should be a better team than they were last year when they managed to run away with the division title while establishing themselves as a potential super bowl favorite. I predicted then that the winner of the Green Bay-Philadelphia game would go to the super bowl, but that only the Packers were capable of winning it all.

I am not buying into all the hype, but I do believe that they have too much talent not to make the playoffs. It would take a monumental collapse, reminiscent of the Cowboys 2008 and 2010 seasons, in order for that not to happen. The only collapse I foresee coming is the inevitable bad play-calling and time management by Andy Reid that is sure to doom them come playoff time.

The talent that they’ve added in the off-season is almost limitless in potential. They brought in more pass rushers and run stoppers, and they also upgraded in their secondary, bringing in cornerback extraordinaire Nnamdi Asomugha, and under-performer Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Philadelphia’s off-season acquisition of Steve Smith will only add to their already explosive offensive repertoire that features one of the fastest players in the league in Desean Jackson, a tremendously speedy and talented secondary wideout in Jeremy Maclin, an underrated and ill-used tight end in Brent Celek, a fantastic pass-catching running back out of the back field in LeSean McCoy, and the return of the best full back in the league in Leonard Weaver.

That’s scary.

The only downside that I see to the Eagles’ season, besides Andy Reid’s decision-making, is the health of Michael Vick. It will be hard, with his style and the target on their backs, to keep Vick upright all year. It’s a virtual inevitability that he will go down, but it’s a matter of (1) how they’ll fare without him, and (2) if he’s back in time for the playoffs. Besides that, he’ll have to worry about how defenses adjusted to him at the end of last season. In his last four games, he was a combined 82 of 140 for a completion percentage of 58% and a TD/INT ratio of 7 to 5. Hardly the gaudy numbers he posted during Philadelphia’s tear of a winning streak, and most likely the product of a season-long adjustment period from opposing teams.

At any rate, the Eagles will likely split the season series with the Redskins, ditto for their Cowboys matchup, and win both games against the Giants (they always do).

Outlook: 12-4, 1st in the NFC East.

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4 Responses to “The Four-Way Coin Toss in the NFC East”

  1. The Chad Says:

    I had to clean up my monitor thanks to your beautifully crafted Christina Hendricks comparison. Another great analysis. Lookimg forward to the Beast this season.

  2. MQ Says:

    This is great! Very much written for people that know football. I think it comes to another level. Its formal but at the same time, it still entertained me. Good job.

  3. Ant Says:

    WTF are you ever going to talk about the Raiders. Good article I do see the eagles as the team to beat in the division they should have the best running game in the NFL with Vick,McCoy and Ronnie Brown.

  4. ay caramba Says:

    Thumbs up!
    Look forward to reading more from you

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