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 9, 2009. A schedule of upcoming NFL preview content including links to other previews that have already been posted is located here.
Also, we account for players with injury histories who are considered likely to miss games despite currently being healthy by randomly taking them out of what the analysis dictates is the correct number of games throughout the season. For players who will begin the season injured or who are assumed to replace the current starter during the season, we deliberately make those roster changes in the appropriate weeks. All of these items can cause some perceived inconsistencies with the scores, especially when a team plays one opponent from its division with one set of starters and uses different personnel later.
Today we preview the NFC East.
Philadelphia Eagles (12-4)
The Eagles won the last wild card spot last year and were one big play away from the Super Bowl. This offseason, the Eagles bulked up their offensive line, added offensive weapons through the draft and replaced aging, disgruntled pieces in the secondary with younger players of similar ability. All of these moves result in a team that earns the top seed in the NFC despite playing in the toughest division in football. The Eagles average 22.8 points per game (#10 in the NFL) and only allow 13.4 points (#1) against a schedule featuring six games against teams who made the playoffs in 2008.
Absolute Record: 16-0
Most Significant Newcomer: Jason Peters - There is a lot to choose from here. Rookie running back LeSean McCoy may be crucial if Brian Westbrook misses more games than usual with injuries. Fellow rookies, wide receiver Jeremy Maclin and tight end Cornelius Ingram could add explosiveness to the passing offense. Safety Sean Jones and cornerback Ellis Hobbs provide depth in the secondary. And offensive lineman Jason Peters and Stacy Andrews along with fullback Leonard Weaver were brought in to help keep Donovan McNabb upright. Peters, a two-time Pro Bowl selection at left tackle with the Buffalo Bills, is the most proven of the options. The 27 year old, 6'4", 340 pound former Arkansas tight end may not have had the greatest 2008 season statistically, but the praise for Peters from Eagles head coach Andy Reid, to new teammates, experts and opposing coaches indicates that Peters should be an upgrade over long-time Eagle Tra Thomas. It will be important to the success of Philadephia that all these pieces can blend together early. That starts with Peters and protecting the quarterback.
Biggest Strength: Defense - They may not have some of the most feared or even recognizable names in the game, but the Eagles have to be one of the most feared defensive teams in football. Led by 68 year old, defensive coordinator and king of the blitz, Jim Johnson, Philadelphia finished among the top five in the NFL in every important defensive statistic outside of forcing turnovers where the Eagles still ranked in the top ten. Gone are safeties Brian Dawkins and Sean Considine and cornerback Lito Sheppard, but second-year standout Quintin Demps and the aforementioned Jones and Hobbs may fit the Eagles even better in 2009. Our projections rank the defense as tops in the league in (fewest) points allowed at just 13.4 points a game.
Most Exploitable Weakness: Injuries - If the defense is the Eagles' biggest strength than the offense may naturally be the team's biggest weakness, but Philadelphia worked very hard to improve its offensive talent at every position (except quarterback where they are set). The greater concern is that said quarterback is an injury risk, as are the starting running back and one of the starting wide receivers. Brian Westbrook is a lock to miss a game or two every year and he just had off-season ankle surgery that may jeopardize the start to his season. Donovan McNabb played all 16 games last season, yet averaged just 12.3 healthy games per year from 2002-2007. Kevin Curtis, who is slated to start alongside DeSean Jackson at wide receiver, missed seven games in 2008 and had multiple groin surgeries (ouch) in the last few months. Everything about this team looks promising heading into the season, but that could all change very quickly with an injury to one of the team's key weapons.
Possible Fantasy Sleeper: LeSean McCoy, RB - These projections were run with Brian Westbrook missing three games a season on average. That may actually be a little optimistic. Our projections see Westbrook ranking tenth among running backs in fantasy value with 1,534 total yards. McCoy, a second-round draft choice out of Pittsburgh, averages 18 touches a game in his three starts and 7 touches a game when Westbrook is healthy. In total, McCoy nets 784 total yards and seven touchdowns. It is unlikely that Brian Westbrook misses the entire season, but in that case, McCoy would project to 1,557 total yards and 12 touchdowns as the feature back making 16 starts.
Closest Game: @Washington Redskins (Week 7) - First, it should be noted that the Eagles are favored in all 16 games. The easiest way to win a division is to beat the teams in your division. This is the first of three games against each NFC East foes. And with games against the Giants and Cowboys at home, the Eagles can put themselves in great shape to win the division by taking this game on the road to start that stretch.
