Posts Tagged ‘New York Giants’

The NFC East is always a fight. Whether it is among the fans or on the field, it will never be claimed easily. Last season, it was taken via heist on the field, when a new arrival in Washington DC took the previous season’s bottom feeders to a level the organization had not reached in 13 years, and in a fashion they’d never seen before.

But staying on top has much more struggle than reaching it, and Robert Griffin III and his Redskins are primed to discover this. The battle to hold the crown will be highlighted by a brand new approach in Philadelphia, a coach that’s likely pushing to hold onto his livelihood in Dallas and a Giants team that’s search for a new identity with familiar faces.

There were some gutsy wins a year ago, such as the Redskins sweeping the season series from Dallas, and the Eagles pulling out their last win in what would prove to be in nearly a two month span over the Giants, which ultimately ended up costing New York a playoff shot. There’s not many division that break down the middle closer than the NFC East does, and once again there may very well be only one ticket to the Playoffs provided from this division. So there will be no love lost once again, not as if there ever was any in the first place.

All-Division Team

QB: Robert Griffin III, RB: LeSean McCoy, Alfred Morris, WR: Dez Bryant, Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks, TE: Jason Witten, OT: Jason Peters, Trent Williams, OG: Todd Herremans, Kory Litchensteiger, C: David Baas

DE: DeMarcus Ware, Jason Pierre-Paul, DT/NT: Jay Ratliff, Issac Sopoaga, OLB: Brian Orakpo, Ryan Kerrigan, MLB: Sean Lee, Demeco Ryans, CB: Morris Claiborne, Brandon Flowers, FS: Nate Allen, SS: Brandon Merriweather

K: Dan Bailey, P: Donnie Jones, KR: David Wilson, PR: Desean Jackson

Coming off his second consecutive 8-8 year, Romo is facing a season where a corner is needed to be turned.

Coming off his second consecutive 8-8 year, Romo is facing the task of leading the way for what needs to be turning the corner season, as well as a return to the playoffs for the first time in four years.

DALLAS COWBOYS (8-8 in 2012)

The Good: It finally clicked for Dez last year, and he began to deliver on the warehouse full of talent that he’s had for years. In his breakout season, he posted totals of 1,382 yards on 92 catches and 12 touchdowns, and became a regular playmaker in an offense full of steady, but not game breaking talents. 16 games of him playing at the level he finished 2012 at could change everything about the potential of this offense, and yes, even Tony Romo.

The Bad: Are they ready to play hardnosed football yet up front? Two of their previous three first round picks have been dedicated to bettering the offensive line, between Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick, so the effort is on. But with the perennially fragile Demarco Murray and an immediate need to keep Romo upright to deliver to the plethora of targets on offense, the difference between a run for the division or not starts with the development upfront paying out.

X-Factor—Sean Lee: The rangy, tackling machine in the middle of defense is the key to the success of the unit. He ran up big games of 10 and 14 tackles early in the year, before heading the PUP list after a toe injury in week 7 a year ago. His health and availability is a non-negotiable element of the success of a team whose linebacker corps are young and now without DeMarcus Ware, who moves to defensive end.

Record: NYG (W), @KC (W), STL (W), @SD (W), DEN (L), WSH (L), @PHI (L), @DET (W), MIN (W), @NO (W), @NYG (L), OAK (W), @CHI (L), GB (L), @WSH (L), PHI (W)

Prediction: There’s always going to be questions about the Cowboy’s consistency as long as Romo is calling the shots, but the biggest issue for them is finding consistency within the division. Jason Garrett is likely running short on opportunities to produce this, and health of his defensive unit will likely be the deciding factor for the season. A tough late season run with trips to Chicago and Washington, as well as hosting Green Bay will call the difference in a division title or the mud of a wild card push, with the former being more likely. 9-7

 

Cruz topped 1,000 yards for the second consecutive season, and has found the endzone 19 times in the previous two years.

Cruz topped 1,000 yards for the second consecutive season, and has found the endzone 19 times in the previous two years. He returns to be responsible for more of the production in NY than ever before.

NEW YORK GIANTS (9-7 in 2012)

The Good: They have undergone a steady change over the past few years, and it has returned several promising offensive tools. Between Rueben Randle, Brandon Myers and Ramses Barden, the offensive unit has a lot of breakthrough potential this season. Add in the luxury of staying in complimentary roles around Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks leading the way, along with Eli Manning, who has an underrated ability to bring out the best in young receivers, calling the shots for them.

The Bad: Will the defense have found its identity this time around? Osi Umenyiora is gone, Jason Pierre-Paul is rebounding from back surgery and the secondary is in transition. In a division with the type of offense that the NFC East, not to mention dates with Green Bay, Seattle and Detroit, the will be tested often. There will have to be a unit that overachieves to help steady the team’s outlook.

