|TheInsiders.com 2004 NFL Football Preview|
|NFC EAST||NFC NORTH||NFC SOUTH||NFC WEST||AFC EAST||AFC NORTH||AFC SOUTH||AFC WEST|
|2004 DALLAS COWBOYS|
Denis Savage, SilverStarDigest.Com
Last season's record: 10-6
Last Playoff appearance: 2003
Key matchup(s): Dec.19 @ Philadelphia, Dec. 26 in Washington
Star Power: RB Eddie George ( 6-3 235 ), WR Keyshawn Johnson ( 6-3 215 ), CB Terence Newman ( 5-10 -190 ), DE Marcellus Wiley ( 6-5 282 )
Notable Additions: QB Vinny Testaverde, RB Eddie George, WR Keyshawn Johnson ( 6-3 215 ), CB Terence Newman ( 5-10 -190 ), DE Marcellus Wiley ( 6-5 282 )
Notable Subtractions: QB Quincy Carter, RB Troy Hambrick, DE Ebenezer Ekuban, WR Joey Galloway
Offensive Overview: It wasn’t that long ago that Vinny Testaverde was too old for the New York Jets. Now he is even older. But he is a Bill Parcells guy and that counts for a lot. Instead of the uncertainty the offense had with Quincy Carter, Testaverde will bring quiet efficiency. Despite his age, he can still lead the offense and with a familiar target, Keyshawn Johnson, he can reclaim the glory days he had previously under Parcells. Ball control, time management and winning the turnover battle is what will be stressed on offense and Dallas brought in Eddie George to run the ball. Many have said he is done, but he is the type of guy that the Raiders have brought in over the years – something to prove and an anger to go with it. Look for Testaverde to spread the ball around and George to take on the form that made him special as a Titan.
Defensive Overview: ‘A defense is to be feared,’ Parcells would decree. And his defense in Dallas has the potential to again be among the best in the league. Roy Williams headlines the secondary and has become a fearsome hitter. Terence Newman is evolving into one of the great cover corners. Dat Nguyen leads the linebackers and up front they have a plethora of talent. After leading the league in fewest yards allowed in 2003, they are primed to be even better this year. The maturation of the secondary and edition of Marcellus Wiley up front has made opposing offenses cringe. Coach Parcells is just the guy to get Wiley back on track and getting sacks.
Special Teams Overview: Billy Cundiff was solid from inside 40 a year ago but early camp struggles could easily put him in the doghouse with the coach. New punter Mat McBriar is said to have a leg comparable to Darren Bennet. Ironically, it was Bennett who urged McBriar to test his wares in college. If the rookie is close to his mentor, he will be a positive for the Boys. The return game is a little unsettled with Julius Jones expected to get some shots at returns. Parcells impresses upon his troops the importance of special teams and they should do well, despite the lack of experience.
The Cowboys can win ten games this year. It won’t be easy but Testaverde puts the offense in capable and stable hands. He knows that limiting turnovers will be essential to the team’s success. The defense will be solid again and turning your back on a Parcells coached team is certain doom.
|2004 NEW YORK GIANTS|
Ken Palmer, GiantInsider.Net
Last season's record: 4-12 (eight-game losing streak to end season), last in NFC East and tied for last in NFC
Last Playoff appearance: 2002, 39-38 loss in San Francisco to 49ers in NFC WildCard game
Key matchup(s): Sept. 12 in Philadelphia, Sept. 19 vs. Washington, Oct. 10 in Dallas, Dec. 5 in Washington
Star Power: DE Michael Strahan (6-5, 275), RB Tiki Barber (5-10, 200), TE Jeremy Shockey (6-5, 255), QB Kurt Warner (6-2, 220), QB Eli Manning (6-4, 218), WR Amani Toomer (6-3, 202)
Top returnees: DE Michael Strahan (6-5, 275), RB Tiki Barber (5-10, 200), TE Jeremy Shockey (6-5, 255), WR Amani Toomer (6-3, 202), CB Will Peterson (6-0, 197), CB Will Allen (5-10, 192), SS Shaun Williams (6-2, 215), LT Luke Petitgout (6-6, 315), P Jeff Feagles (6-1, 127)
Notable Additions: LB Carlos Emmons (6-5, 250), Philadelphia; LB Barrett Green (6-0, 225), Detroit; DT Norman Hand (6-3, 325), Seattle; C Shaun O'Hara (6-3, 306), Cleveland; QB Kurt Warner (6-2, 220), St. Louis; FS Brent Alexander (5-11, 200), Pittsburgh
Notable Subtractions: QB Kerry Collins (Oakland), DT Cornelius Griffin (Washington), LB Micheal Barrow (Washington), LB Dhani Jones (Philadelphia), LB Brandon Short (Carolina)
Offensive Overview: From the moment Tom Coughlin took the reins of the New York Giants, he talked about controlling and dominating both lines of scrimmage. It's that exact position on offense that holds the fate for New York's success in 2004. The offensive talent is plentiful with a pair of superb quarterbacks in Kurt Warner and Eli Manning. Sparkplug back Tiki Barber will receive an assist from former Heisman Trophy winner Ron Dayne this year and the receivers - tight end Jeremy Shockey, flanker Ike Hilliard and split end Amani Toomer - are a trio most teams would trade for.
