Tuesday, August 29, 2006

NFC East Predictions cont.

Philadelphia Eagles

Last year it was unheard of to pick anybody but the Eagles to win the NFC East. They had a top quarterback and receiver combo, the experience of 3 past NFC East championships, and a ferocious defense highlighted by their ability to blitz and get after a quarterback.

... The eagles finished in last place.

The core of the Eagles is still there, and they won't be bad this year. Last year was last year, and now they have something to prove. Mcnabb, Westbrook, and Owens were all injured, and will be a new season with new promise.

Two years ago I kept chirping that Seattle and Dallas were vastly undervalued. Seattle wasn't very good, but LAST year they pulled it together and were a few muffed calls away from winning the Super bowl. Seattle had a good FOUNDATION in place. When I say Foundation, I mean that you could have taken apart the car, and added and subtracted pieces, but the car would still function at a high degree. The CORE is what I liked.

The good thing about the CORE of the Eagles, is that they have had the same coaching staff and key players together for Years. While the Redskins are changing parts every year, the Eagles are building from within and building in the draft. Now it is real visible to sign an Andre Carter, but it isn't so visible to turn a Derrick Burgess into a threat on the end. It is real visible to bring in high paid, Brandon Lloyd and Antwain Randel El, but it isn't so visible to turn Reggie Brown into a Pro bowler right under your nose.

If you look at the Eagles like a business, what do you see? They have proven winners in management, with both coaching and drafting the team. They have one of the best CEO’s at Quarterback, and they have a solid defense as a backbone. They have everything they need to be successful. I have been a Mcnabb basher for years, but the guy finally changed. I rank him as the 4th best quarterback in the league, and having the 4th best quarterback and a solid defense, always gives you a chance to win. Instead of the one read and run, Mcnabb uses his feet to buy time. The Monday Night deep touchdown he threw against Dallas is a perfect example. He has been in this west coast offense for YEARS now, and has a great understanding ( like Hasselback). It takes time to understand that offense, and Mcnabb does. That offense, one giant game of hot potato and if you know where to throw the ball it is deadly. Somebody will be open, depending on how the coverage defends, and now Mcnabb is an expert at who to pass the potato to. He doesn't have to be THAT accurate, or THAT mobile, Mcnabb is good now because of what’s in his head. His mobility is a bonus, and his accuracy is improved.

The passing game, is one giant read and react game. It is a game those eagles have been playing for years, and I think they are prepared to do well in that game. Marty Morningwig seems to think LJ Smith will have a big year at tight end, and I would tend to agree with him. He is a great athlete coming into the prime of his career, running those option routes in that system. The NFC East has the best tight ends as a division ( Cooley, Smith, Shockey, and Witten), and Smith might have the best season of all of them. I wouldn't be shocked if he caught 80 balls ( he caught 61 last year).

The other main problem with the Eagles last year, was the poor play of the defensive line. It wasn't that Aggressive Jim Johnson defense we are used to seeing, but a overall poor defense last year. The key to stoping the run OR the pass, is a good rush up front... That was something the Eagles lacked last year. It was encouraging to see their management go after 2 good D-Lineman. Bunkley at Flordia state, could do to this line what Corey Simon did years ago. Darren Howard might not be as athletic as the freak, but he is a good technician at the other defensive end slot. I think they have a very solid line, and the Eagles defense will look more like the defense of 2 years ago, than last year.

Trotter is the best MLB in the divison ( over Antonio Pierce). They are similar in overall ability, but Trotter is just nasty. He completely took over the game against San Diego last year. Not only was he making good reads and slamming into LT at the line of scrimmage, but he was intimidating and going nuts too. That’s what I like to see out of your leader and middle linebacker on defense. The other linebackers are what I am not so sure about. I think Dhani Jones is decent, but the final linebacker spot is looking below average. Somebody needs to step up and give the eagles at least 3 good healthy

I have already talked about how I like the veteran presence of the proven winning coaching staff, Mcnabb, and a solid defense. I think the O-Line will run block better this year, Reggie Brown, Stallworth and LJ Smith will step up in the passing game. I have been talking about winning on the road, and I think the Eagles have the crew that can do that ( including their kicker David Akers). A good kicker doesn't just come in handy in a 3 point win... What about when a team is winning and already up 20-17. If they make that kick and extend to a 6 point lead, the force the other team into scoring a touchdown. Then after the opposing quarterback turns it over, they might lose by 13. Kickers are not just valuable when they make the winning kick in the closing seconds. Missed field goals = missed scoring opportunities.

The final leg is that the Eagles have a 4th place schedule. While the Giants will be playing Chicago and Seattle and the redskins and cowboys have the 2nd and 3rd place teams, the Eagles will have much more winnable games vs San Fran and Green Bay. Picking up cheap wins against San Fran and Green Bay pretty much give Philly a 2 game advantage over the rest of the division. Two cheap wins could be the difference between 8-8 and 10-6. I am not saying those wins will be easy, but it should be a lot easier than the Giants going to play in the great wilderness AT Seattle where they don't lose.

Check out the first games of the schedule
@ Houston
NY Giants ( in Philly)( key divisional game)
@ San Fran
Green Bay ( in Philly)
Dallas ( in philly)( key divisional and TO Pride game)
@ New Orleans

The Eagles could go 5-1, with 4-2 more likely than 3-3. It would be hard to pick a schedule more generous than that at the beginning. You'd have to call the Eagles early favorites at Houston ( -3.5), San Fran, GB at home, at New Orleans, and they have both divisional opponents at home!!!

While the Giants have Indy, @ Philly, @Seattle, Washington, @ Atlanta, and @ Dallas to start the year.

