Analysis  

 

Eli Manning, New York Giants clearly cream of NFC East crop

Associated Press
Eli Manning's Giants are poised to top Tony Romo's Cowboys, Robert Griffin III's Redskins and Mike Vick's Eagles.

According to preseason conventional wisdom, the NFC East was going to be the best and most competitive division in the NFL in 2012. Through three weeks, three teams are in a logjam at the top at 2-1, and the 1-2 Washington Redskins are a play or two away from having the same record. To the naked eye, it would seem like the division is living up to the hype.

Get real.

If you watch the games and take an educated look into the crystal ball, it is very easy to see what is happening in the NFC East.

The New York Giants are winning the division, and will be its only representative in the playoffs. This isn't an overreaction or hyperbole. Actually, it's exactly what I predicted in the preseason. I'm now more convinced than ever that I was right.

We haven't even reached October, and I'm already channeling my inner Dennis Green and crowning the Giants.

The haters were skeptical about the banged-up Giants, predicting they might fall to the Carolina Panthers last Thursday. There was no Hakeem Nicks, no Ahmad Bradshaw and no David Diehl. Well, New York had no problem.

Eli Manning and the Giants put on an absolute clinic, bludgeoning Carolina from the very first drive. Third-string running back Andre Brown stepped into the starting role and dominated. Receiver Ramses Barden -- whom I'd equated to Big Foot before, as I'd heard rumors about him, but never actually saw him do anything -- was a Nicks clone. Manning established tight end Martellus Bennett immediately and continued to exploit mismatches.

Manning's performance was a signature display of quarterback play and leadership. Before the game, Manning told his guys not to think of the teammates who weren't able to play. The Giants, it turned out, had more than enough to win.

Manning and Tom Coughlin separate the Giants from the rest of the pack. They are clearly the division's elite quarterback-head coach combination.

Of course, the Giants have had issues this season. Their vaunted pass rush has shown up for just one game: against Carolina last week. Their run defense has been spotty at best. Their secondary has been hampered by injuries and ineffective. But Thursday served as a reminder to anyone who needed it that this is a well-coached team that knows how to deal with adversity. Defensive leaders Jason Pierre-Paul, Justin Tuck and coordinator Perry Fewell will mask the Giants' back-end deficiencies.

After last season, why would anyone doubt that?

There is plenty of doubt, however, regarding the rest of the division, starting with the Philadelphia Eagles.

When Eagles coach Andy Reid was asked about Michael Vick's poor play and the status of the quarterback position on Monday, Reid told reporters that the team "will evaluate as we go."

Whoa.

I wrote last week that the 2-0 Eagles were a house of cards. Predictably, they became unglued against the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday. Cardinals linebacker Daryl Washington told me Monday on SiriusXM Blitz that "when (Vick) gets uncomfortable, he has a knack of turning it over."

Let's say it again. Whoa.

Reid can spin his comments any way he wants, but Vick has thrown six interceptions and just three touchdowns this year. Arizona peppered Vick with pressure and bone-crushing hits, and he finished the game with five sacks and two fumbles, bringing his total on the season to nine and five, respectively.

I've had my doubts for years about Vick's ability to stay healthy and win a championship, but the way things have gone this season hasn't been entirely his fault.

Philadelphia's offensive line simply isn't that good. We talked a lot about the significance of Jason Peters' Achilles injury in the offseason, and Philadelphia has desperately missed its left tackle. However, the Eagles have refused to adjust and run the ball more behind LeSean McCoy. If you have followed Reid's pass-intensive ways in the past, you know this won't change.

The Dallas Cowboys, meanwhile, improved to 2-1 with a win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. But who feels good about the quality of Dallas' play? The Cowboys' offensive line, which was a problem last season, is going to be a problem again. The unit was overmatched against the Bucs, and poor quarterback Tony Romo was repeatedly bashed.

This season is shaping up as a mirror image of the Cowboys' 2011 campaign. They will win some games they aren't supposed to, lose to inferior teams, and ultimately prove to have less fortitude than the Giants. I predicted the Cowboys would go 7-9 this year, and 8-8 is the upside. Do you really trust Romo or coach Jason Garrett in a big spot? I don't.

The Redskins are fascinating. Rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III is electrifying. I still think Mike Shanahan is a great coach. The 'Skins will tip the apple cart and win some games behind their young stud signal-caller. But the season-ending injuries to linebacker Brian Orakpo and defensive end Adam Carriker have crippled the defense, specifically when it comes to the pass rush.

I think Washington's season to thrive will be 2013. I predicted the Redskins would finish 2012 with a 7-9 record, and that's still the appropriate range.

The NFC East will be congested all year. I acknowledge that no game played in the division is an easy one. The teams are all relatively close in terms of talent base. But just one squad has guaranteed future Hall of Famers at quarterback and coach. The Giants will win 10 games, and that will be enough for them to take the division.

Follow Adam Schein on Twitter @AdamSchein.

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