That said, none of Coughlin's new offensive philosophies will work unless the Giants can put together a starting five worthy of playing with all the offensive talent around them. Luke Petitgout anchors the line from the left tackle spot, but the Giants are already down to Plan C at left guard, where both Rich Seubert, who was lost to a broken leg last season, and Barry Stokes, recently placed on Injured Reserve with a back injury, are out. The promise from the line lies on the right side, where former guard David Diehl slides out to tackle and super-rookie Chris Snee, New York's second pick in the 2004 Draft, mans the guard spot.
The pieces are in place for the Giants to return to the successful offensive unit they were in 2002; now it's all up to the O-line to give Warner, Manning and Co. the time and space to operate.
Defensive Overview: Tim Lewis came on board after serving four years as Pittsburgh's defensive coordinator and he brought his aggressive, attack-style defense with him. Throughout the preseason, the Giants only showed a little of what Lewis plans to unleash on the opposition once the season begins. The constant emphasis is on going forward; always moving to the ball, getting to the ball, then stripping and recovering it.
What remains to be seen is if Lewis has enough talent to work with. There's no shortage of ability at left defensive end, where six-time Pro Bowler Michael Strahan lines up. Lewis has mentioned moving Strahan around the line and even standing him up as a linebacker to gain additional match-up advantages.
However, Strahan is the only holdover from last year's front seven, with a combo of Osi Umenyiora and Keith Washington holding down right end and Norman Hand and Fred Robbins in the middle. The linebackers are also all new - SLB Carlos Emmons, WLB Barrett Green and a mixture of Kevin Lewis and Nick Greisen in the middle.
The secondary has plenty to prove since last year's defensive backfield disaster. The Wills - Allen and Peterson - are back on the corners, with Terry Cousin brought in as the nickel. New York has a three-man rotation at safety with Shaun Williams, Omar Stoutmire and newcomer Brent Alexander. The emphasis will certainly be on intercepting the ball, as New York set a franchise low with only 10 picks last year.
Special Teams Overview: The only returning member of New York's specialty units is punter Jeff Feagles, about to embark on his 17th season. Last year's kicker, Matt Bryant is gone, as is Bill Gramatica, who was signed this offseason. That leaves the job to Todd France, whose next kick in a regular season game will be his first.
The coverage teams have been bulked up with the insertion of more starters onto the units, as well as the signing of players such as Jack Brewer.
Last season, the Giants punt and kick return games ranked at or near the bottom of the league. Second-year man Willie Ponder has done enough to be New York's primary kickoff returner. Veteran Ryan Kuehl beat out second-year man Carson Dach for the snapping duties.
The Giants will finish .500 if..... they stay healthy and their NFC East competition isn't as strong as most think. It's the sooner the better for Tom Coughlin to insert Eli Manning into the starting lineup.
|2004 PHILADELPHIA EAGLES|
Nate Caminata, EaglesInsider.Com
Last Season's Record: 12-4, 1st Place, NFC East
Last Playoff Appearance: 2003 (loss to Carolina)
Star Power: QB Donovan McNabb, RB Brian Westbrook, WR Terrell Owens, S Brian Dawkins
Notable Additions: WR Terrell Owens, , San Francisco 49ers, LBD hani Jones, New York Giants, LB Jeremiah Trotter, Washington Redskins DE Jevon Kearse, Tennessee Titans
Notable Subtractions: RB Duce Staley, CB Troy Vincent, CB Bobby Taylor
Offensive Overview: Donovan McNabb's two biggest strengths have been his ability to avoid interceptions -- he's averaged one pick every 45.3 attempts over the last four seasons -- and his running ability. Completely healthy in 2004, those traits shouldn’t change, although he’ll be tempted with some new additions. With Duce Staley gone and Correll Buckhalter out for the year with a knee injury, the pressure is on Brian Westbrook to perform and stay healthy. The speedy Westbrook is an immense talent who the Eagles like to move around and create mismatches in the passing game. But he has had trouble staying healthy in his first two NFL seasons. Enter Terrell Owens, who has averaged more than 90 receptions per year the last four seasons. Owens’ gives the Eagles the go-to guy they've lacked in their offense. The double-teams that Owens is going to require from defenses also is going to open things up for the club's other receivers, including Freddie Mitchell, who has developed into a very good slot receiver. Donovan McNabb has yet to have a season completion rate higher than 58.4, which is troubling for a quarterback in the West Coast offense. That could change this season with the talented arsenal of skill-position weapons that he'll have.
