John Mitchell and Brady Ford begin their NFL divisional previews, starting with the NFC East.
Who had the best offseason among the NFC East teams?
Mitchell: I think this one is pretty obvious. The Philadelphia Eagles didn’t make a huge splash in the NFL Draft, but they were busy via free agency bringing in a lot of key components. They landed arguably the biggest fish in free agency in Nnamdi Asomugha, and traded Kevin Kolb to the Cardinals for a second round pick and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, giving the Eagles one of the top secondaries in the NFL. Steve Smith was a surprise sign, and gives Philly a dangerous receiving corp. The additions of Ronnie Brown, Vince Young, Ryan Harris, and Cullen Jenkins can’t be underplayed.
Ford: It must be the Eagles. In addition to all the great acquisitions John mentioned, they also signed Jason Babin, hired two of the best positional coaches in football (DL coach Jim Washburn and OL coach Howard Mudd), and drafted multiple players who have a chance of starting this year (OG Watkins, S Jaiquawn Jarrett, LB Casey Matthews, C Jason Kelce, K Alex Henery). They did have some losses (Quintin Mikell, Stewart Bradley, David Akers), but the additions far outweighed the subtractions.
Who had the worst offseason among the NFC East teams?
Ford: My pick would be the New York Giants. Their only addition of any note in free agency was center David Baas, who replaces Shaun O’Hara. I wouldn’t call that a significant upgrade. However, the losses of Steve Smith, Barry Cofield, and Kevin Boss could prove to be significant downgrades. Additionally, first round pick Prince Amukamara broke his foot and it looks as though he’ll miss multiple games. Also, there’s Osi Umenyiora’s contract situation, which could affect his on-field performance.
Mitchell: I would say the Dallas Cowboys. Dallas had two goals coming into this offseason, and that was upgrading their offensive line, which they did by drafting USC OT Tyron Smith in the first round. But the only secondary moves they made were drafting CB Josh Thomas in the 5th round of the draft, and signing Abram Elam. Elam is a solid acquisition, but Dallas lost out on the Nnamdi sweepstakes, and allowed him to end up signing within the division to the Eagles.
Who is the best player in the division?
Mitchell: There weren’t a whole lot of expectations for Michael Vick coming into last season as the backup to Kevin Kolb, but he took over as the starter in week five and never relinquished it. He was spectacular, throwing for over 3000 yards and rushing for 676 more with 30 total touchdowns. Vick was back to playing like the Michael Vick that was so electric with the Falcons for so many years, and he’s actually gotten better in Philadelphia.
Ford: Love him or hate him, it’s Michael Vick. Well-renowned for his running ability, Vick displayed in 2010 that as purely a passer, he is elite. Vick finished the 2010 season in the top 5 of passer rating, yards per pass attempt, and interception percentage. Vick also finished top 10 in completion percentage and touchdown percentage.
Who do you see being the breakout player within the division this season?
Ford: I’m going with Jason Pierre-Paul. Given Osi’s late start in training camp and the uncertainty with his situation, I think Pierre-Paul is in line for a much larger role than last season. Pierre-Paul has the potential to be elite and really improved last year as the season went on, registering 19 tackles and 4.5 sacks in the final 6 games of the season. I wouldn’t be surprised if Pierre-Paul outplays Osi and wins the starting job sometime this season.
Mitchell: With Marion Barber now in Chicago, I look for a big year from Cowboys running back Felix Jones. Jones has gotten better in each of his three seasons in the NFL. He rushed for 800 yards last season, while having to share the workload with Barber and Tashard Choice. Now with Barber gone, Felix Jones should see an increase in carries, and with his game breaking ability, he could be in for a big year with the extra carries.
I’m thinking he has his first 1000 yard season.
Who is the most overrated player in the NFC East?
Mitchell: I think it’s Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora. I know it’s hard to call Osi overrated following an 11.5 sack season, but I think he’s lost a step and he’s going to take a big step back this season. I don’t look at him as one of the pass rushers in the league, and like Brady said above, Jason Pierre-Paul might actually be better. I think it’s a sign of his diminishing skill that the Giants were actually flirting with the possibility of trading him.
Ford: Much as it pains me to say it, I think the most overrated player in the division is DeSean Jackson. Now Jackson is an explosive playmaker that any team would love to have, but I do not think he is an elite player, certainly not on the level of the likes of Andre Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald, though you wouldn’t know it if you just listened to what the media told you. Jackson’s very exciting, but he’s not a go-to-guy like Johnson, Fitzgerald, Roddy White, Calvin Johnson, Reggie Wayne, et cetera. As a wide receiver, it’s hard to be elite when you only have one game with more than 5 catches.
Who is the most underrated player in the NFC East?
Ford: Pop quiz: Who led the NFC in yards from scrimmage in 2010? Was it Adrian Peterson? Michael Turner? Steven Jackson? No, it was my choice for most underrated player in the NFC East, LeSean “Shady” McCoy. Despite picking up 1,672 yards in his age 22 season, Shady was not on the NFL Network’s “Top 100 Players of 2011” list, nor was he even invited to the Pro Bowl. Although DeSean Jackson gets more of the media’s attention, Shady is the better and more important player. I wouldn’t be surprised if he put up Marshall Faulk-like numbers this year.
