The NFL is heating up. Training camps have either started already or are starting over the next week. Once again we're back with the Team-by-Team SWOT Analyses. We're taking a close look at the upsides and downsides of each team, and what they look like going into training camp. Check back every couple of days as a new division will be posted. As always, looking forward to the comments.
Strengths – Many teams would love to have a tandem of backs like Marion Barber and Felix Jones. If Jones is 100%, expect an even split on carries, allowing Barber to step back into a role he dominated in when splitting carries with another Jones. The QB’s best friend is a great TE. The Cowboys have arguably the best in the league with Jason Witten. However, don’t sleep on Martellus Bennett. If D-Coordinators think they can put a LB on him, expect some nasty exploitation. Together, they will cause mismatches that will move the chains. The Defensive Front Seven, led by DeMarcus Ware and Jay Ratliff, is one of the best in the league.
Weaknesses – Was losing T.O. addition by subtraction? Roy Williams will have some big shoes to fill. Outside of the TEs, he doesn’t have much help. The secondary will need all the help they can get from the front seven. Mike Jenkins steps in as a full-time starter. Team him up with Terence Newman, and you have two CBs who don’t like to make tackles. Gerald Sensabaugh should not have a hard time making the team forget about the other Roy Williams at safety. But, if he does, it’ll be a long year for the Dallas D.
Opportunities – As a team, the Cowboys need to use last year’s debacle to fuel their fire for this season. They cannot be an embarrassment again. At the nickel corner, Orlando Scandrick has the kind of physical build and game that the team desperately needs. If he can prove himself during training camp and the preseason, we could see the 2008 fifth rounder a lot.
Threats – Can Jerrah Jones stick with Wade Phillips throughout the season if the team hits some bumps? While I’m not a fan of Phillips, replacing him mid-season would be disastrous to this team, regardless of Jason Garrett’s presence. This is also the toughest division in the league (until another division proves otherwise). For the Cowboys to succeed, they must best the Giants and Eagles, who are the class of this division at this point in time.
Passing/Receiving the Torch – Anthony Spencer, from Greg Ellis. Spencer has the type of pass rushing skills to make Dallas fans forget about Ellis. Spencer could have Shaun Phillips-like production because of the luxury of who he has as a bookend.
Position Battle – WR: Patrick Crayton, Miles Austin, Isaiah Stanback. At least one of these three has to step up and be as good as Jerrah claims they are. Once that happens, the Cowboys could be tough to stop on offense.
Rookie Contributor – Not likely to be any. I did like Robert Brewster. He might have had the best chance in the preseason, to show that he’s going to be the eventual replacement for Hotel Adams. But, this morning I got news that he's out for the season. I guess most of the rookie contribution will have to come from all four drafted LBs. They need to show that they can spell the starting four. A deep set of LBs is the strength of any 3-4 defense.
New York Giants
Strengths – This team lived and died by Eli Manning’s arm for the last few years. With the receiving corps taking a new shape, the running game becomes an even bigger focus than last year. Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw will pick up most of the slack left by Derrick Ward. This job is always made easier by one of the best functioning offensive lines in the league.
Weaknesses – It is very easy to point out the receiving corps. Losing Plaxico is huge. A pistol-packing, self-shooting individual off the field, he was heavy artillery on it. On the other side of the ball, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that their defense is a weakness. While there is some talent, Steve Spagnuolo is gone.
Opportunities – This is Eli’s chance to prove how good a QB he is if he can produce with what looks like a mediocre set of WRs (on paper, that is). Kevin Boss should end up with a bigger role in the passing game. He has a lot to prove.
Threats – The D-Line will be tested early this season. They are a smallish group flanked by a linebacking crew that isn’t impressive outside of Antonio Pierce (Boley will miss nearly half of the season due to injury). A power running team could have a field day.
Passing/Receiving the Torch – Bill Shridan from Spags. Will Sheridan keep the same defensive philosophy intact, or will he add his own signature? Either way, will he be able to hold this defense together as masterfully as Spags did.
Position Battle – DT: While newcomers Chris Canty and Rocky Bernard are penciled in as the starters, holdovers Fred Robbins and Barry Coefield won’t give up their spots without a fight. This is also the formula for a strong DT rotation.