X-Factor—David Wilson: Wilson showed his big play potential in open space last year, with an NFL-best 1,533 kick return yards, but never quite figured out the nuances of running between, off or anywhere near the tackles. But with Ahmad Bradshaw gone, he’ll be leaned on heavily to be the same type of all-purpose back that his predecessor was. Picking up the details in year two will be a must.

Record: —@DAL (L), DEN (L), @CAR (W), @KC (L), PHI (W), @CHI (L), MIN (L), @PHI (W), OAK (W), GB (L), DAL (W), @WSH (L), @SD (W), SEA (L), @DET (W), WSH (W)

Prediction: They certainly could factor into the mostly even landscape of the NFC East, via the points potential of the best QB/receiver combo in the NFC alone. But they are thin on proven depth, as well as exactly what type of production they can count on from the defense week in and out. If everything goes right, they could steal the division. Yet if one unit lags, they could just as easily slide out of the playoff picture complete. This is likely a team that has stretches with both and has a record that reflects it. Record: 8-8.

McCoy has had at least 250 touches in each of the past three seasons, and is in line to be among the busiest backs in football in Philly's new scheme.

McCoy has had at least 250 touches in each of the past three seasons, and is in line to be among the busiest backs in football in Philly’s new scheme.

PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (4-12 in 2012)

The Good: The new scheme certainly fits the pieces. It’s still not completely certain how Chip Kelly’s up tempo offense will be translated into the NFL, but he certainly has the right pieces to make it go. Desean Jackson, Michael Vick, LeSean McCoy and Michael Vick can be instant offense, and the return of Jason Peters, coupled with massive first round pick Lane Johnson gives them the right bookends to build a persistent threat on offense.

The Bad: Defensively, there’s been a major turnover in the secondary, and it could be a target early on often for Romo, Manning and RGIII for the majority of the season. Without a promise of consistent pass rush (a team total of 30 in 2012), nor much change that would change the league-worse 13 turnovers they scrounged together, they could still be among the worst units in the League.

X-Factor—Michael Vick: The enigma that is Vick continues to take on new faces. Ideally, he is the perfect option for the type of offense that is being installed. However, he hasn’t been the most flexible decision maker on the run, especially standing up to the constant pressure that he has been subjected to the last few years. If he can play within himself and put to bed the rumors of the looming Nick Foles (again), the entire picture for the team could change.

Record—@WSH (L), SD (L), KC (L), @DEN (L), @NYG (L), @TB (W), DAL (W), NYG (L), @OAK (W), @GB (L), WSH (L), ARI (W), DET (L), @MIN (L), CHI (L), @DAL (L)

Prediction: There are a lot of elements going on at once that are not point towards much of a step forward in Philly. There is unrest at quarterback, a completely new offensive scheme under a rookie head coach, an offensive line bookended by a comeback attempt and a rookie, as well as a thin defense. Add in the usual brutality of the NFC East, and you have another long season in PA. Record: 4-12.

 

Griffin lead the Redskins to heights they hadn't reached in over a decade in route to becoming Offensive Rookie of the Year. But how much of a price did he pay?

Griffin lead the Redskins to heights they hadn’t reached in over a decade in route to becoming Offensive Rookie of the Year. But how much of a price did he pay?

Washington Redskins (10-6 in 2012)

The Good: For all of the steps forward that the Skins took last year with RGIII at the helm, they were never truly at full strength. Pierre Garcon, Fred Davis, Trent Williams and Brian Orakpo all spent significant time off the field. All are slated to be back and in the fold from day one this year, which along with a miraculously ready (we think) Griffin back from knee surgery, this could be one of the most explosive teams in the NFL, both again and on a new level.

The Bad: Is the defense ready to carry their part of the bargain? They return much of the same unit as last year, and didn’t have many early draft picks to get creative with to infuse new life into the mix. The team won last year in spite of a bland pass rush and porous secondary. The pass rush will be improved with Orakpo back, but there have to be more elements than himself and Ryan Kerrigan to it.

X-Factor—Fred Davis: When he tore his ACL in week 7 last year, he was averaging just over 13 yards per catch and was a major target over the middle for Griffin as defensive were stuck between guarding the run and fearing the bomb. If he stays healthy and still has his unique mix of size and separation speed, he could be one of the most productive tight ends in the NFL.

Record: PHI (W), @GB (L), DET (W), @OAK (W), @DAL (W), CHI (W), @DEN (L), SD (W), @MIN (L), @PHI (W), SF (W), NYG (W), KC (L), @ATL (L), DAL (W), @NYG (L)

Prediction: RGIII may be the biggest difference maker in the NFL, for any team. Regardless of how he is deployed this year, having his full selection of tools around him this year makes him that much more dangerous and primed for an even better season. Combined with a strong complimentary threat in Alfred Morris and the bonus of the division’s best linebacker group in Orakpo, Fletcher and Kerrigan, and the Skins look to be able to repeat what could be a regular position atop the East. Record: 10-6.

