The Dallas Cowboys have a ridiculously talented squad……but it won’t mean anything if the offensive line doesn’t improve. All the weapons in the world are disabled if you can’t protect the command center. If Dallas wants to contend deep into the playoffs they’re going to need to be capable of running the ball with a play other than lead draw. It’s an effective play but it’s set up by the pass, with the talent in the backfield the run should be the primary attack. This is why it’s a huge ‘prove it’ year for head coach in waiting Jason Garrett. When this offense stumbles it’s due to a lack of execution, poor technique, and critical penalties. Issues such as these are directly attributed to him. The Cowboys will be in every game they play because of their defense. Demarcus Ware is an annual candidate for Defensive Player of the Year and Anthony Spencer is starting to cause concern for offensive coordinators as well. The speed of the Cowboys defense can overwhelm most offenses. The best way to attack them is to run the ball, which is a daunting task considering not a single rusher was able to eclipse 100 yards against them last year. However, if Jason Garrett abandons the run and the line can’t protect Romo the defense will spend far too much time on the field and that streak will end abruptly. Their talent level is superior to the majority of their opponents, though I have my concerns, they’re still a double digit win team. (11-5)
Player To Watch: Dez Bryant. I know we haven’t seen anything from him on a football field in near a year, but, the comparisons he’s drawing in training camp are to that of Andre’ Johnson. If he’s even half of what Johnson is, he’ll make an immediate impact on the NFL. He’s a big WR (6’2 220lbs) who runs every route with intensity and has already claimed the title for best hands on the team.
Waiver Wire Sleeper: Martellus Bennett. He’s the sort of physical specimen you want on the field at the TE position. He’s strong, runs routes like a WR, catches the ball with his hands, and bounces off tackles with ease. His main problem? His self. If he can mature and the Cowboys use him as a receiving threat, particularly in the red zone where his 6’6 265lb frame will be most effective, he could have a breakout year.
The Giants have a legitimate chance to have the best record in the NFC by midseason. They’re a solid team but their Charmin soft schedule is what benefits them the most. Their toughest out of division games are away to Indy and Green Bay, but after that it’s cupcake city. The Giants get the luxury of hosting such teams as Carolina, Detroit Jacksonville, and Chicago in their brand new stadium that will be even louder and more obscene in its inaugural year. The Giants also have a well placed bye in the middle of the season just before they get into their division games. Giants teams don’t often have bad defenses in consecutive years, and last year they were well below par. Tuck and Umenyiora are still one of the most feared pass rush tandems in the NFL. Chris Canty being healthy should also help them be able to contain the run with the interior of their line which will allow those rushers to play much more freely. The main move the Giants offense needs to make is to put Brandon Jacobs in the Marion Barber ‘closer’ role. Ahmad Bradshaw is a much more dangerous runner and can reel off a 40 yard scamper at least once a game. Last year teams stacked the box in order to drag down big Brandon Jacobs before he got going. Since the Giants lack a proven deep threat at WR teams weren’t being punished for it. I expect the Giants to start fast, they have a realistic chance of being 9-3 heading into week 14. (11-5)
Player To Watch: Steve Smith. He’s a very shifty receiver who is Eli Manning’s favorite target. He’s extremely difficult to cover in the slot and can make tough catches in traffic on a frequent basis. He’s the x-factor in their offense, if they move him around to create mismatches he could average between 8-10 catches a game. Think of him as an upper middle class man’s Wes Welker.
Waiver Wire Sleeper: Ramses Barden. He’s 6’6 and 227lbs. If he can work his way into the offense he’ll become a very reliable red zone target. Reportedly he’s been focusing on the craft required to be a starting WR instead of relying on his physical abilities. Remains to be seen but keep an eye out for him, he might not be a bad 1 week pickup if you have a WR on bye since the Giants will have plenty of favorable matchups.
The Eagles are in a rebuilding year but still hope to remain competitive in the division. The one discouraging sign I’ve seen already is that Kevin Kolb doesn’t read blitzes well. In a division full of aggressive defenses and pass rushers like Demarcus Ware, Justin Tuck, and Brian Orakpo that’s a quick way to end up on injured reserve. I’m not only concerned with Kolb though, LeSean McCoy is also replacing a member of the once stable Philly nucleus. McCoy has a bit more experience in doing so since Brian Westbrook missed much of last season with issues related to a concussion. In the games where Westbrook wasn’t there, McCoy was inconsistent. He showed flashes in some games, disappeared in others. Desean Jackson can affect the outcome of games on offense or via special teams. However, I’m concerned his numbers may be on the decline until Kolb figures things out, which could take some time. I’m not convinced Kolb and McCoy can successfully replace such productive pieces of that offense…..especially in this division. (8-8)
The Redskins are an interesting team this year, they’ve always had the talent but they’ve also lacked in discipline and execution. That’s why the acquisition of Mike Shanahan will prove to be even bigger than that of Donovan McNabb. Shanahan may have fallen out of favor in Denver but he preaches discipline and execution which is a good fit for the veteran cast of egomaniacs on the Redskins roster. The situation with Albert Haynesworth is out of control but the good thing is that most of the team is siding with Shanahan. If he can continue to build that trust he may be able to turn them into a pretty decent football team. McNabb isn’t a natural fit for Shanahan’s offense but he’ll adapt and get better as the season wears on, if he can stay healthy. I expect the Redskins rushing offense to be much improved with Shanahan instituting the zone blocking schemes that made every running back on the Denver Broncos roster a pro bowler. My main concern with the Redskins will be their ability to score points. McNabb will help but his receiving corp isn’t the deepest. He’s always had to work with below to moderately average talent at receiver but this is a brand new offense to him. It’s not hard to improve on the 16.6 points per game average of last year, but they won’t improve on it enough to seriously contend at the top of the division this year. (9-7)
Player To Watch: Brian Orakpo. An absolute genetic freak. He has the perfect build and skill set for a 3-4 defense and I expect him to have a breakout season. He’s quick, agile, strong, and relentless. I wouldn’t be surprised if he greatly improved on his 11 sacks from last year.