Dallas Cowboys (2010 Record: 6-10)
For the first half of the 2010 season the Cowboys were one of the biggest embarrassments in the NFL. Wade Phillips slowly waddled his toward being relieved of command and when Tony’s Romo shattered his collar bone the world seemed to come to an end for Jerry Jones and Cowboy fans. Surprisingly though, Jason Garrett turned the ship around and by imposing discipline on an admittedly out of control team, Garrett brought an air of respectability back to the organization finishing 5-5. What was even more amazing was that Garrett turned Dallas’ fortunes around with the 38 year-old journeyman quarterback Jon Kitna slinging the ball.
I’ve already made the argument that because of Romo’s proclivity for making mistakes and Kitna’s success last year that the Cowboy’s “star” quarterback should already be out of town (click here for entire article). However, even without the labor dispute this season, Romo wasn’t going anywhere. But 2011 is most likely the season where Romo is going to make or break himself with the franchise. It’s up to Romo to prove that he can not only succeed in Garrett’s system, but more importantly not fail and dash Dallas’ perpetual Super Bowl dreams.
Things seem set up of the Cowboys to have a solid playoff run this season. Rob Ryan was brought in to shore up a defense that gave up the 2nd most points in the NFL. Gone are the injuries and disappoints in Roy Williams and Marion Barber. And it’s conceivable that Romo has some of the leagues better offensive weapons surrounding him (Miles Austin, Dez Bryant, Jason Witten, and Feliz Jones). The three big questions though are 1) With the shortened off-season, can Rob Ryan institute his system quick enough to turn the Cowboy’s defensive woes around, 2) Is the inexperienced offensive line good enough to keep Romo upright and healthy, 3) Can Romo minimize his mistakes and demonstrate the ability to lead Dallas deep into the playoffs?
Luckily for the Cows they’re playing the NFC West and AFC East this season which could offer up some easier wins. Additionally, if Dallas can pull off some key divisional victories then the team might have a chance to move beyond second place in the NFC East.
Predicted Record: 10-6
New York Giants (2010 record 10-6)
Like the Buccaneers, the Giants accumulated a 10-6 record last season only to be watching the playoffs from their lazy-boys. However, with losses at the end of the season to the Philadelphia and Green Bay, New York has no one to blame but themselves…and perhaps Eli Manning.
Like a nagging disappointment, Manning continued to demonstrate his propensity to make the ill-advised throws and bubbling mistakes during the 2010 season which resulted in an astronomical 25 INTs and oddly only 7 fumbles (better than the 13 in 2009). Perhaps what was most disappointing about Manning’s play last season was that he obtained the highest completion percentage of his career 62.9%, threw for over 4000 yards, 31 TDs, and was only sacked 16 times (he’s averaged 25 sacks over his first six years). Still he turned over the ball 30 times (5 fumbles lost). With two of Manning’s favorite targets in WR Steve Smith and TE Kevin Boss gone in free agency and no big names replacing them, it’s hard to imagine that good old Eli will improve upon his nearly 1:1 TD to INT ratio. Even more disconcerting is the fact that the Giants will have three new position starters on the offensive line and the odds of keeping Manning upright while minimizing his turnover might be stacked against them.
Most alarming for New York might be the injury bug and the fact that over half their projected starters are different from 2010. Defensive players Barry Cofield, Marvin Austin, Clint Sintim, and Terrell Thomas are all on the IR, while Prince Amukamara and Osi Umenyiora will miss multiple games early this season.
While the Giants as a whole might be in flux they still have a potentially solid running game with Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw. This coupled with pass rushers like Justin Tuck, Jason Pierre-Paul and Mathias Kiwanuka should ensure New York retains a certain level of respectability this season. Whether the team wins enough games to keep head coach Tom Coughlin from getting axed is other issue entirely.
