2008 NFC East Preview

Cowboys and Giants clash again in an elite division
By Paul Bessire, WhatIfSports.com
June 16th 2008

We will preview an NFL division each day for eight days, before presenting final standings, fantasy and statistical leaders, award winners, playoff results and power rankings. This analysis is part of a broader endeavor with FOXSports.com's Fantasy Football.

Rosters and depth charts are up-to-date and as accurate as possible as of June 8, 2008. A schedule of upcoming NFL preview content including links to other previews that have already been posted is located here.

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For this analysis, each regular season game is simulated 1,000 times, with the sum of the winning percentages of those games being our final predicted record. As can be noted, sometimes a team is "favored" (wins more than 50% of the time) in a different number of our games than the expected record shows. We list this record as the Absolute Record. The assumption of the Absolute Record is that the more likely scenario always happens. Since we know that it does not (see Super Bowl XLII), our expected record (in parentheses next to each team) is far more accurate. Also, especially since we are rounding, it is possible for a team to win a game more often, yet score the same or fewer points on average. In those cases, for Absolute Records, we always take higher winning percentage and are not predicting a tie or a win by an underdog. This is another reason why the expected records are more accurate, as the teams are so evenly matched, the game could easily go either way.

Today we preview the NFC East.

Dallas Cowboys (12-4)
The Super Bowl run by the Giants after they defeated the Cowboys may not have sweetened the taste in the Cowboys' mouths, but this is still a very good, balanced team that had a great 2007 and should match that in 2008. The Cowboys average 29.9 points per game (#2 in the NFL) and allow 19.7 points (#6) against a schedule featuring eight games against 2007 playoff teams.

Absolute Record: 15-1

Most Significant Newcomer: Zach Thomas, LB - He probably should not be playing another season, but he signed with the Cowboys and could, yet again, be a tackling machine (when healthy). It's Thomas' chance to win a Super Bowl, and he will do everything he can to get his team there. We have Thomas with 100 tackles in 12 games. If those four missed games are the final four of the season and the injury has anything to do with his head, Thomas may be forced to retire before Dallas could vie for a spot in the Super Bowl.
Biggest Strength: Balance - This team does not have any obvious weaknesses (I just killed my next topic). The Cowboys have talent at every position and do just about everything well.

Most Exploitable Weakness: Uncertainty on Offense - Dallas can do just about everything well, but players like Marion Barber, Felix Jones, Patrick Crayton and even Tony Romo have never had to sustain a level of excellence for an entire season in the roles that they will be asked to fulfill in 2008. All the numbers point to success by the entire offense, but it is cause for concern.

Possible Fantasy Sleeper: Martellus Bennett, TE - Jason Witten is the top rated fantasy TE in the league and that is exactly why. Tony Romo loves a safety blanket over the middle. Witten is not injury-prone, but if he does slip up, Bennett is the player who will step up. And even if Witten is healthy all year, Bennett is too athletic and too skilled for Jason Garrett to ignore. The simulation gives him 23 catches for 275 yards and two touchdowns, while Witten plays all 16 games.

Closest Game: @ New York Giants (Week 9) - It is the only projected loss on the schedule. These teams may have to face each other three times again in 2008. If that's the case, the outcomes of the first two games may decide who has home-field in the third game.

Fantasy Notables (fantasy rank at position in parentheses): Tony Romo (3) 4,103 yards, 31 TDs, 17 INTs; Marion Barber (6) 1,548 total yards, 15 TDs; Felix Jones (39) 698 total yards, 9 touchdowns; Terrell Owens (3) 87 receptions, 1,335 yards, 9 TDs; Patrick Crayton (40) 52 receptions, 709 yards,6 TDs; Jason Witten (1) 88 receptions, 1,040 yards, 8 TDs; Nick Folk (1) 51/51 XPs, 32/39 FGs

Projected 2008 Results:

WeekOpponentWin%Avg Score
1@Cleveland Browns5924-22
2Philadelphia Eagles7230-18
3@Green Bay Packers7929-21
4Washington Redskins7130-19
5Cincinnati Bengals9239-17
6@Arizona Cardinals7530-22
7@St. Louis Rams8032-20
8Tampa Bay Buccaneers8131-16
9@New York Giants4621-27
11@Washington Redskins6223-19
12San Francisco 49ers7333-21
13Seattle Seahawks6326-16
14@Pittsburgh Steelers6328-24
15New York Giants7734-18
16Baltimore Ravens9240-16
17@Philadelphia Eagles7126-21



New York Giants (11-5)
Michael Strahan is a likeable guy, but he really should have known better than to retire between the running of the simulated season and the posting of the New York Giants' preview. Fortunately, we kind of saw it coming and already had him playing less than half of the season and totaling just 14 tackles. His impact on the other pass rushers and this whole team was more than evident in the Super Bowl. In 2008, they continue on to great success without Strahan. The Giants average 26.6 points per game (#5) and allow 19.4 points (#5) against a schedule featuring just six games against 2007 playoff teams.

Absolute Record: 15-1 - The schedule shapes up very well, but Dallas at home (after last year's playoffs) should present a big challenge.

