NFL 2009 – NFC East preview
The NFC's highest profile division more than lived up to expectation in 08 as the Super Bowl XLII champions New York Giants were followed into the play-offs by Jake Westbrook and the red-hot Philadelphia Eagles.
On the gridiron the action was hot but, as so often with the NFC West, the media headlines were almost as interesting to watch with Terrell Owens and Plaxico Burress both competing to make the biggest stink in the press.
Owens finally got his move away from Texas and Burress seems to have learned that shooting yourself in the leg is never a great move - at least Michael Vick's arrival in Philadelphia will keep the headline writers salivating over the division though. Aside of the scandals who is best placed for a play-off charge?
Terrell Owens did his utmost best to destroy team spirit in the Cowboys locker room last year claiming Tony Romo ignored him in favour of tight end Jason Witten. The wide receiver's ploy certainly seemed to work as Dallas ended the season 1-3, missing out on play-off action to their divisional rival Eagles, and and earned Owens a move to Buffalo.
We now have to see whether the removal of Owens has positive or negative effects on a Cowboys offence that blew hot and cold last term. The loud mouth won't be missed but his ability to out-run and out-jump corners definitely will be - Roy Williams has to step up and provide a deep threat. If Romo can became less erratic and get rolling early then the offence looks sound, especially with the triple threat of Marion Barber, Felix Jones and Tashard Choice all fit and healthy.
The Cowboy's pass rushing was superb last season with DeMarcus Ware posting a career high 20 sacks. Ware is fast becoming one of the most feared linebackers in the NFL and his continuing presence only bodes well for the defensive unit. What doesn't look quite so promising are the departures of several key elements including the other Roy Williams and Anthony Henry. It's still a tough unit but I'd have liked to have seen at least some upgrade.
Prediction: 4th - Wade Phillips is not the man to lead Dallas any further
New York Giants
The Giants went from surprise Super Bowl winners to outright favourites in 2008 and it proved a title that they were unable to live up to. Plaxico Burress' self-imposed injury was undeniably a killer while Eli Manning didn't reach the highs that brought the title to Giants Stadium as they fell at the first post season hurdle to the Philadelphia Eagles.
In their championship season the Giants thrived on the under-dog tag but they now need to learn how to cope with being favourites. Eli Manning may not be at the same level as Peyton but he's more than adequate and the rush support he receives is magnificent. Brandon Jacobs is simply awesome while Ahmad Bradshaw offers a change of style that aids to a dominant ground assault. Tom Coughlin moved swiftly in off-loading Burress so Steve Smith or Domenik Hixon need to step up - they certainly look to be capable.
If the offence is good then some brilliant free agency pick-ups have made the defence even better. Chris Canty is a daunting prospect for offensive linemen and Rocky Bernard provides great strength up-front. Add in the return to health of DE Osi Umenyiora and then you're looking at a defence that can only be rivalled by the Steelers.
Prediction: 1st barring injuries the Giants should romp it
The Eagles stumbled out of the blocks in 08 but were ultimately unlucky not to go to a first Super Bowl since 2004. A 32-25 loss in the NFC Championship game against Kurt Warner's blazing Arizona Cardinals was tough to take especially since the defence had been so rock solid throughout the regular season but coach Andy Reid will feel his side are capable of another charge this time.
Brian Westbrook is, without doubt, the key to any success and it's vital he has no hangover from off-season surgery. The all action HB runs and catches as well as anyone in the NFL and is the one element in Philadelphia's make-up that they just cannot be without. Donovan McNabb needs a big year to finally get the doubters off his back and he should benefit from two good targets in the returning DeSean Jackson and rookie receiver Jeremy Maclin.
On the defensive side the big question is how they will cope without Brian Dawkins. Dawkins was the heart and soul of a very good Eagles defence last year and it's a given that somebody else needs to embody his spirit. Ellis Hobbs was a solid pick-up from the Patriots and the two Quintins, Mikell and Demps are both extremely talented safeties -I'm just a bit worried that the intensity level will have fallen irreparably.
Prediction: 3rd and chasing hard all the way
There was something a bit limp about Washington's 2008 as they blazed out behind Clinton Portis' form only to fizzle away quietly, ending the year rooted to the bottom of the East albeit with a respectable 8-8 record. Redskins' management obviously felt the same and with some great, but costly free agency pick-ups they look to possess a genuine play-off contender.
During the off-season, rumours around DC said that Jay Cutler would be showing his arm off at FedExField but, as we now know, they never materialised. It means Jason Campbell gets another year at QB and he'll be desperate to show that he can consistently produce on a weekly basis. Whether he can or not depends and, to the same degree, whether the offence fires, depends massively on Portis and his health. Santana Moss and Antwaan Randle El also need to post career numbers.
The big move came on the defence and the acquisition of the NFL's best nose tackle Albert Haynesworth. The former Tennessee Titan plays with attitude and aggression and will be expected to be a difference maker in a line that struggled getting to the quarterback last year. He'll need help from the likes of Fred Smoot and the often too emotional DeAngelo Hall but it is the makings of a solid unit that won't give too much away.
Prediction: 2nd could be a surprise package