By Will Robinson

Almost there: six done, two to go. Here’s the NFC East. Plus, check out the other previews.

AFC West

NFC West

AFC South

NFC South

AFC East

Dallas Cowboys

2010 Record: 6-10

Notable Additions: Tyron Smith (OT), Bruce Carter (LB)

Notable Team Free Agents/Possible Departures: Roy Williams (WR), Marion Barber (RB), Marc Colombo (OT), Stephen Bowen (DE)

Strengths: Passing game talent, pass rush (DeMarcus Ware), run defense

Weaknesses: Offensive line, passing defense, evaluating running backs

2010 Season Summary: Even before quarterback Tony Romo broke his clavicle and missed 10.5 games, the Cowboys started their season very, very, very, VERY poorly. They had one blowout win against Houston, but after the game Romo was knocked out, they were 1-5. Then, after next week’s 45-7 shellacking in Green Bay, head coach Wade Phillips was fired and replaced with offensive coordinator Jason Garrett. After that, the Cowboys finished 5-3 with a much better offense pre-Phillips firing (they failed to score 25+ points once – a 14-13 win to close out the year). Wide receiver Miles Austin was good, but the offensive player that dropped jaws was Dez Bryant. Bryant, who missed the first four games, showed excellent return skills with two touchdowns off punts as he added another six receiving scores. On the other side of the ball, outside of DeMarcus Ware, the defense in Big D was generally a big mess. Ware, who had 15.5 sacks, is the premier pass rusher in the game, but without much help from the guys behind him, his efforts are somewhat wasted. Their secondary was just awful (26th in yards allowed, 28th by Football Outsiders’ metric DVOA). In summary: to call Dallas’ last season a disappointment would be an understatement and completely overstated, as they were picked by some to play the Super Bowl in their own stadium.

2011 Prospects: I like the prospects for Dallas this year, but not a ton. For one they haven’t really made any big improvements to their secondary, and their offensive line is still a bit of a question. Tony Romo’s return will undoubtedly bring a large improvement to their offensive production. If Jon Kitna could helm the offense as well as he did last year, Cowboys fans and I are excited to see what Romo will do. Now that Marion Barber is gone, his carcass will no longer detract from Felix Jones’, Tashard Choice’s and presumably, DeMarco Murray’s touches. Dez Bryant will now be the unquestioned number two or one-b receiver to Miles Austin’s one-a, and with a full season under his belt, he could really become one of the game’s best this next season. DeMarcus Ware will need some help up from the d-line after the Cowboys lost starter Stephen Bowen to eat some blockers. On the other side, Anthony Spencer has shown some promise playing opposite of DWare, but like Ware, blocking up front will help them succeed. Terrance Newman is a good corner, but Mike Jenkins was hard to watch last year; they still really need some help in the secondary. There’s no question this team will outperform 6-10, but with the Eagles building an apparent juggernaut, I have a hard time believing they can be better than the second best team in their division.

Sleeper Fantasy Player to Have: Tashard Choice (RB)

Fantasy Bust to Avoid: Dez Bryant [allow me to explain: there’s a big risk with Dez; it depends where you draft him. He could be an elite fantasy receiver, or he could be crappy. If you get him a competitive price/draft position compared to Miles Austin, then I think the risk is worthwhile. More likely than not, your season will hinge on Dez.]

New York Giants

2010 Record: 10-6

Notable Additions: Prince Amukamara (CB), Marvin Austin (DT), David Baas (C), Stacy Andrews (G)

Notable Team Free Agents/Possible Departures: Kevin Boss (TE), Barry Cofield (DT), Shaun O’Hara (C), Rich Seubert (G), Shawn Andrews (OT), Steve Smith (WR)

Strengths: Running back tandem, defensive line depth, receiving corps, pass defense

Weaknesses: Turnovers, overall (mostly defensive) consistency

2010 Season Summary: Coming off an 8-8 season, the Giants’ goal was to make the playoffs and not to disappoint with a poor record. The year previous, they started out hot, going 5-0, and then lost four in a row. In 2010, they began going 6-2 leading the NFC East. Following two division losses, the Giants lost their season. They ended up tying for first in the East, but due to tiebreakers with the Eagles and the Packers, they failed to make the playoffs two years running. Eli Manning threw career highs with 31 touchdown and 25 interceptions, with 11 of those scores going to second year receiver Hakeem Nicks. Nicks, who played college football at North Carolina, was absolutely beastly against opposing corners. Even though he’s only 6’0”, he plays about five inches taller and can beat corners off the line to get down the filed in a hurry; he was one of the league’s premier vertical and red zone threats last year. Running back Ahmad Bradshaw finally broke into the starting role previously held by Brandon Jacobs, and besides the occasional fumble, he flourished. New York was supposed to be known as a strong, hardnosed defensive team. While they accomplished this sometimes during the season, they were flat out embarrassed some weeks (Week 2, Week 3, Week 15, Week 16). The second Eagles game was a fail of epic proportions: up 21 with 7:30 left? That should be a lock.