Fantasy Notables (fantasy rank at position in parentheses): Donovan McNabb (7) 3,449 yards, 21 TDs, 11 INTs; Brian Westbrook (10) 1,534 total yards, 11 TDs; LeSean McCoy (43) 784 total yards, 7 TDs; DeSean Jackson (34) 59 receptions, 888 yards, 5 TDs; Kevin Curtis (54) 49 receptions, 548 yards, 3 TDs; Brent Celek (17) 34 receptions, 443 yards, 2 TDs; David Akers (10) 39/39 XPs, 28/33 FGs
Projected 2009 Results:
|2||New Orleans Saints||75||27-16|
|3||Kansas City Chiefs||88||26-10|
|5||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||88||30-13|
|8||New York Giants||72||20-11|
|10||@San Diego Chargers||66||22-19|
|14||@New York Giants||65||19-16|
|15||San Francisco 49ers||83||24-11|
Dallas Cowboys (9-7)
After a season that was historically disappointing, the Cowboys cleaned house of "bad character" guys. Gone are Tank Johnson, Pacman Jones, and that guy whose initials are T and O. Also gone are veterans Roy Williams (the safety) and Greg Ellis. Not gone is Wade Philips, who gets a chance to coach on the Cowboys hot seat for a third season. Dallas finishes above .500 and earns a Wild Card as one of three NFC East teams to make the playoffs. The Cowboys average 23.0 points per game (#9) and allow 20.3 points (#14) against a schedule featuring seven games against 2008 playoff teams.
Most Significant Newcomer: Keith Brooking, LB - Last year, Dallas plugged veteran Zach Thomas into the middle linebacker spot and, while he put up big tackle numbers, he struggled in Wade's system. Keith Brooking may seem like a similar player, yet should be an upgrade over Thomas. Wade was defensive coordinator and interim head coach with Brooking in Atlanta so Brooking knows the system well. The Cowboys need a veteran to speak out and show some leadership, both on the field and in the locker room, which Brooking has done in the past.
Biggest Strength: Running Backs - One of the new fads in the NFL is the duel-threat running back system. The Cowboys have a triple threat with Marion Barber, Felix Jones and Tashard Choice. Barber is a bruiser as well as a great pass catcher, who can help Dallas close out games late in fourth with his ability to break tackles. Felix Jones, the team's 2008 first round pick, is the homerun threat with a ton of speed and game-breaking ability. Tashard Choice is somewhere in between as a solid all-around back. Dallas needs to trust its running backs to guide the offense, which should take pressure off of quarterback Tony Romo and the passing game. The projections see Barber, Jones and Choice combine for 2,657 total yards and 21 touchdowns on 490 touches. Even more touches would be better for the team.
Most Exploitable Weakness: Secondary - Even benefitting from one of the league's best pass rushes last year, secondary was the Cowboys biggest problem area and it appears to be that way again in 2009. Dallas replaced mostly-ineffective safeties Roy Williams and Ken Hamlin with Gerald Sensabaugh and a year older version of Ken Hamlin. Then, the team traded starting corner Anthony Henry to Detroit, leaving Dallas with five possible players, none with more than one year of NFL experience, competing to take Henry's place opposite Terrance Newman. Sensabaugh is a slight upgrade and there is a pretty good chance that at least one of the five kids sticks as an NFL-caliber starting cornerback; however, the Cowboys still have a long way to go before the level of play in their secondary can match the rest of the roster.
Possible Fantasy Sleeper: Martellus Bennett, TE - It seems that every skill position, non-starter on the Cowboys' offense could be a fantasy sleeper. Felix Jones, Tashard Choice and Miles Austin are candidates, but Jones isn't enough of a threat to catch the ball and Choice and Austin each have two players with much better talent in front of them. Martellus Bennett may also have great talent ahead of him on the depth chart in Jason Witten, the top ranked fantasy tight end in the league, yet he should still see his share of looks. Dallas will work two tight end sets into the playbook to both aid its talented running game and get Bennett's blend of size and athleticism on the field. He had 20 catches for 283 yards last year. We assume he will top that, which would already rank Bennett in front of several of the NFL's starting tight ends.
Closest Game: @New York Giants (Week 13) - This will be the last time ever the Cowboys visit Giants Stadium. Tony Romo is 5-9 in December. This game is the start of a December (and January) stretch featuring all three divisional opponents, as well as the Saints, and Chargers - all of whom we project as .500 or better teams. Winning in New York, or at least playing very well in New York could be the start of a run similar to the Giants' of 2007.