Dallas Cowboys

The Cowboys were close last year. The Cowboys were 9-7 last year but let's examine their 7 losses...
Washington - Lost by 1 point in the closing seconds in a stunning MNF debacle
@ Oakland- Lost in the closing seconds by 6, with 1st and goal from the 3 yardline.
@ seattle 13-10 - Jose Cortez misses 1 FG, and Bledsoe threw that awful pick.
Denver on thanksgiving- Bill Cundiff misses a make-able field goal and they lose by 3
Lost by 7 to the Giants
Actually got stomped by the Redskins
and quit against the Rams in the final game, losing by 10

So 5 out of their 7 losses, were by 1 possesson or less. They add the most accurate field goal kicker in NFL history who could have instantly turned a 9-7 team, into an 11-5 playoff team. The same exact team MINUS Jose "deport me" Cortez, and Bill "baby boy" Cuntiff would have been 2 wins better. You turn a liable kicking game from a weakness into a great strength. Arizona Cardinals head coach Denny Green always says that the quickest way to LOSE games, is have a bad kicker. Getting good play in the kicking game can instantly give you some extra wins.

The team had lost its starting tailback for much of the season, and was starting Rob Petiti at tackle. Petiti gave up the most sacks in the league last year as a rookie ( I believe it was 15). Petitie will be on the bench next year as a backup with newly signed Jason Fambini. That may not be a marquee signing, but it turns the weakest tackle in the league, into a strength. It is not MAYBE, they get better play, they will be getting better play because it really couldn't be any worse. I think Marco Rivera should play better this year as well. The game that really summed it up for me was the Denver game last year. Denver's D-Line was virtually moving the original line of scrimmage back two yards on every play. It amazed me how Dallas actually got rushing yards, and how they somehow got those passes off. I think if that defense played that offense 10 times, Dallas would be thankful for the results they got last year. Now that line shouldn't be pushed back every play next year. The problem at right tackle shouldn't be a problem this year.

Terrell Owens. I agree that Owens probably came straight from the top with Jerry Jones. Jones played football, and thinks he knows football, and the little kid inside him wanted Owens on his team. I don't think Parcells wanted him. Parcells didn't show up at the press conference, probably in case anything bad happens. He doesn't want those pictures of him smiling, on signing day next to Owens in his 81 jersey when Owens causes trouble. That doesn’t mean this relationship won't work. Owens maintains that he likes Parcells because they both want to win really badly. Parcells has already been calling him "she", and "the player". I am not saying this is a match made in heaven, but my forecast is for THIS year. I think we can expect decent behavior from Owens THIS year. Now the media is already jumping up and down about Owens being late for a meeting, but that stuff goes unreported all the time.

Owens turns a team that was IN a lot of games last year, into a favorite in those games. He pushes the Cowboys over the top. He is a receiving threat that you really can't ignore. Glenn is a solid handed deep threat, Crayton shows promise, and the cowboys may go after another threat. With Jason Witten at tight end, and the young Fasano, the cowboys could also pound away with 2 TE sets.

A lot of people don't like Bledsoe, but he is a VET, who has already been to the Super bowl with Parcells. He is on the leagues all-time passing list, and can win in the playoffs. He probably isn't being asked to be Peyton Manning next year, but I believe he can throw for 3500 plus yards if needed. Parcells LIKES to run the ball and play defense, but don't think that’s all he does. His quarterbacks have also had 400+ attempt passing seasons in the past. If he is facing a shaky Washington secondary with Shawn Springs out, don't be surprised to see Bledsoe and Owens testing the secondary. I think Owens, Bledsoe, and Parcells have a lot to prove. They are either perceived as too much trouble, too old, too slow, too immobile, and not cool.

The 3-4 defense brings in vet Akin Adolye and Bobby Carpenter to the mix. I think Carpenter could be a spark plug to this defense. Demarcus Ware quickly became and impact player, and I think they will have 4 play making linebackers running around. I think Newman is a stud corner, Aaron Glenn is above average. vs the pass, and Anthony Henry is also above average. They will always have Roy Williams patrolling the secondary as well.

I think the 34 could be an advantage, as they have all these bodies to throw at you. Marcus Spears looks like he could have been a steal in the draft, and Chris Canty will rotate in with the solid Greg Ellis. Ware and Carpenter could provide the spark on the outside, with Adoyle and James or Singleton in the middle.

I like the Cowboys early schedule as well as the Eagles

@ Jax ( they are +3 or +2.5), but it is a very win-able game
Washington ( at home)
Bye ( early bye)
@ Tennesse
@ Philly ( TO goes home)
Giants ( at home)

I wouldn't be shocked if TO and the new look cowboys were 6-0 going into the game against the Giants at home. They would have to catch some breaks and going 5-1 or 4-2 ,might be more likely, but I really wouldn't be shocked to see them undefeated. I just see them as a tougher team to BEAT with Vanderjack and Owens. Instead of the cowboys beating themselves with missed field goals, the opposing team will have to beat them instead of managing a game. I think they are going to upset Jacksonville in week 1, they have the Redskins at home week 2, Tennesse in week 4, and then the Philly Renunion. Althought the TO Bowl will be at Philly, I think it will be a crazy game that will be the battle for 1st place in the NFC East. I am not saying those games will be easy, but if the Cowboys are 3-0 or 2-1 going into the TO Bowl, they could go home 4-0 or 3-1.

The week 2 game against Washington is key, but it’s IN Dallas where they will be looking for revenge, Washington will be coming off a Monday night game as well and will have a short week to prepare and recover. You have to expect all of the home teams as favorites within the division until injures and players shape out.

I think the TO Bowl, will be crazy, and will be the battle for 1st place. I am NOT however looking forward to hearing about this game 24-7 all week long by the ESPN hype machine, and the coverage this game will get.

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