Beast of the Easts

by Nathan Hague

Believe it or not, we actually had the AFC and NFC East done before the season but my either because of my incredibly busy schedule and/or my incredible laziness, I’m just now posting it. Last week we previewed on the podcast where we also interviewed Eric Nadel, Hall of Fame voice of the Texas Rangers. You can check that out by clicking here.
This year should be exciting for football fans. After watching my Cowboys beat the Giants opening night, I’m extremely excited yet extremely nervous at the same time because there are still plenty of issues. Well, I’ll save that for when I preview them in their division. Let’s just say there will be plenty of surprises. As for the AFC East though, there aren’t as many surprises. Or are there?

AFC East
By Ben Dieter
New England Patriots ( 13-3)
Let’s face it, until another team comes along and takes it, The Pats have to be your favorite to win the AFC East every season, and I see it no differently in 2012. The Pats won the division easily in 2011, and I see them doing the same in 2012. Love him or hate him or even think he is cute, Tom Brady is one heck of an NFL quarterback, and although he may not be the Brady from 5 seasons ago, he is still better than most of the quarterbacks starting in the NFL. You could make the case that Brady is one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, but I won’t make that case. I don’t really like him. That being said, The Pats offensive is like a well-oiled machine. It is fun to watch unless of course they are playing against your favorite team.

They did not, however have a great defense last season, and that was supposed to be the one thing that would keep them out of the Super Bowl. We all know how that turned out. The Patriots defense finished middle of the road in the NFL last season, but they came through when it counted in the post season, either that or Brady just threw more touchdown passes. The defense does not need to be much better than middle of the road again to help this team to another division title, and I think that is exactly what the defense will be.

I expect Tom Brady to once again carry this team as far as he can with a little help from the running game (new starting running back Stevan Ridley) and a little help from the defense. I see no reason why anyone in the east will come close to beating them.

Buffalo Bills (record 10-6)
I may be crazy, but I expect big things from Fred Jackson this season in Buffalo (and I don’t just say that because he is on my fantasy football team). Jackson did good things for this Bills team last season before going down with injury, and a healthy Fred Jackson is a productive Fred Jackson. He will be running in tandem with C.J. Spiller, and he is not half bad either. I think Jackson will be the clear no. 1 guy, but Spiller will get his carries as well. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick surprised a lot of people with his performance last season, and I think he can have another good season this season.

The defense has gotten better and I think they will get to the quarterback a lot more in 2012 than they did in 2011. The addition of Mario Williams Mark Anderson (last year he was a Patriot who recorded 10 sacks), they could be a quarterbacks worse nightmare. The rest of the defensive is pretty solid, and I see them giving some of their division foes some troubles during the season.

The reason I only have them winning 10 games is because of their schedule. Yes they have a few tough ones in there (Houston, San Francisco, and New England twice), but they end the season with this run: Miami, Indy, Jacksonville, St. Louis, Seattle, Miami and the Jets. That is at least 5 wins right there. If they split the other 10 games, they will be 10-6. The Bills may be better than you think. Not good enough to overcome the Patriots, but better than you think.

N.Y. Jets (record 7-9)

Ever heard of a guy named Tim Tebow? Ever seen him without a shirt on ESPN? Ever wonder why he is on ESPN so often? Well, you are not the only one. Mark Sanchez is actually the starter in N.Y., and as a Denver Bronco fan, I can tell you Tim Tebow is no Mark Sanchez. The Jets have been an underachieving team the last few seasons, and I think that will continue this season. It has gotten so bad that Rex would not even give his normal Super Bowl prediction this season. The offense will be different this season adding the Wild Cat package that no one on earth has seen yet, but different does not always mean better. I do not like the addition of Tebow to the Jets, and I do not think it makes them a better offensive team. He may help open up the running game a little more, but it will not take long for teams to figure it out and stop it.

On the other hand, the Jets have always been known for defense, and I have a feeling that their defense will be okay again this season. The Jets D ranked in the top 5 in a lot of categories last season, and I would not be surprised if they did that again against the passing game. They have Revis, Cromartie and an improving Kyle Wilson at cornerback. Their line is pretty good, and we know that Ryan’s pride themselves on Defense. Look for this defense to be good again.

Overall, I just don’t see where they mount more than 7 wins in 2012. Maybe I am crazy, but I just don’t see it. Enjoy looking up again Jets fans.

Miami Dolphins (record 4-12)
Let’s face it. A rookie quarterback, a less than stellar receiving core, a running back that is hurt or ineffective all the time, and that adds up to an offense that is going to get off to a slow start. Here are the wins I see for them: one from the Jets, St. Louis, Seattle, and Jacksonville. That’s it. I think they may get better as the season goes on, but not much better. Ryan Tannehill is not the highest touted quarterback coming into the league this season, and he has no offensive line to speak of. It is going to be a David Carr rookie type year for Tannehill in my opinion. Lots of looking up at his lineman, while his lineman say “sorry boss”. This team may be one of the 3 worst offenses in the NFL this season.

They finished the season on a high note last season on defense. They looked pretty good as a unit and impressed me on how hard they played. Miami is going with a 4-3 defense this season under coordinator Kevin Coyle. They get off the ball pretty well and stuff the run pretty well also. But, in this day and age, the NFL is a passing game much more than it is a running game. Their defensive backfield does not impress me, and I think you will see a lot of big passing plays against the Dolphins this season. It’s not all bad for Dolphin fans though, at least they fired Chad formerly Ochocinco Johnson.

NFC East
By Nathan Hague
Is the NFC East one of the best or one of the worst divisions in football? Sometimes it’s hard to tell because the bitter rivals hate each other and just beat up on each other, and that’s where the majority of the losses come from. The Giants won the Super Bowl last year as a 9-7 team but had Tony Romo connected with Miles Austin in Week 17, that wouldn’t be the case. Teams in this division will continue to be at each other’s throats this year, and I fully expect it to be as tough a year for all four. Heck, even the Washing Redskins, who I project to finish last, will put up a major fight.

