NFL Contenders 2012- NFC East (pt. 2)

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The other 2 teams in the NFC East seem to be much closer than the bookmakers believe, the Cowboys are third favourite to take the title at 5/2 while the Redskins are a very long shot at 10/1.  Both teams are really a story of their respective Quarterbacks the Cowboys under Tony Romo have been perennial under achievers, mainly it has to be said because his offensive line has given him little or no protection since he became a starter in 2006.  He has struggled to stay healthy as a result of the punishment he’s taken in the backfield, on average he’s been sacked 24 times a season as a starter and last season he was sacked a ridiculous 36 times.  When he’s afforded time he can be a very productive Quarterback and with players like Felix Jones, Dez Bryant and the enigmatic Miles Austin the Cowboys, like the Eagles can potentially score a lot of points very quickly.  The injury to Jason Whitten’s spleen is the worst news that Romo could have during preseason as the tight end not only provides Romo with a safety valve in the passing game but also with extra protection with his excellent blocking, added to the loss of Whitten is the departure of tight end Martellus Bennett to the Giants.  On the defensive side of the ball the Cowboys have struggled in recent years with inconsistent play from their defensive backs so their drafting of the hugely exciting LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne combined with the signing of free agent Brandon Carr should bring some stability and help the Cowboys much vaunted pass rush apply some pressure to opposing offences.

The Redskins under Mike Shanahan have not been as competitive as his Denver teams were during his reign in the 1990’s and this must be concerning for both him and their owner Dan Snyder, at the end of the 2011 lock out all eyes were on Washington and the extortionate amount of money they had paid Albert Haynesworth and whether or not Haynesworth was willing to play in a defensive formation where he had little chance to add to his sack statistics.  This season the only really talk surrounding the Redskins was which rookie Quarterback they would want to draft.  They opted for Robert Griffin III (aka RG3) and everything points to them getting the new Cam Newton, Griffin is not the physical presence that Newton is but his football skills have not been questioned like Newton’s were all through his college career, RG3 is a very good passer and as an athlete he is unsurpassed in terms of rookie Quarterbacks, he was in contention for a spot in the USA’s 2012 Olympic team as a 400m hurdler and as a junior was ranked 5th in world as a 110m hurdler.  Like the Cowboys the key to their offence’s success will be how well they can protect their Quarterback, with receivers like Pierre Garcon, Josh Morgan, Santana Moss and Leonard Hankerson combined with tight end’s Fred Davis and Chris Cooley the Redskins passing game could be a very dangerous weapon in a very offence dominated division, combined with an offensive backfield including Tim Hightower and Roy Helu the Redskins will surprise more than a few defences this season.  Defensively the Redskins have some big names in their ranks and Brandon Merriweather may prove to be a great signing but, just like corner back DeAngelo Hall, Merriweather has been known to give away unnecessary penalties at inopportune times so the onus will be on senior players like London Fletcher and Madieu Williams to keep an eye on the new additions and a lid on their “enthusiasm”.

NFL Contenders 2012- NFC East (pt. 1)

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Only a crazy man would try to untangle the twisted web that is, and has been the NFC East for the last decade or more, so here goes. Since 1999 every team has won this division and with the exception of 4 years in the 2000’s (when the Eagles managed 4 titles in a row) no single team has maintained any sort of consistency against their rivals.  The current Super Bowl Champions the New York Giants have secured 4 titles since the turn of the millennium, the Redskins have won the division just once, in 1999 whilst the Dallas Cowboys, who dominated the NFC East in the 1990’s have only secured the title twice in 2007 & 2009.  This year’s favourites with the bookies, the Philadelphia Eagles have topped the division 6 times but still have not won the Super Bowl since 1960.

The Eagles may be favourites for the divisional title this season, having only missed out on it last season after the last round of regular season matches, but there’s barely a hair’s breadth between them, the Giants and the Cowboys and the only thing that really separates the Eagles from the pack is their potential to score quickly and blow teams away in a very short period of time.  However the Eagles have a history of injuries to key players and off field issues affecting them and preventing them from fulfilling this potential and sadly this year has been no exception with the untimely and tragic death of Head Coach Andy Reid’s son Garrett while he was assisting the team during their training camp at Lehigh University.  This terrible turn of circumstance could yet serve to galvanise the team to perform as they can for an entire season, but while they undoubtedly have the personnel with enough talent to make it deep into the playoffs it will take a significant turnaround for them to overcome the pressure of being installed as division favourites.  Garrett Reid’s death was not the Eagles only off season issue, although it was clearly the most important one, their number 1 wide receiver Desean Jackson arrived at training camp 11 days late to show his displeasure at earning just $565, 000 this season.  On the injury front Quarterback Michael Vick has missed games in both of the last 2 seasons and he’s only seen 12 snaps this offseason as a result of a bruising he suffered to his ribs against the Patriots, Vick also injured his thumb in preseason and the age of 32 there must be question marks over his durability.

