2012 NFL Season Preview: NFC East

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With the NFL regular season rapidly approaching, let’s take a look at the intriguing NFC East.  Featuring the reigning Super Bowl champions (Giants), the former “Dream Team” turned “dynasty in the making” (Eagles), the league’s most exciting rookie (Robert Griffin III), and America’s team (you know who that is), this division might just prove to be the wildest in the NFL.

 

Giants: Remember the 2008 team that started 11-1 after winning Super Bowl XLI?  This squad could be similar, with a confident defending champion facing a mild early schedule.  They addressed two big depth needs at RB and WR with their first two draft picks (David Wilson and Reuben Randle), while third-rounder CB Jayron Hosley has made some noise in the preseason.  Just ask Mark Sanchez.

What we know for sure is that the defensive line will once again give offenses fits, with every major piece returning up front and Jason Pierre-Paul only improving.  The biggest question will be the offensive line—injuries and age could limit a previously solid group—but it shouldn’t keep them out of the playoffs.  Don’t forget though, the reigning champion 2008 Giants stumbled to a 1-3 finish and fell to the Eagles in their first playoff game. Predicted record: 11-5 (division winner)

Cowboys: While the defense has looked great in preseason, the ‘Boys still have just one quality pass rusher (albeit the league’s scariest in DeMarcus Ware) and it will take time for Morris Claiborne to make an impact in the secondary.  On offense, Tony Romo seems healthy and focused, but his top three targets are far from sure things for this season.  Miles Austin has been bothered by a hamstring, the same injury that kept him out of 6 games last year, and has regressed from his 2009 breakout season as teams have exposed his limitations—beating press coverage and gaining separation deep.  Dez Bryant added to his already extensive list of character issues with a misdemeanor domestic violence charge this summer, while his knee has started bothering him this preseason.  Even worse, the Cowboys’ most reliable player in recent memory, Jason Witten, suffered a lacerated spleen early in Dallas’s first preseason game, likely forcing him to miss his first game since 2003.  They’ve had young receivers surprise with big seasons before (Austin in 2009, Laurent Robinson last year), but Romo will really need someone to step up to help keep the offense afloat.  Don’t count on it happening. Predicted record: 7-9

Redskins: There’s no doubt this team is on the rise, and for reasons beyond the addition of Robert Griffin III.  Former No. 4 overall pick Trent Williams has been shining at left tackle in camp, Pierre Garcon has looked great in the preseason—seeming to develop a rapport with Griffin III–and the defense is filled with young, athletic talent like Ryan Kerrigan, Brian Orakpo (who should be healthy by week 1) and Jarvis Jenkins, just to name a few.

But there will be growing pains.  Sure, RGIII may put up gaudy numbers like Cam Newton did a year ago, but teams figured out Newton in the season’s second half, while his generally solid play did not translate to many wins.  And though Griffin III may be a more polished passer than Newton, his frame won’t handle NFL linebackers quite the way Newton’s can, so durability could be an issue, as we know well from another mobile quarterback in the division.  Washington will be a dangerous team for playoff contenders to play down the stretch, especially if Griffin III stays healthy, but don’t expect them to contend for their own playoff spot.  Predicted record: 6-10

Eagles: This might just be the toughest team to predict in the NFL, in large part due to Michael Vick’s lack of durability.  Sure, this team is stacked all over the field—they not only upgraded their already devastating pass rush, but the trade for Demeco Ryans and drafting of Mychal Kendricks makes for a promising linebacking corps—but it’s hard to expect Vick not to miss at least a game or two this season.  Jason Peters’s absence on the offensive line will be painful, and Vick’s scrambling tendencies will still lead to big hits in the backfield, even if he slides when running downfield.

The timing of any potential injury could be crucial; a mid-season rib injury could leave the Eagles behind the 8-ball and clawing for a playoff spot, but still dangerous contenders should they get in, while a late-season mishap to Vick’s ankle or knee could squander a great regular season’s promise.  The most important player on the roster to keep healthy (other than Vick), must be LeSean McCoy, who had well over 300 touches last year.  His absence would be devastating for Philadelphia, not only by disrupting offensive balance, but by feeding Vick’s gunslinger mentality.  Andy Reid will give Dion Lewis and Chris Polk every opportunity to help shoulder the load so McCoy stays fresh.  Still, in a loaded NFC, Philly could go 10-6 and manage to miss the playoffs.  Predicted record: 10-6

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