Defensive Overview: The Eagles are hoping the addition of DE Jevon Kearse and the return to health of fellow defensive end Derrick Burgess, along with hoped-for improvement from '03 first-rounder Jerome McDougle will ignite a pass rush that had just 38 quarterback sacks last season. The healthy return of Hollis Thomas and the continued development of Rayburn, who made the club last year as a rookie free agent and played a lot in the latter half of the season, will be big boosts to Simon and Walker, who wore down last year because of overuse. The Eagles let their dependable strong side linebacker, Carlos Emmons, walk, and are moving ex-Giant Dhani Jones from the weak side to the strong side to replace him. Jones brings a little more speed to the position, but was slow to pick up Jim Johnson's system in the spring mini-camps and has missed almost the entire preseason with a high ankle sprain. His backup, Ike Reese, also is uncertain for the start of the season because of a knee sprain. The addition of Jeremiah Trotter gives this unit much-needed depth in the middle and will allow Johnson the opportunity to reduce Mark Simoneau's snaps and keep him fresh. The Eagles let Pro Bowl corners Troy Vincent and Bobby Taylor walk in the off-season are replacing them with third-year men Lito Sheppard and Sheldon Brown. The pair got a lot of valuable playing time last year when Vincent and Taylor missed a total of 12 games due to injury. Both are much smaller than Vincent and Taylor, but are aggressive. Brian Dawkins is one of the best safeties in the game and Michael Lewis is a potential Pro Bowler. Rod Hood will be the club's nickel corner.
Special Teams Overview: Brian Westbrook led the NFC in punt returns last year and took two back for touchdowns, including a game-, and maybe season-, saver against the Giants in October. But because he is susceptible to injury, and because his role in the offense will be increasing this year, he isn't going to be returning punts. That job will be shared between Reno Mahe and/or rookie Dexter Wynn. David Akers is one of the league's best kickers and dealt very well with the unpredictable wind currents at the Link. The 2004 rendition of the Philadelphia Eagles was built to do one thing: Win the Super Bowl. After three consecutive conference championship losses, the Eagles’ are quickly becoming the NFC’s version of the mid 90’s Buffalo Bills – only without any big game appearances. Donovan McNabb has been handed his go-to-guy, the defense was given an incredible facelift, and the excuses have been excused. It’s now time for the Eagles and head coach Andy Reid. Anything less would be an underachievement.
|2004 WASHINGTON REDSKINS|
Denis Savage, WarpathInsiders.Com
Last season's record: 5-11
Last Playoff appearance: 1999
Key matchup(s): Nov.21 @ Philadelphia, Dec. 26 @.Dallas
Star Power: LB LaVar Arrington ( 6-3 245 ), RB Clinton Portis ( 5-11 205 )
Notable Additions: HC Joe Gibbs, S Sean Taylor ( 1st round draft choice ), QB Mark Brunell, RB Clinton Portis, LB Marcus Washington, DT Cornelius Griffin, CB Shawn Springs
Notable Subtractions: CB Champ Bailey, RB Trung Canidate, LB Jessie Armstead, LB Bruce Smith
Offensive Overview: Head Coach Joe Gibbs will bring back basic football. The offensive line has already taken one hit with OT Jon Jansen being injured, but Gibbs will emphasize games are won in the trenches. Look for QB Mark Brunell not to be forced to win games, but manage a balanced offense. RB Clinton Portis and WR Rod Gardner will be beneficiaries of "back to basics". Look for Portis to be a top back in the league, and have a real shot at the Pro-Bowl. Gardner and Lavernues Coles will finally have a chance to show their skills. Actually having a run game, will give this team the balance in needs to move downfield in the vertical passing game.
Defensive Overview: Defensive Coordinator Gregg Williams has many talented players to work with, getting them to work together will be the most difficult task. LB Lavar Arrington needs to have a breakout season for the rest of the defense to feed from. The defensive line is a question mark, but with Williams approach, the line may be better than many expect. Look for CB Fred Smoot to have a solid season, and CB Shawn Springs to get tested early and often. Overall the defense is something that nobody has a clear idea in what to expect, including the coaches. Watch the play makers rise up due to Gibbs leadership.
Special Teams Overview: A Gibbs led team will have its 1/3 working hard. PK John Hall and P Tom Tupa are reliable, but the team could lack in coverage. Many new and young players on coverage duties will be a weak link to success early. Look for coaches to change up frequently until they find something that works. Games could be lost because of this.
The Redskins will be over .500 and could challenge for the top slot in the NFC East. Dallas will be in the early lead, but the Gibbs driven team will rise by seasons end.