Predicted Record: 7-9
Philadelphia Eagles (2010 record: 10-6)
The Eagles found magic in the bottle last season with the reemergence of Michael Vick as one of the league’s top playmakers. Efficiently slinging and running the ball, Vick complete 62.6% of his passes, threw for 3018 yards, 21 TDs and a passer rating of 100.2 (all career highs). His performance made Donovan McNabb seem like a distant memory and gave hope that the quarterback change, which fans had been demanding for so long, was indeed the answer to Philadelphia winning a Super Bowl. And with the Eagles offensive weapons in LeSean McCoy, DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, and Brent Celek all excelling with Vick under center, it’s easy to believe that Philadelphia will once again be one of the top offense teams in the league (ranked 3rd in 2010).
Of course the one drawback to hanging you hat on the Vick Express is the quarterback’s durability and whether he can play a full 16 games (Vick missed 4 games last season due to injury). During the off-season Eagles sent their only insurance policy at quarterback, Kevin Kolb, to Arizona and replaced him with Vince Young. Young might have a winning record as an NFL starter, but he also has a 75.7 career quarterback rating and has thrown as many INTs and TDs. This along side the fact that Young has been less than emotionally stable during his NFL career, makes Andy Reid’s choice to rely on Young as the #2 quarterback curious to say the least. Can you imagine Young’s reaction the first time he throws an INT at Lincoln Financial and the boo birds he’ll face? If Vick goes down, it could be an extremely quick end to the Eagles season.
Additionally, even though the Eagles made some big name off-season acquisitions in DL Jason Babin, DL Cullen Jenkins, CB Nnamdi Asomugha, and CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, you have to wonder if this defense will gel together quickly enough to improve upon their 21st ranking in points allowed. Still with a schedule that includes non-divisional opponents such as the Niners, Seahawks, Cardinals, Dolphins, and Bills combined with potentially shaky divisional foes in the Giants and Redskins, the Eagles path to repeat as NFC East Champions shouldn’t be overly difficult. After all they are “The Dream Team.”
Predicted Record: 12-4
Washington Redskins (2010 record: 6-10)
All the hype and hope that surrounded the Mike Shanahan/Bruce Allen era in Washington turned out to be nothing but another stinking pile of Daniel Snyder era failure. To be fair, turning around the nearly two decade disaster which has been the Redskins was never going to happen in one season. However, Shanahan’s mismanagement of Albert Haynesworth and Donovan McNabb was an embarrassment to the team and, in my mind, creates serious doubts about a head coach who has honestly underachieved without John Elway under center. In fact, given the drama that took place last year, I think it’s fair to say that it was a miracle the Redskins won as many games as they did.
So can Washington improve this year and gain some respectability?
Drafting Ryan Kerrigan and Jarvis Jenkins, should have helped the Redskins on defense, but Jenkins has already suffered a torn ACL and is out for the season. Still reports coming out of training camp have the defense playing with more cohesiveness and intensity for defensive coordinator Jim Haslett, so perhaps there is room for hope. Then again when your defense was ranked 31st in the league last season it’s rather difficult not to improve.
Unfortunately, it’s hard to envision a world where Washington will improve on the offensive side of the ball. McNabb was finally released from Shanahan’s dungeon and, unbelievably, has been replaced by Rex Grossman. The fact that Less than Sexy Rexy was the Redskins’ #2 option last season was bad enough. But attempting to convince people that an offense led by Grossman is an improvement over McNabb is insulting even to the most causal football fan. McNabb might not be a your best option for winning in the playoffs, but he has certainly proved himself to be a more than capable/efficient regular season quarterback…something Grossman has yet to demonstrate. Heck even Vince Young and Alex Smith have better QB ratings than Grossman. Additionally, below average quarterbacks don’t make average receiving corps better.
The one glimmer of hope on offense that Redskins fans can hold onto is if Shanahan can somehow reestablish the type of rushing attack he created in Denver with Ryan Torain and Tim Hightower (formerly of Arizona). Both running backs had over 700 yards and combined for 9 TDs in 2010 and the Redskins offensive ability to win a handful of games this season probably rests on their shoulders.
Overall, with the personnel decisions being made in Washington, especially at quarterback, you have to wonder if Shanahan’s days are numbered or if this is part of a grand plan to finish dead last in the league (though Seattle might give them a run for their money).
Predicted Record: 5-11
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