Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Previewing the NFC East 2007

first a review of my preview from last season:

predicted (2006)
1. eagles - 11-5
2. giants - 10-6
3. cowboys - 8-8
4. redskins - 7-9

actual (2006)
1. eagles - 10-6 (-1)
2. cowboys - 9-7 (+1)
3. giants - 8-8 (-2)
4. redskins - 5-11 (-2)

even though the nfc east ended up as the best division in the nfl accoring to footballoutsiders and the rest of the nfc comprised the three worst divisions in the nfl, it's apparent that i was pretty unrealistic in my expectations -- predicting 4 more wins for the division than how it actually played out.

i expect this division to still be the best in the nfc this season, but suspect not the nfl overall. i expect the records for this season to be very similar to how the division broke out last season, but with the three bottom teams swapping positions.

prediction for 2007
1. eagles - 10-6
2. redskins - 9-7
3. cowboys - 8-8
4. giants - 5-11

1. philadelphia eagles - 10-6

positives
- the best QB in the division
- the best RB in the division
- best o-line in the division
- a deep receiver corps
- better gameday management as a byproduct of head coach giving up playcalling responsibility

negatives
- QB injury history
- RB injury history
- brian dawkins is a year older
- LBs are no longer undersized and slow, but are unproven and learning on the job
- d-line is deep but not difference making, last year proved to be a house of cards when 1 injury affected the entire line all season
- secondary lacks both depth and quality at safety
- jim johnson may no longer be an elite d-coordinator

outlook
the eagles should come out of the gate very quickly again due to a seemingly easy early season schedule, which should set the team up to lead the division all season. there are many unanswered questions and concerns, especially on defense, but the offense is good at all positions and deep at many.

based on scouting reports on stewart bradley's quick development and the shaky performances of gocong and gaither so far, the expectation seems to be that bradley may replace one of the starter sometime during the season. despite the focus on the linebackers, the d-line and secondary are what makes this defense go, so the biggest questions on defense are: a) will jevon kearse recover his explosiveness? b) will brian dawkins be affected by his achilles all season or slowed by age? and c) can they get effective SS play out of some combination of considine, mikell, and jr reed?

if mcnabb and westbrook stay healthy, this team will score a lot of points and win the division. if the defense plays very well in addition to that, this team can be a real contender. i'm not too optimistic that the defense will play well, however, so i'm thinking 10-6.

(football outsiders think they'll win ~11 games)

2. washington redskins - 9-7

positives
- very good secondary, probably the best in the division
- a full year in al saunders' offense, good coaching overall
- jason campbell should be an upgrade over mark brunell
- defense should rebound from last year's horrible showing
- no new high reputation, low production imports
- adam archuleta is gone

negatives
- clinton portis is breaking down, if not fully broken down
- defense has trouble pressuring QB without blitzing
- QB is still young and learning
- offense may still have trouble scoring points
- little depth at most positions

outlook
it seems that most people expect the cowboys to be the birds' primary challenger for the division title, but after looking at schedules and thinking about how the season may play out, i think the redskins may be the team.

don't underestimate how good a coordinator gregg williams is and how bad adam archuleta was. this was a team that went 10-6 in 2005 with almost no offense. laron landry should be a huge upgrade over archuleta and given the relative importance of the safety in a cover-2 defense, i think he'll make a pretty big impact. this team is deep and good at corner.

the offense should be better than last season, now with a full season using the al saunders playbook. last year, the redskins offense suffered from a lack of big plays despite having a lot of speed. i don't know if the new offense caused santana moss' lack of production or santana moss' lack of production hurt the offense, but look for moss to have a better season than last. although clinton portis looks to be about done, ladell betts is a very good backup.

