DALLAS COWBOYS The Cowboys were one playmaker away from making the playoffs last season and they added one of best, at least on the field, by signing Terrell Owens. Now it is obvious that Owens is not the best of citizens off the field, but Bill Parcells may be the perfect coach to keep him relatively in check. When he has his head on straight, Owens is the best receiver in the game, and he answered questions about his fortitude by having over 100 yards receiving in the Super Bowl on one leg two years ago. Besides Owens has a history of not opening his mouth until at least his second year with a team, so we think he will carry the Cowboys to the division title this year.
His presence should make Terry Glenn even better, and Dallas also drafted a pass-catching tight end in Anthony Fasano of Notre Dame in the second round. Drew Bledsoe is still a productive NFL quarterback with the right surroundings, and he does not figure to force as many passes as last year with his added receiving options. The running back tandem of Julius Jones and Marion Barber could be great, and the Cowboys also signed kicker Mike Vanderjagt away from the Colts. The defense won some games on its own last year, and a similar effort could mean 12 wins this year with an improved offense. Dallas has the best defensive line in football, as Marcus Spears, Chris Canty, Greg Ellis and DeMarcus Ware could all be starters if they were not on the same team! This will come in handy when the Cowboys face immobile quarterbacks inside the division like Manning and Brunell. Look for the Dallas Cowboys to win the NFC East in 2006.
NEW YORK GIANTS The Giants improved to 11-5 last season while winning the division in their second season with Eli Manning under center. However we still have our doubts that this team was as good as its record, and with the improvement of Dallas this year and with Washington having a great defense, we see the Giants falling to third in 2006. Yes Manning improved over his rookie season, but he still did not look as polished as he need to be to consistently win in the NFL, and he was downright horrific in the home playoff loss to Carolina. His interceptions were still rather high at 17, and we want to see some more improvement before crowning him as the savior of this franchise as other people have. Also remember that running back Tiki Barber had a year from the gods last season, and we just do not see him coming close to those MVP-type numbers this year. Manning does have a nice target in Plaxico Burress, who helped his passing numbers last year with some acrobatic catches, but we are not crazy about the rest of the wide receivers. Tight end Jeremy Shockey is one of the best in the game, but he may be injury-plagued after missing time each of the last two seasons. Finally the Giants could still use some help on the offensive line. The defense almost looks like two different units, as the front seven was one of the best in the league last season and should be even better this year with the addition of linebacker LaVar Arrington. However the secondary was exposed quite a bit in 2005 when opposing quarterbacks were able to buy some time, and the Giants added no real help in that area. Now do not get us wrong, this is still a good football team. However we feel that the New York Giants were rather lucky last season, and we see a more realistic third place finish this year.
The Eagles made the rare descent from first to worst last season, bringing up the rear in the NFC East after going to the Super Bowl in 2004. As much of a distraction as Terrell Owens was, there can be no denying the impact he had on this team on the field. The receiving corps is simply one of the worst in football right now, with the likes of L.J. Smith and Jabar Gaffney expected to get extended playing time. The Eagles did draft wide receiver Jason Avant of Michigan in the fourth round, but we though that was a curious choice as he is another possession-type receiver, and not the speed threat that this club desperately needs. Now Donavan McNabb still may be is one of the better quarterbacks in the league, but it is virtually impossible for him to display his passing skills right now given the mediocrity surrounding him. We also have our doubts about the running game unless the talented Brian Westbrook can stay healthy. When Westbrook is on the field, he is one of the more underrated backs in the league as there is nothing that he cannot do. However he has yet to have an injury-free season since entering the NFL. After the defense helped the Eagles reach the Super Bowl two seasons ago, it fell back to 21st in the league last year. This unit was especially brutal against the run, allowing an unacceptable 117.7 rushing yards per game. Philadelphia took a bit of a gamble by selecting defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkey in the first round of the draft in an attempt to plug up the run defense, but he is a raw work in progress right now. We do think the Eagles made a great pick with defensive end Chris Gocing in the third round, but he is a natural pass rusher that is not known for stuffing the run. We do not see much veteran help to the defense, which virtually assures another last place finish for the Philadelphia Eagles in 2006. Prediction for 2006: 4th Place NFC East
WASHINGTON REDSKINS The Redskins have one of the best defenses in the NFL, and that unit alone makes the Skins darkhorse candidates to reach the Super Bowl. However the offense is not on par with the defense, so another second place finish in the division and another wild card berth seem more realistic. Mark Brunell returns at quarterback, and he actually had a nice bounce-back year in 2005 with 23 touchdown passes against 10 interceptions after taking over for Patrick Ramsey early in the year. Brunell may be hard-pressed to duplicate those numbers this year though, as he no longer has the mobility at his age that he once had and that is a detriment in a division full of defenses that rush the passer well. If he does get time to throw the ball, at least he has some nice receiving targets in Santana Moss and the newly acquired Antwaan Randle El, signed as a free agent. Clinton Portis tops the depth chart at running back, and as explosive as he is, he is always an injury risk at his smallish size. Washington does have one of the better back-up running backs in the league in Ladell Betts. The defense was terrific in 2005, carrying this team back into the playoffs where it stymied Tampa Bay in the first round before losing in Seattle. Most of the starters are back with the notable exception of linebacker LaVar Arrington, lost in free agency to the Giants. However the Skins quickly reloaded at the linebacking position by selecting Rocky McIntosh from Miami Florida with their first pick of the draft. McIntosh was considered a blue-chip selection with great speed for the position, and he could easily wind up being an immediate starter. As long as the rest of the defense performs as well as it did last year, the Washington Redskins should again finish second in the NFC East and earn another wild card spot.
Prediction for 2006: 2nd Place NFC East, Wild Card
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