Most Significant Newcomer: Sammy Knight, S - The move was actually pretty impressive: lose Gibril Wilson; bring in Sammy Knight and Kenny Phillips. Both could start in Week 1 and both should keep this defense performing at its peak. James Butler, who actually led the team in tackling in the playoffs, could also step in if either of these players is injured or not up to par. Easy enough. The sim has Sammy Knight with 79 tackles and two interceptions.

Biggest Strength: QB Pressure - Even without Strahan, the Giants are the most intimidating defensive front seven in the league. Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck have a seemingly perfect combination of size, speed and strength. Mathias Kiwanuka is healthy and could easily approach the double-digit sack totals that Tuck and Umenyiora will almost-assuredly get (pre-Strahan retirement we had both with 14 sacks and Kiwanuka at six). Expect another 50-plus sacks by the Giants' D.

Most Exploitable Weakness: Turnover Margin - Eli Manning has definitely had some trouble keeping the ball from the other team; he did it 27 times in 2007. On the flip-side, forcing turnovers was not a strength last year and Sammy Knight is not going to make the difference. In this analysis, we have Manning with just 16 turnovers and the defense causing 17. That is an improvement, but neither number is great.

Possible Fantasy Sleeper: Ahmad Bradshaw, RB - From Steven Smith, Mario Manningham and David Tyree to Kevin Boss to Bradshaw and Derrick Ward, there are actually several options to choose. Bradshaw will get the most opportunities though. After his performance at the end of last season and in the playoffs, he should be the clear backup to Brandon Jacobs. The simulated season gives the ex-Marshall product 902 total yards and nine touchdowns. That sounds like a great handcuff for Jacobs' owners.

Closest Game: @ Minnesota (Week 17) - If both teams play this game like it matters, it will be a great game. Going into Week 17 in this exercise, the Giants could still unseat the Cowboys for the division title. The Vikings will have the North wrapped up, but should remember how well a hard-fought game propelled the Giants last season.

Fantasy Notables: Eli Manning (7) 3,750 yards, 25 TDs, 12 INTs; Brandon Jacobs (7) 1,581 total yards, 13 TDs; Ahmad Bradshaw (36) 902 total yards, 9 TDs; Plaxico Burress (15) 70 receptions, 1,097 yards, 7 TDs; Jeremy Shockey (18) 39 receptions, 456 yards, 3 TDs; Lawrence Tynes (10) 45/46 XPs, 26/33 FGs

Projected 2008 Results:

WeekOpponentWin%Avg Score
1Washington Redskins7128-15
2@St. Louis Rams9032-17
3Cincinnati Bengals8132-17
5Seattle Seahawks6525-16
6@Cleveland Browns6525-22
7San Francisco 49ers7130-18
8@Pittsburgh Steelers6325-22
9Dallas Cowboys5427-21
10@Philadelphia Eagles7024-19
11Baltimore Ravens8229-16
12@Arizona Cardinals7828-21
13@Washington Redskins6224-20
14Philadelphia Eagles7228-16
15@Dallas Cowboys2318-34
16Carolina Panthers6727-15
17@Minnesota Vikings5323-22



Washington Redskins (9-7)
Just because they do not make the playoffs in 2008, does not mean they are a worse team than in 2007. In 2007, they played inspired football at the end of the year and fed off of a legendary head coach. The Jim Zorn regime will begin with an identical record, but a different personality. Look for Jason Campbell to come of age at quarterback, but the defense to lose some of its tenacity without Gregg Williams. The Redskins average 23.8 points per game (#15) and allow 22.6 points (#16) against a schedule featuring six games against 2007 playoff teams.

Absolute Record: 9-7

Most Significant Newcomer: Malcolm Kelly, WR - Maybe the 40-yard dash time is of bigger weight than the analysis shows and the productive pass-catcher out of Oklahoma may just as easily become Mike Williams or Dwayne Jarrett as he could James Jones; but, Kelly's college numbers at the highest level should not lie. This is a guy who averaged over 16 yards per reception and was a touchdown machine in his final two seasons in Norman. With his size and "yards after the catch" abilities, Kelly should be a mainstay in Washington's lineup for years to come. Santana Moss, Antwann Randle El and Chris Cooley are definitely not washed up, but the new guard of Kelly, Devin Thomas and Fred Davis should match very well with what Jason Campbell and Jim Zorn want to do.

Biggest Strength: Pass Defense - Even without Williams and the late Sean Taylor, this pass rush is an elite unit. Fred Smoot, Shawn Springs, Carlos Rogers and LaRon Landry have all illustrated in their careers that they can play at the highest level in this league. London Fletcher, Rocky McIntosh and Marcus Washington are all athletic enough to get in passing lanes or rush the quarterback.

Most Exploitable Weakness: Age - After years of renting the league's most expensive free agent veterans, Washington is doing the right thing by injecting youth into the offensive skill positions. Unfortunately, the offensive line, with all starters over 30, and the entire defense, with almost exactly half of the contributors older than 30, are not getting much younger. The Redskins will address this over time. It's just going to hurt them by the end of 2008.

