Parity or Mediocrity?

BtB Previews the 2007 NFC East
By Paul Bessire, WhatIfSports.com
June 18th 2007

We will preview an NFL division each day for eight days, before presenting final standings, leaders, award winners and playoff results. This analysis is part of a broader endeavor with FOXSports.com's Fantasy Football. Each regular season game is simulated 61 times, with the sum of the averages of those games being our final predicted outcome. This allows us to account for ever player and stat as well as assign probabilities of winning for each team for every game. Rosters and depth charts are up-to-date and as accurate as possible as of June 10, 2007. A schedule of upcoming NFL preview content is listed here.

Today we will preview the NFC East.

Dallas Cowboys (8-8)
8-8 wins a division? It does when a conference has no great teams and no poor teams. Similar to the mediocrity in the AFC North, which has three pretty good teams and the Browns, all four of these squads are pretty equally matched so they all beat up on each other. In this case, the NFC East still manages to get two teams into the playoffs for the third straight season. The Cowboys start anew under Wade Phillips and with Tony Romo the clear starter. Dallas will score 23.5 points a game and allow 20.9, against a schedule that features five games versus 2007 playoff teams

Offensive Outlook: The 23.5 points a game are 12th in the NFL and sixth in the NFC. Romo shakes off the brutal end to 2006, with a great season, throwing for 3,783 yards and 26 touchdowns. That's the good news. And while the running game would not necessarily be considered bad news, it is not spectacular. Marion Barber emerged in 2006, yet is blocked by Julius Jones and has never carried the load in college or the pros. Barber is the more productive back with 1,041 total yards and eight touchdowns. Jones, who poses no threat as a receiver, is less impressive with just 763 total yards and five touchdowns. The receiving corps is clearly top-heavy with two aging veterans leading the way. After Terry Glenn and Terrell Owens, who both reach 1,000 receiving yards, Patrick Crayton is about all that is left. Crayton grabs 39 balls for 546 yards and four TDs. After having Antonio Gates in San Diego, Phillips is just as comfortable using the tight end as Bill Parcells was. This means that Jason Witten and 2006 rookie Anthony Fasano make up for the lack of depth at receiver. Collectively, the catch 82 passes, for 905 yards and seven touchdowns.

Defensive Outlook: The 20.9 points a game allowed are 14th in the league. Wade Phillips may not have a Pro Bowl defensive tackle like he did in San Diego, but the Cowboys have as much talent as any defense in the NFC> A healthy Greg Ellis and the additions of Ken Hamlin at safety and rookie Anthony Spencer on the outside in the 3-4, are the only differences between the 2006 and 2007 Cowboys' defenses. The line is a bit thin, yet tall and athletic. With even more speed at OLB, Marcus Spears, Jason Ferguson and Chris Canty find it slightly easier to get to the quarterback in 2007. Ellis, Spencer and Ware terrorize QBs, combining for 22 sacks and 201 total tackles. The inside linebackers have been productive, yet are not ultra-athletic. The defensive backfield looks quite a bit better with a legitimate, experienced safety alongside Roy Williams. Hamlin notches 56 tackles, three sacks and two interceptions, while allowing Williams to make 89 tackles and pick-off five passes. Anthony Henry and Terrence Newman are not elite, yet are experienced and now proven starters.

Schedule (simulated 2007 record in parentheses): NYG (6-10), @Miami (8-8), @Chicago (11-5), St. Louis (8-8), @Buffalo (7-9), New England (12-4), Minnesota (7-9), @Philadelphia (8-8), @NYG (6-10), Washington (6-10), NYJ (9-7), Green Bay (8-8), @Detroit (6-10), Philadelphia (8-8), @Carolina (10-6), @Washington (6-10)

Fantasy Notables (fantasy rank at position in parentheses): Tony Romo (7) 3,783 yards, 26 TDs, 17 INTs; Marion Barber (16) 846 yards rushing, 30 receptions, 8 total TDs; Terrell Owens (21) 85 receptions, 1,120 yards, 7 TDs; Terry Glenn (24) 75 receptions, 1,038 yards, 8 TDs; Jason Witten (4) 67 receptions, 770 yards, 5 TDs; Martin Gramatica (22) 40/40 XPs, 22/32 FGs; Defense (15) 18 INTs, 36 sacks, 335 points allowed.

