Monday, September 22, 2008

Welcome to the NFC Beast!

Let's face it, when Tom Brady went down, the entire NFL opened up. AFC teams like the Steelers, Titans, and Broncos all became that much more viable to contend for a Super Bowl. However, in my humble opinion, it is the NFC that benefits most, specifically, the NFC EAST. Widely considered, and without much argument, the NFC East is footballs most dominant division.

In week 3 of the 2008 NFL season, the teams that make up the NFC East, (Cowboys, Giants, Eagles, and Redskins) went a combined 4-0, improving their season record to 10-2. Is it possible that four of the top five teams in the NFC reside in the same division? Even more so, is it possible that three of the NFL's top five teams reside in that very same division?

The Washington Redskins are 2-1, their only blemish is a road opener to the division rival Giants. New head coach, Jim Zorn, looked the part of a BRAND NEW NFL head coach. Poor clock management, riding the refs, and of course a road loss to a divisional rival. Two weeks and two wins later, the Skins are looking pretty sharp. Clinton Portis led a rushing attack that totaled 136 yards on the ground in the 'Skins 24-17 victory over previously undefeated Arizona. Young quarterback, Jason Campbell, has played mistake free football, completing 46 of 66 passes for 514 yards, and three touchdowns over the past two weeks. Undersized receivers, Santana Moss (5'10) and Antwaan Randle El (5'10) have proved to be sufficient enough for the strong arm of Campbell. Combined, Randle El & Moss have caught 33 balls for 425 yards in three games this season. Their defense is littered with talent from linebacker, London Fletcher to DB's, Landry, Springs, and Smoot, and of course newly acquired end, Jason Taylor. 19 points a game allowed by the same defense that allows under 350 total yards of offense a game. Two home wins against a tough Saints team and an explosive Cardinals team are impressive, but the next two games on the 'Skins schedule are road contests against Dallas and Philadelphia. With St. Louis, Cleveland, and Detroit to follow the Redskins will welcome Pittsburgh with a possible 5-3 record only having lost games against divisional opponents. When the only teams that can beat you are the ones in your division, I think its safe to say your playing in a class like no other.

The New York football Giants are the first of two undefeated squads from the NFC East. In a sentence; you beat the teams, you should beat. The defending champs opened up at home against the 'Skins. Against a new head coach in his first game and young quarterback learning a new scheme, the Giants took care of business despite losing major, impact players on the defensive line. After a literal walk in the park against St. Louis in week 2 (41-13), the Giants survived a week 3 scare against a struggling, winless Bengals team. The Giants have lost some players on defense, Umeyiora, Strahan, Mitchell, etc. but their offensive looks to be more than formidable. Receiver Plaxico Burress has caught 18 passes for 259 yards and in turn given a more mature Eli Manning a huge target. Giants running backs Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw supply a ground attack similar to that of division rival Dallas, and their two running backs Barber and Jones. A defense that is led by Justin Tuck (13 tackles) has looked good allowing just 14 points per game. The Giants are a bit deceiving and will continue to be. Seattle, Cleveland, and San Francisco in coming weeks, should give the Giants a nice 6-0 cushion before they hit a rough patch. At Pittsburgh, home against Dallas, back to PA against Philly, and returning home to play Baltimore. Four of the NFL's top 10 defenses in consecutive weeks will test that explosive Giants offense and the new confidence of Eli Manning.

We've never learned more about a team after a loss than we did last Monday night. The Philadelphia Eagles gave the Dallas Cowboys all they could handle in a 41-37 loss in week 2. McNabb, version 2008, has been very, very, good. The veteran quarterback is on his way toward a career high in completion percentage, completing 70 of his first 105 passes. Donovan is on pace to throw for over 4,000 yards and has thrown only one interception thus far. It isn't all just McNabb, the Eagles defense has been stifling. Allowing just an average of 45.7 yards per game against the likes of Stephen Jackson, Marion Barber, and Willie Parker. On Sunday against the Steelers the Eagles managed to sack Pittsburgh quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger EIGHT times en route to a 15-6 home win. This Eagle defense is holding teams to less than 250 total yards and 17 points a game. With the addition of rookie receiver DeSean Jackson, whose already had two 100 yard receiving games, McNabb has found a viable replacement for the injured Kevin Curtis and Reggie Brown (who should be returning this week.) This Eagles team has proved it can score 30+ points and compete with those offenses like Dallas, Denver, and San Diego who have no problem putting major points on the board. In week 3 when they beat Pittsburgh, they played that grind it out style of football and won a close low scoring game. It's hard to argue that the Eagles won't be around in January, especially if McNabb stays healthy and continues to play the way he's been playing.

. . .and then there are the front running Dallas Cowboys. They are supposed to be 3-0, they are supposed to win the division, they are supposed to put 10+ players in the pro bowl, that we know. If were talking regular season, you can't find talent better than what the Cowboys put on the field every Sunday. From their offensive line including pro bowlers, Flozell Adams and Leonard Davis, to their dynamic backfield of Barber and the rookie Felix Jones, big D is stacked. They destroyed Cleveland on the road, outlasted Philly in Texas, and beat up the Packers and Aaron Rodgers at Lambeau. Call me nervous, call me doubting, but the same mistakes that the Cowboys made in the past, they are making today. They are second in the NFL in penalties and fortunately have survived more than one Tony Romo crucial turnover. A well oiled machine? Yes. A machine that needs tinkering? You bet. The Cowboys penalty problems are a result directly from the head coach. False starts have continued to plague Flozell Adams, all 340 pounds of Flozell "The Hotel." Romo's inability to give up on a play is what makes him great, but in close games, as playoff games usually are, they are crucial. Either way, if were talking regular season supremacy, the Cowboys are top dogs. The previously mentioned Felix Jones has scored from 11 yards out, on a kick return, and in Green Bay he dropped a 60 yard touchdown run on the Packers. The Cowboys controversial corner, Adam Jones, has shown great improvement from the preseason and even showed some of the things that made him a top 5 draft pick to the Titans several years ago. These Cowboys have one goal, win in the playoffs, clean up these penalties and turnovers, and nobody is beating them.

From top to bottom, the NFC East is the NFL's best. After 12 games they are 10-2 with those two losses coming within the division. The downside? One of these four teams will get left out of the playoffs.

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