We are under the one month window before the 2012 NFL season, which has all of our writers here at The Waiver Wire gearing up for another year of debates, poorly made bets and trash-talking. This year, we’ve decided to break down the season-to-be division by division. We will preview all eight divisions and pick our division winners, likely wild cards for both the AFC and NFC, and even which teams will be lining up for the Matt Barkley 2013 Draft Sweepstakes.
It is maybe the most competitive division in all of football, and Greg Kaplan and Vinny Ginardi have the pleasure of trying to break down the heated race to the top. Will the Eagles be able to put it all together for a full season? Will the defending Super Bowl champion Giants even be favored to win the division one year later? Who will come out on top? Look no further, we have the answer…
1. Philadelphia Eagles
GK: It’s hard to start a discussion about the NFC East without, of course, mentioning that the New York Giants are the defending Super Bowl champions, not the Philadelphia Eagles. However, just because the Giants were the last team standing doesn’t automatically qualify them as champions of their own division for the next season. I mean, if it did, why bother playing the games at all?
The Eagles made a lot of headlines entering last season by making a flurry of moves and Vince Young running his mouth in training camp, anointing Philadelphia as some form of a “dream team”. Everybody was beyond stunned when the Eagles got off to a horrifically slow start out of the gates, and a lot of people throughout the league were calling for Andy Reid’s head on a platter and for the Eagles to get someone in that will make this unit click.
And then, halfway through the season, seemingly, something clicked. By the end of the season, the Eagles morphed into a collection of very talented players that had no chemistry or identity into one of the league’s more fearsome teams. In fact, Philly made such a comeback at the end of the season that they became a break away from actually making the playoffs.
Looking at this team on paper, they’re one year the better from last season and have seemingly developed the necessary chemistry to rise to the top of the division. Arguably, LeSean McCoy has become one of the most complete running backs in baseball, backed up by his 17 rushing touchdowns last season. Teaming him with a healthy (that’s a huge if) Mike Vick and two dynamic wide-outs in DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin, the offense naturally feels loaded.
Defensively, the Eagles rid themselves of a potential locker room headache by trading Asante Samuel, who had gone from undisputed #1 corner to nickle back, giving the metaphorical car keys to star Nnamdi Asomugha. More responsibility will be given to Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie as the #2, and the team will hope someone like rookie Brandon Boykin out of Georgia can solidify themselves enough to keep the depth. The defensive line unquestionably improved, with first round pick Fletcher Cox and former Green Bay Packer Cullen Jenkins, plus DeMeco Ryans at linebacker, and the team seems loaded.
Of course, they seemed loaded heading into last year, and they came out beyond flat. Will 2012 be any different? One would think, but we will never know until the games are played. Even the most die-hard Giants fans will admit the Eagles are loaded with talent, and just because we assume they’re going to do better than last year, doesn’t mean they actually will.
2. New York Giants
VG: This isn’t an insult to the defending Super Bowl champs. As we mentioned in the intro, this is, has been, and will continue to be one of the most competitive divisions across the league. While the Giants got hot at the right time and were able to notch another Super Bowl win, it’s pretty well-accepted that they weren’t the best team in the league last season.
In fact, they were far from it. The Giants finished the season at 9-7, or ya know, the same as the Tennessee Titans. At the end of the regular season, New York actually ended up with a negative six point differential (the Eagles were +68) and ranked in the bottom 10 in points allowed. While there is no denying that the Giants are one of the best teams at rushing the quarterback, their defense as a whole is overrated.
Offensively though, the Giants are one of the best passing offenses in the league. While Eli Manning was able to capture a Super Bowl in 2007-08, most people didn’t see him as an elite quarterback until after his performance last season when he threw for nearly 5000 yards. The Giants also put out a lethal wide receiving combo in Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz. If the Giants can rush the ball half as well as they used to be able to, this could be one of the toughest offenses in the league to contain.
Overall, the Giants have a top quarterback and weapons for him to throw to, paired with an average to below average defense that specializes in getting to the quarterback and forcing turnovers. They should contend for a division title, and if not, win a wild card spot.
3. Dallas Cowboys
GK: 2012 feels like one of those “same s**t, different day” scenarios for “America’s Team”. They feel like a team that has more than enough pieces to not just compete in the NFC East, but potentially make a long run to, and then through the post-season. And yet, there is absolutely no way I can see this team finishing ahead of either the Eagles or the Giants.
Every year, the feeling around the Cowboys is “this is the year they break through”. And yet, almost on cue, they struggle against their division rivals. They lost all four games last year against Philly and New York. Even more so, it seems every year, the Cowboys find themselves entering December in control of their own destiny. Last year was no different on both respects, as Dallas dropped four of five once the calender turned from November.
Look, there is obvious talent on this team. For all the crap that he receives, Tony Romo truly is one of the better quarterbacks in the NFL. If he isn’t top 10, he’s very close to it. With all the injuries last year to their running back corps, the Cowboys found themselves a keeper in DeMarco Murray out of Oklahoma, who was lost at the end of last year with a brutal ankle injury. Regardless of what trouble he may get into off the field, on the field Dez Bryant is turning into a special target along the wing. And we haven’t even mentioned Jason Witten yet at tight end.
Defensively, its the same story. Talent that goes by DeMarcus Ware, Anthony Spencer, Marcus Spears, and Mike Jenkins. Newly imported players like Brandon Carr, Dan Conner and first round pick Morris Claiborne round out what could be a very devastating unit.
And yet, we’re all very cautious about placing the Cowboys any higher than third. There just seems to be something missing from the recipe that separates this team from the others in their division. Honestly, I bet there are more people that are neutral parties to the teams in the NFC East that can see the Cowboys finishing lower than the Redskins than above either the Eagles or Giants. That’s just the state the franchise is in right now. There doesn’t seem to be any confidence in Dallas accomplishing much of any this season. But, hey, maybe this year is different than in years past.
4. Washington Redskins
VG: Redskin fans should take solace in knowing that last year’s season is over and the future is here. Unfortunately, I wouldn’t expect too much success right away.
In 2011, the offense struggled. The Redskins only managed to score 288 points (seventh worst), leading to a 5-11 season. But now Washington has the second overall pick, Robert Griffin III, to attempt to right the ship. If the past is any indication though, this will not be the year that Griffin will be able to turn the Redskins into a division contender. For example, Cam Newton has received praise for his performance in his rookie campaign, but the Panthers still finished 6-10 and out of the playoff hunt. Griffin might be the answer, but Rome wasn’t built in a day.
Defensively, the Redskins ranked 21st in points allowed per game, but some of that has to be attributed to the fact that the offense struggled to move/keep the ball. The Redskins have some decent players on the defensive side of the ball, but don’t expect the defense to be elite.
While the Redskins will likely finish last again, they will at the very least be more entertaining to watch.
Be sure to check out other great articles at The Waiver Wire.
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