Philadelphia Eagles (8-8)
The Eagles tie the Cowboys for the division and three other teams for the Wild Card. They lose the former, but are fortunate enough to qualify for the latter. Philadelphia will score 22.1 points a game and allow 22.8, against a schedule that features five games versus 2007 playoff teams. That sounds like a pretty average team and the record proves that.

Offensive Outlook: The 22.1 points a game are 16th in the NFL and ninth in the NFC. With the drama and injury concerns that surround Donovan McNabb, Brian Westbrook is the real MVP of this team. Westbrook 4.96 yards per carry, while also making 73 catches and totaling 1,802 yards with 13 touchdowns. McNabb is adequate in 13 starts, yet lacks the spark that he had in 2004. He finishes with 3,023 yards, 18 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. And that is with a slightly improved receiving corps that includes former St. Louis Ram Kevin Curtis. Curtis may be fast, but he also gives the Eagles a better possession receiver along with so many deep threats. He and third year star-in-the-making Reggie Brown combine for 118 receptions, 1,683 yards and ten touchdowns. L.J. Smith is still the man at tight end with 51 catches and three TDs. This offense may actually be better if it ran the ball a little more.

Defensive Outlook: The 22.8 points a game allowed are 19th in the league. The line looks even better than 2006 with a healthy Jevon Kearse to go with the improving play of Trent Cole, Broderick Bunkley and Darren Howard. Kearse harkens back to his days as the freak with eight sacks and 54 tackles. At linebacker, the inside and outside positions are opposites. The inside is thin with just one proven player. Ultra-productive Jeremiah Trotter is a year older, seeing his tackle total dip below 100 for just the third time in his nine year career. On the outside, there is far more depth, but little experience. Takeo Spikes tries to regain his Bengal form, while speedsters Dedrick Roper, Chris Gocong and Omar Gaither specialize in getting to the quarterback. The secondary loses Michael Lewis, but maintains the talented Sheldon Brown, Lito Sheppard and Brian Dawkins. Sheppard stays healthy, to lead the team with eight interceptions. Very little middle ground between the athletic youth and experienced veteran means that the window on this defense may be closing soon. In 2007, the Eagles D slips just below average.

Schedule (simulated 2007 record in parentheses): @Green Bay (8-8), Washington (6-10), @Detroit (6-10), @NYG (6-10), @NYJ (9-7), Chicago (11-5), @Minnesota (7-9), Dallas (8-8), @Washington (6-10), Miami (8-8), @New England (12-4), Seattle (6-10), NYG (6-10), @Dallas (8-8), @New Orleans (10-6), Buffalo (7-9)

Fantasy Notables (fantasy rank at position in parentheses): Donovan McNabb (23) 3,023 yards, 18 TDs, 10 INTs; Brian Westbrook (6) 1,105 yards rushing, 73 receptions, 13 total TDs; Reggie Brown (34) 889 total yards, 6 TDs; Kevin Curtis (44) 65 receptions, 794 yards, 4 TDs; L.J. Smith (12) 51 receptions, 543 yards, 3 TDs; David Akers (12) 38/38 XPs, 28/31 FGs; Defense (5) 17 INTs, 41 sacks, 365 points allowed.

New York Giants (6-10)
In the highly competitive NFC East, the Giants and Redskins are a notch or two below the Eagles and Cowboys. Without its identity at running back and more pressure on the still mostly unproven Eli Manning, New York struggles. In 2007, the Giants will score 18.1 points a game and allow 24.3, against a schedule that features an seven games versus 2007 playoff teams.