Fantasy Notables: Tony Romo (6) 3,664 yards, 22 TDs, 17 INTs; Marion Barber (23) 1,212 total yards, 8 TDs; Felix Jones (48) 666 toal yards, 7 TDs; Tashard Choice (51) 754 total yards, 5 TDs; Roy Williams (21) 73 receptions, 994 yards, 6 TDs; Patrick Crayton (65) 32 receptions, 455 yards, 3 TDs; Jason Witten (1) 84 recpetions, 1,051 yards, 6 TDs; Nick Folk (6) 38/38 XPs, 28/33 FGs
Projected 2009 Results:
|1||@Tampa Bay Buccaneers||68||28-23|
|2||New York Giants||57||21-17|
|5||@Kansas City Chiefs||76||27-19|
|10||@Green Bay Packers||68||24-20|
|13||@New York Giants||41||19-23|
|14||San Diego Chargers||60||27-22|
|15||@New Orleans Saints||45||24-28|
New York Giants (9-7)
The Giants were a Super Bowl favorite for about 12 weeks last year until wide receiver Plaxico Burress was suspended and the offense floundered. Since then, New York also lost veteran wideout Amani Toomer and 1,000 yard rusher Derrick Ward. The offense may take another step back in 2009, but, with a healthy Osi Umenyiora and the additions of Chris Canty, Michael Boley and Rocky Bernard, the defense will carry the Giants into the playoffs as the second NFC Wild Card team. The Giants average 20.9 points per game (#19) and allow 18.3 points (#4) against a schedule featuring eight games against 2008 playoff teams.
Absolute Record: 11-5
Most Significant Newcomer: Hakeem Nicks, WR - New York signed several good defensive players in the off-season, yet none of those moves addressed the team's biggest issue, which was/is a lack of weapons for Eli Manning. The Giants lost 41.6% of their receptions from 2008. As we chronicled after the draft, first round pick Hakeem Nicks will have an impact on the Giants in his rookie season - because he has to. Domenik Hixon, Steve Smith, Mario Manningham and Sinorice Moss are the other options at receiver. Nicks has fantastic hands, decent size and athleticism and is a great route-runner. If Manning can get comfortable with him early, Nicks could have a rare breakout rookie season for a wide receiver. Our projections see him split targets almost equally with Hixon and Smith to catch 41 passes for 565 yards. Is that going to be enough?
Biggest Strength: Pass Rush - In 2008, without a healthy Osi Umenyiora, the Giants finished fifth in the NFL in sacks per opponent pass attempt. Umenyiora had 13 sacks the previous season. New York also added Chris Canty and Rocky Bernard, who combined for seven sacks in 2008 and rookie Clint Sintim, who made 13 sacks as an outside linebacker for Virgina last year, to the defensive line. Even if 32 year old tackle Fred Robbins is not fully healthy from off-season microfracture knee surgery, the Giants will spend a lot of time in the backfield terrorizing opposing quarterbacks.
Most Exploitable Weakness: Passing Offense - Without Derrick Ward, the running game will likely take a step backwards in 2008. Eli Manning and Company would typically be expected to rely more on the passing game to move the ball and make plays. In this case though, the Giants still have a better chance of succeeding offensively on the ground as opposed to through the air. Even with receives he could trust, Manning finished 19th in the league in completion percentage and 21st among qualified quarterbacks in yards-per-attempt in 2008. Expect his interception percentage to go back up and his completion percentage to go down significantly from career bests in those stats in 2008.
Possible Fantasy Sleeper: Ahmad Bradshaw, RB - The third-year player looked poised for a big season last year after a showing signs of brilliance in the 2007 playoffs, but was superseded by Derrick Ward. The problem with Bradshaw - and the likely reason the Giants favored Ward - is that, like Felix Jones above, he is not a very good receiver. Unless the Giants run more than 55% of the time, Bradshaw will probably not have great fantasy value. As it turns out, that is exactly what we are advocating they do and what happens in the simulations. The projections give Bradshaw 877 rushing yards on 177 carries.
Closest Game: @New Orleans Saints (Week 6) - Drew Brees creates matchup problems for everyone. The Saints also have a weak secondary so this could be a game the Giants steal with their lackluster receivers. The Giants play four straight against 2008 playoff teams following this game.
Fantasy Notables: Eli Manning (20) 2,696 yards, 17 TDs, 11 INTS; Brandon Jacobs (22) 1,221 total yards, 9 TDs; Admad Bradshaw (32) 959 total yards, 8 TDs; Domenik Hixon (45) 45 receptions, 691 yards, 4 TDs; Hakeem Nicks (49) 41 receptions, 565 yards, 4 TDs; Steve Smith (59) 45 receptions, 494 yards, 3 TDs; Kevin Boss (26) 28 receptions, 303 yards, 2 TDs; Lawrence Tynes (25) 37/37 XPs, 21/33 FGs
Projected 2009 Results:
|3||@Tampa Bay Buccaneers||67||22-19|
|4||@Kansas City Chiefs||72||23-17|
|6||@New Orleans Saints||47||22-25|
|9||San Diego Chargers||53||22-19|
Washington Redskins (9-7)
Owner Daniel Snyder went back to his spending ways in the off-season giving defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth a $100+ million contract and DeAngelo Hall a $45 million deal. For the most part, along with the drafting of Brian Orakpo, the moves work as Washington finishes with the third best defense in the league. The offense and the strength of the rest of the division keep Washington from making the playoffs. The Redskins average 18.7 points per game (#29) and allow 17.4 points (#3) against a schedule featuring seven games against 2008 playoff teams.
