NFC East: NFC scenarios 2012

Giants: Dream/nightmare scenario

May, 25, 2012
AFC Scenarios: East | West | North | South NFC: East | West | North | South

Yes, the start of training camps is two months away, but it’s never too early to consider the coming season. A look at the best-case and worst-case scenarios for the Giants in 2012.

Dream scenario (12-4): The last time the the Giants won the Super Bowl, they followed it up with a 12-4 season and claimed the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs. It seems a fair bet that, this time, their top wide receiver won't shoot himself in the leg with an unlicensed firearm in a nightclub and severely damage their playoff chances. The Giants remain extremely strong at quarterback, wide receiver and pass-rusher in a pass-heavy NFL era, and for that reason they have reason to believe they can be a much better regular-season team than the one that went 9-7 and made the playoffs on the final day last season. In the Giants' dream scenario, Hakeem Nicks recovers from his broken foot in time to start the season, second-round pick Rueben Randle wins the No. 3 wide receiver spot and someone -- perhaps first-rounder David Wilson -- steps forward to be the running back who can spell Ahmad Bradshaw when he needs a rest. Terrell Thomas comes back healthy and continues along the career path that, this time last year, had him on track to become one of the best cornerbacks in the league. Keith Rivers solidifies the linebacker corps, and Jason Pierre-Paul and Victor Cruz build on their breakout seasons as the Giants get back into the playoffs and make a real run at defending their title.

Nightmare scenario (6-10): The Nicks injury is a reminder that the Giants did lose some depth this offseason. And although they are (a) very strong if their front-line starters are healthy, (b) very good at filling needs internally and (c) always at least in contention even when they miss the playoffs, the likelihood of the nightmare scenario is unimportant to this exercise. This is about imagining, and in the Giants' nightmare scenario their key starters -- such as Nicks, Cruz, Pierre-Paul, Justin Tuck and Bradshaw -- struggle with injury or ineffectiveness. Eli Manning reverts to his interception-happy ways of 2011. Thomas struggles to get back to where he was, Prince Amukamara fails to take the next step forward, and they still can't find a reliable middle linebacker from among the crew they bring to camp. The nightmare scenario also sees the offensive line struggle, especially at the left tackle spot, where Will Beatty was a work in progress in 2011 before eye problems ended his season. Should these troubles come to pass, the Giants would have to lean heavily on their rookies, and it's unlikely that Wilson, Randle and Jayron Hosley could all emerge as successful starters in their first year in the NFL. Again, the Giants' nightmare scenario seems unlikely, but if it happens, it will have to do with depth issues behind the starters.
AFC Scenarios: East | West | North | South NFC: East | West | North | South

Yes, the start of training camps is two months away, but it’s never too early to consider the coming season. A look at the best-case and worst-case scenarios for the Redskins in 2012.

Dream scenario (9-7): This would mean Washington's first winning season since 2007, Joe Gibbs' final year as head coach. What has to happen to make it a reality? Well, lots, frankly. Robert Griffin III will need to be very good right away at taking care of the ball and limiting the kinds of mistakes it's reasonable to expect from rookie quarterbacks. Most important, the Redskins' offense must play very well around him. They'll need health from Tim Hightower and continued development from promising fellow running backs Roy Helu and Evan Royster. They'll need Pierre Garcon to play like the potential No. 1 wideout his free-agent price tag says they believe he can be. They'll need the offensive line to stay healthy and play well, with left tackle Trent Williams as its anchor. The Redskins' dream scenario sees Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan cementing their place among the league's top pass-rushing duos, DeAngelo Hall harnessing his ability and playing like a top corner, and something emerging from the muddle they take to training camp at safety. The defense looked like a young defense on the rise last year, and if the Redskins are to threaten or possibly exceed .500, it will have to continue that rise.

Nightmare scenario (5-11): That would mean the same record as last year and one game worse than the year before, and it would drop Mike Shanahan's three-year record as the team's head coach to a rather uninspiring 16-32. That would be what's called, in official NFL terms, "not good." In the Redskins' nightmare scenario, Griffin struggles with the transition, the wide receiver group is as uninspiring as Washington's free-agency critics believe it is, and the offensive line falls apart thanks to injury for the second year in a row. In the nightmare scenario, the secondary remains a big-time weakness of the defense and costs the Redskins dearly in division games against the likes of Eli Manning, Tony Romo and Michael Vick. If all of this happens, the Redskins would enter the 2013 offseason with far more to fix than they currently believe they do, and with questions about Shanahan's future as coach. I don't think there's much that can happen to wreck the Griffin honeymoon between now and January, but if the rest of the team plays well around him and he commits too many turnovers, that particular nightmare scenario could make Redskins fans nervous about the new franchise quarterback going into next season.
AFC Scenarios: East | West | North | South NFC: East | West | North | South

Yes, the start of training camps is two months away, but it’s never too early to consider the coming season. A look at the best-case and worst-case scenarios for the Cowboys in 2012.