Mitchell: How many of you have even heard of Redskins WR Anthony Armstrong? Armstrong went undrafted in 2005 out of West Texas A&M, and spent his first two professional football seasons in the Indoor Football League and the Arena Football League, before getting a chance with Washington last season. He responded with 44 receptions for 871 yards, and finishing third in the NFL with 19.8 yards per catch.
Which NFC East rookie do you see having the best season?
Ford: Although I think Cowboys OT Tyron Smith will be the best player of the class eventually, for 2011, I’m going to pick a player that’s more than 6 years older: Danny Watkins. Watkins, the 26 year old firefighting Canadian guard from Baylor doesn’t have Tyron Smith’s massive potential, but he’s a pro-ready player who should make a greater impact this year. The right side of the Eagles offensive line was a weakness last year, but the addition of Watkins, as well as Ryan Harris, should make it a strength.
Mitchell: I’ll go with another Eagle, and that’s linebacker Casey Matthews, a fourth round pick out of Oregon. Matthews carries a lot of expectations because of his name, being the brother of Packers star linebacker Clay Matthews, but nobody really expected Casey to come in and start right away in Philly. After losing Stewart Bradley to free agency, the Eagles need Matthews to step in and start, and he’s received
nothing but praise from the coaching staff.
The Cowboys faltered to 6-10 last season after quarterback Tony Romo was lost for the season after just six games. With a healthy Romo, can the Cowboys get back to the playoffs?
Mitchell: I think so, but they’ll need a healthy Tony Romo for the whole season. If Romo can stay healthy, he is a bevy of weapons to throw to led by Miles Austin, Dez Bryant, and Jason Witten. They’ll need Felix Jones to step up in more of a featured back role, and they’ll need to improve their pass defense after they finished close to the bottom of the league in passing yards allowed in 2010. Romo is obviously the key, and if he is able to avoid injury, you have to like the Cowboys’ chances of getting back into the postseason.
Ford: I also think they will make the playoffs. With Romo at the helm, Dallas’s offense was one of the most productive in the NFL. With Romo back, I expect the offense to return to those days of glory. My question is whether their defense, specifically their secondary, will be able to not collapse as it did last season, when teams eviscerated them through the air. The Cowboys are hoping the addition of Abram Elam and the natural progression of their young corners (Jenkins, Scandrick, and Ball) will be enough, and I think it will.
After winning the Super Bowl in 2007, the Giants lost in the divisional round of the 2008 playoffs, and missed the postseason
altogether the last two seasons. Can the Giants get back to the playoffs in 2011?
Ford: It’s certainly possible, but I’m going to say they will not. After a lousy offseason, this is a Giants team that is worse than it was in 2010 when it missed the playoffs. Eli Manning threw a league-high 25 interceptions last season, and his job won’t get any easier with reliable targets Steve Smith and Kevin Boss departing. I think the Giants still have enough talent to be in the playoff race, but at this point, I think they’ll probably be watching the playoffs from their couches.
Mitchell: The Giants are pretty solid, but unfortunately they play in a division that doesn’t allow much room for error. I see them as the third best team in the division behind Philadelphia and Dallas, and there are just too many other good teams in the NFC for them to make it. New York did little to improve themselves this offseason, and unless Eli Manning improves drastically from last season, then the Giants will once again miss out on the playoffs.
Mitchell: Obviously, the expectations for Philadelphia fans are the Super Bowl after all the offseason acquisitions. But, the reality of it all is the Eagles still do have some glaring holes that could prevent them from winning the NFC. The linebackers are a question mark with rookie Casey Matthews being forced to start right away on the inside. There is also question marks on the offensive line that need to be addressed before we
declare them Super Bowl Champions. But, overall, the Eagles should be considered the favorites in the NFC East thanks to an offense that looks to be explosive, and a secondary that it’s going to be next to impossible to throw against.
Ford: I think we should expect the Eagles to win the division and be one of primary contenders for the Super Bowl. In the last few years, playoff success has seemed to hinge on two things, passing the ball, and stopping the pass. Here’s a stat for you: None of the past 3 Super Bowl Champions had an 800 yard rusher in the regular season. Viewing the NFL through this lens, the Eagles secondary and receiving corps are even more impressive. I’d go as far to say that the Eagles should be the favorite to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl.
Rex Grossman boldly predicted the Redskins would win the NFC East, but I think we can agree that’s not going to happen. Is there any chance Washington makes it out of the cellar?
Ford: Right now, the Redskins starters at quarterback and running back are Rex Grossman and Tim Hightower. The Eagles back-ups are Vince Young and Ronnie Brown. The only chance Grossman’s prediction has of coming true is if the starters for every other team in the division retire en masse, and even then it wouldn’t be a sure thing. I don’t think the Redskins have much of a shot of sniffing third place in the division. I think they’d be fortunate to match their 6 wins from last year. Or perhaps unfortunate, as they seem to be buying a ticket for the Andrew Luck lottery.
Mitchell: I think Rex Grossman should nail down the starting QB job before he opens his mouth again. Whoever Washington starts at QB, whether it be Grossman or John Beck, it’s going to be an adventure. I don’t think either are good enough to be starting QB’s in the NFL. Washington made good moves in getting rid of Donovan McNabb and Albert Haynesworth, but I wouldn’t expect any improvement from last year. The ‘Skins should be worse than last season, and I seriously doubt they are able to climb their way out of the cellar.
|3. New York
|3. New York
* = Make playoffs