Possible Fantasy Sleeper: Malcolm Kelly, WR - We do not usually double-up like this, but he is doing much better in the sim than most people think. The numbers have Kelly as a top-40 WR with 51 receptions for 785 yards and five touchdowns. Fred Davis is an option here for the same reasons as Martellus Bennett above.

Closest Game: @ Seattle (Week 12) - Zorn goes back to Seattle where the Seahawks are one of the league's best home teams. Are all of the teams in the NFC East better than any team in the NFC West?. A road game at the West's division winner is as close as that debate gets.

Fantasy Notables: Jason Campbell (11) 3,058 passing yards, 21 TDs, 11 INTs; Clinton Portis (8) 1,572 total yards,13 TDs; Malcolm Kelly (38) 51 receptions, 785 yards, 5 TDs; Santana Moss (41) 70 receptions, 786 yards and 5 TDs; Chris Cooley (5) 71 receptions, 764 yards, 5 TDs; Shaun Suisham (24) 42/42 XPs, 29/33 FGs

Projected 2008 Results:

WeekOpponentWin%Avg Score
1@New York Giants2915-28
2New Orleans Saints6127-17
3Arizona Cardinals5725-18
4@Dallas Cowboys2819-30
5@Philadelphia Eagles4318-27
6St. Louis Rams7529-18
7Cleveland Browns3723-26
8@Detroit Lions7528-21
9Pittsburgh Steelers4522-22
11Dallas Cowboys3719-23
12@Seattle Seahawks5320-19
13New York Giants3720-24
14@Baltimore Ravens8028-20
15@Cincinnati Bengals7128-22
16Philadelphia Eagles6528-19
17@San Francisco 49ers6531-28



Philadelphia Eagles (8-8)
This is no longer an elite NFL team, but it would still be interesting to see how they would fare in a division that was not as competitive (and yes we know that we have the technology to make that happen). The division is just too tough and Philly just seems to be in a bit of a rut. Have they lacked an identity since the last NFC Championship game? Does something big have to change?... The Eagles average 22.8 points per game (#17) and allow 22.3 points (#15) against a schedule featuring eight games against 2007 playoff teams.

Absolute Record: 8-8

Most Significant Newcomer: Asante Samuel, CB - There is not a great track record of players who perfectly fit a system on a great team who later go on to thrive on their own as a star on another team. That being said, it is impossible to ignore Samuel's production over the last couple of seasons in New England and he instantly upgrades a secondary that was banged up for most of last season. The sim shows Samuel making eight interceptions and 51 tackles. Special teams are hard to judge, but DeSean Jackson has to be in this discussion. Trevor Laws, Quintin Demps and Lorenzo Booker were considered as well. All five are to be considered boom-or-bust candidates (Samuel has much less bust potential than the others).

Biggest Strength: Brian Westbrook - We single him out because he can do it all out of the running back position. When he is fully healthy, he may be as complete and dynamic an offensive weapon as there is in this league (you read that right, LT).

Most Exploitable Weakness: Pass Protection - Despite only starting 12 games and attempting 381 passes, the simulated season sees Donovan McNabb sacked 36 times, fourth most of any quarterback. Last season, he was sacked 44 times in 14 games. When the team struggles with pass protection, its yards-per-attempt passing go way down. Fortunately, they can rely on Brian Westbrook as an outlet, but not on third-and-long.

Possible Fantasy Sleeper: Chris Gocong, LB - We would love to say Lorenzo Booker, Brent Celek, DeSean Jackson or Kevin Kolb, but they may have to wait until next year. Gocong, the former Buch Buchanan Award winner (DI-AA/FCS defensive player of the year, like Jared Allen, Rashean Mathis, Dexter Coakley and Ed Hartwell) is in his second full season with the Eagles. In the simulated 2008 season, he leads the team with 93 tackles and also notches two sacks.

Closest Game: Cleveland (Week 15) - This may be another way to try to answer the question above. Cleveland presents the best team in another division, a team on the rise. This will be a great opportunity for the Eagles to show the league where it stands.

Fantasy Notables: Donovan McNabb (17) 2,701 yards, 17 TDs, 9 INTs; Brian Westbrook (2) 2,056 total yards, 16 TDs; Kevin Curtis (26) 67 receptions, 972 yards, 6 TDs; L.J. Smith (20) 41 receptions, 431 yards, 3 TDs; David Akers (15) 38/38 XPs, 28/31 FGs

Projected 2008 Results:

WeekOpponentWin%Avg Score
1St. Louis Rams7231-19
2@Dallas Cowboys2818-30
3Pittsburgh Steelers4623-24
4@Chicago Bears8528-19
5Washington Redskins5727-18
6@San Francisco 49ers5523-22
8Atlanta Falcons7530-18
9@Seattle Seahawks4414-21
10New York Giants3019-24
11@Cincinnati Bengals7326-21
12@Baltimore Ravens7626-19
13Arizona Cardinals6026-18
14@New York Giants2816-28
15Cleveland Browns4920-21
16@Washington Redskins3519-28
17Dallas Cowboys2921-26

Click here to view a schedule of 2008 NFL previews and see others that have been posted.

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