NFC East preview: Giants team to beat

New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning celebrates his first quarter touchdown pass against the New...

New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning celebrates his first quarter touchdown pass against the New England Patriots in Sunday's Super Bowl. (REUTERS)

JOHN KRYK, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 3:23 PM ET

If the NFC East isn't the best division in the NFL, it's hard to quibble with Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan's assessment of it.

Year in and year out, Shanahan told me at training camp, the Giants, Cowboys and Eagles rank "among the best pass-rushing and run-stopping defences in the National Football League.

"Our division is probably the most physical, because of those defensive lines."

Especially this year.

Few would argue that the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants possess the best, deepest defensive wall in the league, led by ends Justin Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul. It dominated games down the stretch last season, and continues to look scary good in the pre-season.

Among the few legit challengers? The Philadelphia Eagles. And the Dallas Cowboys' first-team D has been devouring offensive lines in the pre-season.

The NFC East isn't just all guts. There's glamour too. What division boasts a better crop of quarterbacks than Eli Manning (Giants), Michael Vick (Eagles), Tony Romo (Cowboys) and rookie Robert Griffin III (Redskins)?

A team-by-team rundown: 

NEW YORK GIANTS

LAST SEASON: 9-7, Super Bowl champ

REASONS FOR OPTIMISM: After their '07 Super Bowl title, the Giants started 11-1 in '08 before WR Plaxico Burress shot himself and the team in the leg. Coach Tom Coughlin, Eli, et al have the savvy and talent to do it again ... Rookies Rueben Randle (WR) and David Wilson (RB) might soon wind up better than departed key backups Mario Mannigham and Brandon Jacobs, respectively ... That front seven!

REASONS FOR PESSIMISM: Injuries, and that murderous schedule ... Coughlin spends half of his daily news conferences discussing injuries. Everywhere. Take cornerback: Terrell Thomas' knee is still buggered, Prince Amukamara now has a "moderate" high ankle sprain that makes him doubtful for the opener, and rookie nickelback Jayron Hosley is in a walking boot with turf toe ... And that schedule. Look it up. Unreal.

SNARKY QUESTION: When will the Football Gods finally prey on some other team's bloody roster?

PREDICTION: 10-6. The Giants will be better than last year, but their schedule is the limiter. Just winning the division might make it Coughlin's best coaching job. 

PHILADELPHIA EAGLES

LAST SEASON: 8-8, no playoffs

REASONS FOR OPTIMISM: On both sides of the ball, the Eagles possess the talent to stay with the Giants ... WR DeSean Jackson has $15M guaranteed reasons to be happy now ... 2011's new star defenders have had a year to become familiar with each other ... The DL is even deeper, with rookie DT Fletcher Cox making plays already, and DE Brandon Graham finally healthy ... Vick told me he's now "90% comfortable" with Marty Mornhinweg's offence, compared to only "25 or 30%" at this time last year.

REASONS FOR PESSIMISM: Vick says he understands he can't freelance outside of the pocket so much, but many doubt he'll actually play that way ... It might be beyond Andy Reid's or any other coach's ability to unite all these fractious personalities.

SNARKY QUESTION: What's the over/under on the number of plays into the opener vs. the Browns that Vick hurts something else?

PREDICTION: 10-6. All those AFC North teams — plus Saints, Lions, Panthers — give Eagles a brutal sked of their own. 

DALLAS COWBOYS

LAST SEASON: 8-8, no playoffs

REASONS FOR OPTIMISM: The retooled defence. First-teamers have not allowed a TD in 58 plays so far this pre-season. And that's without injured Pro Bowl LB DeMarcus Ware ... No NFL team acquired a better pair of corners, or perhaps needed them more: $50M man Brandon Carr (maybe the best free-agent DB, and only 26) and Morris Claiborne (6th overall draft pick).

REASONS FOR PESSIMISM: Ten words — Tony Romo, Tony Romo, Tony Romo, Tony Romo, Tony Romo. He giveth but he taketh away with infuriating regularity ... Even when Romo is on, who can he rely on to throw it to? ... And worst of all, it appears the OL is a complete disaster. Meaning if (more likely, when) Romo goes down, the backup is Kyle "Even the Broncos and Chiefs dumped me" Orton.

SNARKY QUESTION: Who cracks first because of the other — owner Jerry Jones or undisciplined but talented WR Dez Bryant?

PREDICTION: 8-8. The Cowboys still are more than that continually elusive One Player Away. 

WASHINGTON REDSKINS

LAST SEASON: 5-11, no playoffs

REASONS FOR OPTIMISM: RG3 is at the helm on offence, not Rex Grossman ... Pierre Garcon is a legit playmaking WR for RG3 ... The much-maligned OL isn't as bad as everyone says, Shanahan told me: "I think in our first four games of last season, we ranked eighth in the NFL in rushing. The last five games, we ranked seventh." It was only in between, he said, when they had to break in "three guys who had never played in a pro football game," that the Skins ranked dead last. FWIW.

REASONS FOR PESSIMISM: The Redskins had plenty more problems in '11 than just at QB and OL. Ergo, their 27th place finish ... In this division? This year? ... If RG3 goes down, a much-less heralded rookie QB probably winds up playing, Kirk Cousins.

SNARKY QUESTION: Shanahan bought himself another couple years with the trade-and-draft acquisition of RG3, but will he call plays that protect RG3 enough?

PREDICTION: 6-10. Can't see them getting close to .500 in this division.


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