That is a very difficult question to answer for a number of reasons. We will look at the strengths and weakness of all four teams and how they match up, but a weakness today can be solved by players performing above their projected form and vice versa. At this moment, unfortunately we would have to say the Giants will have to battle with the Skins to avoid last place in the division. Their draft looks decent, but how often can you count on a rookie to have an immediate impact? History tells us not very often. They really didn't do a lot in free agency. This team has tons of questions that need to be answered at every position group. If most of the answers are negative we are afraid it's going to be a long year. So right now it looks like they are not as good a team as they were when they finished the season.
Giants offense – So much is depending on Eli Manning. He has to fix the mechanical problems that have plagued him since he's been in the league. He is entering his fourth year and it's time for him to be consistent. He's got to show if he's going to be an elite QB or just an average QB. There is no other way to put it. Eli has to "Man up" in all aspects of his game, including leadership. Right now we still consider him an unknown. The left tackle situation has to be resolved. If David Diehl is the LT, and it looks like he will be, will he hold up? This could be another weakness. Will Jeremy Shockey stay healthy for a season? Will Brandon Jacobs and Reuben Droughns come close to replacing Tiki Barber? Will they get enough from Steve Smith and Sinorice Moss to complement Plaxico Burress? Will Amani Toomer return to form? If all these things go right, this could be a potent offense.
Giants defense – There are far less questions to be answered on defense, but there are still some. If they stay healthy, this could be a very strong unit. The first positive will hopefully come from Steve Spagnuolo replacing Tim Lewis. We expect him to do a much better job. The DL looks strong, especially if Michael Strahan stays healthy. The move of Mathias Kiwanuka to LB looks like an exciting change, but he will go through a learning process. We aren't exited about Kawika Mitchell starting on the weakside. The Chiefs made no effort to keep him and he was an MLB. Hopefully Gerris Wilkinson or Zak DeOssie will provide insurance. The secondary, which was a problem last year, is basically the same except they added Aaron Ross. How soon can we expect him to contribute? There will be some great camp competition between E.J. Underwood, Kevin Dockery and Gerrick McPhearson. If the pass rush is better it will help this group. Yes, there are fewer questions than on offense, but they need plenty of positive answers here too.
Cowboys offense – Like the Giants, the Cowboys have a big question at QB. Tony Romo started hot but fizzled down the stretch. Sound familiar? We like their running game with Julius Jones and Marion Barber, but Jones has to stay healthy, which he has had trouble doing. Tight end Jason Witten is an offensive force. They improved their offensive line by adding Leonard Davis. The receivers, mainly Terrell Owens and Terry Glenn, are getting old but they are still productive. This is the second year for T.O., which is the year he usually destroys the team. So we will see. One thing that bears watching for the entire team is that Bill Parcells is gone and he has been replaced by the ultimate players' coach, Wade Phillips. When we hear the words ‘players' coach,' we cringe. To us it's poison, but we will see how it works out in Big D.
Cowboys defense – If they have successfully patched the holes in their secondary this will be a strong unit. Adding Ken Hamlin at safety will help. They had severe coverage problems in the middle of the field. Roy Williams can now play near the line of scrimmage instead of being a detriment in coverage. Phillips is going to try to make Demarcus Ware into the next Shawne Merriman, but they need to generate a pass rush from someone other than Ware or others teams will be able to game plan against him. He has the ability, but we will see how that translates during the season. They potentially can be a very strong unit.
Match-up: The Giants defense matches up well with the Cowboys offense. We believe they can prevail against them if they can keep Romo in the pocket. He does most of his damage when he's on the move. Witten has hurt them in the past so the Giants must control him as well.
The problem is that the Cowboys have the talent to dominate the Giants offense, especially if Eli remains an inconsistent and average QB. He will need to make plays and here is where Tiki will be missed the most. If they are able to run the ball, they can soften the Cowboys defense, but that's still a question mark right now. We can also envision protection problems with Diehl at LT. They will challenge him in the pass rush.