Stay locked over the next week, as the previews keep coming and I walk the prediction plank. Either I look dumb, great or like the Giants. For the real-time development, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan

It’s Thursday Night Football time again, a concept I’m really down for by the way (save for Cee Lo screaming at me like he’s lost more of his mind than his hair) . It isn’t quite the big game overkill the NBA can be, but it’s a nice bridge from Monday Night until the College FB takes over on Saturday.

At any rate, it’s time for the pick and it’s time to keep the perfect Thursday alive. After opening up right last Thursday with the Packers over the Bears, let’s turn it up again for a real battle of the QBs down in Carolina…

Eli may only be able to look for himself to pull it out with all the MIA Giants tonight.

New York Giants (1-1) at Carolina Panthers (1-1): It’s Eli vs. Cam, in what appears to be the Super Bowl Champs taking on what was the ultimate one man show a year ago. But things have changed, and in a hurry. The Giants are rocked with injuries right now, Hakeem Nicks, Ahmad Bradshaw, David Diehl, the Statue of Liberty, a few bridges in Central Park….bout everything out of NY is beat up, and they are actually coming in thinner than the Panthers. Having already struggled against the deep ball, they are playing the wrong squad in the Panthers who are finally developing a varied attack in open space, while still employing the league’s ultimate weapon in Cam.

The Giants are on their heels a bit, and the Panthers have one hell of a knockout punch driving them. The Panthers win, and wound more than just the G-Men’s bones and joints in the process.

The NFC East loves to beat on itself. Each fan base has a rivalry that spills directly from what the teams leave on the field for them to feed off of. All of this is for good reason as well, as competition stays at a premium here. No team has repeated as division champion since the Eagles in 2004; and for anyone handing them the division this year, pay close attention to this fact.

A year ago, the return to prominence of Michael Vick took the NFL by storm. He was the final piece needed to push the Eagles back to the top of a division they have won more times in the last ten years than any other club. However, does it carry over again as seamlessly? The Cowboys offense woke up late last season, and the return of Tony Romo will put them in position to take a shot back at the top of a division they won just two years ago. The Giants are always in the mix, and despite a rash of injuries, still are arguably the most balanced team of the four. The Redskins are rebuilding, but offer the potential of an upset towards any of the division’s more celebrated squads.

As said last year in this same column, the NFC East will be the traditional battlefield it always has been.

 

ALL-DIVISION TEAM

QB: Michael Vick RB: Ahmad Bradshaw, LeSean McCoy FB: Leonard Weaver WR: Miles Austin, DeSean Jackson, Hakeem Nicks TE: Jason Witten OT: Jason Peters, Doug Free OG: Chris Snee, Todd Herremans C: Jamaal Jackson

DE: Justin Tuck, Trent Cole DT: Jay Ratliff, Mike Patterson OLB: DeMarcus Ware, Brian Orakpo MLB: London Fletcher, Bradie James CB: Nnamdi Asomugha, Asante Samuel S: LaRon Landry, OJ Atogwe

K: Lawrence Tynes P: Mat McBriar Returner: DeSean Jackson

 

DALLAS COWBOYS (6-10 in 2010)

Offense: T. Romo-QB, M. Austin-WR, J. Witten-TE, D. Bryant-WR (B+)

Defense: D. Ware-OLB, J. Ratliff-NT, T. Newman-CB, G. Sensabaugh-S (C+)

 

The Good: For all that is said about the offense stalling out, it played better once Jason Garrett took control of the team last season. Also, it will get a boost with the return of Tony Romo, a healthy and more experienced Dez Bryant and using more of Felix Jones. The biggest difference here could be Rob Ryan taking over as Defensive Coordinator. His aggressive scheme should help a Dallas defense that had coverage like a broken dam downfield, while put for too little pressure on the quarterback outside of DeMarcus Ware.

The Bad: The offensive line is rebuilt, but still has a long way to go. Tyron Smith will take his lumps as the youngest player in the league while starting at right tackle. Add to that that they will be breaking in four new starters in front of Romo, and it could be a repeat of last year’s poor unit that gave up 30 sacks a year ago and could not field a 1000 yard rusher either.

Romo is Dallas' greatest asset. The sooner they start protecting him as such, the better.

X-Factor-Felix Jones: Jones is a definite candidate for biggest breakout player this fall. He could be called on more in the receiving game than any other running back in the league, especially if the line doesn’t hold up well. He’ll have the advantage of having his great speed to hit defenses that are busy guarding the multiple Cowboy receiving threats off guard quickly.