2011 Prospects: The composition of this particular Giants squad has the talent to secure a Wild Card berth, but I doubt they can do any serious damage in the playoffs. They started to reconstruct their offensive line after releasing longtime standards Richard Seubert and Shaun O’Hara, and I’m not sure who will replace them yet, from a skill standpoint and a leadership one. With Steve Smith going to the rivaled Philadelphia Eagles, Mario Manningham has a good skill set to replace him across Hakeem Nicks. Speaking of the passing game, I don’t think Eli Manning will throw another 25 picks this year. I’m pretty sure about this. I expect him to be in the 11-17 range, but if he somehow tops 20 again, then the Giants are in some trouble. Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs will be back pounding the rock, but Danny Ware or Charles Scott could try to earn some carries. Rookie cornerback Prince Amukamara was slated to make a nice impact to a needy secondary, but after breaking his foot, he will miss at least two months. Marvin Austin, rookie defensive tackle from North Carolina, missed all of last year at UNC for receiving improper benefits; he did have the talent to be a first round pick, easily. The Austin pickup could end up being a steal for New York. Similar to Cowboys, the Giants will likely be playing for the Wild Card spot as opposed to the Division title behind Philly.

Sleeper Fantasy Player to Have: Mario Manningham (WR)

Fantasy Bust to Avoid: Ahmad Bradshaw (RB)

Philadelphia Eagles

2010 Record: 10-6

Notable Additions: Danny Watkins (G), Jaiquawn Jarrett (S), Nnamdi Asomugha (CB), Jason Babin (DE), Cullen Jenkins (DE), Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (CB), Ryan Harris (OT), Ronnie Brown (RB), Steve Smith (WR), Vince Young (QB)

Notable Team Free Agents/Possible Departures: Kevin Kolb (QB), Stewart Bradley (LB), David Akers (K), Quintin Mikell (S), Leonard Weaver (FB)

Strengths: Lightning fast vertical threats, offensive balance, pass defense, pass rush

Weaknesses: Too-good-to-be-trueness, thin quarterback depth, linebackers

2010 Season Summary: One of the more shocking stories of last year’s offseason was the Eagles shipping off former franchise quarterback Donovan McNabb to their division rival Washington Redskins for some draft picks. Head coach Andy Reid clearly thought (as we found out, rightly so) they had a better chance to win with Kevin Kolb, or even Michael Vick starting at quarterback. In his first game as the unquestioned starter, Kolb suffered a concussion and had to leave the game. Vick, who was incarcerated and missed two full seasons, had looked shaky in a limited role in 2009. But coming in for the injured Kolb, Vick began to play better than he ever did in his career. He was back, much improved and once again, a marvel to watch. The apex of his performance was the transcendent (think ’77 Walton) destruction of the Redskins on Monday Night Football. I remember watching that game and being absolutely shocked, more shocked than the number the Raiders put up on Denver (59-14). His main passing target, DeSean Jackson, had another great season receiving and returning punts, as he logged 22.5 yards per catch and shocked the world with this incredible play. His receiving partner, Jeremy Maclin, showed great promise logging 10 scores, 70 catches and 964 yards. LeSean McCoy is a capable heir to Brian Westbrook in Reid’s offense, who averaged 5.2 yards per carry on 207 attempts. Now, to the defense last year: They above average according to Football Outsider’s (14th overall), but in standard metrics, they were solid. Philadelphia was fourth in sacks, tied for second in forced fumbles and 15th in yards. In the end, their season ended on a Michael Vick ball that was slightly underthrown, caught by Tramon Williams.