Since 2007 the Giants have the Super Bowl as many times as they have won their division, twice.  This really only outlines how tough the NFC East has been over the last few years, other indicators toward this conjecture are the fact that the Giants finished sixth overall in the NFC last season, had the worst defence in the division and only managed to win 3 divisional games last season on their way to winning the Super Bowl.  As with all defending Super Bowl Champions the Giants had to allow a number of players to leave as the salary cap rules hit them, but with 2010’s first round draft pick corner back Prince Amukamara available to bolster the defence for the start of the season, which he wasn’t last year and a very promising 2012 draft class including exciting running back David Wilson and promising wide receiver Rueben Randle to assist Eli Manning’s offence the Giants should be able to challenge the Eagles for the division title once again this season.

NFL Contenders 2012- AFC East

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Come January 2013 the NFL play offs will be upon us and with such a turbulent offseason, not just in New Orleans, but all over the league with more than 30 player arrests between February and July of 2012 a host of players could be facing League suspension’s there are bound to be a few surprise names featuring in the post season.

In the 2011 season the usual post season customers were joined by a few outsiders, as the lockout ended not many people expected the Texans, Bengals, the Tebow inspired Broncos or even eventual NFC Championship runners up the 49ers to still be playing into the New Year.  This season the bookmakers have perennial play off attendees New England has extremely short favourites to win the AFC East and make another appearance this season, Green Bay, Pittsburgh, New Orleans and the resurgent San Francisco  are all short odds favourites to make the post season too.  These miserly odds owe more to the fact that their competitors within their respective divisions have suffered, either with personnel issues, or struggled to retain players under the new salary cap rules, or in the New York Jets case have made some bizarre personnel decisions and turned their pre season program into a circus.

The Jets are an interesting case in point, last season they were embroiled in controversy, not just from the start of the season, but before that during preseason when Corner Back Darrelle Revis threatened to repeat his 2010 contract holdout.  The controversy continued throughout the season as offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer and Quarterback Mark Sanchez struggled to implement an efficient offence and Darrelle Revis and his colleagues on the defensive side of the ball struggled to contain opposing offences as they had done in 2010.  This season they have a new offensive coordinator in the shape of former Miami Dolphins Head Coach Tony Sparrano and Head Coach Rex Ryan has said that he may take responsibility for calling defensive plays.  Personnel wise the Jets caused quite a stir in the off season by trading for Broncos Quarterback Tim Tebow, a first round pick in the 2010 draft, ever since the trade the Jets have been involved in storm of gossip surrounding Tebow’s role in the team, he’s been seen lining up as a personal protector in punting drills and the team insist that Mark Sanchez will be the team’s starting Quarterback this season.  The team’s main concern this season will be their starting offensive line which seems to be the weakest part of the team and one which they largely failed to address during the draft, drafting an offensive guard from Baylor when right tackle is their biggest problem area.  Last season was the Jets worst in 4 years , they won just 8 games having averaged 10 wins a season in the previous 3 years, with their coaching changes and the inspirational Tebow in the locker room they should provide the Patriots with a stern challenge and their odds of  13/2 appear to be a rather enticing prospect.

 

The Buffalo Bills under Chan Gailey have become a much improved team and at one stage last season looked to be the surprise package of the entire NFL.  A t the end of October they were 5-2 and had beaten their division rivals the Patriots 34-31 in a thrilling game at the Ralph Wilson Stadium where their defence made 4 interceptions and their offense threw 2 of their own.  They also beat the hotly tipped Eagles in Buffalo and until they hit a 7 game losing streak they matched the Patriots win- loss record.  This season the Bills schedule sees them playing some of the weaker teams in the NFL so even if they do not manage to upset divisional rivals the Patriots again they could realistically make the play offs as a wild card team.  Not only do they play some of the weaker teams they play them all in December and with a run of games beginning on November 15th with the 125-1 outsiders Indianapolis Colts and includes 3 home games against the Jaguars, Rams & Seahawks if the Bills can manage to win 5 of their first 9 games they could be full of confidence at the business end of the regular season.