Wednesday, September 8, 2010

2010 NFL Predictions - NFC East

In what turned out to be a two team race, the Cowboys held off the fast charging Eagles to win the NFC East for the second time in three years. Philly went on a six game win streak and had a chance to close out the season with a division-winning victory at Dallas but got smoked 24-0 in a game that wasn’t as close as the score indicated. The Cowboys spanked them again the next week in a wild card matchup to put an emphatic end to the Eagles’ season. Dallas went on to lose badly the next week at Minnesota. The Giants finished a distant third, and Washington was an uncompetitive fourth.

Predicted order of finish

1) Dallas Cowboys
After losing 34-3 in the NFC divisional round playoff matchup against the Vikings, it was apparent that the Cowboys had some work to do before they could qualify as an elite team. One guy working his way into the elite at his position is 5th year starter, Tony Romo who threw for a career high 4,483 yards last year. Also, his 9 INTs were a career low. Marion Barber ran for another 900+ yards last year and scored 7 times, but there are whispers that he’s no longer going to be the primary back in Dallas. Part of it is a question of Barber’s durability, but more of it probably has to do with the explosive Felix Jones. The third year back from Arkansas is the Cowboys’ homerun hitter out of the backfield and has to be utilized a lot more this coming season as long as his health permits. I don’t see how you can keep a guy like that on the bench. At receiver, Miles Austin had a breakout of breakout seasons in ’09 finishing with 1,320 receiving yards (3rd best in NFL) and 81 receptions (12th). Defenses will be better prepared to stop him this season, but there are too many weapons to focus too much on Austin. One player I’m not counting in that category is Roy Williams. In his two years as a Cowboy, Williams has disappointed more than any other player. 74 receptions in two seasons isn’t exactly what Jerry Jones had in mind when giving up the farm and the bank to acquire him. He could get bumped down the depth chart early on in the season if Dez Bryant starts to develop. The Cowboys rescued the free falling WR in April’s draft, picking him up at a bargain 24th overall. A large, physical playmaker, Bryant could be big trouble across someone like Austin.

Reasons for optimism –
-The non-statistical development/growth by Tony Romo
-Jason Witten comes off his third straight 80+ catch season and continues to be one of the elite TEs in the game.
-The talent and depth at LB

Potential pessimistic pitfalls –
-Doug Free shows to be a huge drop off from Flozell Adams at LT
-Slow development by Dez Bryant and the usual from Roy Williams stall a potentially potent offense
-Jessica Simpson resurfaces

2) Philadelphia Eagles
After 10 consecutive years, the Philadelphia Eagles will enter an NFL season without Donovan McNabb as their #1 QB. A fairly amicable divorce sent McNabb to the division rival Redskins and left a clear path for Kevin Kolb to claim the starting role. Kolb is a big armed, accomplished passer from Houston, but he’s yet to feel the flames that come with being a starting QB in the NFL. How he fares, no one knows, but Andy Reid and the Eagles are confidently handing him the reigns of the offense. When Kolb drops back to pass, he’ll be throwing to possibly the most dynamic starting duo in the league in DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin. Jackson is the explosive deep threat who sometimes forgets to take the football into the endzone with him. Maclin is a more polished receiver but nonetheless dangerous. I think the latter has a huge season. TE Brent Celek had a monster year in ’09 catching 76 passes and finishing just shy of 1,000 yards. A reliable TE is a young QBs best friend, so look for Celek’s numbers to stay in that range. McNabb isn’t the only Philadelphia fixture to exit in ’09. Longtime #1 back Brian Westbrook has been beaten, bruised, and concussed quite a bit over the last few seasons, making it a bit easier I’m sure for them to turn over backfield duties to second year back LeSean McCoy. In his rookie campaign, McCoy showed the combination fo rushing and receiving that made him such a threat at Pitt. With Mike Bell and Eldra Buckley behind him on the depth chart, McCoy faces zero competition for touches.

