By Nick Chidiac
SC Staff Writer
The excitement of a new NFL season is finally upon us, and while meaningful games are still a week or two away, teams are now vigorously preparing for the 2012 regular season. To the casual observer, the NFL’s preseason may seem like an exercise in pointlessness and an injury risk at that. However, a keener eye will know how vital the preseason really is: It is the time when rosters are fortified and coaches learn of their team’s potential. This obviously holds true for the NFC East, where the world champion New York Giants will try to defend their title against some of the toughest interdivision rivalries in all of sports. The Philadelphia Eagles, Dallas Cowboys, and Washington Redskins will all be gunning for the coveted top spot in the division and this year’s preseason has shown us that fans are in for a real treat when the season kicks off on September 9th.
After trading up to draft All-American QB Robert Griffin III, expectations for the Redskins will be high in 2012 but don’t expect the sudden renaissance that Redskin fans are hoping for. While Griffin III has looked solid this preseason, and may be their quarterback of the future, that won’t be enough to top the equally improved NFC East. He has yet to see some of the more complicated defensive schemes run in the NFL and will probably go through growing pains in his first year. Look for TE Fred Davis to have a big year, with the release of veteran TE Chris Cooley, Davis may be RGIII’s “go-to” receiver along with WR Santana Moss.
Defensive concerns may be the downfall of this team. Uncertainty at many positions leads me to think the Redskins won’t do much better than their 7-9 record of a year ago. With that being said, however, this year appears to be a year unlike any other for fans. For the first time in a long time, there is much excitement about the future and what the team’s front office considers to be a season in which building character will be a priority.
In my opinion, the 2011 Dallas Cowboys were one of the most lopsided teams in the NFL. The disparity between the offensive highs and the defensive lows was far too much for any team to overcome. The 2012 Cowboys’ offense looks very similar to the 2011 version, which bodes well for a team that has looked good this preseason. Injuries and off field issues, however, have been somewhat of a concern. With WR Miles Austin and DE DeMarcus Ware hoping to be back for week one of the regular season, WR Dez Bryant has again run into trouble with the law, this time with an altercation in which his mother says she was struck by the troubled, but talented wide out. Other injuries included All-Pro TE Jason Whitten and some key offensive linemen which the first few games no picnic for QB Tony Romo.
Defensively the Cowboys have improved. After adding CB Brandon Carr and CB Morris Claiborne, their secondary has looked much better this preseason. If you recall, this was the 2011 team’s main weakness and contributed to the loss of many fourth quarter leads close to the end of the season. It has been well documented that the Dallas Cowboys could be a force to be reckoned with if everything falls into place but that has yet to happen and I don’t think 2012 will be the year that it does. This is possible bad news for head coach, Jason Garrett, who some consider to be on the hot seat with GM Jerry Jones itching for wins.
New York Giants:
After last season’s unexpected Super Bowl run, which ended with QB Eli Manning second championship ring, the Giants aren’t letting their success go to their heads. With the loss of WR Mario Manningham and RB Brandon Jacobs to the San Francisco 49ers, WR Hakeem Nicks, WR Victor Cruz, and RB Ahmed Bradshaw must step up to fill the void. With Eli Manning running the team as well as he has been though, the offense has looked solid this preseason.
Although some consider this team to be an underdog, I expect them to be very competitive this year because of a defense that always seems to flourish. DE Justin Tuck and DE Osi Umenyiora anchor a defensive line that is almost as deep as the Eagles’ and with an improved secondary, sacks could be abundant this year. In my opinion, the competition for the divisional crown will be between this New York Giants team and their bitter rivals, the Philadelphia Eagles.
The Eagles are a team that are continually named as a preseason favorite to compete for a Super Bowl title, but after last year’s utter disappointment of a season, many fans were left wondering just where their team stands in the midst of a division which is strong from top to bottom. If the preseason is any indication of how the season will go, these fans may still be worried. Well from what I’ve seen, the diehards of Philadelphia can stop holding their breath. All indication is that last year’s 8-8 record was nothing more than an apparition.
Much has been said about the huge potential for explosiveness that an offense which features QB Michael Vick throwing to WR DeSean Jackson and handing it off to RB LeSean McCoy, but with Vick being a constant injury concern, rookie QB Nick Foles has gotten most of the preseason snaps and has looked great. With Andy Reid’s tutelage, these weapons will always have potential for greatness. It is the Eagles defense, however, that has shown a tenacity that seems to have been lacking the past few years. They have the deepest defensive line in the league and with a full year under their belt, their young linebackers and safety are looking much improved. Without a doubt, the addition of MLB Demeco Ryans and the subtraction of noisy CB Asante Samuel have done the team good. It is for this reason that this defense will be one of the best in 2012 and the key to winning the division.
Both from what I have seen during the offseason and the preseason, I have decided upon my predictions as far as the NFC East standings at the end of the year. They are as follows:
1. Philadelphia Eagles
2. New York Giants (wild card)
3. Dallas Cowboys
4. Washington Redskins
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