Offensive Outlook: The 18.1 points a game are 30th in the NFL and last in the NFC. Does Tiki Barber mean that much? Simply put, yes. Any player who had more than 1,200 yards and 50 catches for five straight seasons is valuable with and without the ball. Hulking halfback Brandon Jacobs steps in to attempt to fill Barber's void, but he lacks great pass-catching ability and has never been more than a change-of-pace back (though in a way contrary to popular thinking). Jacobs does not due too poorly, rushing for 1,065 yards and scoring eight touchdowns. His backup, Reuben Droughns is less than stellar, only gaining 3.44 yards per carry behind a line that helped Barber get 5+ in two straight seasons. With even more pressure on him, Manning finds a way to cut down on his turnovers, yet still cannot adequately lead the passing game. At receiver, Plaxico Burress may not be the hardest worker in the game, but he is definitely productive. Behind him, the aging Amani Toomer gives way to rookie Steve Smith. Smith catches 40 passes for 546 yards and three touchdowns as one of the league's top rookie wide receivers (he's on the next tier after Calvin Johnson). Statistically, Jeremy Shockey is one of the top tight ends. As a blocker and playmaker, he is likely over-rated. In 2007, he grabs 81 balls for 784 yards and five touchdowns.

Defensive Outlook: The 24.3 points a game allowed are 22nd in the league. With Michael Strahan, Osi Umenyiora and Mathias Kiwinuka healthy, the Giants should get to the quarterback. Antonio Pierce and Kawika Mitchell are as productive a middle linebacker corps as it gets. And, the safeties can hit and tackle with the best of them (though they should not have to make as many plays as they do). Unfortunately for them, they lack experience at outside linebacker and athleticism in the backfield. So, when teams can get passes off or run to the corners, New York is highly vulnerable. The trio at ends nets 19 sacks and 136 tackles.Mitchell and Pierce combine for 224 tackles, six sacks and an interception. And, safeties Gibril Wilson and Will Demps make 147 tackles and five sacks. The rest of the team is in trouble.

Schedule (simulated 2007 record in parentheses): @Dallas (8-8), Green Bay (8-8), @Washington (6-10), Philadelphia (8-8), NYJ (9-7), @Atlanta (6-10), San Francisco (11-5), @Miami (8-8), Dallas (8-8), @Detroit (6-10), Minnesota (7-9), @Chicago (11-5), @Philadelphia (8-8), Washington (6-10), @Buffalo (7-9), New England (12-4)

Fantasy Notables (fantasy rank at position in parentheses): Eli Manning (16) 3,703 yards, 22 TDs, 15 INTs; Brandon Jacobs (22) 1,065 yards rushing, 17 receptions, 8 total TDs; Reuben Droughns (39) 671 rushing yards, 5 total TDs; Plaxico Burress (23) 74 receptions, 1,124 yards, 6 TDs; Jeremy Shockey (5) 81 receptions, 794 yards, 5 TDs; Lawrence Tynes (28) 31/32 XPs, 22/30 FGs; Defense (24) 17 INTs, 30 sacks, 388 points allowed.

Washington Redskins (6-10)
The Washington Redskins may not be in New York Knicks territory yet, but they clearly fit the mold of a franchise willing to spend money - without fully considering where it is going and how the pieces fit. Obviously, the team is also in one of the most competitive divisions in the league and would need the addition of a couple playmakers to pull ahead of Philly or Dallas. In 2007, Washington will score 19.3 points a game and allow 24.4 against a schedule that features six games versus 2007 playoff teams, yet just three games versus teams with records above .500.

