There is no tougher division in the NFC and maybe no tougher division in football than the NFC East. It's balanced, and it's deep in talent.
So deep, in fact, that three of the conference's six playoff teams are here. Only Philadelphia, which once went to four straight conference championship games, missed out last season.
Dallas is the prohibitive favorite because, plain and simple, the Cowboys are loaded. But that's on paper. Let's see what happens if and when they have an identity crisis. There are egos the size of Texas Stadium on this roster, and that could be trouble if they idle.
The Giants are the reigning Super Bowl champs, yet they haven't been given much of a chance here -- and that's more because of Dallas' strength than anything. Now, however, the loss of star defensive end Osi Umenyiora could have Big Blue battling Philadelphia for second.
If there's a consensus pick here it's Washington for fourth, and for no other reason than Jim Zorn and Jason Campbell. We know nothing of Zorn as a head coach and little of Campbell, other than he's the fourth-best quarterback in the NFC East.
Still, the Redskins reached the playoffs two of the last three years, so they must be watched. Heck, so should everyone in this division. It's that good.
Significant additions: LB Zach Thomas, CB Adam Jones, RB Felix Jones, CB Michael Jenkins.
Significant losses: RB Julius Jones, LB Akin Ayodele, WR Terry Glenn, S Keith Davis, CB Jacques Reeves, TE Anthony Fasano, CB Nate Jones, DT Jason Ferguson.
|Predicted Order of Finish|
|1. Giants||2008 standings: 12-4|
|2. Eagles||2008 standings: 9-6-1|
|3. Redskins||2008 standings: 8-8|
|4. Cowboys||2008 standings: 9-7|
Biggest offseason move: Acquiring the troubled Adam (don't call me "Pacman") Jones. The Cowboys say this is a low-risk, high-reward move, but we won't know until after this season. He hasn't played in a year-and-a-half and might be more valuable as a returner.
Will go to the playoffs if ... They don't pull an el foldo down the stretch. There is no more talented team in the NFC, but the Cowboys haven't won a playoff game since December 1996 and are 4-7 in December and January under Tony Romo.
Rookie to watch: RB Felix Jones. He was drafted because he's a big-play threat, an elusive back who can catch and is dangerous in the open field.
Overview: Maybe this is the year of the coronation, I don't know. The Cowboys are loaded. There is depth everywhere. And the division seems set up for them to stay on top. Except ... except there's that pesky thing called the playoffs. Dallas hasn't figured it out in over a decade, and coach Wade Phillips is 0-4 there for his career.
Significant additions: S Sammy Knight, DE Renaldo Wynn, QB David Carr, LB Danny Clark, S Kenny Phillips, WR Mario Manningham, CB Terrell Thomas.
Significant losses: DE Michael Strahan, DE Osi Umenyiora (injury), TE Jeremy Shockey, S Gibril Wilson, LB Kawika Mitchell, LB Reggie Torbor, DT William Joseph.
Biggest offseason move: Trading away Shockey. He became a disruption, so he had to go. He's more talented than Kevin Boss, but Boss is more coachable. Big difference. File this one under addition by subtraction.
RB: Marion Barber (10th overall)
QB: Tony Romo (13th overall)
WR: Terrell Owens (14th overall)
TE: Jason Witten (41st overall)
RB: Brandon Jacobs (40th overall)
QB: Eli Manning (80th overall)
WR: Plaxico Burress (36th overall)
TE: Kevin Boss (174th overall)
RB: Brian Westbrook (3rd overall)
QB: Donovan McNabb (45th overall)
WR: Kevin Curtis (94th overall)
TE: L.J. Smith (162nd overall)
RB: Clinton Portis (12th overall)
QB: Jason Campbell (119th overall)
WR: Santana Moss (83rd overall)
TE: Chris Cooley (60th overall)
|Complete Fantasy Draft Prep|
Will go to the playoffs if ... Eli Manning plays as he did down the stretch, and they find a suitable replacement for the injured Osi Umenyiora. Good luck.
Rookie to watch: S Kenny Phillips. People with the club tell me he's the second coming of Brian Dawkins, and I believe it after watching him in training camp. He will start. The only question is when.
Overview: I liked the Giants until Umenyiora bowed out for the season. OK, so one guy doesn't make a defense, but this was the team's best pass rusher and the defense's most valuable member. I don't know how you overcome that, but the Giants will try by moving Mathias Kiwanuka back to defensive end. Now they keep their fingers crossed at linebacker.
Significant additions: CB Asante Samuel, DE Chris Clemons, RB Lorenzo Booker, LB Rocky Boiman, TE Kris Wilson, DT Trevor Laws, WR DeSean Jackson.
Significant losses: DE Jevon Kearse, LB Takeo Spikes, CB William James, FB Thomas Tapeh, DT LaJuan Ramsey.
Biggest offseason move: Signing Samuel. The Eagles had a league-low 19 takeaways last season, including 11 interceptions. Samuel had a league-high 16 interceptions the past two seasons. It doesn't take a genius to figure out why he fits.
Who will win the NFC East?
Total Votes: 19,627
Will go to the playoffs if ... They can keep Donovan McNabb healthy -- which means keeping the offensive line intact -- and produce a pass rush. Coordinator Jim Johnson likes what he has, particularly at linebacker, but his front seven better produce more heat than the one that last year had 37 sacks.
Rookie to watch: It has to be wide receiver DeSean Jackson. He's a breakaway threat, particularly as a return specialist, and finds enough holes in the defense that he led the Eagles receivers in catches this summer.
Overview: I like what this team does because Andy Reid always has a plan. But you have to have weapons, too, and right now I don't know if they have enough to scare Dallas, particularly with Kevin Curtis sidelined indefinitely. Yeah, Jackson looks good, but he's a rookie, he's small and he's not suited to being a No. 1 target. So who's numero uno? Good question.
Significant additions: DE Jason Taylor, DE Erasmus James, WR Devin Thomas, TE Fred Davis, WR Malcolm Kelly.
Significant losses: DE Phillip Daniels (injury), QB Mark Brunell, S Pierson Prioleau.
Biggest offseason move: Trading for Taylor. The Redskins ranked last in the division in sacks. Having Taylor and Andre Carter as defensive ends will make it tough to protect the quarterback.
Will go to the playoffs if ... They can survive the first five games. They play all three division opponents, and all on the road. We'll learn a lot about Jim Zorn and his quarterback, Jason Campbell, in the first month and a half.
Rookie to watch: I'll take TE Fred Davis. I know, I know, the Redskins already have a terrific pass catcher in tight end Chris Cooley. But Davis looked good this summer and will be used in two tight-end sets. He should make an impact.
Overview: Poor Washington. It's in the NFC's most brutal division and has the most inexperienced head coach. Zorn goes from quarterbacks coach to taking on Dallas, Philadelphia and the Giants, but Washington hopes he can do for the Redskins what former QB coach Andy Reid did for Philadelphia. If Campbell makes a leap forward he has a chance.
|NFC East Training Camp Tour|
|Dallas||Cowboys: Five things | One man vs. One fan | Out of Nowhere Man | Expectations|
|New York||Giants: Five things | One man vs. One fan | Out of Nowhere Man | Expectations|
|Philadelphia||Eagles: Five things | One man vs. One fan | Out of Nowhere Man | Expectations|
|Washington||Redskins: Five things | One man vs. One fan | Out of Nowhere Man | Expectations|