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Tuesday, August 9, 2011
Power Rankings: NFC East breakdown

By Dan Graziano

The first edition of our 2011 NFL Power Rankings are out this afternoon, with the Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers on top as I'm sure you'd expect. Lots of fun to be had with them, of course. You can click that link in that first sentence, scroll through and comment/vent/rant/whatever at the bottom. You can rank the teams yourself at this link here. But if you're here reading this blog, you want to know about at least one, if not all four, of the teams in the NFC East and where they rank on the list. So I've got you covered:

Philadelphia Eagles, No. 3. I don't know if you heard, but the Eagles added a piece or two in free agency. They have been the big story of the NFL since the lockout ended, and our voters ranked them third behind only the Packers and the New England Patriots, who won 14 games last season and have decided to bring back Tom Brady to play quarterback for them again in 2011. With a hyper-explosive offense led by quarterback Michael Vick, along with all of the improvements they've made on defense, the Eagles are getting a ton of buzz. And on paper -- and remember, folks, the paper is all we have right now -- they belong in the discussion as one of the top teams in the league. Personally, I may have ranked the Saints ahead of them, and I'd at least have looked at the Falcons and Steelers. But it's hard to argue with this ranking from where we sit right now in early August.

New York Giants, No. 11. The rough week and impotent free agency period the Giants have had tends to obscure the fact that they already had a lot of very good pieces in place. This ranking would make them an NFC wild-card team, an accomplishment of which they have fallen short in each of the previous two seasons. They still have Eli Manning, Hakeem Nicks, Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs on offense. They still boast a deep, talented defensive line and secondary. They are not without their flaws and potential pitfalls, and there's no team above them on the list that I'd move them ahead of. But while you could argue they should be behind the Bucs or the Bears or maybe even the Cowboys or Texans, those aren't obvious overlooks. If the Giants' star players play like stars, and if their defense can stop people more consistently than it has over the second halves of the past two seasons, they're a playoff contender, for sure.

Dallas Cowboys, No. 16. This one feels low to me, but by now you know where I stand on the Cowboys. I think everybody's sick of picking them to do big things only to be disappointed. And who could blame anyone for feeling that way? But the Cowboys had a lethal offense in 2010, even after Tony Romo got injured. Their failings were on defense, where too many previously good players, such as Anthony Spencer, Mike Jenkins and Jay Ratliff, failed to play up to prior seasons' levels. Changes on the coaching staff could be enough to fix that, and if they are, the offense can score more than enough points to lead Dallas back into contention. I'd surely have ranked them ahead of the Chiefs and Rams, and I could have been talked into ranking them ahead of the Bucs, Bears or Giants.

Washington Redskins, No. 29. And then we have our Redskins. You just don't get a lot of power-rankings love in this world when you come with big question marks at quarterback. The Redskins should be better on defense than they were last season, but a whole lot of people are going to have to come up with surprise performances for them to be any kind of good on offense. Could John Beck do it? Stranger things have happened. But there's no way to expect power-rankings voters to buy in from here. The six teams in front of them all have quarterback concerns, too, and I could make the case for Washington over Cleveland or Minnesota or Miami or Oakland. But fact is, there isn't a lot of outside optimism about the Redskins for 2011, and it's not hard to see why.