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NFL 2004: The NFC East is a coaching division

By Dave Goldberg


Joe Gibbs and Bill Parcells have five Super Bowl wins between them. Tom Coughlin took an expansion franchise in Jacksonville and had it in the AFC championship game in its second year.

The NFC East, however, belongs to Andy Reid.

Reid took over the Eagles in 1999, went 5-11 with Donovan McNabb as a rookie and is 46-18 since, not counting the playoffs. The only stain on his record is three straight losses in NFC title games and even that is a dubious blemish - give him credit for getting back there every year.

With the addition of Terrell Owens and Jevon Kearse, the Eagles have more than a decent shot at doing it again, although it would be considered another disaster in Philly if they stop there. Never mind winning the NFC East - that seems easy. Reid, his players and the city will be satisfied with nothing less than its first NFL title in 44 years.

First things first.

The Eagles are clearly the class of the NFC East, winners of the last three division titles and probably up against weaker opposition than last season. Dallas, which finished 10-6 and made the playoffs in Parcells' first season, could take a step back; Washington, 5-11, has a long way to go, even under Gibbs; and the Giants are rebuilding under Coughlin.

So Philadelphia it is, with Owens giving McNabb the first premier receiver he's had.

"I feel very comfortable back there with T.O.," McNabb said of his new receiver whose tempestuous behavior got him run out of San Francisco. "We are doing some different things now. I think that we've been able to understand exactly what we are doing and know what we are seeing out there."

There are two negatives in Philadelphia.

One is the loss of cornerbacks Troy Vincent and Bobby Taylor to free agency, especially Vincent, a leader in the locker room whose influence was the exact opposite of Owens' in San Francisco. The second is injuries: Defensive end N.D. Kalu and running back Correll Buckhalter already are lost for the season and a dozen others are banged up.

But Kearse can be a devastating pass rusher when healthy (and he has been this summer) and Owens is the one thing the Eagles have lacked - a No. 1 receiver for McNabb. The load at running back now falls on Brian Westbrook, who is more suited for spot duty.

The main defensive problem will be at cornerback, where youngsters Lito Sheppard and Sheldon Brown step in for Taylor and Vincent. It doesn't help that Brian Dawkins, one of the game's best safeties and the leader of the secondary, has been a training camp casualty.

The rest of the division can bask in the glory of its coaches.

Among them, Reid, Gibbs, Parcells and Coughlin are 427-274-1, with those five Super Bowl wins, seven Super Bowl appearances and 13 championship game appearances. And their record would be even better if they hadn't struggled in their first seasons, Parcells with the Giants and Patriots, Reid in 1999, and Coughlin with a first-year expansion team.

Gibbs also started poorly, 0-5 in 1981 before finishing 8-8 that year and winning the Super Bowl the next.

So Washington fans have made a savior out of Gibbs, who won three Super Bowls in his first tenure with the Redskins (1981-92). This year, his presence alone should improve the team, although past spending sprees by owner Daniel Snyder have come to nothing under Norv Turner, Marty Schottenheimer and Steve Spurrier.

Gibbs has some weapons, with the biggest upgrade at running back with Clinton Portis, who in two years in Denver rushed for 3,099 yards. But Portis came at a steep price when the Redskins surrendered Champ Bailey, one of the league's best cornerbacks.

Bailey will be replaced by another free agent, Shawn Springs. But the key to the defense will be linebacker LaVar Arrington, whom Gibbs and his new/old assistants plan to turn loose to rush the passer.

Another offseason acquisition, Mark Brunell, won the starting quarterback job from incumbent Patrick Ramsey. Laveranues Coles is a first-rate wide receiver, but the offense could be hurt because of a season-ending Achilles' tendon injury to right tackle Jon Jansen, probably the Skins' best offensive lineman.

Dallas will begin the season with 40-year-old Vinny Testaverde at quarterback after Parcells cut Quincy Carter, last year's starter, reportedly for failing a drug test. Behind Testaverde is Drew Henson, who is promising but spent the last three seasons playing baseball and has never taken a snap in the NFL.

Two other old-timers will play big roles in the offense: running back Eddie George, signed after being cut by Tennessee, and wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson, benched in Tampa Bay and obtained in a trade for Joey Galloway. Johnson played for Parcells with the Jets and may still be effective, but George, who turns 31 next month, is on the downside of his career - he's averaged 342 carries per season in eight years and just 3.3 yards per carry the last three seasons.

As with any Parcells team, the defense is solid, although safety Darren Woodson, the last player from the team that won three Super Bowls in the '90s, is out after back surgery.

The Giants entered last season with Super Bowl hopes and finished 4-12, thanks in large part to a horrible offensive line and a spate of injuries. Coughlin was brought in to replace Jim Fassel and instill discipline in a team that finished 0-8 and clearly quit.

There are more than 20 new players, including six new starters in the defensive front seven, but the offensive line doesn't seem markedly better.

The center of attention has been quarterback, where the Giants traded for Eli Manning, the top pick in the draft, and brought in two-time MVP Kurt Warner to break him in. Warner's experience and Manning's inexperience were painfully evident in an exhibition against the blitzing Jets, and Warner was chosen to start the season.

The best news of the preseason has been the re-emergence of Ron Dayne, kept inactive by Fassel all of last season. So far, he's averaged over 7 yards a carry and could be a major help for the overworked Tiki Barber and for Warner.

"It's the choice that is in the best interest of the New York Giants," Coughlin said when he anointed the veteran. "And we'll go from there."

Not very far from the looks of it.

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Originally posted by bubba9497

Washington, 5-11, has a long way to go, even under Gibbs; and the Giants are rebuilding under Coughlin.

.....but the offense could be hurt because of a season-ending Achilles' tendon injury to right tackle Jon Jansen, probably the Skins' best offensive lineman.

This guy thinks it will be a walk in the park for the Eagles. I think we should just forfeit those games since we have a long way to go. Why risk injuries! I want the Eagles more than anyone this year.

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