Here is The Icon's continuing preview of the 2012 NFL season. This story covers the NFC East.
Click here for a preview of AFC North
By Jake Dowling, Icon intern
New York Giants 9-7, Division Champs, Won Super Bowl
The Coach- Coach Tom Coughlin has engineered his team to two Super Bowls titles in the last 5 years and they have the ingredients to be successful for quite some time. If the Giants can avoid major injuries to key players they have a great chance to defend their title. They won last years' title with the 32nd ranked rushing offense showing how much the team relies on QB Eli Manning.
Overall, New York will try to improve on their running game, but their chances for success will always start and end with Eli Manning and their defensive line.
Defensive coordinator Perry Fewell, who came over from Buffalo the year before, has the best defensive line in the league with Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora and Jason Pierre-Paul. This squad single-handedly took over games in the postseason and helped a defense that was mediocre at times. Look for these three to do the same in 2012 under Fewell's direction.
The Quarterback- Eli Manning had a spectacular season and performed his best in the 4th quarters and throughout the playoffs. Before the year began there were questions about Eli Manning whether he was one of the elite quarterbacks in the NFL. Now it is a given that the Giants will always have a chance to win as long as Manning is at quarterback.
Running back Brandon Jacobs is no longer with the team, so RB Ahmad Bradshaw will be more of the focal point in the running game. In the 2012 NFL Draft the Giants chose running back David Wilson, from Virginia Tech, with their first round selection, he has the speed, foot quickness, and toughness to make an impact and will be a nice compliment to Bradshaw. RB D.J. Ware will also be in the mix in short yardage situations with the departure of Jacobs.
The starting wide receivers make a dynamic duo. WR Victor Cruz burst onto the scene in 2011 and led the team in receptions, receiving yardage, and touchdown catches. WR Hakeem Nicks will miss most of training camp recovering from a foot injury. He is big, strong, has big hands, and enough speed to lineup anywhere on the field and make plays. TE Martellus Bennett will compete for the starting tight end position after playing behind Dallas Cowboys' Jason Witten his first 4 years in the league.
The Defense- New York has the best pass rushing defensive line in the NFL. Jason Pierre-Paul, Justin Tuck, and Osi Umenyiora can lineup inside or outside and be just as dominant. They have very good depth at the defensive tackle spots with Linval Joseph, Chris Canty, Rocky Bernard, and Marvin Austin. The battle between middle linebackers will come down to Chase Blackburn and Mark Herzlich. The outside linebackers have some good young talent with Michael Boley and newly acquired Keith Rivers, but Mathias Kiwanuka offers the most versatility with the ability to rush the passer and drop back into coverage.
The secondary is solid but can be a bit inconsistent at times and could be the weakest spot on defense. They have big physical guys like Corey Webster and Prince Amukamara at cornerback. The safeties represent the University of Miami well with Antrel Rolle and Kenny Phillips. They will get plenty of opportunities to make plays on the ball because of the superb pass rush of the defensive line.
Dallas Cowboys, 8-8 Second in division, missed playoffs
The Coach- Coach Jason Garrett took over the team midway through the 2010 season and won the job heading into 2011 after his team finished 5-2 after a disastrous 1-8 start. Nevertheless, Dallas still missed the playoffs last year after losing the final regular season game to the eventual Super Bowl champions, the New York Giants.
Bill Callahan was named offensive coordinator and offensive line coach in the offseason. The former Oakland Raiders and Nebraska Cornhuskers coach brings much knowledge to an already top 10 offense in the league.
The offense is still potent with QB Tony Romo and their defense has improved under the direction of Rob Ryan, brother of Jets head coach Rex Ryan. With some new pieces on the defensive side of the ball, can the Cowboys final take that leap into the playoffs and make a run for the Lombardi Trophy?
The Quarterback- Many will put the blame for Dallas' playoff impotence on quarterback Tony Romo. The heavy criticism of Romo is both fair and unfair, over the top and not enough. At times, there has been enough talent around Romo that he should have won more. But, just the same, the media and others over-evaluated some of that supporting talent. Last year though was not Romo's fault.
With injuries at key positions, a defense that was better but blew games at times and with a crack rib, Romo had little to work with at times but did his best.
The offense will have its usual cast of characters: TE Jason Witten, WR Miles Austin, Dez Bryant, who is now in legal trouble with the law as of Monday, solid backs, solid line, lots of scoring potential but the question with this offense is, and will be for the near future: does it have heart? The main problem with the Cowboys is their attitude. They have the talent but they lack the charisma to put together a championship-like performance on a consistent weekly basis.
The Defense- LB Demarcus Ware, who has an intergalactic 66.5 sacks over the past four seasons, is the heart and soul of this defense. The problem is much of the rest of Dallas' defensive group. Safety Gerald Sensabaugh are just fine and Sean Lee, Jason Hatcher and others are good.
With new additions CB Brandon Carr and first round draft pick Morris Claiborne from LSU, the Cowboys have talent on defense, but they have to be able to put it all together.
The problem will be to pressure opposing QB for Dallas. The team ranked 14th in sacks last year but don't be surprised if that ranking rises this year after a full season in Ryan's defense. Like his brother Rex, Rob has great intangibles to put a great defense on the field and if the defense can win games this year, the Cowboys can easily be the team to be in the NFC. That is, if they can put it all together.
