2009 NFL Preview: NFC East

NFC EastTotal Pro Sports – Lets take a look at this years 2009 NFC East Previews and Predicitons.

New York Giants

Offseason: I raved about Michael Boley all offseason because every time I saw him he looked hyper athletic and a real danger when given the chance to rush the passer from weakside linebacker. Well, he tore a labrum, may require surgery and is suspended week 1 because of a battery charge, but I keep the faith! 80 tackles and 8 sacks here we come. Chris Canty will start at defensive tackle over the incumbent Fred Robbins. The Giants don’t need him now, but left tackle William Beatty was too good to pass on in the draft, and Hakeem Nicks will fight for the starting job at wide receiver.

Offense: Eli Manning is the worst quarterback not playing for his job. Eli Manning is about to get a $98million contract. One of these is my opinion the other is that of Giants management, but I just don’t buy the ‘look at his ring’ argument. I didn’t see Eli Manning out there teaming with Michael Strahan in one of the most dynamic pass rushes of recent years. I didn’t see Eli Manning running over linebackers like they weren’t there. I did see Eli Manning post an average completion percentage of 56.7 over his 4 years as an NFL starter which is similar to that of Dan Orlovsky last year, and I also saw Eli Manning die after week 5 and throw 10 sub-200 yard efforts in 12 outings. But hey, here’s nigh on $100million. Hopefully Ahmad Bradshaw is the new Derrick Ward, and Danny Ware is the new Ahmad Bradshaw and Andre Brown is the new… you get the idea, but New York will need Brandon Jacobs and his cast of misfits and marauders to perform because this pass game is looking wayward. You know my thoughts on Eli, but rookie receivers often struggle and New York rookie wideouts have performed particularly poorly in the past so tame your expectations of Hakeem Nicks. Steve Smith works best in the slot, so that leaves a Plaxico Burress sized hole at flanker. Expect Kevin Boss to get lots of looks in the red zone this year, and the vaunted o-line remains the crowning jewel of this offense.

Defense: Mathias Kiwanuka managed an impressive 8 sacks last year, and he’ll be a backup in 09. This should tell you two things: yes, the New York pass rush is that good and that deep. And yes, Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck will be the scariest two people NFL linemen will see all year. Add in Boley, a healthy Umenyiora and new boy Canty, and there is no reason to doubt that a sack total standing at 42 last year couldn’t soar north of 50 in 2009. Antonio Pierce may be slowing down, but mountains of pressure will make the pass a non-option and this team is just as capable at stopping the run; all in all, New York will once again possess a top 3 defense.

Key Games: The Eagles will play them tight this year so their double header is vital. The Saints are the best opposition that both Philadelphia and New York face, so results in those matchups may be the difference maker.

Predicted Record: 13-3

Philadelphia Eagles

Offseason: Jason Peters last year was horrible; 11.5 sacks in just 13 starts, worst in the league. Jason Peters in 2007 was a monster. With a full training camp and preseason under him and no holdout nonsense, Philadelphia hope the latter Peters turns up to rule an NFC East where left tackles have to face the likes of Umenyiora and Ware. I like to think of their draft as Draft 09: Babies Edition, because if you wanted to get as close to cloning Brian Westbrook and DeSean Jackson as you could without violating the Geneva Convention, LeSean McCoy and Jeremy Maclin are the outcome. As of writing it’s unclear whether Mike Vick has joined to be a legitimate backup quarterback, or the king of the trick play.

Offense: McNabb has some weapons at receiver and if Philadelphia can limit the number of games Brian Westbrook plays at 65% fitness, then this offense can cause some serious damage behind a revamped line featuring newly appropriated Stacy Andrews and Jason Peters. I’m not jumping on the Brent Celek bandwagon quite yet in the wake of LJ Smith’s departure, but don’t expect rookie Cornelius Ingram to contribute, he just re-tore his ACL 12 months to the day after the original injury. Spooky.

Defense: This defense may not be star studded, but it took a lot of people by surprise in 08 ranking 3rd in sacks, 3rd against the pass and 4th against the run. Unfortunately, they just lost starting middle linebacker Stewart Bradley for the season to a torn ACL and will turn to Omar Gaither who averages just 10 starts in 3 years. Lito Shepherd has become a Jet and starting corner Sheldon Brown is grumbling about his contract, meaning Ellis Hoobs a draft day tradee from New England will provide necessary depth at corner. What makes this unit so dangerous is the myriad of blitzing options they have at their disposal and that, thankfully, is still intact, with Darren Howard reprising his cameo blitzing role in 09.

Key Games: The Saints, Falcons and inter-division rivals Giants will provide Philadelphia their toughest tests.