Fearless Prediction: @NYJ (L), @SF (W), WSH (W), DET (L), @NE (L), STL (W), @PHI (L), SEA (W), BUF (W), @WSH (L), MIA (W), @ARI (W), NYG (L), @TB (L), PHI (W), @NYG (W)

In The End: They’ll be better if they stay healthy, and that’s a big if. Miles Austin is hurting already and Romo has to stay upright for them to be much better at all. A mixture of a revived defensive approach, along with a more steady offense will make them better, but they still aren’t tough enough up front to push into the playoffs this year. Record: 9-7

 

NEW YORK GIANTS (10-6 in 2010)

Offense: E. Manning-QB, A. Bradshaw-RB, H. Nicks-WR, M. Manningham-WR (B+)

Defense: J. Tuck-DE, O. Umenyiora-DE, A. Rolle-S, C. Webster-CB (B-)

 

The Good: They can move the ball downfield. Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham are one of the more underrated receiving tandems in the game, despite combining for 1,996 yards and 20 TD in 2010. Eli Manning is far from the “elite” passer he fashioned himself as, but gets it done more often than he doesn’t. Ahmad Bradshaw’s breakout last season gave them the Tiki Barber like dual threat they had been lacking for years, and the Bradshaw-Jacobs backfield is capable of giving defenses multiple types of headaches being deployed together.

The Bad: They didn’t get much better at any critical area, and now they could be paying for it. The offensive line was already a problem, and now with the departure of Steve Smith and Kevin Boss, there is less talent for Eli to have bail out the rushed throws that will be even more common now. The defense was in position bail them out, but a plague of injury swept over that unit, claiming Osi Umenyiora, Terrell Thomas and first round pick Prince Amukamara.

After a pretty brash offseason on the interview circuit, Manning will have to show and prove like never before this year.

X-Factor-Jason Pierre-Paul: Placed in the middle of a deep defensive end rotation, the team’s 2010 first rounder had to make the best of his limited opportunities last season. He still managed 4.5 sacks, and with Umenyiora out for the beginning of the season, he will have an opportunity to be a priority for the first time. Even after Osi returns, he will have a chance to be one of the best third ends in the league.

Fearless Prediction: @WSH (L), STL (W), @PHI (L), WSH (W), SEA (W), BUF (W), @MIA (L), @NE (L), @SF (W), PHI (W), @NO (L), GB (L), @DAL (W), WSH (W), @NYJ (W), DAL (L)

Summary: It’s a roughly unsettled team that is battling injury, depth and a tough division. However, if any team has the tools to improve and pull out an upset divisional win it’s the G-Men, but it doesn’t seem to be in the cards this year with a still unsettled offensive line and thin receiving and linebacker groups. Record: 9-7

 

PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (10-6 in 2010; Division Champs)

Offense: M. Vick-QB, D. Jackson-WR, L. McCoy-RB, J. Maclin-WR (A)

Defense: N. Asomugha-CB, T. Cole-DE, J. Babin-DE, A. Samuel-CB (B+)

 

The Good: It’s a track meet in Philly, with an offense that can score from anywhere. DeSean Jackson, Michael Vick, Jeremy Maclin and LeSean McCoy can finish a drive as soon as they touch the ball. But they had that last year. The biggest improvement in this team is that now, it’s going to be much harder to play catch up, because there are very few windows to throw the ball into. The additions of Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie make avoiding Asante Samuel nowhere near as easy of a proposition, therefore letting Trent Cole and new additions Cullen Jenkins and Jason Babin go blitz crazy without worrying about any repercussions. If the Eagles get ahead by 10, it may be over.

The Bad: The offensive line could derail all hopes of a high powered offense if they don’t keep Vick on his feet and give McCoy a chance to get in the open field. Vick could be well served to take fewer hits in the open field, but he has to be able to drop back and work at least. Keeping him healthy is the key to how far this team can go, and that responsibility is being given to a group he’s already been forced to protect, a bit of odd role reversal so soon.

The additions of Rodgers-Cromartie and Asomugha gives the Eagles' blitz Secret Service-like protection to do as they please.

X-Factor-Casey Matthews: The team’s third round pick is being thrust into the middle of a subpar linebacker corps, and is inheriting a world of responsibility immediately. Since teams will be more apprehensive about going deep against their corners, the attacking over the middle and with the run will be the plan to overcome Philly. Matthews will have to rise to the occasion in a hurry to bring this unit up to speed.

Fearless Prediction: @STL (W), @ATL (L), NYG (W), SF (W), @BUF (W), @WSH (W), DAL (W), CHI (W), ARI (W), @NYG (L), NE (L), @SEA (W), @MIA (W), NYJ (W), @DAL (L), @WSH (W)

Summary: There’s a world of expectation here, and for good reason. It is a team that showed great promise a year ago, and went out and seemingly signed every available impact player on the market to finish their ascent. There will be some bumps along the way, but they will once again be the class of the East and will push deeper towards Super Sunday this year…health permitting. Record: 12-4

 

WASHINGTON REDSKINS (6-10 in 2010)

Offense: S. Moss-WR, C. Cooley-TE, T. Williams-OT (C)

Defense: D. Hall-CB, B. Orakpo-LB, L. Landry-S, L. Fletcher-LB (D+)

 

The Good: For better or worse, most of the internal drama is moved out. Mike Shanahan vs. Donovan McNabb vs. Albert Haynesworth took down this team before it took to the field quite often. Regardless of the right or wrong of the scenario, having focused team will benefit the entire prognosis for the season. The new blood of Tim Hightower, Jabar Gaffney, Donte Stallworth, Ryan Kerrigan and OJ Atogwe both addresses problem areas from a year ago and provide new hope at formerly controversial positions.