2011 Prospects: I really don’t get how Philly did all of this; it is truly remarkable how they were able to sign so many big free agents. There was a reason I skipped individual defensive players in discussing last year’s Eagles: They have added some major new pieces that changes their look. First, of course, is All-Pro cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha. Unquestionably, Asomugha was this free agency class’ top prize – and no one publicly knew the Eagles were in the running until he was signed. Adding Asomugha alongside Asante Samuel, a very good corner in his own right, and newly acquired Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, gives the Eagles the best corner trio in my memory. Jason Babin returned to Philadelphia after a one year stint in Tennessee to give the Eagles another quality pass rusher. Cullen Jenkins, who was great as a three and five technique defensive end for the Super Bowl winning Packers, will probably slip inside to play some defensive tackle. I’m not sure how long it will take for everything to click, but this defense will be straight up nasty. Offensively, they should be as dangerous as last year. They added Danny Watkins out of Baylor to reinforce their offensive line as well as former Bronco right tackle Ryan Harris, probably the best right tackle on the market. The oft injured Ronnie Brown was signed to play as LeSean McCoy’s backup, but I am intrigued by the Steve Smith signing. Smith was a catching machine when he started, and has a third receiver behind Jeremy Maclin and DeSean Jackson, I think that will cause havoc on defenses. Yes, he’ll probably miss the first six weeks or so, but if fully health, that signing will be a steal. I have two reservations about this team: one concrete, one not so much. First, their quarterback is shaky. Vince Young put up good numbers last year, yes, but all you have to do is contain him in the pocket and let him pass his way to victory. He hasn’t been known as a hard worker, and I suspect he will have to start a few games this year because Vick is prone to get hurt. The second problem is that I think this is too good to be true. It’s kind of a silly reason, I know, but with all of these players joining forces, I find it hard to believe they’ll roll their way to Indianapolis. The Packers haven’t made many moves because they haven’t had to; their team is full of talent, they really didn’t need to make moves. Not to say Philadelphia wasn’t already talented – they were – but I will wait and see on Philadelphia before anointing them the instant Super Bowl favorites. Nevertheless, I don’t think they will face much difficulty towards a division title.

Sleeper Fantasy Player to Have: Ronnie Brown (RB)

Fantasy Bust to Avoid: DeSean Jackson [He’s too boom or bust for me to rely on. I’d rather have Maclin]

Washington Redskins

2010 Record: 6-10

Notable Additions: Ryan Kerrigan (DE), Jarvis Jenkins (DT), Tim Hightower (RB), Barry Cofield (DT), Jabar Gaffney (WR), Stephen Bowen (DE)

Notable Team Free Agents/Possible Departures: Vonnie Holliday (DE), Casey Rabach (C), Donovan McNabb (QB), Albert Haynesworth (DT)

Strengths: Linebackers…?

Weaknesses: They were really poor in many areas. I’ll leave it at that.

2010 Season Summary: Well, Mike Shanahan. That just happened. The former Bronco head coach reentered the league last season for a gig with the Washington Redskins, a team with an owner willing to pay up but still sucks. Last year’s training camp featured the Albert Haynesworth working out saga. WILL HE PASS HIS PHYSICAL? WILL HE FAIL AGAIN? It annoyingly absorbed SportsCenter daily. The other story was Donovan McNabb leading his former enemy against his old team and same division. Well, obviously that didn’t work out too well in D.C., as McNabb was very off and was further embarrassed when Shanahan pulled him for Rex Grossman because he was allegedly more effective at the two-minute offense. Right (I’ll get back to that when I talk about the 2011 season). Wide out Santana Moss somehow put up a good season despite working with the oddly crappy McNabb and the always crappy Rex, with 93 catches, 1,115 yards and six touchdowns. Even at 31, he was still a dangerous down the field threat. In terms of the running game, relatively unknown back Ryan Torain did some work when healthy, as he carried the ball 164 times for 742 yards. Defensively is where the Redskins had some more standout players amidst their poor year. Thirty five year old linebacker London Fletcher put up another great season as the ‘skins primary inside backer, with 136 tackles, a pick and three forced fumbles. Outside linebacker Brian Orakpo, who had a nice rookie season, posted a decent 8.5 sacks in his second year. LaRon Landry is the only consistent player in their secondary and had another nice year. But really, there were far more negatives for Washington than positives. It was a tough first year for Mikey and co., and they’ll need to start producing soon.

2011 Prospects: I don’t feel very good about the chances of Washington this year. They made some decent signings, particularly Barry Cofield, but at the most important position, they fall short. Coming back to the quarterbacks: Shanahan shipped Donovan McNabb to Minnesota, and didn’t pick up another guy. You don’t mean to tell me they plan to stick with a one to one touchdown to interception ratio and a 30 year old who’s played five games, do you? They are? At least Rex is good at the two-minute offense? Oh no. They’re so screwed. The talent the Redskins exhibited has not been much improved, and as they are in the same division as the Eagles, Cowboys and Giants, I would be shocked if they won more than one division game this season. Even though Rex Grossman believes his team will win the NFC East, I’ll have to side with one of my favorite Twitter accounts on this: Faux John Madden. This team is not very compelling, which is a reason I’m having some trouble coming up with some words. They’re also not very good, which doesn’t help, and there’s only so many ways I can say “the Redskins will be bad this year.”

Sleeper Fantasy Player to Have: Tim Hightower (RB)

Fantasy Bust to Avoid: Like the Dolphins, I don’t it’s possible to overdraft a Redskin.


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