Dallas Cowboys (10-6):
It has been a long, long time since the Cowboys have won a Super Bowl, back in the 1995-1996 season which seems like another lifetime, maybe that’s because it was. Nonetheless, to make matters worse, the club has only won one playoff game since then. The Cowboys have tried replacing Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman with guys like….well, we know many of their names and it hasn’t worked out.

Tony Romo is a solid quarterback. Sure, he’s made major mistakes which has costs his team huge games but last year’s issues weren’t his fault. The defensive line couldn’t put pressure on opposing quarterbacks, giving the signal callers all the time in the world in the pocket to find a wide open receiver 40 yards downfield because the secondary couldn’t cover. It’s never a good combo of problems to have a D-line that can’t blitz and a secondary that always gets burned.

The Cowboys addresses most of those issues in the offseason by bringing in veteran corner Brandon Carr and drafting Morris Claiborne. If all goes well for Dallas, what was once their weakest area may soon be its strongest. Oh, and as an insurance policy, the team added veteran quarterback Kyle Orton.

The offensive lean is an obvious reason for concern. It’s banged up and guys have scrambled around, trying out new positions this year. In fact, the Cowboys O-line is what kept the Giants alive in the season opener. If the Cowboys want to break their long playoff drought, they have to fix those line issues. Romo can’t do it all week in and week out.

Injuries also play a major factor. Jason Witten played hurt in Week 1 but his determination to suit up showed a leadership a lot of people say is missing from this team. If Demarco Murray can repeat his performance from that opening night, the Cowboys will have a fantastic running game to take pressure off the passing game and can do some serious damage. Just a side, note: It was great to see DeMarcus Ware get two sacks against Eli Manning that first night, becoming the youngest play to get to 100.

This team has talent. On paper it’s one of the best in the league, but as we all know, on paper and in reality are incredibly different. For the first time in a while, the Cowboys are flying under the radar which is the way head coach Jason Garrett prefers it.

New York Giants (9-7):
Yes, different year, same record, but not likely the same results. Last year quarterback Eli Manning led the Giants to the Super Bowl in Indianapolis where his brother spent all those years, this year, it’s in New Orleans, where the brothers grew up watching their dad play for the Saints. Who knows, maybe they’ll play against each other in that game, but let’s not go crazy just yet.

The G-Men added Martellus Bennett from Dallas, along with veterans Shaun Rogers, Keith Rivers, Antwaun Molden and Dante Hughes. The team also lost big names like Brandon Jacobs, Mario Manningham (no relation to the quarterback), Jake Ballarad, Deon Grant and Aaron Ross.

The absence of Jacobs will likely leave the biggest hole. Ahmad Bradshaw will get the majority of the carries unless he gets hurt, which he has been known to do. IF that’s the case, they’ll likely look to his backup, rookie David Wilson out of Virginia Tech. Wilson had problems holding onto the ball in college and he is a rookie, so Giants fans better be hoping the Bradshaw stays healthy.

Their defense is the biggest worry—for fans of other teams. Coach Tom Coughlin does a tremendous job coaching them and no matter who comes and goes, he always seems to find the right guys to dominate. We’ve all known about Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora who combined for 23 sacks a year ago, but who saw Jason-Pierre-Paul coming out of nowhere? Pierre-Paul finished the season with 16.5 sacks, and he’s just getting started.

One could argue the 23-year old is the poster boy of the Giants. Nobody sees them coming and yet they just dominate.

Philadelphia Eagles (7-9):
Remember, this was supposed to be a dream team last year? What happened with that? Well Eagles fans likely took a sigh of relief when they let go of backup quarterback Vince Young who started that talk. They probably sighed again out of frustration (at least the smart ones) when starting quarterback Michael Vick declared this to be the beginning of a dynasty. Umm…Vick, you have to win at least one Super Bowl before making such a big claim, and you’ve got quite the dog fight to win if you’re going to come out on top of the division.

The team also lost receiver Steve Smith, offensive tackle Winston Justice and Asante Samuel among others. Their biggest addition was likely DeMeco Ryans from Houston.

Anyway, back to Vick’s comments, I welcome them, and I welcome a repeat of last year’s numbers of 18 touchdowns and 18 interceptions. It’s obvious his better days are behind him but one has to wonder if he’s not done entirely. That may or may not be talk from a Cowboys’ fan.

Regardless, his favorite target DeSean Jackson has a new deal, and now that he does, he says he’ll give it his all unlike last year when he wasn’t making as much as he wanted. Don’t underestimate the importance of a solid tight end, and one thing that can help Vick have a good year is by using Brent Celek.

Young’s comments last were partly in reference to the team signing Nnamdi Asomugha who was supposed to beef up a secondary that gave up an average of 23 points in the first 13 weeks.
This could be a make or break year for the Eagles, and truth is, the clock is clicking for them, and we all know how well Andy Reid manages the clock.

Washington Redskins (7-9):
Apparently this team drafted a quarterback out of Baylor and he won the Heisman. Apparently he played well in Week 1. Whether or not we like it, Robert Griffin III will be in D.C. calling signals for a long time where Skins fans are hoping he can bring a true hope and change.

He’s joined this year by veterans Pierre Garcon and Josh Morgan as well as Jonathan Goff, Cedric Griffin (no relation to the quarterback) Neil Rackers and others.

Goff and Cedric Griffin should help with the pass rush which was among league worse last year. The bright spot on defense was the pass rush which finished with 41 sacks, but it’s not like any of that matters. This team will rely heavily on its rookie from Texas.

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