NFL Preview: NFC East

Doug Warren previews the NFC East in our NFL Preview party! NFL Preview's by Doug Warren
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With old foes Bill Parcells and Joe Gibbs now playing Cowboys and Redskins, Commander Coughlin ready to take the Big Apple by storm and Andy Reid's Eagles poised to take another shot at that elusive NFC Championship, this will be an interesting division to watch; Philadelphia is the favorite of most observers to win this division, but I have a feeling that a couple of offensive newcomers will make the difference for one team looking to regain lost glory.

1. Washington Redskins (Projected Finish: 10-6)

Bill Parcells, whom I feel is the NFL's best coach since Vince Lombardi, once said that "Joe Gibbs is the toughest coach I ever coached against." When he was hired back in January, I felt Gibbs was going to get this team back to the playoffs in a couple of seasons. That was before he landed QB Mark Brunell and RB Clinton Portis. While not the player he once was, Brunell's tank is far from empty. Even with all the mileage, one could argue that Brunell is the best quarterback Gibbs has coached since his days as an assistant to Don Coryell in San Diego, where a guy named Dan Fouts was suiting up. Portis will thrive in Gibbs' offense, as will WR's Laveranues Coles. If these three stay healthy, the Redskins will score plenty of points.

The defense will once again be led by WLB LaVar Arrington. If he can stay focused and within the system, he will dominate. The return of DT Brandon Noble, who missed last season with a knee injury, will be a big factor in whether the ‘Skins run defense will improve. In the secondary, if the preseason is any indication, Rookie FS Sean Taylor more than makes up for the loss of CB Champ Bailey. Taylor has all the tools to become as dominant as Roy Williams down in Dallas. CB veterans Fred Smoot, Shawn Springs and Walt Harris give Washington one of the strongest cornerback rotations in the league.

K Jon Hall, P Tom Tupa and return man Chad Morton give Washington one of the NFL's best special teams' trios.

Before the arrival of Brunell and Portis, I figured this team would go 8-8, with them Washington wins the division.

2. Philadelphia Eagles (Projected Finish: 9-7)

I like the Eagles. I picked them to reach the Super Bowl last season, Andy Reid, who just got a well deserved 4-year contract extension, is a very good coach. Donovan McNabb is one of the top five QB's in the entire league.

However, I just have one question.

How in the name of Chuck Bednarik can the Eagles say goodbye to CB's Troy Vincent and Bobby Taylor, and LB and 2003 team Defensive MVP Carlos Emmons and still expect to have a defense good enough to reach the Super Bowl?

Oh yeah, they can't. Well they can expect to, but they won't.

Jevon Kearse has only 11.5 sacks in 18 games over the past two seasons. He is quickly becoming the DE version of Warren Sapp. I have a feeling that by mid-season, a lot of "O-Ver-Rated" chants, along with various unprintable expletives, will be directed Javon's way by the Eagle faithful. Philly's linebackers scare nobody and they will have a hard time replacing the underrated Emmons. Eagle D-Coordinator Jim Johnson is one of the best in the business; but he won't be able to blitz with new starting CB's Lito Sheppard and Sheldon Brown like he did with Vincent and Taylor. Even with the super safety tandem of FS Brian Dawkins and SS Mike Lewis, this entire defense will take a step backwards this season.

Well, McNabb now his go-to-guy in WR Terrell Owens; too bad they lost their two toughest running backs from last season. Duce Staley, a gutsy performer and team leader, signed with the Steelers; while backup Correll Buckhalter was lost for the season with a knee injury earlier this month. That leaves the talented but injury prone Brian Westbrook to shoulder the load, and he has never shown the ability to stay healthy long enough to do so. If Westbrook goes down for any length of time, look for Owens to be blanketed with double and triple teams. If that happens, Terrell's "Me-Myself-and-I" persona, which was so popular in San Francisco, will make its Philly debut. Then once again, Super-Donovan will have to don his cape and hoist this offense onto his back once again.

In this sorry division, the Eagles could still come out on top. The Super Bowl however, will once again not be in the cards.

3. Dallas Cowboys (Projected Finish: 8-8)

It's gonna be tough for Bill Parcells to repeat the magic trick he pulled off last season. With Methuselah's uncle, Vinny Testaverde, beginning the year at QB and second-year player Tony Romo, along with third-baseman Drew Henson as the backups, another 10-win season won't be in the cards this year.

