NFL

Schultz: NFC East is the Hollywood division of pro football

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Chris Schultz
8/27/2012 4:27:13 PM
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Ah yes, the NFC East.  The Hollywood division of pro football. 

The Dallas Cowboys have an extravagant owner, a receiver who can't stay out of trouble, and that silver and blue star that is recognized around the world.  The Philadelphia Eagles never seem to win the big one, but they feature a QB who did time and one of the fastest and most exciting receivers in the game. Then there is the New York Super Bowl Giants - enough said. And finally, there is the Washington Redskins.  The team based in the capital of the United States is headlined by a billionaire owner who tries to buy a championship every year and fails. This year he took a different approach and paid a heavy price in draft picks to get one of the most exciting and hyped draft prospects ever. 

The NFC East is a movie producers dream.

Philadelphia Eagles:  The easy pick to win the NFC East is the Philadelphia Eagles. They won their last four games in a row by dominate scores and you sensed that it was all coming together, but maybe that was  because they were 4-8 when the streak started and the pressure was off. Athletically, no one can compete with this team's speed at all positions, and only Robert Griffin in Washington can potentially make everything out of nothing like Micheal Vick.  If Vick can say healthy all year he will improve every game.  He is at that point in his career where he should never be the reason they lose.

A big unknown is left tackle, as Jason Peters is out for the year. As offensive lineman go, he was an impact player. Another unknown is the emotional result of Andy Reid's personal life after he lost his son Garrett during training camp. As time moves on, the intensity will defuse and the focus on football will come back, but in a stressful job, having more stress piled on top can't help. 

Teams have had success against the Eagles when they ran on the interior of the Philadelphia defence, and attacked Vick from the outside in. I am sure the Eagles can adjust and improve given time and practice.

The Eagles only lost one game in the NFC East last year - to the Giants.  Against the Cowboys they held Tony Romo's offence to only seven points in both games. Still, as a team they have a lot to prove as it seems the quality of personnel is not reflected in their record.  In the final analysis, I think they have so much speed everywhere that it's hard not to think the Eagles will finish first in the NFC East. 

Dallas Cowboys:  After two disappointing seasons, I expect Dallas to win 10 games in 2012. In order for this to happen, though, RB DeMarco Murray must stay healthy. With Murray in the backfield, the offence clicked in every way, but when he was injured nothing seemed to work.  Murry is not just their best RB, he's the Cowboys' best young player outside of left tackle Tyron Smith.

On the opposite side, pass defence is the top concern, as Dallas allowed almost 4,000 yards in the air in each of the last two seasons.  It makes sense, then, that Dallas' first four draft pick were cornerback, defensive end, linebacker and safety. And in free agency paid heavily for another cornerback and another safety. In a division where you have to play Victor Cruz and DeSean Jackson twice, that makes sense.

Tony Romo is now 32 years old. As a QB he is entering his prime years, and is going to be protected with more consistency this season. Dallas spent a lot of money for two new guards to work with the returning tackles, who are very good.  In fact, Dallas has a lot of great individual talent . Jay Ratliff to me is a top five nose-tackle. Sean Lee is a great linebacker and with newly signed LB Dan Conner, they are set there for years. Tyron Smith, Demarcus Ware, Jason Witten, Dez Bryant, the list of talented players goes on and on - but must build a team.

A lot will be said Week One when Dallas plays the Giants in New York.  Owner Jerry Jones has identified his desire to begin the season by beating the best. If they do, it will set up a confident team for weeks to come. If they don't, the Giants will have the advantage for the return visit. As always, the time is now in Dallas, but they will still finish behind the Eagles.

New York Giants:  In many ways the Giants season was one of the most interesting and unusual in recent NFL memory. Were the Giants the best team in the NFL, or did they just play their best at the end of the season during the Super Bowl run? In mid-December, the Giants were 7-7, but then they won six in a row, never giving up more than 20 points a game over that time. Jason Pierre-Paul became a popular name, Eli Manning became an elite QB, and Victor Cruz went from a guy desperate to make the team in August to being an All-Pro they can't do without.  And how can a team win the Super Bowl while being last in rushing offence? 

Getting back to the Super Bowl will take much of the same formula that got them their last year; dominant defensive line play, fourth quarter comeback wins through Manning Eli Manning and another game breaking year from Cruz. And a better running game can't hurt.

But can they do all that again? I guess with a coach like Tom Coughlin, who has 142 regular season wins , 12 playoff wins and two Super Bowl wins, the Giants have a leader who can destroy complacency. It is harder to recreate success than create it the first time, and that will be the Giants No. 1 challenge.  Live for today and forget yesterday - but it's easier said than done and I am not sure they can do it. I pick the Giants to finish third in the NFC East . 

Washington RedskinsRobert Griffin III. I can't remember a rookie in Redskins history with more expectations based on college success and ability. I am sure Griffin will be entertaining and special to watch, but does he have enough good players around him to maximize his ability and produce a winning season?   In some ways Mike Shanahan has rolled the dice on his career to get Griffin, as St. Louis has the Redskins next two first round picks. If Griffin has not lead his team to playoffs by then, I doubt Mike Shanahan will see year four.

Two players who were not healthy all last year have to be this year. Left tackle Trent Williams is spectacular at times, but he needs to maintain it all year long. And Chris Cooley, as a pass catching fullback and tight-end can help Griffin more than anyone by always being in the right place at the right time.

On defence the Redskins have a good front seven. Brian Arakpo and Ryan Kerrigan are exceptional, but the best player is their oldest.  London Fletcher is 37 years old and has 224 NFL starts since 1998 when he was originally a St. Louis Ram. And last year he lead the NFL in tackles with 166.

The speed at which Griffin masters an NFL offence is how fast the Redskins become a playoff team. But in year one in a brutal division, it's fourth place for the fifth year in a row.

Michael Vick (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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