Predicted Record: 12-4

Washington Redskins

Offseason: Jason Campbell finally looked set to get a proper go at starting with some sort of coaching stability and then they go and put a big sign out front of FedExField reading “For sale: 1 Jason Campbell. Wanted: Jay Cutler”. The only thing they managed to ship was Jason Campbell’s confidence, and I’d loved to see him walk when his contract expires at the end of the year. Apparently the price of sucking up triple team blockers is 100 million dollars. Who’d of known?! Albert Haynesworth actually.
Offense: Jay Cut- Mark Sa- I mean Jason Campbell – sorry Jason, you definitely are the starter of this team. We all promise – should get the chance to show us what he can do when he retains offensive coordinators for the first time in his career, and very slowly Washington have built him a nice receiving corps which features two promising second year players in Malcolm Kelly and Devin Thomas. Clinton Portis was not a happy camper last year. After lighting up the NFL for the first 8 weeks of the season he began having qualms with Washington’s offense (I.E. not enough CP), but if he wants to play I’d expect him to recapture his form and blow teams away all year long. The major concern in Washington is their offensive line that was decimated by wear and tear last year making Portis and Campbell’s job impossible. Adding Kevin Dockery at left guard should really help, but the line – like much of Washington’s offense – still has a lot to prove.

Defense: There are two camps with Haynesworth: those that believe he’ll continue to be the most disruptive d-lineman in the NFL, and those that believe that getting paid will make him sloppy. With LaRon Landry quickly emerging as one of the best young safeties in the league alongside a dependable partner in Chris Horton, as well as London Fletcher who will target his 9th consecutive season of 120+ tackles from middle linebacker, Washington have some key positions filled with quality players. What they now have to overcome are all the ‘ifs’ that stand between them realising their potential as one of the more underrated defenses in football. IF Albert Haynesworth plays hard and sucks up blocks, that should free defensive ends Andre Carter and Phillip Daniels to improve the dismal 28th ranked pass rush in the nation. IF DeAngelo Hall applies himself like he promises to in training camp, he and Carlos Rogers are a dynamic corner tandem. IF Brian Orakpo can manage to evolve into a reliable outside linebacker – recent history isn’t on his side, look at the floundering Vernon Gholston last year – then Washington have a player who is aggressive in pass rush and stout against the run. These are ‘ifs’ that could mean the difference between 6-10 and 9-7.

Key Games: Like the Cowboys this division is going to cripple them. Home and away against the Dallas will decide whether they finish third or fourth in the NFC East. Consider most other games yard markers of progress.

Predicted Record: 8-8

Dallas Cowboys

Offseason: Terrell Owens headlines a list of Cowboy exiles that includes Anthony Henry, Roy Williams, Greg Ellis and Chris Canty. You could argue until the end of time about Terrell Owens, but Jerry Jones may have gone a little overboard clearing out veterans. Canty will punish them twice yearly in New York and Anthony Henry could have been transferred to safety in order to prolong his career and plug the hole Roy Williams left. The draft was also baffling. With few high value picks they needed to make the best of what they had; instead, they drafted a backup kicker and a quarterback. I’m not sure what they were thinking either.

Offense: Despite giving good push in the run game, the Cowboy o-line was leaky in pass protection led by the disappointing Flozell Adams. After becoming one of the highest paid linemen in the league you’d expect him to repay the faith with a career year, but like many players coming off the back of a big payday (take note Redskins fans) he regressed, surrendering a mediocre 7.25 sacks. Dallas must improve in pass protection in 09, because they can’t keep relying on Tony Romo to ’wing it’ when the play breaks down. Behind Marion Barber’s injury pestered year and Felix Jones’ spectacular punt returns, Tashard Choice was the forgotten man. Boasting an impressive 5.1 yards per carry, Choice rounds out a versatile, deep and very dangerous three headed run attack in Dallas. Say what you will about Tony Romo’s performances in the clutch, but he missed 3 games in 2008 because of a broken finger and still managed to throw the 6th most touchdowns in the NFL. Who he’ll be throwing to is a bit of a mystery this year, and if ever there was a season Roy Williams needed to prove his critics wrong, it’s 2009. Behind Williams and Witten the talent at receiver thins out pretty quickly.

Defense: All it would take is a Witten injury, a Roy Williams disappearing act or a Marion Barber meltdown to put this team in real trouble. Despite fielding a pretty solid unit on defense last year, Dallas have lost some key starters – Canty and Ellis – that leave them lacking quality up front, and lack a veteran presence in a secondary that sees a second year starter at corner in Malcolm Jenkins and newly acquired safety Gerald Sensabaugh scrambling to learn the playbook whilst looking over his shoulder at a possible suspension after a driving offense in February. DeMarcus Ware will continue to be the best weakside linebacker in the league, but with a reshuffled front three and 4 new starters on defense this side could badly underachieve.

Key Games: With New York and Philadelphia so strong, Dallas may get elbowed out of the division. The Chargers and Saints provide stiff competition, Tampa and Kansas less so.

Predicted Record: 7-9

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