NFC East Preview: Week 1

To say the least, the NFC East figures to be pretty competitive this season. It all starts Sunday with plenty of action and key matchups for division rivals. Of course, the main story lines are the debut of Terrell Owens as a Cowboy and the meeting of the Mannings in New York.

Dallas Cowboys (0-0) at Jacksonville Jaguars (0-0)

PREDICTION: Cowboys 24-14

KEYS TO THE GAME: With a very suspect passing game, the Jaguars can't afford to get caught up in a shootout with the high-powered Cowboys. RB Fred Taylor is healthy and must lead a strong ground game that allows Jacksonville to control the clock and field position. Dallas is extremely athletic along its defensive front seven, and will wreak havoc if allowed to attack mobility-challenged Jaguars QB Byron Leftwich, who struggled during the preseason and lacks proven receivers.

Jacksonville's strength lies with its own defense, which must stop the run without the help of an eighth man in the box. If given the time, QB Drew Bledsoe will attack downfield to WRs Terrell Owens and Terry Glenn, who will be locked in a great duel with the solid tandem of Jaguars CBs Rashean Mathis and Brian Williams.

FAST FACTS: Cowboys: Need eight regular-season victories to reach 400 as a franchise. ... Have a league-best 29-17 (.630) record in road openers. Jaguars: Have an NFL-best 8-3 (.727) record in season openers. ... Coach Jack Del Rio started 44 games as a linebacker for Dallas from 1989-91. ... Are 10-1 when Leftwich passes for at least two touchdowns.

Indianapolis Colts (0-0) at New York Giants (0-0)

PREDICTION: Giants 27-24

KEYS TO THE GAME: Peyton and Eli Manning are the headliners as the first brothers in NFL history to start against each other, but the running games might actually be the key to which team comes out on top. In order to truly attack the Giants' overhauled secondary, the Colts need RBs Dominic Rhodes and Joseph Addai to have at least moderate success against a strong front seven for New York. Otherwise, the Giants will be able to unleash the league's deepest and strongest pass rush led by DEs Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora. The Colts have their own strong pass rush headed up by DE Dwight Freeney, and pass protection is still a bit of a concern for the Giants. Versatile RB Tiki Barber remains the key to the attack, although Brandon Jacobs could see more carries as the Giants attempt to keep Barber fresh throughout the season.

FAST FACTS: Colts: Peyton Manning's 128 consecutive starts is an NFL record for a quarterback to begin a career. ... Are 22-3 in their past 25 games. Giants: Eli Manning is 8-1 in his past nine home games. ... Strahan leads all active players with 129.5 sacks and needs 3.5 to break Lawrence Taylor's franchise record. ... Are 14-10 in season-opening home games (12-7 at Giants Stadium).

Minnesota Vikings (0-0) at Washington Redskins (0-0)

PREDICTION: Redskins 20-16

KEYS TO THE GAME: The Redskins played poorly during the preseason and don't know if RB Clinton Portis' separated will be healthy enough by Monday, but they aren't panicking because the defense is good enough to keep them in any game. Minnesota has new schemes on offense and defense that could need time to gel, but the one thing the Vikings can't afford to wait to get untracked is the running game. They have a strong offensive line in front of new RB Chester Taylor, who must have success to keep immobile QB Brad Johnson out of harm's way against an aggressive Washington pass rush. Minnesota's defense is employing the Tampa-2 scheme designed to limit big pass plays, and the matchup against a Redskins offense led by new coordinator Al Saunders, who came over from Kansas City, should be intriguing.

FAST FACTS: Vikings: Brad Childress will be making his head coaching debut. ... Johnson's 65-43 (.602) career record is third-best among active quarterbacks with at least 100 starts. Redskins: Coach Joe Gibbs is 8-0 against the Vikings. ... Have won their past four season openers. ... QB Mark Brunell is fourth among active players with 174 touchdown passes.


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