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McNab, Duce turns Eagles loose in Eastern Division

Aug 28, 2001 5:01 AM

This week the focus is on the NFC.  Next week, on the eve of the start of the regular season, I’ll have my projections for how the 2001 season will unfold and project the result of Super Bowl XXXVI.

NFC East: Philadelphia is the team on the rise with QB Donovan McNab maturing as a quarterback.  He was outstanding last year, more impressive when you consider that much of the latter half of the season was played without star running back Duce Staley.  With an above average defense the Eagles should again make the Playoffs with a legitimate shot to win the NFC.

The New York Giants won the Division last season due mainly to the lock they seemingly have over the Eagles (the G-men have defeated the Eagles nine straight times) and the weakness of the other three teams.  The Giants are not flashy.  Given their schedule the Giants could finish anywhere from 6-10 to 10-6 with 8-8 a very likely result.

Washington is the ”˜wild card’ key to the division.  Although the Redskins are an aging team they have a good mixture of youth and experience at most skill positions and on both sides of the ball.  New coach Marty Schottenheimer should run the team with a free hand.  Schottenheimer’s teams often overachieve, and recall that Washington did start 6-2 last year with six of its eight losses by six points or less.

There’s a huge gap to Dallas and Arizona. Both teams have major problems on both sides of the ball. Arizona owns the better offense because of the experience edge held by QB Jake Plummer over Dallas rookie Quincy Carter.

NFC Central:  Minnesota must deal with the retirement of RB Robert Smith, but coach Dennis Green has made the Playoffs in eight of his nine seasons.  And having one of the top five quarterbacks (Daunte Culpepper) and two of the top ten receivers (Randy Moss and Cris Carter) only solidifies the expectation that the Vikings will again contend.

Their chances may be as good as Tampa’s given that there are questions about whether QB Brad Johnson will make a difference in directing the offense.  No questions about the defense though.

Green Bay and Detroit both figure to contend for the Playoffs.  The Packers played very well down the stretch and with QB Brett Favre healthy the Pack should be in contention again.  Detroit has the nucleus of a contending team with a solid RB, James Stewart, and a pair of gifted receivers, Johnnie Morton and Germaine Crowell, to enable an average QB, Charlie Batch, to succeed.  

The Bears have made some improvements on defense with LB Brian Urlacher having an outstanding rookie season in 2000.  The offense has many questions, including QB. Give Chicago about two years to catch up in the Division.

NFC West:  The Rams have retooled their defense, which  will complement their high powered offense.  If teams are to defeat the Rams they are more likely to do it earlier rather than later.

New Orleans became the fifth NFC West team to win the Division in five years when the captured the title last season.   The Saints are a team on the upswing. Aaron Brooks has been named starting QB but backup Jeff Blake is more than capable.

San Francisco will be tested after having lost RB Charlie Garner and WR Jerry Rice.  QB Jeff Garcia had a breakthrough season last year and Rice’s leadership will be missed. San Francisco has an outside chance to make the playoffs.

Atlanta has the better short term prospects than Carolina, especially if Falcon RB Jamal Anderson is in full health. Carolina will likely start rookie QB Chris Weinke and hope for the best.