2003 Division Previews
New York Giants - Champs or chumps: The Giants don’t have what it takes
to win a championship, but they are far from chumps — unless you insist on focusing on their special teams play from last season.
The Giants defense ranked in the top 10 in the league last season, but it doesn't force many turnovers and tends to wear down as the game wears on. New York blowing a 24-point, third-quarter
lead to lose to San Francisco in the Wild Card game is a painful reminder. Management addressed some depth issues on this side of the ball, but we’ll have to wait and see if there is much
Philadelphia Eagles - Champs or chumps: It depends on who you ask. Those hard-to-satisfy Eagles fans who watched
Tampa Bay dismantle their team in the final home game at The Vet may go the chump route. But with two consecutive trips to the NFC Championship Game, the Eagles are undeniably one of the elite
teams in the conference.
The Eagles have some nice, solid receivers, but none that strike fear in the hearts of opposing secondaries. The special teams are suspect, the price Philadelphia has been forced to pay to
keep its nucleus intact.
Dallas Cowboys - Champs or chumps: Three consecutive seasons of 5-11 qualifies the Cowboys as chumps. Sure, Dallas
was the team of the ’90s with three championships, but that holds no relevance now. It just makes the ball all that more difficult to stomach.
With Parcells expect progress and sound fundamentals, not miracles. It doesn't matter how good of a coach Parcells is. Without a proven quarterback, running back or pass rusher, the Cowboys
can only go so far.
Washington Redskins - Champs or chumps: Just because you have a cornerback named Champ Bailey doesn't mean you
are champs. The Daniel Snyder swagger was evident in free agency, and the Redskins attacked the open market in a way no other team did. Just ask the New York Jets.
But it has been proven time and time again that an owner can't just go out and buy a championship. Washington is an interesting team, but interesting is good for no more than third place in
the NFC East.
New York Giants
Positives: Kerry Collins has an arsenal of weapons to work with, including second-year tight end Jeremy Shockey, who brings big plays and attitude to this club. Barber is solid in the
backfield, while Amani Toomer and a healthy Ike Hilliard make for a dependable wideout corps. Michael Strahan remains one of the best pass rushers in the game, while Michael Barrow returns
as the team's leading tackler. Brandon Short and Shaun Williams are two other key playmakers on defense.
Negatives: The offensive line has been forced to rebuild yet again.
Positives: QB Donovan McNabb is an excellent place to start. Remember, he still wasn't 100 percent when Philly lost at home to the Bucs in the NFC title game. McNabb is one of the best
playmakers in the league, who can devastate opponents with his feet and his arm. David Akers provides the Eagles with one of the best kickers in the game. We can't understate the value of
owning a dependable backup signal caller who can be counted on to execute a gameplan. The Eagles have two of these options in A.J. Feeley and Koy Detmer, who both played well when McNabb was
injured in 2002. Defensively, the secondary is as good as any in football. Bobby Taylor, Troy Vincent and Brian Dawkins form a veteran trio with a nasty attitude. Corey Simon is becoming one
of the best run-stuffers in the NFC from his DT position.
Negatives: Did the Eagles miss their chance at earning a Super Bowl berth over the last two years? The defensive leaders, Jeremiah Trotter and Douglas, are now gone. Duce Staley is
now past his prime, with a sub-par 3.8 ypc average last season. Also, the WR corps remains without a dominating presence to take pressure off of McNabb.
Positives: Parcells knows what he's doing. He can will his team to victories. There is some quality young talent, especially at safety with Roy Williams. Look for Dexter Coakley to
blossom under Parcells' tutelage. Greg Ellis and La'Roi Glover provide veteran leadership to the defense. Antonio Bryant is a great talent at wideout. Will he and Parcells mesh?
Negatives: Chad Hutchinson and Quincy Carter are battling for the starting quarterback position, while Troy Hambrick is expected to step into Smith's shoes. All three of these players
are unproven. Washington Redskins
Positives: Coles and Jacobs provide Spurrier with the speed his wideouts lacked last season. The offensive line should be much better with the additions of Fiore and Thomas. Defensively,
the 'Skins have a pair of Pro-Bowl playmakers in LB LaVar Arrington and CB Champ Bailey.
Negatives: Is Patrick Ramsey prepared to shoulder the quarterbacking load in only his second season in the league? It will be a huge challenge in Spurrier's pass-happy offense. The
Tulane product better get the job done because Danny Wuerffel and Rob Johnson have had mediocre careers to date. Also, is chemistry an issue? No one questioned Spurrier's methods in Gainesville,
but he came under scrutiny last year for his lack of interaction with the defense. The 'Skins will have their fourth defensive coordinator in as many seasons. The lack of a proven running
back has to be a concern. RB Kenny Watson showed flashes last season, and he needs to step up this year. Trung Canidate was also acquired in a trade with the Rams.
NFC East: Plenty of challenges
New York Giants
It was only one play, but the New York Giants considered the botched field-goal snap that ended their one-point playoff loss to San Francisco important enough to prompt them to revamp the
core of their special teams. Besides picking up Mitchell, they also reached into the free-agency pool for a new kicker ( Mike Hollis, from Buffalo), punter ( Jeff Feagles, from Seattle) and
long-snapper ( Ryan Kuehl, from Cleveland). The Giants feel good enough about the rest of the team to believe these moves could make the difference in their efforts to get back to the Super
The Philadelphia Eagles will be challenged this summer to overcome the free-agent departures of two of their better defensive players -- end Hugh Douglas and linebacker Shawn Barber -- as
well as one of the greatest kick returners the game has ever seen, Brian Mitchell. The task will be made a bit easier if they can see some instant impact from first-round draft pick Jerome
McDougle, a dominant end at the University of Miami, and a pair of newcomers at linebacker -- former Packer Nate Wayne and Mark Simoneau, whom the Eagles picked up in a trade with Atlanta.
