NFC East Preview


Every year for the last 4 or 5 years, I have found myself sitting with some friends. Sometimes it was after a fantasy football draft. Sometimes it was in the parking lot of Fed Ex before the opening game. But at any rate, it happened every year, the same group of friends and one would ask, “So, how do you think the Skins are going to do this year?” Every year, I’ve accidentally and independently come up with the same answer…

“Oh, pretty good. Maybe 10-6. Probably 9-7. Yeah, 9-7.”

Some of those years I was an optimist, others a realist, sometimes even a pessimist. Considering we’ve only made the playoffs one of those years, I guess I’m mostly an optimist. I can look at a team’s roster and schedule (see the Chiefs or the Seahawks) and see how it could break poorly. I can’t do that with the Skins. Last year, it should have been obvious to me that if Shawn Springs went down we were in trouble. It should have been obvious it would take a year to adjust to Al Saunder’s offense and for him to adjust to us. I couldn’t.

So, the question hasn’t come up among my friends yet, but I find myself looking at the schedule and asking, “So, how will the Skins do this year” and finding myself compelled to say, “Oh, pretty good. Maybe 10-6. Probably 9-7. Yeah, 9-7.”

Strangely enough, 9-7 might be good enough to win this division. Everyone else is going backwards. Before tackling the Skins, let me tackle the other 3 teams in order of strength.

Dallas-Roster-wise, this team is virtually the same as last year’s team that made the playoffs. But the coaching staff is worse, it is year two of the TO situation and year two is the year he blew up in Philly, and the scouting tape on Tony Romo is out and he will no longer surprise anyone. And that’s the most important data point. Fantasy players in particular probably remember the first five games of the Romo era where he lit up everyone in sight. But he quickly cooled as defensive coordinators caught up. Now he is what he is–a journeyman QB getting a chance to start. Terry Glenn is a year older. The defense is strong but not special. TO may blow up on this team if Romo does implode. This is a team that could go 5-2 at the break and end up 11-5 and one big happy family. It is also a team that could go 3-4 and implode and go 7-9 or 8-8. That’s what I’m calling.

New York-Tom Coughlin is most of the problem. One of the curious things about being a manager or coach in New York is that you have to do what Bill Parcells and Joe Torre have mastered. You have to be firm and strong, but you have to understand that the strip clubs are open until 4AM. In other words, you have to let the guys experience some of the reasons why they moved to New York in the first place and let them be professionals. Tom Coughlin’s “two minutes early is five minutes late” attitude is just not going to cut it in New York. He squeezes the life out of the team. And the player feeling those effects most is Eli Manning. Not that Eli hits the nightlife. In fact, I’d be shocked if Eli could stay conscious if he even saw a naked woman. What I mean is that a surly Jeremy Shockey and a lifeless, characterless offensive team puts the onus on Eli to make news and be generally fabulous. If the back page could be full of stories of who was dating who and who was getting into just a little trouble (the Yankees were at their best when Jeter was dating Mariah Carrey), they wouldn’t be so full of stories about how Eli is not Peyton. Remember when Eli came into the league? He was supposedly a brasher, more athletic version of his brother. He was supposedly the fun one. He isn’t. This team isn’t. And an apathetic, bland team is an 8-8 team.

Philly- This team is going no where until Andy Reid drafts a power back to take some carries away from Brian Westbrook. Westbrook gets too dinged and when he is dinged, the team is one dimensional. Problem is, the defense is getting older and less dominant at the same time McNabb has gotten more accurate and become a serviceable leader. Short a receiver and short a consistent RB, Phill needs McNabb to come back and stay healthy. Unfortunately, even if he’s back, he’s shown no ability to stay healthy. I’m thinking 7-9 is the best they’ll do.

And now to your NFC East Division Champion Washington Redskins! No, we didn’t solve the d-line problem. No, I’m not pleased with the LG spot. And no, I’m not 100% sure Jason Campbell is a playoff ready QB.

So what!

Portis and Betts (particularly Betts) were putting up numbers at the end of the season with injuries to the o-line and with everyone knowing that they were going to run a lot to save Campbell.

Campbell is now into the season where you expect a leap forward from your QB and everything seems to be pointing to that.

Name me an o-line without at least one weak link outside of Denver?

And even though the numbers were down, you have to like the way the receiving corps was built. Moss is the star that can do everything. Lloyd can stretch the field and the defense. Randle-El is a good underneath receiver who can run after the catch.

All of this adds up to an offense which is good enough to win a division.

On defense, I’m not sure whether it will be Springs and Smoot or Springs and Rogers or Rogers and Smoot starting, but I love that our nickel back is one of those three. And love Macklin et al at the dime spot. No team can put out multi-receiver sets and take advantage of mismatches now. And better coverage will mean that our d-line and LBs can put more pressure on the QB.

The linebackers are stacked and deep. London Fletcher knows the D and should transition smoothly. The only fear is that he is a bit undersized and we do not have a Ted Washingotn type to plug the middle. Even if McIntosh isn’t ready to step up, Holdman will be very adequate.

The line is of course a problem. But hey, again, name me a defense without a weakness outside of Baltimore or Chicago. And with the depth in defensive backfield, Greg Williams should be able to blitz more than he was last year. We spent a long time in straight cover 2 shell without the personnel to do it. This will be a league average D at best. But average will get it done.

A look at the schedule shows some very winnable games at the beginning and the end. We play Miami, Detroit, Green Bay and Arizona (plus the tougher New York and Philly) to start the season. I figure that’s an easy 3-1. Split the other two NFC East games and we start 4-2.

We then go into a tough stretch with nearly guaranteed loses to the Pats and Jets and then tough games against the Eagles again and the Cowboys at home. We will hopefully go 1-3 there putting us at a very human looking 5-5.

But have no fear. Our season ends with easy wins against Buffalo, Tampa, and the Vikings. What separates us then from the playoffs are games against Chicago, Dallas (at home) and the Giants (away). We’ve had great success against Chicago recently and even if we lose to them and the Giants on the road, it sets up something pretty cool.

Imagine this as a way to end the season: The 8-7 Cowboys visiting the 8-7 Redskins on the final game of the season for the division and a berth in the playoffs. Fed Ex might fall down from the noise that day. I’ll guarantee if it comes to this, Redskins fans can will us to victory.

With that in mind, I predict 9-7, division champs, and…and…well to find out how we do in the playoffs come back tomorrow for play off predictions!