The Bad: Rotating between John Beck and Rex Grossman doesn’t inspire much hope. While the improved supporting cast (especially at running back) will help mask some of these inadequacies, in the end the QB has to bear down and win some games for their team, and Beck couldn’t win over the Dolphins less than desirable QB opening and Grossman is a thrill seeker of the worst kind. The “best” thing either of them could do is get the team in position to draft a suitable QB of the future in April.

No matter who is throwing the ball, Santana Moss will have more freedom to roam with the boost to his supporting cast at receiver.

X-Factor-OJ Atogwe: A quick signing before the lockout took place, he stands to be the most meaningful addition to the club in the end. The Skins porous pass defense (261 yards per game, 2nd worst overall) had to be addressed in multiple places, and adding the former Ram’s diverse ability to play either safety spot will provide a much needed final line of defense.

Fearless Prediction: NYG (W), ARI (W), @DAL (L), @STL (L), PHI (L), @CAR (W), @BUF (W), SF (L), @MIA (W), DAL (W), @SEA (L), NYJ (L), NE (L), @NYG (L), MIN (L), @PHI (L)

Summary: It will be another frustrating year in D.C. There will be flashes of greatness and the defense will improve this year, but in the end it all comes back to the lack of a field general to pull out the tough wins and a tough end of the schedule. There are still some major moves that need to made to pull this team up the ladder and for the first time in two years, they will not improve their on their win total. Record: 5-11

 

To see how right, wrong or in-between this all works out, and me living with it, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan and @STLSport360

“Who you got winning it this year?”….”Who got in the Bowl?”….”Who you see going all the way this year?”

All of these are common questions around this part of the year for hords of football fans gearing up for the NFL season. It is a constant debate and arguing point that will continue all the way through February 6’s kickoff for the Big Game in Dallas. Until that time (and potentially much earlier) here’s how it’s looking….from my seat at least. If you need further explanation on how these records came to be, go back and look at the 8 NFL Previews posted here a few weeks back.

Brees & Manning ruled in 2010, but will either have what it takes to make a season finale repeat appearance?

Until then my guess is just as good as yours….albeit with a little bit more an educated guess. I kid, I kid….kinda.

NFC Projected Rankings

  1. New Orleans Saints (13-3)
  2. Minnesota Vikings (13-3)
  3. Dallas Cowboys (12-4)
  4. San Francisco 49ers (10-6)
  5. *Green Bay Packers (11-5)
  6. *New York Giants (10-6)

AFC Projected Rankings

  1. New York Jets (13-3)
  2. Indianapolis Colts (12-4)
  3. San Diego Chargers (11-5)
  4. Cincinnati Bengals (11-5)
  5. *New England Patriots (11-5)
  6. *Baltimore Ravens (11-5)

WILD CARD WEEKEND

NFC

Dallas Cowboys vs. New York Giants

–          After splitting regular season matchups, this will be a tough postseason opener for each club, due to their familiarity with each other after two inter division match ups during the season . With tough defenses in both jerseys, it breaks down to who can take establish the offense the earliest and most often. That’s where the Cowboys take the advantage and take the win. Cowboys 28, Giants 20

San Francisco 49ers vs. Green Bay Packers

–          In a battle of two opposites, who can make a push the big play most often will win out. The Niners grind it out and let their defense set the tone, while Green Bay is high flying and will try to attack the San Fran secondary, the weakest part of their defense. This will be decided on the front lines and San Francisco should be able to establish its pass rush to overtake the Green Bay offensive line and work out a close win. 49ers 20, Packers 17

In his first playoff game as a coach, Singletary has what it takes to drop the Pack.

AFC

San Diego Chargers vs. Baltimore Ravens

–          In another big offense versus stingy defense battle, this is another case of who establishes their position most often. The difference in this being a straight down the middle, battle of opposites is the expansion of Baltimore’s offense, with Anquan Boldin, T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Donte Stallworth to deploy down field, which makes them a greater overall threat and gives them the win. Ravens 30, Chargers 17

Cincinnati Bengals vs. New England Patriots

–          In a week one rematch, the Bengals and Patriots hook up again. However, this time it’s in Cincinnati, but thats the only difference that will come of it. The depth of the Bengal passing game combined with the pressure they can send at Tom Brady will be too much again. The Pats secondary will not be able to answer what the Bengals bring at it and New England will once again have a Wild Card exit from the season. Bengals 35, Patriots 21

For the second consecutive year, Tom goes home early after a brutal Wild Card Weekend.

