10-6, NFC East Champions
Better or Worse in 2011: Better, this was a solid team last year and should be a top Super Bowl contender in 2011.
The Dream Team moniker that has been liberally given to the 2011 Philadelphia Eagles may be a little pre-mature, but this team certainly has all the parts in place to make a serious run at the Lombardi Trophy this season. The offense is likely to be explosive once again, and if the improvements that have been made to the defensive roster pay dividends on the field, the Eagles are going to be a tough team to play.
Important Acquisitions: Ronnie Brown, Vince Young
Toughest Player Losses: Kevin Kolb
Key Player: Michael Vick
The “If” Factor: 3 Ifs
2010 Offensive Ranking: 9th Passing, 5th Rushing
Anytime your offensive is coming off a season where they finished in the top ten of the league in both passing and rushing, and your biggest loss is a backup quarterback, you have to feel pretty good about your chances in 2011. That is until you remember that your quarterback is realistically capable of performing as either the best player in the league or losing the starting job to the constantly under performing Vince Young. And that doesn’t even take into account that Vick has had a hard time staying healthy throughout his career.
Vick’s injury history makes the Vince Young signing all the more important. Young is like Vick Light, you never quite know what your going to get out of him from game to game and his accuracy throwing from the pocket has always been his Achilles Heel. The major difference between the two is that Vick has the potential to be a truly great quarterback, while Young is a decent starter in the NFL at best. Still, his skill set and talent level are better than most teams have at their disposal in their backup quarterback. If need be, Young has proven that he has what it takes to win games. We just need to see if he wants to be a starter again or if he’s satisfied being a backup for the rest of his career. It’s a good bet that he’ll get the chance to let us know before this season comes to an end.
Not to be outdone in the unreliable category, budding superstar wide receiver DeSean Jackson is another question mark for the Eagles offense going into 2011. If he stays healthy and focused on football instead of his contract situation, he has the ability to be a game changer at wide receiver.
The Eagles are once again going to be a dynamic offense. If Michael Vick can put up a year that is even close to how good he was in 2010, DeSean Jackson can stay focused, and the tandom of LeSean McCoy and Ronnie Brown provide quality yards on the ground the Philly offense will be one of the best around. I know, that’s a lot of ifs.
Nnamdi Asomugha, Cullen Jenkins, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Jason Babin
Toughest Player Losses: Quintin Mikell, Broderick Bunkley, Omar Gaither, Ernie Sims
Key Player: Asante Samuel
The “If” Factor: One If
2010 Defensive Ranking: 15th Passing, 15th Rushing
The Eagles have focused their off season acquisitions mostly on the defense, and have managed to improve on an already solid group. Cullen Jenkins is a quality defensive lineman who will help stuff the run. Jason Babin is an outside pass rusher who will help get to the quarterback, especially on those crucial third and long downs.
Most notable was the surprise free agent signing of all world cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha. One of the best, if not the best, coverage players in football, Asomugha is a true game changer and can single handedly transform the Eagles defense from average to dominating this season. That is, if he can assimilate to a new defense and a new team. So far we’ve only seen him in Oakland, we’ve yet to see that he can perform that a high level when the games actually matter. We don’t know if he has that winner’s DNA, or if he is only good when he’s playing meaningless games.
He certainly has the talent to get the job done under the bright lights, but we have yet to see if he will. I can’t wait to see him lined up man to man against Dez Bryant in Cowboy Stadium week 16, a game that should have serious playoff ramifications.
Asomugha isn’t the only talented corner in Philly, they also traded for a talented young player in Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie as well as still having veteran Asante Samuel on the roster. In today’s NFL you can’t have enough good defensive backs, so keeping all three on the roster is the right move, but whether or not Samuel still has enough left in the tank to play at a pro bowl level will determine the ultimate fate of this defense. Samuel is a corner who likes to play in zone coverages and can be a pass intercepting machine, but he comes into the 2011 campaign at 30 years old. He’s getting to be the age when a defensive back loses a step or two, and that can be the difference between making that pick and getting burned.
The thought of Asumugha locking down the opponents best receiver and Samuel being able to roam free about the field jumping routes has NFL offensive coordinators waking up with night sweats. The question is whether or not Samuel can still be a difference maker, if he can then the Eagles will have a great defense in 2011.
6-10, Tied for last place in the NFC East
Better or Worse in 2011: Better, pretty much by default.
Once again, the key word for the Dallas Cowboys this season will be “pressure”.
Expectations are always high for America’s Team, but after several years of underachieving many are beginning to wonder if this particular group has what it takes to win a title.
Tony Romo returns to the field healthy this year, and if he can’t get the Cowboys to the post season in 2011 the starting job might not be waiting for him next year, and he won’t be the only one.
Important Acquisitions: None
Toughest Player Losses: Marion Barber, Roy Williams, Leonard Davis, Marc Columbo
Key Player: Dez Bryant
The “If” Factor: Off the charts
2010 Offensive Ranking: 6th Passing, 16th Rushing
The Dallas Cowboys once again come into the season with one of the best offensive units in the league, on paper that is. Too bad last year showed just how different the actual results on the field could be. Instead of getting all the Super Bowl hype they got last pre-season, America’s Team is heading into 2011 with more questions than ever.
The pressure is on this year for perennial underachievers like Tony Romo and Jason Witten to step up their games when they count the most, late in the year and (hopefully for Dallas fans) deep into the playoffs.
The player I’ll be watching the most will be second year player Dez Bryant. Bryant showed flashes of sheer brilliance during his rookie year and all eyes will be on him when the Cowboys take the field this season. His off the field antics have been well reported, but what will matter the most is whether or not he can stay focused on Sundays and be the consistent superstar that he has the potential to be.
If Bryant can continue to improve the sky is the limit for not only himself, but the entire Dallas Cowboys team.
Important Acquisitions: None
Toughest Player Losses: None
Key Player: Terrence Newman
The “If” Factor: Unfortunately pretty low. This defense is pretty consistent. Consistently bad that is.
2010 Defensive Ranking: 26th Passing, 12th Rushing
As good as the Dallas offensive can be, the defense has the potential to be equally as bad. The Cowboys struggled because they simply didn’t have the talent across the board to get the job done.
Enter their new defensive coordinator and controversy creating machine, Rob Ryan. A disciple of his father, legendary defensive mastermind Buddy Ryan, Rob will bring a more aggressive version of the 3-4 to the Cowboys. I expect to see him use multiple fronts and blitz packages to not only take advantage of their best player, outside pass rushing specialist DeMarcus Ware, but most importantly to hide the lack of talent in the defensive backfield. One of the off season priorities for the Cowboys was to upgrade it’s cornerbacks and safeties, but after losing out on the Nnamdi sweepstakes it looks like they’re going to have to get the job done with smoke and mirrors, and lots of pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
If Ryan’s defensive packages force enough bad throws the Dallas defense should be good enough to keep their talented offense in position to win most weeks.