by Colin Donohue
The NFL season is just a couple of months away, which means training camps are approaching quickly. Some teams have already begun, and others will start soon. And because everything centered on the NFL is a huge event, it’s no surprise that the league’s lead-up to meaningless preseason games–training camp–gets oodles of attention from the media. Well, I’m going to add to the already saturated NFL predictions market, mostly to sate myself. But maybe you’ll get something out of it, too.
I’ll be posing three questions (or queries, as the title of this post suggests) facing every NFL team and three-sentence answers to each question. I’ll post one conference a day for the next eight days, which should lead us right into training camp. I’ll also assign one band/music act to every conference and pick a song from their repertoire that best describes the NFL team’s current situation just to give this feature a different twist. At the end of this list, you’ll find a poll, asking you to vote for your division winner. Be sure to give us your feedback by placing a vote.
Today, it’s the NFC East. The band is Pearl Jam.
Pearl Jam Song: “Yellow Ledbetter”
I said I don’t know whether/I’m the boxer or the bag
- With no TO and no Jessica Simpson (and thus no distractions), what will QB Tony Romo do for the Cowboys? This is the key question because, while Romo has been a solid passer the last couple of years, he’s also been prone to mental breakdowns and bad interceptions, which could have been a result of the off-the-field stuff going on with Terrell Owens and Simpson. Still, Romo is a gunslinger, in the Brett Favre mold, so you have to expect he’s going to throw a ton of TDs and more than his share of INTs. Despite TO being a gigantic distraction, Romo will miss Owens at wide out, and so he won’t look as effective this year as he has in the past.
- Does Dallas have a defense strong enough to compete with the other NFC East teams? Last year, the Cowboys were the only team in the NFC East to give up more than 300 points (365), which doesn’t bode well for them this season. In the NFC East, you have to be able to play a hard-nosed style of defense, and the Cowboys didn’t prove they could last year. There’s some talent out there (Demarcus Ware), but for the most part, this defense is weak in the secondary and decent at the LB/defensive line spots, so they will most likely continue to be the most porous defense in the East.
- What do the Cowboys do with head coach Wade Phillips if they start slowly? In my opinion, the answer is a resounding yes. The last two years, Phillips has had enough talent offensively to get this team deep into the playoffs. Of course, the defense has been up and down for him. But it will be imperative for him to get the Cowboys off to a quick start, or owner Jerry Jones most likely dumps him midseason.
New York Giants
Pearl Jam Song: “The Fixer”
Yeah yeah yeah yeah/I’ll fight to get it back again/Yeah yeah yeah yeah
- How much will QB Eli Manning and the Giants offense miss Plaxico Burress? Quite a bit, frankly, and I know that the offense played well initially last season after Burress was suspending, as it continued to roll along, scoring tons of points for a couple of games. But you saw Manning and become less effective, and the offense slowed down and don’t move with as much fluidity, particularly in the playoffs, and I think that was directly correlated to Burress’ abscence. Some of the other, less heralded wide receivers are going to have to step up and provide some consistency so that the offense can continue to flourish (look out for Hakeem Nicks).
- Can the defense continue to be dominant? There’s no reason to believe it can’t be as dominant as it has been in the past, especially considering every other offense in the NFC East is so flawed in some way. The Giants have a quick, attacking D and are particularly fast and mobile along the defensive line and at the linebacker spots. The secondary is the true weak point of the defense, but because of the incredible pass rush the Giants get, the secondary is protected well.
- Are the Giants the prohibitive favorite to win the NFC East? Yes they are at this point in time. The Giants are the class of the division right now, as they score more points than any other team and play defense as well as or better than the Eagles and Redskins. Right now, you have to handicap the Giants as the early favories.
Pearl Jam Song: “Elderly Woman behind a Counter in a Small Town”
Memories like fingerprints are slowly raising/Me you wouldn’t recall, for/I’m not my former
- How much of an impact will Brian Westbrook have on the offense? The last three years, Westbrook’s yards per carry have decreased, and last season, his number of catches and receiving yards declined drastically. A major reason for the downward trajectory in his numbers are his nagging injuries. He still plays most games during the sesason, but these ailments are tugging at him constantly, and it’s making him a little less explosive and impactful; that said, he could still be the most feared player in the NFC East, even if his best days are behind him.
- With defensive coordinator Jim Johnson most likely missing the season because of cancer, will the defense be as strong as it has in the past? The Eagles defense is still good, and there isn’t much argument there. But they played so well and so in tune, in large part, because of Johnson practice week planning and in-game adjustments, which is exactly what they’ll miss when Johnson is out this season. They’ll still be a talented group, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see them take a small, small step backward without the sideline presence of their defensive genius. (And, of course, we wish Johnson a quick and complete recovery.)
- Is this the McNabb-Reid swan song? For the last couple of seasons, there have been questions about how much longer QB Donovan McNabb and head coach Andy Reid have in their Philadelphia careers. The two are tied together, for better or for worse, and this season could determine their futures as Eagles. If they don’t make the playoffs and win a game or two, the marriage could be permanently dissolved, and the Eagles front office could start moving the franchise in another direction.
Pearl Jam Song: “I Got Sh*t”
Yeah, The last thing that I have/I got memories/I got shit/So much it don’t show
- Will QB Jason Campbell mature into a capable West Coast passer? Campbell is a guy who has never had the same offensive coordinator for two years in a row, but it’s happening this season, and his acclimation and comfort in the West Coast-style offense will be key to the Skins success. He is a big-armed guy being asked to complete shorter, more accurate throws, and that’s something he’s struggled with. I think Campbell is a mismatch for the system, and he could probably struggle again this year, despite having a guy like RB Clinton Portis behind him.
- How much will Albert Haynesworth give the Skins after signing his massive contract? After penning his name on the largest contract ever given to a defensive lineman, Haynesworth has to prove that he’s worth the investment, and therein could lie the problem. Haynesworth cannot become complacent; instead, he has to show Skins fans and the NFL that he is a dominant force in the middle. His play will really determine whether the Skins defense can remain the top 10 of the league next season.
- Will this be the year the Redskins put all the pieces together and make a serious playoff push? This question is posed year after year after year, and year after year after year, the Skins never come through on the promise of their talent. And with the NFC East continuing to be one of the toughest divisions in the NFL, it’s hard to believe the Skins are really any better than last season’s 8-8 record. It’s easy to envision them winning 10 games and making the posteason, but with questions about Campbell’s effectiveness, about the right side of the offensive line, about how Haynesworth and CB DeAngelo Hall react to their big contacts and about head coach Jim Zorn’s ability to coach well in-game, it’s easier to envision them losing eight games.
So who will win the NFC East?
(Stay tuned later in the summer for my and Justin’s one-sentence NFL season previews, our season locks, predictions and pick’em tournament.)