DIVISIONAL ROUND

NFC

New Orleans Saints vs. San Francisco 49ers

–          The Saints get the Niners fresh off a tough first round contest and gives Mike Singletary’s defense a huge dose of it’s rested weapons after their first round bye. The Saints strength is similar to the Packers, in how they attack through the pass game early and often. Where the offensive line for the Packers couldn’t hold against the blitz of the Niners, the Saints’ line makes the difference and lets Drew Brees pick apart the average San Fran secondary for the win. Saints 35, 49ers 14

Minnesota Vikings vs. Dallas Cowboys

–          Another repeat matchup from the early regular season, where the Vikings handed the Cowboys their first loss of the season. This game will break down to a battle of if the Vikes defensive line can beat the Cowboy offensive line to stop Tony Romo. However after a few years of coming up short in big playoff situations, Romo finds a way to get out of this one. While it won’t be easy, the big play receivers in Dallas will find a way to get open and push Dallas back to their first NFC Championship game in over 15 years. Cowboys 27, Vikings 24 (OT)

Romo must rise out of the shadows of his past postseason failures to overcome the Vikes in Minnesota.

AFC

New York Jets vs. Cincinnati Bengals

–          Two very similar defenses link up in this matchup. Both are tough at every level and leave very little margin for error against them. It’s going to break down to which team’s defense forces the most crucial turnovers to allow their offense, or even kicking game, to make the easiest impact. This ends up being a battle of intangibles and experience winning out, and Cincinnati takes the slight edge in that department and will take the edge in this game, in big road win and upset. Bengals 13, Jets 10

Indianapolis Colts vs. Baltimore Ravens

–          It seems these two meet up every year with some critical matchup, and this is the same stage they battled at last year. Each team’s strength has a never say die leader in Peyton Manning and Ray Lewis, and whichever one out maneuvers the other’s unit takes this game. Ravens will pressure Manning no stop and most likely force him into some uncharacteristic errors, but in the end the Indianapolis secondary is nails in the red zone and will hold Joe Flacco’s attack and Manning will find openings with his deep receiver group to pull out the win. Colts 27, Ravens 17

CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIPS

New Orleans Saints vs. Dallas Cowboys

–          Coming into New Orleans is task in itself. The Superdome is the most riotous stadium in the league and beating them to make it to the Super Bowl there is a tall task, ask Minnesota. These are two aggressive offenses that will force the turnover and have defenses that give different looks the whole game. The Cowboys take the advantage in pass rushing options and a strong secondary, but the Saints have so many weapons in the passing game, there’s no secondary that can account for all of them. Factor in Jonathan Vilma and Darren Sharper’s knack for forcing the turnover and the timely big play and the Saints take the edge and return to Super Bowl Sunday. Saints 30, Cowboys 20

Indianapolis Colts vs. Cincinnati Bengals

–          The Colts have for years been a team that has provided unparalleled protection for Manning in his record breaking efforts. The only teams that have success against them are diverse, quick blitzing teams that force the turnover in the secondary and that happens to be the Bengals specialty. They have the running game to attack the Colts biggest weakness and by setting up the passing game off a steady dose of Cedric Benson, they have what it takes to dethrone the AFC Champs. By getting to Manning and forcing him into throwing to their cornerbacks, the Bengals will make their first trip to the Super Bowl since 1989. Bengals 27, Colts 24

Ochocinco finally makes prime time for doing his day job after dethroning the Colts as AFC Champs.

Super Bowl XLV

New Orleans Saints vs. Cincinnati Bengals

The road back to the top is always harder than the first one taken, but the Saints will have withstood those challenges to get to this point. An amazing and efficient offensive attack is what propels them to this level, with a defense that is capable of making the big play when needed. On the flip side, Cincinnati has a defense with all the ability and depth to reach this level, but is complimented by an equally good offense. While a single devastating unit is what lands the Saints here, unequaled balance is what the strength of Cincy is.

This game will be a back and forth affair early, as both sides have a good number of offsetting tools at their disposal, and they will be familiar already, having met in week 12 previously. Palmer should be able to find success going to the outside toward Owens and OchoCinco, where he can attack the weakest part of the Saints matchup. On the flip side, Brees will exploit the deep secondary of the Bengals defense by going over the top as often as possible. Running at the Bengals may be fruitless, just as attacking Jonathan Joseph and Leon Hall at primary cornerback/wide receiver matchups could be as well. On the other hand, the Saints greatest asset is Brees ability to use all his receivers and he will be able to capitalize on the steady matchup problems secondary receivers such as Jeremy Shockey, Devery Henderson, Reggie Bush and Lance Moore create and hitting those matchups will be the difference in enabling the Saints to defend their the throne as Super Bowl Champions, becoming the first team to repeat since the 2004-05 New England Patriots. Final Score: Saints 28, Bengals 20

Long Live The Kings: Brees and the Saints are too much and keep the Lombardi Trophy in NOLA.

