The 2009 NFL Preview
The NFC East and North


New York (11 – 5) ~ Lord, I hate favoring the Giants… I really do. But as I look over what I’m writing in these previews, with what seems to be a very heavy hand toward looking at schedules, let’s consider…

After opening with Washington and Dallas, the Giants should explode… Tampa, Kansas City and Oakland. Most of what seem like the toughest games… Arizona, San Diego, Atlanta, Carolina… are at home. And they get the Vikings on the last day of the year… when their fate will likely have been decided.

So right off the bat, I like that for them. Playing in New Jersey… a wind tunnel of all wind tunnels, and unpredictable as it comes… is a tremendous equalizer.

While the way to stop them is to destroy the ground game, I started wondering how many of their opponents are ready to do that. Think about it… if the wind is blowing, and the quarterback can’t throw, and the Giants are putting a team on the field with a dominant defensive line… well, that plays right into their strengths. So… how many teams are equipped, on paper, to force Eli to pass? Divisional opponents… sure. Minnesota… probably. But Arizona? Kansas City? Tampa? I doubt it.

Understand… Eli has a ring. And I’ve seen him lead fourth quarter drives. He doesn’t wilt. Deserves respect. But how many times have you watched him destroy an opponent on his own? When have you ever seen him in that legendary zone?

To beat the Giants you need to do something consistent on offense… could be run or pass, but you are going to have to establish it and continue it all game. And, you need to control the line with your defense… not necessarily pressure on Eli, but stop that run.

Philly can be amazing on offense when they’re rolling. Happens once or twice a year. They don’t roll against New York (historically speaking). That leaves New Orleans and Minnesota as the only two really interesting offenses on their schedule. I think they can shut down the rest more often than not.

So the biggest question facing this team is really the wide receiving group. I guarantee you that none of them will be making any fantasy football owners happy. And if they don’t step up… well, defenses are going to pile up on the line and slam the running game.

Good luck Eli. When the playoffs start, you might need it.

Philadelphia (10 – 6) ~ I think the Michael Vick saga could ultimately destroy this team. For the first time in years, McNabb seemed to be approaching the season happy. And then, suddenly, the preseason games were all about Vick. And I don’t think that story is going away.

As usual, this club will go as far as Brian Westbrook can carry them. Oh McNabb will make some plays… and people will look at stats and tell you he’s having just a marvelous year. Whatever. The thing is… the Eagles win with Westbrook, and lose without him. He can get hurt… happens more often than you’d like with him.

Ready for a strange quirk of the schedule? Ok… do you think Chicago and Washington have hard-hitting defense? Because Philly has two points in their season with back-to-back road games where the first game of the two is a west coast contest. And then, the second game after the cross-country travel will involve the Redskins or the Bears.

Dallas (9 – 7) ~ No playoffs for the Cowboys, and things will be interesting.

Now… let’s be realistic to start…

The Cowboys, up and down the roster, are arguably the most talented team in the division. Tony Romo with a backfield featuring Marion Barber is solid. Not great, but a solid duo. Add Roy Williams and Jason Witten to the mix and the offense will be tough to stop. Not impossible, but enough options that you’ll need to pick the moments you take chances and really respect both the passing and running games. (See Giants above… focus on no wide receivers.)

On defense Marcus Spears and DeMarcus Ware will be good. And I really like the addition of Keith Brooking. (Loved Brooking in Atlanta… but his best days are in the past.) Terence Newman should be fine.

So far… talent… see?

But there’s something missing. I don’t want to say it’s fire and passion. I don’t want to pretend any team needs an Owens to stir the ingredients together.

I guess it’s like that commercial they did with the yawning during the play calling. It seems like there is a lack of focus here in Dallas. Maybe that’s because everyone is paying attention to big new the scoreboard when talking about the field as much as they do about Tony Romo not appearing in a section of People each week. Why isn’t anyone talking about the team? Did they all leave for Buffalo?

Dallas should be 3-2 by the time they hit their week off… actually, they should be 4-1, if not undefeated. But the New York Giants and Carolina Panthers at home could produce at least one loss, and three road contests don’t bode well for a team that was 3-5 on the road in 2008.

Ok… so 3-2 sounds fair.

The final 11 games include 2 against Washington, 2 against Philadelphia, a road game against New York, and then San Diego, New Orleans (road), Atlanta and Green Bay (road). You navigate that mess without arriving at three to five losses for Dallas.

So… if they do manage a 4-1 or 5-0 start… then look out. Because while intimidating when considering last year’s road record, Romo’s history of late season fades, and other considerations… they will beat Oakland on Thanksgiving and then have ten days to prepare for New York on the road. And they play five out of their middle eight at home. So some things are set up nicely if a couple of things come together early.

But if they go 3-2… it’s going to be an up and down year for the Cowboys.

Washington (7 – 9) ~ The problem I have with Washington is that so much of their club is Jekyll and Hyde… will they be there or will they vanish?

Clinton Portis? Solid talent… is he starting 16 for the Redskins? Jason Campbell… Santana Moss and Antwaan Randle El didn’t turn him into the best quarterback in the league last year. And Albert Haynesworth is a nice addition to an already strong defensive group… but what normally happens when Washington spends more on a talent than everyone else?

Do you think it’s possible that Dallas, Philly, New York (Giants), San Diego and New Orleans could be in the playoffs? If so… then Washington has six games against potential playoff teams in their final seven weeks. It’s not a scary schedule… but it’s not a forgiving one either. This club is not going 5-2 down the stretch.

