By Tarik E-Bashir and Rich Tandler
The Redskins won the NFC East last year for the first time since 1999. But it’s been one of those “uneasy rests the crown” divisions in recent seasons. In each of the last four years, each franchise has finished atop the standings once. In fact, no has repeated as division champs since the Eagles accomplished the rare feat in 2003-2004.
With it appearing as though Robert Griffin III will be behind center to start the season, the Redskins are generally considered to be the favorites. But who is their main challenger? The underachieving Cowboys? The feast or famine Giants? The revamped Eagles? Redskins Insiders Rich Tandler and Tarik El-Bashir debate the question in this week’s edition of Point-Counterpoint.
Rich Tandler: Right off the top here I’m going to dismiss the Eagles as non-contenders; if you care to counterpoint that, feel free. I think that the Redskins main rival for the division is the Giants. Yes, they have question marks on both lines, nobody is sure if they have a top-notch running back, and their secondary is suspect. But let me give you three names—Eli Manning, Victor Cruz, and Hakeem Nicks. A two-time Super Bowl MVP quarterback and two targets who literally can score from anywhere on the field. The trio gives them a huge edge almost every time they take the field. And while David Wilson has his flaws, I saw enough of him at Virginia Tech to know that he can break off a huge chunk of yards any time he gets his hands on the ball. The Giants will be able to put up points and that’s how you win games in today’s NFL.
Tarik El-Bashir: The NFC East is always unpredictable – and I don’t expect that to change this season. While I like the Redskins’ chances to repeat, the Giants have the personnel to win it, as well. What do all title-winning teams possesses? A Pro Bowl caliber quarterback and a battle-tested, detail oriented coach, and the G-men have both in Eli Manning and Tom Coughlin. Add to the mix Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks and the game’s leading return man in David Wilson. I also like the changes GM Jerry Reese made on defense, particularly the addition of defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins to a front four that already features Justin Tuck, Jason Pierre-Paul and Linval Joseph. Do they have flaws? Of course. But so do the rest of the NFC East teams, including the Redskins.
Tandler: I figured you might make a case for the Cowboys. At some point, perhaps by sheer accident, they are going to have a year when they play up to their potential. If that happens, look out. Laugh all you want at Tony Romo, but he puts up incredible numbers. Some day he either won’t throw the key interception or the defender will drop it. Dez Bryant is a true No. 1 receiver and Miles Austin could start for most NFL teams. Their line isn’t all that strong but they have a solid anchor in Tyron Smith. On the other side of the ball, DeMarcus Ware is getting up there in age but is still one of the best pass rushers on the planet. Sean Lee is a stud linebacker. They have the best pair of CB’s in the division with Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne. Even with all their talent I won’t believe they can get it done until they get it done. But any given year could be their year, including this one.
El-Bashir: While I don’t dispute your point that the not-quite-the-sum-of-their-parts Cowboys might finally get some fortuitous bounces to go their way, my wildcard after the Giants is the Eagles. If I’m Mike Shanahan, I’m more than a bit concerned about the opener. What’s Chip Kelly’s offense really going to look like? Who’s going to be under center? How about a defense that will be virtually unrecognizable after a personnel and scheme overhaul? Something tells me the Eagles might be able sneak up on a few opponents, particularly early. Michael Vick, 33, might have another good year left in him, and we all know what DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin and LeSean McCoy can do when healthy and motivated. Kelly might, in fact, be a revolutionary. Thing is, no one knows right now – and that’s a scary prospect for teams that appear on Philly's schedule the first half of the season.