Dream scenario (12-4): The issue in Dallas is the extent to which the defense improves. If the improvement remains incremental, they'll lose some games they should win and have to scrap to stay in the division race. But if the defense takes a dramatic step forward in its second year under defensive coordinator Rob Ryan and with Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne having been brought in to upgrade the secondary, the Cowboys become a Super Bowl contender quite quickly. In the Cowboys' dream scenario, Tony Romo has another big year at quarterback, Miles Austin and DeMarco Murray stay healthy and Dez Bryant takes a big developmental step forward of his own, using his considerable physical ability to dominate matchups in other teams' secondaries and the end zone. The new guys on the offensive line tighten things up in the interior, the move back to right tackle makes Doug Free more comfortable and Tyron Smith transitions seamlessly to left tackle. And in the dream scenario, the improvements in the secondary help the defensive front seven get more pressure on the quarterback, with outside linebacker Anthony Spencer playing the way he did in December 2009 and DeMarcus Ware playing like ... well, like he always does.

Nightmare scenario (6-10): The Cowboys' nightmare scenario, as is the case with anyone's, includes injuries. In this scenario, Austin and Bryant struggle to stay healthy, and the team actually does find itself missing the surprisingly effective replacement Laurent Robinson provided in 2011. Murray also gets banged-up, forcing them to rely again on Felix Jones and little else at running back. Claiborne struggles, as young corners often do, to adjust to the speed and intensity of the NFL game, and Spencer muddles along again, content to be a pretty good but not great player opposite Ware. In the nightmare scenario, Romo has a bad year riddled with turnovers and the kind of inconsistency that gives his critics actual evidence for their criticism, and he raises legitimate questions about how much longer the Cowboys will remain committed to him. The nightmare scenario includes a slow start against a very tough-looking early portion of the schedule and sees the Cowboys succumb to the tension and negativity that's always so quick to cling to them in times of trouble. And no, because you're asking, I don't think that even the nightmare scenario puts Jason Garrett on the hot seat. Jerry Jones loves that guy.

Eagles: Dream/nightmare scenario

May, 25, 2012
AFC Scenarios: East | West | North | South NFC: East | West | North | South

Yes, the start of training camps is two months away, but it’s never too early to consider the coming season. A look at the best-case and worst-case scenarios for the Eagles in 2012.

Dream scenario (13-3): The Eagles believed they'd assembled a team last year that could be among the very best in the NFL, and they believe it still. They will need to play defense better, but new middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans and that the year the rest of the players have now spent in the new defensive scheme should help them do that. Michael Vick will need to commit fewer turnovers, but his words in December and so far this offseason indicate a better understanding of his own level of responsibility. In the Eagles' dream scenario, Vick plays safer than he did in 2010 and smarter than he did in 2011, and the meet-in-the-middle result is one of the league's most productive quarterbacks. With DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin and LeSean McCoy around him, as well as his own ability, he has no excuse not to be. The Eagles' dream scenario also has them leading the league in sacks again but covering receivers better this time, especially in the middle of the field. And it has Demetress Bell serving as a surprisingly good replacement for injured left tackle Jason Peters. If these things all come to pass, the Eagles will be capable of beating anyone on their schedule.

Nightmare scenario (7-9): Yeah, as bad as they were last year, they still managed to finish 8-8, and Andy Reid has had only one sub-.500 season since the turn of the century. In the Eagles' nightmare scenario, though, the turnover problem doesn't get fixed, the downgrade from Peters to Bell at left tackle messes with the entire offensive line dynamic, Vick gets hurt again and someone like Mike Kafka or Nick Foles has to start a half-dozen games. In the nightmare scenario, 2011 turns out not to have been just one down year for Nnamdi Asomugha but rather the start of a decline. Maclin can't regain his 2010 form the way he's expected to now that he's fully healthy, and Jackson remains a deep downfield decoy who keeps the safeties back and limits Vick's offense to smaller chunks of yardage instead of backbreaking big plays. The nightmare scenario, in which the Eagles finish under .500 in Year 2 of this big plan, sees the end of the Reid and Vick eras in Philadelphia and leads into a 2013 offseason of great change and upheaval in an organization that prizes continuity as one of its better traits.