Minnesota (10 – 6) ~ I don’t know if there is another club in the league that needs a fast start as much as the Vikings do. It starts on the road with Cleveland and Detroit, and then hits a home game in week three against San Francisco. For a team that is thinking playoffs… heck, for a team thinking Super Bowl… those have to be three wins.

And if you think I’m joking, then you didn’t see the stories where Brett Favre said he might have to sit out a couple of games during the regular season.

So… if we can agree that perhaps Favre got tired last season and might need to play a 12 to 14 game season even though healthy… and if we don’t want too much pressure on rookie Percy Harvin… and if Adrian Peterson is a dazzling, but not 16 regular season games without an injury forcing him to sit out one or two… well… then looking at road games with Carolina and Chicago, then a visit from New York (Giants) to finish the year can’t be a good thing.

Fast early start. Play 12 strong games, clinch a playoff spot, then take a nap and rest for January.

The defense will be solid in Minnesota, so they should be in virtually every contest. (In fact, there is no one on their schedule that will set fire to the scoreboard against them.) They’ve got a beautiful bye week after eight games.

I see them going 4-2 in the division. (Splitting with Green Bay and Chicago, while sweeping Detroit.) I see them beating Cleveland, San Francisco, and St. Louis. That gets them to 7 wins with 9 contests remaining. The schedule does them zero favors for the most part… with the Giants, Panthers, and Steelers in those other games. But it also has the Bengals and Seahawks. 10 wins in the first 13 games should be something they can do.

Go back to my Favre comments though. If they start slow… then have a trip to Pittsburgh in week seven, and both games against Chicago coming after the bye week... some of these games that should be the difference between making the playoffs and a first week bye suddenly will become must-wins just to make the playoffs. And if you can’t defeat Cleveland and Detroit on the road to open the year… are you definitely beating Arizona on the road in December with Favre getting tired and Peterson resting a sore ankle?

Green Bay (9 – 7) ~ I’d like to put the Packers higher, but their schedule scares me. I mean… the December schedule actually terrifies me. Get this… in the last six weeks of the year, the Packers play at home twice. I’m not kidding. After November 22nd, the Packers play six games, and only two will be at Lambeau. On top of that, three of the road games involve Chicago, Pittsburgh and Arizona. All three may be fighting for playoff spots in those contests. So they really need to run things up during a soft middle of the season that includes home games along with Detroit, Cleveland, and Tampa.

I’m worried about all things defense and offensive line as well. For a team that probably could use some good defensive players, the drafted B. J. Raji and Clay Matthews and… well… that’s kind of it. Considering the much hyped turnover of coaching and the transition to a new defensive philosophy, it’s a bit weird.

Hey… I like Aaron Rodgers. I’ve seen him offer some solid efforts in the past couple of seasons. And I think the linebackers here are a really talented and underrated group. But here’s what I think is going to happen…

The club is going to arrive at the Thanksgiving game tied for the division lead and then leave it with an 8-3 record. The remaining schedule goes Baltimore, at Chicago, at Pittsburgh, Seattle, and at Arizona. After beating Detroit for that eighth win, they could be 8-6 heading in to the final two weeks. And the toughest part of facing the Ravens, Bears and Steelers in order are those funny and taken-for-granted things… like consistent running attacks… don’t look so natural or easy. In other words, I guarantee you on the morning of December 21st the media will be asking if the running backs are tired and if the formerly division leading Packers will even make the playoffs.

If these guys have gotten better, then yes, they will. They’ll figure out how to win the last two games and go 10-6. Or they’ll beat Baltimore, be at 9-3, and get to that tenth win.

I don’t think they do it though. I think they start losing, and the opponents and travel take a toll.

Chicago (9 – 7 ) ~ The Bears went 9-7 last year. I expect the same this year. Why?

Ok… help me out.

The Bears didn’t draft until the third round this year. Long story short, that and a pretty boring group of free agent signings means not too many changes so far between last year and this year. Which means one thing.

Jay Cutler.

That’s the difference.

The Broncos went 8-8 and missed the playoffs… in a division that was won by a team that went 8-8… in a division that included Kansas City and Oakland. You know… the Broncos accomplished all that with Cutler at quarterback and arguably better offensive talent.

So… in other words… a losing quarterback that hasn’t won on the professional level, cried and pitched a fit to get out of Denver… that’s what Chicago expects to elevate their club.



Honestly? Cutler might just be the third best quarterback in the division as the season starts… and, while I doubt it and wouldn’t argue it, it’s worth mentioning that some people might like Stafford enough to say Cutler will be the fourth best starter in the four-team division when the season ends. Again, I doubt it, but we wouldn’t have to struggle to find people that might look the four clubs over and agree the concept has a bit of merit.

The big break the Bears get is found when looking at their home games. If you were told all of their opponents, since the division involves the home and away exchange, my guess is that Philadelphia and Pittsburgh would quickly be agreed on as the two toughest challenges. Both of those games take place in Chicago. In fact, the biggest non-division road games are Atlanta and Baltimore. Both could be tough… but both could be won.

Anyway… the Bears are one of three teams that could win this division. I just find them third out of the three you’d consider. And despite the statistics on the personal resume, when it comes to the results side of the equation I’m not sold on Cutler being the guy to deliver.

Detroit (2 – 14) ~ Ok… I like Stafford well enough. And Calvin Johnson is a very good wide receiver. After that… ouch. Oh, sure, they can look like a 4 or 5 win team. We could go over their roster and find a few more players you’d recognize. But most of them are here because other clubs didn’t want them any more.

Jason Hanson is a solid kicker. After that, this team is still very much in progress all over the place.

If you have any comments or questions, please e-mail me at