There’s a lot season to be played. With that there will be plenty of breakout players, disappointments, injuries and upsets. However, of all seasons, this one has more of a wide open feeling than any NFL season in recent memory. Will it end up with a repeat at the top? Or will another team on the verge, such as the Jets, Vikings or Colts breakthrough to take the final step towards the Lombardi Trophy. Can another team on the verge, similar to the Saints coming into ’09 make the jump and take over? The Packers, Cowboys and Ravens have to believe this is possible. Even an upstart that puts everything together and crashes the playoff scene could make the ascension to the top. Texans, 49ers and even Raiders fans should have real hope as well.

The greatest thing about the NFL is that every year it is almost anybody’s league to win. Nobody is too far above the next club from being able to take over. For now, the slate is blank and it’s anybody’s to paint any way they feel. No matter what, the fight to get to the paper and the paint will be as colorful as ever.

The NFC East has been one of the power house divisions in all of the NFL over the last 10 years. Last year 3 of the 4 teams finished with .500 records or better in 2009 and sent two teams to the Playoffs. However, a shift in key players changed the look of every team in the division, and brings it closer to the top to bottom competitive group it traditionally is. One team’s franchise QB left for a division rival. Another hired a 2-time Super Bowl winning coach to change its fortunes. Up north, the division’s most recent Super Bowl Champs aggressively reshaped their defense to keep up. Finally, never to be shown up, the defending division champs added perhaps the most noteworthy rookie in all of April’s Draft. Needless to say, the East will be the traditional battlefield it has come to be known as.

Dallas Cowboys (11-5, Division Champs in 2009)

Offense: T. Romo-QB, M. Barber-RB, F. Jones-RB, M. Austin-WR, D. Bryant-WR, J. Witten-TE (A)

Defense: D. Ware-LB, T. Newman-CB, J. Ratliff-DT, K. Brooking-LB (B+)

The Good: They are stacked on both sides of the ball. Tony Romo (4,483 yards, 26 TD) is coming off a career year and is inheriting an offense that has already added a dynamic rookie wide receiver threat in Dez Bryant to go with the dependable Jason Witten and Miles Austin, fresh off his breakout season. The defense has very few holes, and the further development of Mike Jenkins at opposite corner of Terence Newman makes this a dangerous secondary.

Romo has all the tools to play a home game in the Super Bowl, now its about keeping them together.

The Bad: The offensive line has to hold on give Romo time to maximize those all those weapons and they are far from exceptional in pass protection. Also don’t count out the powers that be wearing them down. Jerry Jones will definitely be hard up for his premier product to take the field in February when his Cowboys Stadium palace hosts the Super Bowl and that pressure could crack down on this club.

X-Factor-Dez Bryant: The Cowboys slid up to grab the talented 21-year-old wide receiver with the 24th pick after he slid due to a plethora of post-season rumors. Dallas desperately needed another receiver to provide the consistency Roy Williams never seems to find. If he can rehab well from an ankle injury that has kept him out of most of training camp, he could become the deep threat that puts this team over the top.

2010 Prediction: @ Was (W), Chi (W), @ Hou (W), Ten (W), @ Min (L), NYG (W), Jax (W), @ GB (L), @ NYG (L), Det (W), NO (W), @ Ind (L), Phi (W), Wash (W), @ Ariz (W), @ Phi (W)

Summary: The Cowboys will face a tough schedule, but they have the talent to play with anybody in football. They should also benefit from an NFC East that isn’t as proven and strong as it has been in many years. They will be one the most entertaining teams in football. Record: 12-4

New York Giants (8-8 in 2009)

Offense: E. Manning-QB, H. Nicks-WR, S. Smith-WR, B. Jacobs-RB, A. Bradshaw-RB (B+)

Defense: O. Umenyiora-DE, C. Webster-CB, J. Tuck-DE, K. Bullock-LB, A. Rolle-FS (B+)

The Good: The subtle rebuilding of the Giants is paying off quickly. The combination of Hakeem Nicks, Mario Manningham and Pro Bowler Steve Smith at wide receiver has turned them into a better passing team than at any point in Eli Manning’s time as starter. On defense, they have also replaced aging veterans with aggressive free agent signings of Antrel Rolle and Keith Bullock. They have a great pass rushing trio in Osi Umenyiora, Justin Tuck and rookie Jason Pierre-Paul, and will be a handful for any offensive line.

A Hakeem Nicks' 2nd season breakthrough can take the Giants air attack to another level.

The Bad: The running game has severely regressed. Brandon Jacobs’ touchdown total dropped by 8 due to inconsistent health and Ahmad Bradshaw’s availability was also spotty due to injury. The Giants passing attack is not strong enough support the team by itself and both backs have to be ready to go for them to reach their potential.