Offensive Outlook: The 19.3 points a game are 26th in the NFL and 15th in the NFC. A team full of overpaid free agents, puts quite a bit of faith into the play of third-year quarterback Jason Campbell. In his first full season as the starter, Campbell completes just 56% of his passes, up from 53% in 2006, but still below average - throwing for 3,232 yards, 20 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. Depth is a concern with the banged up and aging Mark Brunell at backup and highly unproven Todd Collins with rookie Jordan Palmer waiting nervously in the wings. The running game may be just as muddled, but appears to be more promising. Ladell Betts broke out after Clinton Portis' injury in 2006 and returns to his role as change-of-pace back. Betts shines with 900 total yards and six touchdowns. Portis is a little banged up and does not present much of a receiving threat like Betts or fullback Mike Sellers, yet he is able to carry the ball 245 times for 1,022 yards and eight total TDs. The receiving corps was supposed to improve with the additions of Brandon Lloyd and Antwaan Randle El. That did not quite happen and the unit was still the Santana Moss show. Moss is brilliant again in 2007 with 82 catches for 1,168 yards. The other receivers on the roster do not even come with in ten of that reception total or 150 of the yardage - combined. Maybe Joe Gibbs focus on the running game and utilization of possession receivers and h-backs is not creative enough to make Randle El or Lloyd effective. What those two may lack in productivity is more than made up at tight end/h-back with Chris Cooley. Cooley flies a bit under the radar behind more glamorous playmakers like Antonio Gates, Jeremy Shockey and Tony Gonzalez, yet he may be the most efficient and best all-around tight end in the game. In 2007, he grabs 61 balls for 686 yards and four touchdowns. The line returns four players who started 15 or more games in 2006, so the team will live and die with Campbell. 2007 is not the year where he can lead them to the playoffs.

Defensive Outlook: The 24.4 points a game allowed are 23rd in the league. Safety Sean Taylor and linebacker London Fletcher-Baker (?) lead the way, but in two very different ways. Taylor is a freakish athlete who uses emotion and passion to inflict pain on opponents. That can also be very volatile and potentially cancerous to the team. The former Buffalo Bill Fletcher-Baker is a classic over-achiever with tenacity, will and a high football IQ. The rest of the roster is filled with high-priced free agents likely to bust and former top picks who may soon be considered busts. One of the few bright spots after the two more experienced players already mentioned is paintball enthusiast LaRon Landry. Landry's athletic ability and football instincts at safety allow Taylor to roam all over the field, making more plays than ever. Landry finishes with 72 tackles, four interceptions and three sacks, while Taylor notches 81 tackles, four interceptions and two sacks. Fletcher-Baker leads the team with 125 tackles. And, there is a reason, we have not mentioned the line yet; there is not a whole lot to say. Phillip Daniels and Andre Carter were system guys who had a few high-sack seasons on the right team and cannot produce when counted on. Cornelius Griffin, Joe Salave'a and Kedric Gholston are actually relatively adequate at rushing the quarterback, yet lack true run-stuffing ability. Washington attempts to reload each off-season, paying heavily to ship out unproductive players and then signing similar players in their places. Stability is what this team truly needs. And, with a pair of great young safeties, the team actually does have something around which to build - for the future.

Schedule (simulated 2007 record in parentheses): Miami (8-8), @Philadelphia (8-8), NYG (6-10), Detroit (6-10), @Green Bay (8-8), Arizona (8-8), @New England (12-4), NYJ (9-7), Philadelphia (8-8), @Dallas (8-8), @Tampa Bay (7-9), Buffalo (7-9), Chicago (11-5), @NYG (6-10), @Minnesota (7-9), Dallas (8-8)

Fantasy Notables (fantasy rank at position in parentheses): Jason Campbell (18) 3,232 passing yards, 20 TDs, 13 INTs; Clinton Portis (36) 1,022 yards rushing, 21 receptions, 8 total TDs; Ladell Betts 900 total yards, 6 TDs; Santana Moss (22) 82 receptions, 1,148 yards, 7 TDs; Chris Cooley (6) 61 receptions, 686 yards, 5 TDs; Shaun Suisham (24) 33/34 XPs, 24/30 FGs; Defense (25) 16 INTs, 28 sacks, 390 points allowed.

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