(football outsiders think they'll win ~8 games)

3. dallas cowboys - 8-8

positives
- good skill position players
- good cornerbacks
- good and deep linebacker corps

negatives
- first time o-coordinator and coaching overall
- have quality wideouts, but they are old and lack depth
- o-line is suspect
- QB is unproven
- terence newman has a foot injury

outlook
lots of people (especially fans and media in dallas) seem to think that the cowboys are a potential superbowl contender, but i can't seem to figure out why.

let's start with the QB who made the pro bowl because he had 5 good games to start his career. his next six games? not so hot. romo seems to have enough natural tools to play QB, he seems to be accurate, he's nimble in the pocket, and he definitely seems to have the confidence. the jury is still out on his decision-making and his ability to read a defense. based on the 4 times i saw him play last season, it sure didn't seem like he knew how to look off a receiver. he usually locked in on a guy and then bought time with his feet until the guy got open. kc joyner seems to think the romo we saw in the first 5 games is more likely the real romo. we'll see what happens, but toward the end of last season he was a turnover machine.

next issue i see for them is coaching. my recollection is that wade phillips was not a very good head coach. interestingly, he holds a career winning percentage of .533 (having a 16-17 record with the broncos and 29-21 record with the bills as well as a couple of shorter stints with the saints and falcons), so he must not have been terrible. unfortunately, i don't recall any specifics of why i remember him as a bad coach, so let's set that aside for now. the big issue with the cowboys coaching is that, in reality, jerry jones is the head coach. jerry hired jason garrett as o-coordinator *before* he hired wade phillips. wade took the job knowing he'd have no say on the offense and no say on personnel (both controlled by jones). really phillips is the d-coordinator, though his d-backs coach from san diego technically holds that title. i don't know about you, but that all sounds very dysfunctional to me.

finally, there are a couple of underpublicized but key injuries to the cowboys defense. first, terence newman has a plantar fascia tear. newman is one of the best corners in the league, so this is a potentially big loss for the cowboys. even if he does play, plantar fasciitis does not seem heal quickly (supposedly 6-18 months) so it may slow him down for much of this season. second, greg ellis has an achilles problem. he doesn't get much publicity, but i think greg ellis is a terrific player. the cowboys are going to have a drop-off no matter who replaces him (probably bobby carpenter or anthony spencer).

plus, there's always the possibility of me-o going ballistic about something or other.

(football outsiders think they'll win ~6 games)

4. new york giants - 5-11

positives

- not much
- QB has another year of experience
- drafted a cornerback to shore up sieve-like secondary
- can that really be all?

negatives
- shockey already dinged
- madison has groin problem
- replaced tiki barber with reuben drougns
- the gap-toothed one was holding out for more money/considering retirement/wants to be traded
- tom coughlin is the head coach
- plaxico burress hasn't practiced all preseason
- amani toomer coming off ACL tear
- let best o-lineman from a bad o-line go to tampa in free agency (new LT was previously a backup guard)
- QB has not really progressed much during his time in the league

outlook
not good. not good.

the best player on the team is probably middle linebacker antonio pierce. i suppose shockey is the most talented player, but he's been more of a tease than a consistent producer of yards and touchdowns. of course his scattershot QB and lack of involvement in the offense could account for much of that.

brandon jacobs is getting a lot of hype, but let's be real, unless he is better than tiki barber (which i highly doubt). the running game is sure to take a hit. he definitely seems like he's going to be tough to bring down, but he still unproven as an every down back.

also don't forget about their QB. you know, the one who's afraid to get hit? i'm sure he'll start the season fairly hot (like he did last season), but over time, the hits will wear him down and he'll start turning away from pass rushers and stop following through on his throws. it's inevitable. even giants fans know this is true. it's the same reason jeremy bloom won't make it as a returner in the nfl. you can't play pro football if you can't stand getting hit. sure, nobody actually *likes* getting hit. however, if getting hit is part of your job description, you better be damn good at taking hits.

if everything goes right, this team might win 6 games, but i think 4 or 5 is the more likely outcome. this is not going to be a good year for new york giants fans.

fire away with feedback/critcism.

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7 Comments:

Anonymous Phil said...

Not much to criticize here in my opinion so here are my "enhancements":

1) I agree with 10-6 for Eagles and the rankings, but don't think anyone else is above 8-8 and maybe WAS gets there. Given this, I think the NFC "power" division shifts to the West with up and coming SF and AZ teams adding to the solid contender of SEA. Actually, the more I think about it, the more I think 11 or 12 wins is likely as 6-0 in our division + playing the NFC North (3 wins) and AFC East (2 or 3 more).

