With a potential settlement to the NFL lockout looming, analyst Elliot Harrison takes a quick glance at where each division left off following last season. This is a look at the NFC East.
Where the Cowboys left off: The Cowboys played some pretty good football down the back stretch of the 2010 season, ultimately going 5-3 under Jason Garrett, with the three losses being by a combined seven points. Still, the club was plagued by a defense that gave up too many plays of 20-plus yards (27th in NFL), and an offense that was bereft of its big-play quarterback. Jon Kitna played pretty well, but this team needs a healthy Tony Romo.
Areas of concern: Safeties Gerald Sensabaugh and Alan Ball are not good enough for this team to go deep in the playoffs. A veteran presence like Darren Sharper would be a welcome addition in free agency. Although Dallas drafted right tackle Tyron Smith to replace Marc Colombo, left guard Kyle Kosier and right guard Leonard Davis are problem areas as well. Kicker David Buehler's inconsistency didn't help matters much.
Two things to hang your hat on, Cowboys fans:
1. Linebacker Sean Lee should start, giving the defense a huge lift defending the short passing game.
2. The offense figures to be more explosive with Romo's return, especially if Garrett gets more out of Dez Bryant in his second season.
New York Giants
Where the Giants left off: The G-Men were arguably the best team not to make the playoffs, going 10-6 despite numerous injuries. The absence of receiver Steve Smith hurt quarterback Eli Manning, the NFL's leader in turnovers with 30. A huge bright spot was new defensive coordinator Perry Fewell, who had his guys playing much better ball than in 2009. Big Blue finished seventh in team defense, and got 46 sacks, just two off the league lead.
Areas of concern: Special teams is a worry, considering it kept the Giants out of the playoffs. The return game stinks. Punter Matt Dodge needs to learn to kick away from DeSean Jackson. Meanwhile, Giants receivers need to learn to keep their hands on the ball. They dropped 32 passes last year, several of which killed drives, or ended up in a defender's hands. The team should re-sign Ahmad Bradshaw, who ran for 1,235 yards. And then there's the unhappy Osi Umenyiora.
Two things to hang your hat on, Giants fans:
1. Manning can play. Last year he completed 35 passes of more than 25 yards, tied for third in the NFL. In 2009, he completed 42 such passes, most in the NFL.
2. The offensive line is still very effective, and allowed the fewest sacks in the NFL last season (16).
Where the Eagles left off: The Eagles essentially won the NFC East (thank you, DeSean) with much of the success due to Michael Vick posting his first-ever 100-plus passer rating. Defensively, this team benefited from big plays delivered by Trent Cole's pass rush and Asante Samuel's nose for the ball. Yet, the defense got dissected by Aaron Rodgers in the playoffs and needs a killer instinct.
Areas of concern: As explosive as the Eagles' offense is, the offensive line is just as inconsistent. On the other side of the ball, who's going to make plays in the secondary outside of Samuel? The defense was awful in the red zone, giving up the highest percentage of touchdowns in the league.
Two things to hang your hat on, Eagles fans:
1. The front office doesn't have to deal Kevin Kolb. So if you're worried about Vick getting hurt, calm down. If Philly does trade Kolb, it'll get great value.
2. LeSean McCoy was the best player left out of "The Top 100". If he goes off in 2011, Vick, the passing game, and the defense, all benefit.
Where the Redskins left off: Mike Shanahan's club lost six of its last eight games, and departed the season with no answer at quarterback. The offense played well one week, and awful the next, while the defense had no interior presence to play Jim Haslett's 3-4 effectively. Veterans like Santana Moss, Chris Cooley and London Fletcher still played at a high level, which is one reason why this team was lucky to finish 7-9.
Areas of concern: While the Redskins were worse than their record would indicate, a few Band-Aids could make this club competitive. Albert Haynesworth doing something -- anything -- to earn his contract would improve the defense exponentially. The secondary got burned early and often. Offensively, the best thing Shanahan can do is develop an effective ground game. Ryan Torain, Roy Helu? Free agency?
Two things to hang your hat on, Redskins fans:
1. Washington is building a formidable front seven, especially with Ryan Kerrigan and Jarvis Jenkins as the team's top two picks in the draft.
2. Shanahan has proven he can win, and lead a top-notch offense ... not just in Denver, but in San Francisco as well. Give the man a chance.