Bill Parcells, the NFL's master re-builder, faces perhaps the greatest challenge of his coaching career in trying to get the Dallas Cowboys back into contention after three consecutive 5-11
seasons. He already has put his unmistakable stamp on the team by instituting new policies and generally creating an environment that stresses discipline and accountability. The no-nonsense
approach was evident throughout offseason workouts, but it will undoubtedly be even more noticeable during training camp when the pads start popping and jobs are on the line.
The Washington Redskins enter training camp with high expectations, especially on offense. Of the four free agents they plucked from the New York Jets, two -- receiver Laveranues Coles and
guard Randy Thomas -- figure to immediately help improve the league's 20th-ranked offense last season. So does Trung Canidate, an ultra-fast running back with big-play skills that the Redskins
acquired in a trade with St. Louis.
NFC East: Fearless forecast
New York Giants
Giants, 10-6 (Wild-card team): Let's hear it for line coach Jim McNally, who molded all those great Anthony Munoz-Max Montoya units in Cincinnati. His Giants lines keep losing people, but
he keeps putting them back together again. How about now? How about his young RT, Ian Allen, for instance, who has looked like a stiff in the exhibition games? Nah, McNally says. He'll be
fine. When the O-line came together at the end of last season, the Giants had one of the NFL's most devastating attacks. But the D-line came up with a case of the shorts against San Francisco
in the playoffs and the ship went down with all hands aboard. So the offseason was dedicated to a defensive-line overload, although, personally, I'd be happier if they hadn't brought in so
many skinny pass-rushers and just gave DE Frank Ferrara, a very formidable run-stopper, a more serious look.
Eagles, 11-5: Personnelwise, I see holes. Other teams can match up well against Philly. But I like the coaching. Andy Reid runs a good ship. Defensive coach Jim Johnson's terrific. The Eagles
know how to win. The East will be a good two-team race between the Eagles and Giants, who also know how to win -- now. (So watch, the 'Skins or Cowboys will sneak in, and all I'll hear for
a month is, "Aren't you the guy who said it would be a two-team race?").
Cowboys, 5-11: It doesn't get any more interesting than this. Bill Parcells is arguably the best coach in football. He comes out of the TV studio and takes over a demoralized team with no
clearly defined QB. The Cowboys will improve, if not in the record then in the outlook. I probably should give them another couple of victories, but it's tough to do when they don't have a
real quarterback. Next year, when Parcells either figures out a way to coach Quincy Carter or Chad Hutchinson up to serious status, or more likely, brings in a guy with real credentials, then
they'll be at playoff level. But not yet.
Redskins, 5-11: How could I let this happen, after I've already expressed in print that I liked their offseason moves? Well, I have them losing all their road games. Last year they were 2-6
away from home. It isn't that I think Steve Spurrier's a screw-up. He says he's learned from his 2002 mistakes. It isn't, as I've been accused, that I have a rooting interest against the 'Skins
because of the owner. I got over that a long time ago. It's just that I don't see a sense of purpose with this organization. It has a hole in it. Difficult to fully explain. I'll develop the
thesis to a greater extent when they start off 2-6. If they start off 6-2, why then I'll have an equally acceptable thesis for the rebuttal.
Pro Football Weekly
New York Giants
Heading into most seasons, coach Jim Fassel's task is apparent: Inject confidence into a Giants team that is not considered to be much of a contender. This time around, Fassel readily admits
his job is quite different. His club is expected to emerge as a Super Bowl threat. Clearly, the Giants aggressively and painstakingly addressed their key failing following their playoff
collapse in San Francisco, using free agency to fuel an unprecedented bolstering of their entire special-teams operation. They signed a new kicker, punter, snapper and return specialist,
clearing what management viewed as the last hurdle standing in the way of a well-stocked roster.
The Eagles' expectations remain as high as the steel talons that jut into the sky from atop their new stadium. The loss of top-flight players and leaders such as defensive end Hugh Douglas,
return specialist Brian Mitchell and outside linebacker Shawn Barber has done nothing to lower the team's confidence. The Eagles believe the additions of fullback Jon Ritchie, middle linebacker
Mark Simoneau, outside linebacker Nate Wayne and rookie defensive end Jerome McDougle -- when combined with an experienced, talented lineup -- are enough to keep them among the league's
They said it could never be done, but for the past seven months everyone has watched with their own eyes as Bill Parcells, a coach's coach, has run the Cowboys in his old-school manner,
working hand-in-hand with lightning-rod owner Jerry Jones. And everything is running just fine. Although Parcells might not have all the personnel he needs to immediately turn this franchise
around, he is busy instilling discipline and accountability -- necessary commodities that have eroded over the years along with the talent level. His biggest challenge in refurbishing a
team that has gone 5-11 in the past three seasons will be to juice up a stagnant offense, one that's heading toward the season opener without an established quarterback or running back now
that Emmitt Smith works in Arizona.
Steve Spurrier learned his lesson. He tried to reunite his old Florida Gators offenses in the NFL, putting his former college players in key offensive roles. It didn't work. Nor did much
else he tried as the Redskins needed to win their final two games in his rookie season just to finish 7-9. The swagger his offenses once had vanished, replaced by reality. In college, systems
rule. In the NFL, it's the players who matter. "What we learned is that we needed better players," Spurrier said. "If you're struggling -- and 7-9 is struggling -- then you need to get better
players or coaches. (Owner Dan) Snyder said we need to get better players, so we did. He did his part, so now it's up to us players and coaches to get the job done."
ESPN: ESPN experts' picks for 2003
ESPN's NFL experts forecast who will end up in Super Bowl XXXVIII,
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