Rookie Julius Jones will be a good running back, he can do all the little things (receiving and blitz pickups) that Big Tuna wants his backs to do, and he is fast, elusive and tough between the tackles. FB Richie Anderson is a prototypical Parcells disciple, and will be the 3rd down back this year. Eddie George will not be the next Otis Anderson; he will still be Eddie George, a once great player and still super teammate who will mentor the youngsters in the Cowboy lockeroom.

Another Parcells devotee, WR Keyshawn Johnson, rejoins his old coach this season, and while not the player he once was, will provide good hands and toughness as a chain-mover on 3rd downs. Terry Glenn should put up good numbers now that Joey Galloway is gone. Jason Witten and Dan Campbell are solid TE's, and if WR Antonio Bryant can keep his head out of his backside long enough, he could become the best of the bunch.

The offensive line, led by LT Flozell Adams needs to step up if Dallas wants to return to the postseason. LG Larry Allen slumped badly last year due to weight problems. If he can limit his trips to the all-you-can-eat buffets this year, he should return to Pro Bowl form.

The addition of free agent LE Marcellus Wiley (Chargers) to the defensive front will improve the NFL's third overall run defense of 2003. The linebacking corps remains strong, as SLB Al Singleton, MLB Dat Nguyen and WLB Dexter Coakley are healthy and should once again have good seasons.

The secondary could pose a problem though, at least early on. FS Darren Woodson will be out at least the first two games with a back injury, all-around depth is lacking and the starting LCB spot still remains a question mark. On the bright side, SS Roy Williams and LCB Terrance Newman are ready to go.

It remains to be seen if Testaverde and/or Romo/Henson can perform as well as the departed Quincy Carter did last year. If so, the Cowboys could make a playoff push. The real bullets start flying on Sunday however. With Vinny too slow, and Romo and Henson too young, I think Dallas will take a step back this year.

4. New York Giants (Projected Finish: 5-11)

Commander Coughlin came in with guns-a-blazin' in his inaugural press conference upon being hired as the Giant's new whip-cracker. There is no doubt where the buck now stops in the Meadowlands. Coughlin recruited a slew of veterans and gave a bunch of others their discharges. How soon will it produce results? Well, with the Giants' quarterback situation in its current state, it won't be this season.

On draft day back in April, Coughlin and GM Ernie Accorsi made the trip to the summit of Mount Manning to pick the latest QB God from the heavens. Eli Manning has a lot of work to do, and the pressure from the New York fans and media will be intense and unrelenting. The best case scenario would be if he could spend his rookie year on the bench, but with the shell-shocked Kurt Warner as the starter, Manning will likely be thrown to the wolves early.

Has there ever been a QB in NFL history to rise as fast, and fall as hard, over the course of five seasons as Warner? The two-time NFL MVP looked like Rainman in last season's opening game versus the Giants.

"Ah, I think it's a concussion coach. . . . Yeah, definitely a concussion. . . . RED DOGGIN' HURT BABY! RED DOGGIN' HURT BABY!"

Couple the brain trauma with his wife Brenda's mother hen fixation and the Giants have the makings of one hell of a potential trainwreck should Warner continue his slide into quarterback oblivion.

There are just too many question marks for the Giants to contend with this season. Tiki Barber and Ron Dayne are not franchise running backs. The receiving corps is solid with WR's Amani Toomer, Ike Hillard and TE Jeremy Shockey, but who will get them the ball? The line is terrible, which is bad if you have one QB with a concussion problem and another QB with no experience.

The defense is undermanned too. Michael Strahan remains one of the leagues best at DE; but he has little help outside of newcomers Lorenzo Bromell (Raiders) and veteran run-stuffer Norman Hand (Seahawks). Outside of former Eagle Carlos Emmons, the LB corps is also weak. The secondary does get back CB's Will Allen and Will Peterson and SS Shaun Williams from season-ending injuries suffered in 2003, but if any of these guys goes down again, the pass defense will suffer.

The latest seedling from Mount Manning likely won't bear fruit until 2005 at the earliest. Coughlin and Accorsi have a long way to go to rebuild this franchise, hopefully for Giant fans, they already have their quarterback.

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