New York Giants (wild card)
On Friday I postulated an 8-8 finish for the Redskins with only the mildest rose-colored tint in my glasses. In a division in which each team is flawed, an 8-8 team shouldn’t be expected to finish last. So, keeping in mind that I am consciously being a homer here (which I think is okay as long as you admit it to yourself) which other team is the most likely to collapse and fall into fourth?
Snide "Dream Team" comments aside, the Eagles should be the best team in the division. The offense is in doubt, however - the offensive line is questionable and late last year a "book" was developed on Michael Vick. But even if the offense underperforms, the defense scares me. I am not looking forward to throwing the Redskins tackles up against Trent Cole and Jason Babin, nor the interior line against Cullen Jenkins and Mike Patterson. They will generate tons of pressure, and the loaded cornerback crew will turn that into turnovers. So the Eagles for real even if they don't live up to expectations.
The Giants aren't exactly a scary team, but they're well rounded without any obvious weaknesses. They are probably the least likely team in the division to suffer a total collapse.
That leaves Dallas with it's thin offensive line and weak secondary, not to mention a defense learning a new system. They could end up quite good, but it's easy to see how things could go wrong. So, with the confession that I was going looking for a reason not to pick the Redskins last, here's your potential 4th place NFC East team.
God this division pisses me off. St. Louis has to get the nod because Sam Bradford should continue to progress, and I assume Jim Harbaugh will need at least a year to turn things around in San Francisco.
New Orleans (wild card)
I expect this to be the year that Matt Ryan indisputably joins the elite tier of quarterbacks, and if the Falcons defense improves even modestly this is one formidable team. Tampa has a lot of young talent and is on the rise, but they have two heavyweights in their division so it will be very hard for them to do better than third.
Like everyone, I am in love with Detroit's defensive line and the skill position talent on offense. If Stafford stays upright, they could really do things. Chicago could be a wild card team but they are nothing special, and only won the division last year because Green Bay had bad luck that led to some close losses.
New York Jets (wild card)
I am a little worried that the Patriots are gearing up for another season of true dominance, on both offense and defense. Miami may also be better than people think, but with the Jets defense likely to rebound the top half of their division is rather loaded.
San Diego, as always, should be the class of the division. Kansas City offense is questionable, but their defense should improve and keep them competitive. Oakland showed some ability last year, but Al Davis, because he is a crazy person, decided to fire the coach after their most successful season in recent years. It wouldn't surprise me to see them grab second, but they could also fall apart. But Denver is in full rebuilding mode so I have to peg them for last.
Alright Houston, you've been everyone's sexy pick to finally make the playoffs for years now. I've rooted for you for years, if only because your success would make Dallas look bad by comparison. If you can't take the division in a year when Peyton Manning is out of the way and Tennessee and Jacksonville are rebuilding, then we are through.
Baltimore (wild card)
I like what Flacco can do this year with Lee Evans, but the offensive line is problematic. I'd love for them to beat out Pittsburgh but the Steelers still have another run in them. Cleveland should be good enough to at least be interesting, but Cincinnati could be a disaster.
NFC Championship: Atlanta over Green Bay
AFC Championship: San Diego over Pittsburgh
Super Bowl Champion: Atlanta Falcons
Enjoy your first football Sunday of the year, everyone.