Absolute Record: 8-8
Most Significant Newcomer: Albert Haynesworth, DT - $100 million may not have exactly been warranted (he will probably never see all of that anyway), but the Redskins were able to correctly identify the free agent who could come in and immediately make the biggest difference for his team. Haynesworth is a gigantic run-stuffer who can also get to the quarterback. Last season he had 51 total tackles and 8.5 sacks, despite being double-teamed on almost every play. Haynesworth is impossible to block with one player and almost impossible to stop with two or more. Watch for the sack numbers of ends Phillip Daniels and Andre Carter to increase significantly and for opponents to avoid running up the middle.
Biggest Strength: Defense - Without Albert Haynesworth or Brian Orakpo, the Redskins finished in the top ten in the NFL in yards-per-carry and yards-per-pass-attempt allowed in 2008. In 2009, they should be at least be as good in those categories and vastly improved at rushing the passer and forcing turnovers. Outside of the division, Washington will play some very poor offenses, so expect to see some gaudy defensive numbers from the Redskins.
Most Exploitable Weakness: Passing Offense - We have brought up passingin offense as an exploitable weakness for several teams - even those that complete a decent percentage and do not throw many interceptions or allow many sacks. The reason for this is that an effective downfield passing game can lead to big scoring plays that can instantly change games and hide other deficiencies. Washington was 24th in the NFL in yards-per-pass-attempt in the 2008. Quarterback Jason Campbell is very smart and even has most of the physical tools needed, but lacks weapons who can get yards after the catch. Santana Moss and Antwaan Randle El will both be 30 years old when the season starts and are clearly regressing. Washington needs to get something big out of one of its second-years wide receivers, Devin Thomas or Malcolm Kelly, if hopes to make the playoffs..
Possible Fantasy Sleeper: Devin Thomas, WR - Speak of the Devin. It's not necessarily "something big," but we project Thomas to catch 40 passes for 420 yards two touchdowns. That exceeds Randle El's output, yet would still not be "enough" as alluded to in the previous section. Washington should realize early that getting the ball to a guy like Thomas should be priority for this offense. The sooner that happens, the higher Thomas' value will increase.
Closest Game: @Carolina Panthers (Week 5) - The Redskins open with the Giants followed by three teams we predict will combine for 13 wins. Realistically, Washington should get out to at least a 3-1 start before a big road test comes in Week Five when they travel to Carolina to face a team that won a division title a year ago.
Fantasy Notables: Jason Campbell (21) 2,189 yards, 12 TDs, 8 INTs; Clinton Portis (9) 1,577 total yards, 11 TDs; Santana Moss (29) 59 receptions, 903 yards, 5 TDs; Devin Thomas (73) 40 receptions, 420 yards, 2 TDs; Chris Cooley (11) 61 receptions, 628 yards, 4 TDs; Shaun Suisham, (26) 31/32 XPs, 23/28 FGs
Projected 2009 Results:
|1||@New York Giants||41||13-18|
|2||St. Louis Rams||88||27-10|
|4||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||73||25-16|
|6||Kansas City Chiefs||75||23-13|
|13||New Orleans Saints||52||22-20|
|15||New York Giants||40||14-15|
|17||@San Diego Chargers||46||18-21|
Click here to view a schedule of 2009 NFL previews and see others that have been posted.
Paul Bessire is the Product Manager of Content and Quantitative Analysis for WhatIfSports.com, a division of FOX Sports Interactive specializing in fantasy football simulation analysis and football sim games. With any comments, questions or topic suggestions, Paul can be reached at BtB@whatifsports.com. Thanks!
What is WhatIfSports?
WhatIfSports.com is a sports simulation and online gaming site providing free content and unique games for the MLB, NBA, NFL, NHL, NCAA sports and more.
Join WhatIfSports.com today to get these members only benefits:
- Create your own Dream Team
- Save your favorite SimMatchup results
- Play a FREE SimLeague trial season
- Start playing a Dynasty game
- Manage baseball games LIVE
- Access to SiteMail
- Post in our Forums
- Build a Buddy list to easily invite friends
- Use our online Customer Service
- Earn game credits by using our Referral & Affiliate program