We have some predictions! No, not mine. Those come out Thursday. But ESPN The Magazine has its NFC predictions for the 2011 season, based on Scouts Inc. game-plan analysis, and it's picking the Philadelphia Eagles to win the NFC. The Mag's projected order of finish for our division is as follows:
1. Eagles 12-4
2. Giants 10-6
3. Cowboys 9-7
4. Redskins 3-13
Couple of things:
The 10-6 record means it's picking the Giants to reach the playoffs, since there's only one other non-division winner (Atlanta) it foresees winning at least 10 games. I agree with the assessment of the strength of New York's running game, though I think the issues raised about the receivers and the defense's "personnel deficiencies" are glossed over a bit.
On the Eagles, 12 is a lot of wins, but they are stacked on both sides of the ball. If the rest of the division is down a bit, 12 is not crazy.
The Mag say the Cowboys' run defense requires "good lane discipline," and I think this is key. How can the defensive players become comfortable enough in Rob Ryan's system that they can play with the required discipline? Week 1? Week 5? Week 10? And when is too late?
Finally, the Redskins. I'm just not seeing 3-13. I think they're better than that. I think the defense is greatly improved over a year ago. I think it's underestimating the impact Ryan Kerrigan and Barry Cofield can have on the pass rush. I think it's underestimating Tim Hightower's understanding of Mike Shanahan's one-cut philosophy. And while I can understand all the questions about John Beck and the passing-game personnel, I think people are overrating the extent of the downgrade from last year. Donovan McNabb played horribly for Washington last year. Beck doesn't have to be an upgrade over 2006 Donovan McNabb. He has to be an upgrade over 2010 Donovan McNabb, who was uninterested. Beck has a level of motivation McNabb never showed last year, and there's no real reason to think the offense will be much worse, if at all, than the one that won six games last year. Add in improvements on defense and an easy schedule, and I think people are making a real mistake lumping the Redskins with the worst teams in the league.