Eagles offense – Again we have a team with QB questions. The questions here involve Donovan McNabb. When he will be healthy? Will his knee injury cause him problems? Add to that, his receiving corps is marginal at best right now. They may step up, but they do not appear to be nearly as good as last year's unit. Brian Westbrook will be a force again this year. Earlier in his career he was plagued by injuries, but lately he has avoided the injury bug. A strength of their offense is their offensive line. They are among the best and they also have very good depth. It will be interesting to see if their tackles, William Thomas and Jon Runyan, hold up.
Eagles defense – Jim Johnson's blitz-happy schemes will be back, but for the defense to be successful they need the defensive line to be a force. Last year they weren't and because their pass rush was not strong, their defense struggled. We don't believe DEs Jevon Kearse and Darren Howard have much left in the tank. Brodrick Bunkley had a disappointing rookie season. This is clearly their weakest unit. The LB group was helped by subtraction. Former Giants LB Dhani Jones is gone. He did for the Eagles what he did for the Giants – nothing. This will almost certainly be Jeremiah Trotter's last year. He is still good at stopping the run, but he can't run at all any more. Their secondary, which is led by Brian Dawkins, is still very good.
Match-up: A lot is riding on McNabb. If he returns to form quickly, they will be fine on offense. However, they don't have a strong edge over the Giants defense. One big advantage that could help the Giants is that they took Steve Spagnuolo from the Eagles and he certainly knows their strengths and weaknesses inside out. He should be a big help when game-planning against the Birds offense.
The Eagles defense can be devastating at times to Manning, especially when he is in one of his inconsistent modes. When he is sharp he can beat their blitz and make big plays against them. He has done that at times, but he hasn't done it often enough. Tiki was always very productive against the Eagles defense because he could counter their blitzes with screens, draws and flat passes. Don't forget, Tiki made himself into a very good pass blocker and he was excellent at picking up the blitz. He will really be missed when they play the Eagles.
Redskins offense – This makes it all four NFC East teams whose year will depend on the level of play they receive from the QB position. We continue to hear very good things about the progress being made by third-year QB Jason Campbell. Still, he has limited playing experience and it's questionable as to whether he will move into the accomplished QB status. We tend to doubt that he will this year, but we do expect him to make strides. They really have a nondescript receiving corps. It's Santana Moss and a bunch of other guys. Antwaan Randle El has not been the receiver they thought they were getting from Pittsburgh. Chris Cooley is a TE who can move the chains. Clinton Portis is susceptible to injuries but they wisely re-signed Ladell Betts, who showed he could be effective when Portis was injured. They have questions on their offensive line, in particular at left guard where they must replace Derrick Dockery.
Redskins defense – Their defense is not that good. They have trouble on the line. Age and injuries have become a problem and truthfully their depth is not that good. They brought in an aging London Fletcher to play MLB. They want Rocky McIntosh to step up. Marcus Washington is a very good strong side backer. Drafting LaRon Landry will help. He and Sean Taylor, if he can stay out of trouble, will be a dynamite safety duo. They really have questions at corner. Shawn Springs is injury-prone and so far Carlos Rogers has not come through. They brought back Fred Smoot as a nickel and he will help as long as he doesn't organize any love boat cruises on the Potomac.
Match-up: Honestly we think the Skins will be in a struggle with the Giants to avoid last place in the East. We think the Giants will prevail, but it may be close. Owner Dan Snyder is not afraid to spend money, but he is the root cause why this has become a dysfunctional franchise. The Giants offense should be good enough to cause match-up problems for the Skins defense. We think Shockey could be a huge force against them. We also like the power running of Jacobs against their front seven. A strong running game will open things up for Manning.
The Giants defense will cause problems for the inexperienced Campbell. The only concern is that Campbell is mobile and mobile QBs have hurt the Giants in the past by getting outside their containment. Except for Moss and Cooley, they don't have the receivers that can really hurt the Giants.
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