X-Factor-Kenny Phillips: Safeties aren’t taken in the first round if they are not exceptional. When the G-Men took him with the 31st pick in the 2008 Draft that’s what they needed. He has not been by any means bad for them in his first two campaigns, but the time for a leap forward is now. Being paired with fellow Miami Hurricane Rolle could allow him to do a lot more at strong safety and a leap forward from him makes this an elite safety pairing in a defense that leans on the position.

2010 Prediction: Car (W), @ Ind (L), Ten (W), Chi (W), @ Hou (L), Det (W), @ Dal (L), @ Sea (W), Dal (W), @ Phi (L), Jax (W), Was (W), @ Min (L), Phi (W), @ GB (W), @ Was (L)

Summary: They have a solid core squad on both sides of the ball and either is capable of winning games for them. If they both stay healthy and consistent, a run for a wild card shouldn’t be stretch for NY. Record: 10-6

Philadelphia Eagles (11-5, Wild Card in 2009)

Offense: D. Jackson-WR, K. Kolb-QB, L. McCoy-RB, B. Celek-TE, J. Maclin-WR (B)

Defense: T. Cole-DE, A. Samuel-CB, E. Hobbs-CB, M. Jackson-FS (B+)

The Good: The Eagles are plain fast. DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin and LeSean McCoy can run past any defender in football and will be a handful to keep up with. They are very talented at all the skill positions and have an exceptional defense led by Trent Cole and Asante Samuel. The addition of Marlin Jackson at safety will make the secondary even more formidable in 2010.

Jackson's is one the game's premier big play finishers and he will count on for them more than ever.

The Bad: The running game. They finished 22nd in the League in rushing in 2009, which is a no go when breaking in a new starting quarterback like they will be this year. With Brian Westbrook out of the mix, McCoy will be given many more chances to go, but there are doubts about how much of an every down runner he can be. They have to mix in newly acquired Mike Bell frequently to push this stat up.

X-Factor-Kevin Kolb: The starter-in-waiting tag is gone and the keys to the Philly Ferrari are totally his now. He performed exceptionally in his two starting chances in 2009, averaging 359 yards per game. Nobody expects him to do that all year, but how he handles the job is key to Philly holding intact. He is replacing the greatest player in franchise history, who despite leaving in a swirl of controversy, still pushed the team to constant success. How he reacts in the hot seat is key to this team’s success.

2010 Prediction: GB (L), @ Det (W), @ Jax (W), Was (W), @ SF (L), Atl (W), @ Ten (W), Ind (W), @ Was (L), NYG (W), @ Chi (W), Hou (L), @ Dal (L), @ NYG (L), Min (L), Dal (L)

Summary: They are a solid team that is the midst of a changing of the guard. They play some tough defenses including Dallas and New York twice and Minnesota and Green Bay. They will take a step backwards during this growth period, but they should still be a solid team. Record: 8-8

Washington Redskins (4-12 in 2009)

Offense: D. McNabb-QB, C. Portis-RB, L. Johnson-RB, W. Parker-RB, C. Cooley-TE (B)

Defense: C. Rogers-CB, L. Landry-FS, B. Orakpo-LB, A. Haynesworth-DE, L. Fletcher-LB (C+)

The Good: Mike Shanahan is in town. The Redskins have been a mess for years (and still are in some regards, see Haynesworth, Albert), but he’s the right guy to get it back in order. With the addition of the exiled Donovan McNabb to lead his offense, the Skins should make some immediate progress in consistency of offense. They have plenty of running backs to choose from and a talented receiving corps, which gets a boost with Chris Cooley returning from injury.

Can the new Shanahan and McNabb combo provide the needed leadership for the unstable Skins?

The Bad: Chemistry could be a disaster beyond fixture before the season begins. It’s already Albert Haynesworth vs. the Skins; the team has even publicly turned against him. Clinton Portis, Larry Johnson and Willie Parker are all on board to attempt to improve the 27th ranked rush attack in the NFL from 2009. That’s a strong lineup, but that’s a lot of strong personalities and the jockeying for carries could be a big problem if one steps to the forefront too far.

X-Factor-Trent Williams: Left tackle is a demanding position; only the QB is more important. When Chris Samuels’ was forced into retirement due to a sudden neck injury, the Redskins offense crumbled and drafting a replacement became a must. Williams inherits a ton of responsibility with being the 4th pick (and Washington’s only in the first 4 rounds) and holding down McNabb’s back. How quickly the rook responds will determine much of the Skins’ fortune.

2010 Predicition: Dal (L), Hou (W), @ StL (W), @ Phi (L), GB (L), Ind (L), @ Chi (W), @ Det (W), Phi (W), @ Ten (L), Min (L), @ NYG (L), TB (W), @ Dal (L), @ Jax (L), NY (W)

Summary: They will improve from their horrible 2009 campaign, but not enough to overtake any of the other three better established clubs in the East. Too much is questionable here for them to become an immediate success and they play a demanding schedule. Record: 7-9