Reasons for optimism –
-Adding Brandon Graham as a pass rusher opposite the psycho Trent Cole in April’s draft
-The healthy return of MLB Stewart Bradley
-5 possible long term offensive building blocks – Kolb, McCoy, Jackson, Maclin, and Celek

Potential pessimistic pitfalls –
-Kevin Kolb and/or LeSean McCoy struggles under the spotlight
-Injuries and poor play once again plague the OL
-Any extended absence by a starting corner; zero depth could really hurt them in a division that should have really high passing numbers

3) Washington Redskins
Thankfully and not soon enough for Redskins fans, the Jim Zorn era has come to an end. In his place steps Super Bowl winning head coach Mike Shanahan. The second major personnel upgrade Washington made was trading for Donovan McNabb. No he’s not the most durable QB in the league. Yes, he’ll be 34 before the season ends. Yes he’s lost a step or two due to age and injury. All that said, the guy is a gamer, has dealt with just about every challenge you can face as a QB, and is still a productive pro. If Shanahan stays Shanahan you’re going to see a run heavy ZBS WCO, so that means Clinton Portis, who was jettisoned to Washington by Shanahan, should be a significant offensive factor once again. I think the player to watch out for on offense this year is TE Chris Cooley. Look for him and McNabb to hook up early and often. The Redskins were strong defensively last year, but little of that had to do with the $100 million addition of DT Albert Haynesworth who had his worst season in years in ’09. Throw in his unhappiness with Washington moving to a 3-4 defense, his pathetic physical conditioning, and lack of both commitment and professionalism, and it’s not much of a surprise that Washington was looking to move him this offseason

Reasons for optimism –
-An obvious upgrade at head coach can do nothing but help the floundering franchise
-The McNabb-Cooley combo will really be one to watch in my opinion
-Brian Orakpo, who shined as a rookie, gets to open it up more as a 3-4 OLB this year

Potential pessimistic pitfalls –
-Clinton Portis is caput
-Albert Haynesworth becomes a real problem
-They fail to get any coverage help from the safety position, leaving them open to big plays

4) New York Giants
The Giants got off to a hot start last year, winning their first five games, including three straight on the road. Unfortunately, they followed that up with a four game losing streak and never won two in a row the rest of the way. The problem wasn’t so much the offense, a unit that ranked 8th in the league with 366 yards per game. Eli Manning finished with the 10th most passing yards in the league (4,021) and an 8th best 27 TDs. Eli is never going to be the steadiest or most confidence-inspiring QB in the league, but he took a big step forward last year as a passer and more importantly a leader. The recipient of a lot most of Manning’s passes was Steve Smith. The third year receiver exploded in ’09 for 107 receptions, good for second in the league behind Wes Welker. Tom Coughlin is stubbornly (shocking, I know) going to keep a pretty even split in running back duties between Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs. Bradshaw is the far more explosive, versatile weapon and, in an ideal world, would get a considerable split of the carries.

Reasons for optimism –
-Steve Smith and a developing Hakeem Nicks should give Manning consistent threats out wide
-They’re a much better team with Antrel Rolle and a healthy Kenny Phillips at safety
-Justin Tuck, Mathias Kiwanuka, and Osi Umenyiora appear healthy and somewhat happy

Potential pessimistic pitfalls –
-The OL continues its decline
-The middle of the DL is again susceptible to the run
-Jonathan Goff can’t handle the MLB job

Conference Awards
MVP (best talent in biggest role) – Tony Romo (QB, Cowboys)
Offensive POY (most impressive season) – LeSean McCoy (RB, Eagles)
Defensive POY – DeMarcus Ware (OLB, Cowboys)
Offensive ROY – Dez Bryant (WR, Cowboys)
Defensive ROY – Nate Allen (FS, Eagles)
Offensive Breakout Player – Jeremy Maclin (WR, Eagles)
Defensive Breakout Player – Alan Ball (FS, Cowboys)

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