A Closer Look: NFC East

Dallas Cowboys: 11-5
Addition by subtraction? Guess that's what they must be thinking, unloading such weapons of mass distraction as T.O., Tank Johnson and Pacman Jones, although they did add a serviceable backup to Tony Romo (Jon Kitna), and rest of offense hardly warranted much tinkering; and defense, to be coordinated directly by HC Wade Phillips this year, is pretty formidable in its own right, although depth in secondary could become sore point if injuries hit. Their main obstacles appear to be of the mental variety, with no post-season victory in dozen years which of course encompasses Romo's personal goose-egg therein; but before that comes the regular season, and with presumably a more focused locker room, this team would be well within themselves to christen their new retractable-roof home with a 1st-place division finish.

New York Giants: 11-5
Eli Manning just became NFL's highest-paid QB, but he will be throwing to one of its least-experienced receiving units, now that both Plaxico Burress and Amani Toomer have passed from scene; they also lost one-third of "Earth, Wind & Fire" RB contingent as Derrick Ward fled to TB via FA. D-line has coped successfully with Michael Strahan's retirement, LB Antonio Pierce evaded both indictment and league discipline in Burress flap, and Corey Webster emerged as shut-down CB late last year. But offense may be weaker this season given the significant defections, and they haven't won back-to-back division titles since 1989-90; 'Boys may have slight edge on them, but solid playoff prospects.

Washington Redskins: 9-7
Jason Campbell could have kvetched about FO's off-season interest in both Jay Cutler and Mark Sanchez but he didn't, and signing of prized FA DT Albert Haynesworth catalyzed no complaints whatsoever; neither RBs nor WRs are the most physical around, but they produce as does TE Cooley; defensively, Haynesworth is not only new face up front, as rookie DE Brian Orakpo could jump-start pass rush that averaged 25 sacks per season last 3 years; smallish LBs are a worry but secondary is deep and talented enough to absorb loss of CB Shawn Springs. No team has finished last in this division two years in a row since the 2002 realignment reduced it to 4 teams (removing Ari), but QB makeovers by both Min and Chi dampen hopes of NFCE spearing both NFC wild cards for 3rd time in 4 years; a little bit of everything but not enough of it.

Philadelphia Eagles: 7-9
Exactly what need does Michael Vick fill on this team? Death of long-time DC Jim Johnson was swiftly followed by season-aborting training-camp ACL injury to starting MLB Stewart Bradley, putting ominous damper on their summer - and this after spring in which they parted ways with both veteran OTs, Jon Runyan and Tra Thomas, along with heart and soul of defense, S Brian Dawkins (FA, Den): true, they did sign FA FB Leonard Weaver, but position has been total non-issue in HC Andy Reid's offense, accounting for microscopic 10 carries in last 4 years combined - and why did they mortgage one of their two 1st-round draft picks on an OT who allowed staggering 11.5 sacks a year ago? Used #1 pick they kept on Jeremy Maclin, who joins soph DeSean Jackson to cap stunning turnaround at WR, but RB Westbrook is now 30 and has both a knee and an ankle that are falling apart. Loss of Bradley looms cruel blow to defense, as likely replacement Omar Gaither lacks Bradley's physical presence and DL is already one of NFL's smallest, while secondary bid 'ciao' to CB Lito Sheppard in addition to Dawkins. That's a lot of leadership they've become bereft of in a single off-season - and remember that they're 9-15 within division in reg. season play since 2005, plus tougher schedule narrows error margin for team that went 1-6-1 in games decided by 7 pts. or less in 2008, including NFC title-game loss to Cards; nod to others.

As a Cowboy fan, I'd say Dallas will have the toughest time in this division. I hope the Eagles deal with injuries, namely McNabb. I'm not too worried about New York this year because I think Eli has been carried by his offensive firepower and this year he'll actually have to make players around him better.

I like Dallas' chances against a run heavy Giants team, don't like the match up against Phili, and unsure about Washington who could be a team to watch this year or sit in the shitter again.