Philadelphia Eagles, 8-8, second in division, missed playoffs
The Coach- Coach Andy Reed's time has to be near an end. Reed, who has been the head coach the Eagles since 1999, has done great things for team in his time. His team has made the playoffs nine out of his 13 years as coach. They have also made it to five NFC title games and a Super Bowl appearance in 2004. Since then however, Reed and the Eagles have had a hard time in the postseason.
The Eagles missed the playoffs last year after backup QB Vince Young announced the team as the "Dream Team," in training camp last year. They could not deal with the hype. The previous two year before that, they were one and done losing both times in the wild card round of the postseason.
The defense will bring back Juan Castillo, a former offensive minded coach who had never coached or played defense in his career, the defense understanding ably struggled last season because of that. With the Super Bowl champs and a hungry Cowboys team in their division, can the Eagles be playoff bound this year or will Reed finally get the boot after too many recent failures?
The Quarterback- The team has a good coach that may be in a lame duck period, but the team does not have the quarterback to save the coach's job. Michael Vick has come a long way from his days in Atlanta and even his over two year stint in prison for dog fighting, but Vick is not an elite quarterback that can be consistently productive week in and week out.
Vick's inconsistence, along with is inaccuracy at times; not to mention he threw a career-high 14 interceptions and had 10 turnovers last season, combined with the destructive attitude of WR DeSean Jackson could equal a mess again for Philly.
The Eagles have talent, Vick, RB LeSean McCoy, who could be a difference maker on the offense, Jackson and Maclin. However, the offensive line has always been shaky with Vick at the helm and seeing how Vick enjoys running, thus being susceptible to injuries, if Vick goes down, there is not a reliable backup behind Vick to steer this offense.
The Defense- Defensive coordinator Juan Castillo's wide-9 scheme was aptly named. Teams could drive a truck through the wide-open defensive front and could get nine yards a play. A slight exaggeration but not by much. The Eagles faced the duality that they had a bad scheme manned by mediocre players. The defense was ravaged by opposing backs and burned in the secondary forcing the Eagles to retool personnel (but not scheme). So here they are again, again rebuilt, again saying they solved their problems, and again, having an army of doubters.
The defense has the playmakers on the defensive line with DE Cullen Jenkins, DT Jason Babin, Trent Cole and Darrell Tapp. Their linebackers are highly undersized, but the Eagles had the best draft this past spring picking Mississippi State DT Fletcher Cox and Marshall's DE Vinny Curry along with trading for former Houston Texans' star LB DeMeco Ryans.
The secondary consists of talented safety O.J. Atogwe, CB Nnamdi Asomugha, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and S Nate Allen. However, if the defensive line cannot create pressure, the talented secondary will struggle again this year.
Washington Redskins, 5-11, fourth in division, missed playoffs
The Coach- Mike Shanahan has had his hands full over the last couple of years in Washington, but now he has his own quarterback like he did in Denver when he was head coach of the Broncos and had Elway as his QB.
Shanahan does have a talented coaching staff. Raheem Morris, fired as head coach in Tampa, is now the defensive backs coach in Washington. Jim Haslett is the defensive coordinator. These guys have had extensive experience in coaching and are respectable coaches at their positions.
Despite Morris losing his job in Tampa, many in football feel he's a better coach than what was demonstrated in his final season there (despite Morris at times being a bully of the media and worrying too much about outside opinions of him). Haslett might want to watch his back if the defense continues to be mostly pedestrian.
The Redskins selected Baylor University start QB Robert Griffin III as the second overall pick of this past spring's draft. Question is, how far can RG3 take this team in year one?
The Quarterback-The chances of a rookie starting QB taking his team to the playoffs is slim. Try three different season out of the 90 plus years the NFL has been around, so it is possible RG3 can get the job done, but there is a lot that goes into it.
RG3 has the skills. He can pass, dissect a defense and run. He was a star at Baylor with career totals of 10,366 passing yards, a 67.1 percent completion percentage with 78 touchdowns and 17 interceptions. He also ran for 2,254 yards and 33 touchdowns in his three years playing for the Baylor Bears. He also won the Heisman Trophy last season.
However, what about the talent around him? Veteran WR Santana Moss will team up alongside newly acquired wideout Pierre Garcon, who played with Peyton Manning in Indianapolis. Griffin will also have TE Fred Davis as well.
However, Griffin will have little to work with as far as a running game is concerned and the offensive line is so-so. The Redskins are clearly rebuilding and a playoff is too far away at this point.
The Defense- Any defense that has London Fletcher, who possesses the biggest heart and toughest mind in football -- is going to be at least somewhat productive. The biggest problem with Washington's defense was its offense. However, biggest problem with the defense is a lack of talent.
They added former Patriots safety Brandon Meriweather but lost LeRon Laundry to the Jets. The Skins' best defensive players are Fletcher and LB Ryan Kerrigan, who as a rookie last season had 7.5 sacks and 64 tackles. The defense did rank 12th in sacks, 13th in yards allowed, but they were 21st in points allowed last season. For the most part, the Redskins defense was a top 15 defense in most categories, but in order for this team to compete and stand a chance to make the playoffs, the defense is going to have to be a top 10 for sure, maybe even a top five. Can they do it? Not with the players on the field, but never say never.