Rookie Contributor – Potentially a few with such a strong draft. Hakeem Nicks and Ramses Barden are big receivers that this team lacks without Plaxico around. Clint Sintim could fill in for Michael Boley early.
Strengths – McNabb is this team’s MVP. Last year’s benching was a fluke, and Reid knows (whether he likes it or not), this team goes where McNabb takes them. They arguably have the best WRs in the division and arguably the best McNabb has had since joining the team. This is the QB that took his team to several NFC Championships with James Thrash, Todd Pinkston and LJ Smith as his targets. The defensive line and linebackers may be one of the more underrated in the league. The DTs started getting some love last year, but LBs like Stewart Bradley and Chris Gocong could be the next breakout players.
Weaknesses – How do you recover from losing Brian Dawkins and Jim Johnson? These were the on and off field leaders of this defensive team. Team Quintin at safety (Mikell and Demps) leave a lot to be desired. Mikell is one-dimensional, in the form of Roy Williams. His strength is to stop the run, but he leaves something to be desired in pass coverage (which is why Sean Jones is around), and Demps is stepping into some HUGE shoes.
Opportunities – On paper, the Eagles are the talent of the division. However, any football fan should know that it means nothing until you produce on the field. Look for Andy Reid and the coaching staff to tap into that potential and maybe land back in the NFC Championship. Brent Celek has an opportunity to show if he is the TE that caught 12 balls in one game, or if he’s a one game wonder.
Threats – Biggest question of the year: Can Westbrook stay healthy? The offensive line has question marks as well. You have Jason Peters coming off a season where he gave up a rack of sacks. Stacy and Shawn Andrews will flip-flop from the positions they played last year. It also doesn’t help that Jamaal Jackson never lived up to his hype when he signed his deal, and should get a push from Nick Cole. While Peters and the Andrews brothers are great linemen, can the line gel as a whole this season? Could McNabb be running for his life again (much like some of his most frustrating years)?
Passing/Receiving the Torch – Demps from Dawkins. Taking over for a legend, will Demps be Steve Young or Quincy Carter? Can the Eagles fans go easy on him early? I guess the other question is, could Sean Jones swing over as the deep safety and take the spot from Demps?
Position Battle – RB: LeSean McCoy and Lorenzo Booker. Who will have the opportunity to be Brian Westbrook’s #1 caddy?
Rookie Contributors – Jeremy Maclin as a returner and a home run threat. LeSean McCoy as a potential RB2. Clint Ingram, if Celek turns out to be a one game wonder.
Strengths – There are not many to speak of on offense other than Chris Cooley. On the other side of the ball, they strengthened their DTs with the addition of the $100 Million Dollar Man, Albert Haynesworth. The linebackers, led by tackling machine, London Fletcher, look good. Rocky McIntosh proved to be a student of the game last season and broke out.
Weaknesses – The WRs are either too short for the offensive scheme, or they are unproven. The offensive line, even with the addition of Derrick Dockery, is in need of an overhaul. However, the biggest issue for this team last season was the instability in the play calling. The team dominated the first half of the season as a power running team. However, they turned into a pass-happy team in the second half and stunk things up.
Opportunities – Jason Campbell’s stage has been set. He’s finally going into his 2nd year in the same offense (a feat unrealized since high school), and he’s got a boulder on his shoulder (forget a chip). Outside of the upgrades, the rest of the starting roster stayed intact. This team has the makings of a surprise waiting to happen.
Threats – This is the downside of the Jason Campbell situation. He could end up folding under the pressure (like a lawn-chair) and the consequences will be heavy. This is also an old team that somehow lacks stability. They will beat a great team one week, and give a winless team their first win the next week. If that roller coaster starts hitting it’s peaks and valleys early, it’s going to be a long season.
Passing/Receiving the Torch – Many passers. Few takers. This may be Snyderrato’s last shot at doing anything before the inevitable dismantling and re-building.
Position Battle – WR3: Roydell Williams, Devin Thomas and Malcolm Kelly. It’s too bad they’re not vying for the WR2 spot, as Antwaan Randle El would probably make a better WR3 than he does a WR2.
Rookie Contributor – Bryan Orakpo will play the hybrid LB/DE role. He will play LB on running downs and DE on obvious passing downs.