2) Cowboys might have the biggest variance in their potential record among all the teams. Age of their WRs, lack of experience at QB, and poor depth could make them fairly good or atrocious. Oh, TO was quoted last Saturday (read PFT for more) as saying if he could pick his QB it'd be Peyton first, then McNabb. Yikes.

3) Man do the Giants look bad when you put it like that (and you were fairly kind to them). Does Coughlin even make it through the entire year before they bring Coach Chin in?

10:05 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i actually hate to say this but i think TMG is right, but the eagles seem mighty shaky on defense up the middle everywhere. Signing Kimo is kind of proof of that, along with the fact that we have no MLB, and no strong safety. Only Dawkins seems ok, and i think the Redskins might steal the division.

~naylor

10:52 PM EDT  
Anonymous Phil said...

Holy crap. 10 of the 16 writers at FO (http://www.footballoutsiders.com/2007/09/06/ramblings/5439/) have the Eagles in the SB (everyone thinks they're in the playoffs) with 3 thinking they'll actually win it. Maybe everyone here is a little too harsh on th team this year. We should keep in mind that every team is flawed to some degree (especially in the NFC), but very few teams have the talent or coaching that PHI does.

12:09 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

if a better QB has ever played the game than Manning, I'd sure like to see him. Wow that guy has a rifle and his play fakes and audibles are just awesome. The Colts lost a ton this off season, yet as long as they have 18, they are legit.

Bumble

10:41 PM EDT  
Anonymous pawnking said...

Why harp on the fact "espicially in the NFC teams have faults?" Did you see the run defense of last year's SB Champs??? The offense of one of their best teams (Ravens)? The coaching staff of another (Chargers)?

The "weaknesses" of the Eagles are only potential weaknesses. Given the proven weaknesses of other teams, I'll take my chances on:
A QB who, as long as he can stay healthy, is a top 3 in the NFL guy
A defense which addressed all of their past season's weaknesses (mostly at LB)
A defense which has had one of the nest secondaries in the league for several years now
An OL which is one of the best and most consistent in the NFL
A main RB who may be behind only LT as a total package
A kicker you can count on
A punter like Rocca
A coaching staff who does it again and again no matter who their competition.

Yes, I like this Eagles team. 13-3.

3:32 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Pawnking I'll debate you on several of those points, and yes I love the birds too.

1. A defense which addressed all of their past season's weaknesses (mostly at LB)-yes but their LB now are very raw and possibly not very good. I love Jones being gone, but from what i have seen, he plays the position better than Gocong currently does. Gocong will get betetr, but today he is not better.

2. A defense which has had one of the nest secondaries in the league for several years now-yes but they had much better safeties when that secondary was dominating. I love dawk, but everyone can see he is breaking down-how can't he at 33? Considne is a spot player. Brown, james, and Shepherd are a nice rotation at CB, but they are weaker at S than they have been.

3. An OL which is one of the best and most consistent in the NFL-Most consistent yes, but nowhere near best. they are actually a fairly slow line who gets destroyed by 3 man fronts that blitz a lot. I like their O line, but they are better pass blockers than run blockers and they do not consistently establish the running game week in and week out.


4. A main RB who may be behind only LT as a total package-yes, but who is very fragile is is always 1 hit away from the IR. I love him as a weapon, but he is not the second best RB in the league as he too often gets stuffed for 1 or 0 yard gains.

5. A kicker you can count on-I am actually concerned about Akers. his range is shrinking. I think he is clearly on the tail end of his career and is no longer money from 40 and in.

6. A coaching staff who does it again and again no matter who their competition....except the AFC, especially the AFC South. Good staff, lousy making adjustments in big games. Love them to get me to the playoffs, not so much once we're in the playoffs.

Bumble

4:50 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Spot on analysis. Especially about the Redskins. I hate to say it, but they're going to be a real pain to play this year. Defense will be much improved and they're going to run the ball down people's throats with Portis and Betts. Good defense and grind-it-out offense will make for a tough team to beat. Let's not forget Gibbs and Gregg Williams are great coaches. They're going to surprise people this year.

The Cowboys are overrated. You're right on about Greg Ellis. He's a terrific player. Their defense fell apart last year after he got hurt, and it doesn't look like he'll be back to full speed this season, if ever. PLus, how can you lose one of the greatest motivator coaches in league history and get better?

12:37 AM EDT  

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