If the New York Giants hope for regular Super Bowl appearances, they can do no better than to study the team they victimized last February 4. The dynastic New England Patriots won the AFC East eight of the last nine seasons. The sole miss came in 2008 when the Pats, without Tom Brady for most of the season, finished 11-5 but lost the tiebreaker to the Miami Dolphins and ended up becoming the first 11-win team in 23 years to miss the playoffs.
The Patriots have appeared in five Super Bowls since 2001, winning three. Their last two appearances were losses to the Giants, but the Patriots prove that dominating the division is the first step to dynastic intent.
That's not good news for the G-men, due as much to the nature of their "Beast" rivals as because of deficiencies in their own talent.
The Philadelphia Eagles showed division dominance early in the decade, but only clinched the NFC East twice since the 2004 season. They also struggled to make a deep playoff run without Terrell Owens. This year, Andy Reid went all out to boost the Eagles defense by collecting talent and shifting the pass rush to the Wide-9 alignment under Juan Castillo, their former offensive line coach. Someone should have cautioned Philadelphia about expecting instant results.
The Eagles lost eight of their first 12 games as the defense struggled and QB Michael Vick regressed from his 2010 performance. However, the defense closed strong to push the Eagles to wins in its last four games, and Philadelphia dominated the NFC East 5-1 en route to an 8-8 finish.
The Dallas Cowboys have also won two division titles since 2004. Like the Eagles, they did not go far in the postseason either time. The Cowboys dumped ineffective WR Row Williams and found a budding star in RB DeMarco Murray. Thanks in large part to New York's inability to put the division away, the Cowboys were in the playoff hunt until the Week 17 showdown with the Giants. The G-men opened a 34-14 can of whoopass on the 'Boys to finally clinch a playoff berth.
The Washington Redskins are an afterthought, competitive on defense, but with the worst quarterback situation in the NFC East.
Once the Giants get into the playoffs, their recent record proves them to be as dangerous as any team in the nation. However, their regular season competition stands as the biggest obstacle between them and a dynastic reign over the next few years. The Eagles in particular stack up as the biggest threat to New York's division dominance. How do the Giants stack up against the Eagles and the rest of the division? And how will this arms race affect the Giants' offseason plans?
It's true. There is an Eli in elite. Manning had the best year of any of the NFC East QBs and surpassed Michael Vick as the class of the division. Vick is the division's best athlete in the position and second best in the league after Cam Newton. But, his second life as a starting quarterback comes from his more Manning-like pocket presence. Vick is a better quarterback than he showed in 2011, but Manning is the more accomplished playoff leader.
Tony Romo finished the season ranked fourth in NFL passer rating with more touchdowns and fewer interceptions than Manning. Where Romo seems to have more fireworks, Manning is all clutch. When the game on the line in the fourth quarter, who do you want with the ball?
Manning, Vick and Romo are the same age, 31, and poised to lead their teams for another two or three seasons at least.
If Victor Cruz can string together a few more seasons like the last one, there is no reason why the Giants will not dominate here. New York's top two wide outs, Cruz and Hakeem Nicks, combined for 2,729 yards and 16 scores. The Cowboys top two wide receivers were more prolific with 20 touchdowns, but for far fewer yards.
DeSean Jackson is like the little girl with the little curl. When he's good, he's very good, but when he's bad (i.e. pouty), he can disappear entirely. We suspect that Jackson's elevated sense of worth will get in the way of his negotiations with the Eagles. We have said elsewhere that the Eagles will cut a deal with Jackson to give Philadelphia a strong one-two punch at wide out.
Defensive pass disruption
Rating defenses in yards is a quaint notion for 21st Century football. Super Bowl participants New England and New York were terrible in passing yards allowed, ranking 31st and 29th respectively. But they were second and sixth (tied) in interceptions. The Giants (48) were third-ranked in sacks. The bad news is that Philadelphia, for all its defensive trouble, tied for first with 50 sacks.
Dallas and Washington were mere steps behind Philly and New York with 42 and 41 sacks.
All of the NFC East defenses ranked in the bottom half of the league in opponents' passer rating bunched between 85.7 (Philly) and 88.4 (Dal).
Defensive supremacy against this bunch will be hard to come by. The team that dominates the Beast will be the team with the best secondary.
The Eagles have to get more from CB Nnamdi Asomugha. They brought in Todd Bowles as defensive backfield coach to help with that.
The Cowboys are ready to build around CB Mike Jenkins and perhaps bid farewell (finally) to Terrence Newman. They still have holes at safety.
The hole in the Redskins defensive backfield is at safety where both LaRon Landry and Oshiomogho (don't call me "OJ") Atogwe missed significant time with injury. Landry's future is uncertain as he recuperates from Achilles injury.
Antrel Rolle leads a Giants secondary that twice shut down Tom Brady last season. What the unit lacks in flash, they make up in confidence after their late season peak and Super Bowl win. The new season should see the return of CB Terrell Thomas and continuing development of oft-picked-on rookie CB Prince Amukamara.
That's good enough for the Giants to compete, but not enough to assure a division dynasty. If any area needs immediate upgrades, expect it to be here.
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