The New York Giants have a paper-thin secondary, the Dallas Cowboys have no healthy ball-catchers, while the Philadelphia Eagles and Washington Redskins have shiny new quarterbacks.
New York Giants
The 2011 Super Bowl Champion New York Giants won it all despite a 9-7 record and a suspect running game. Tom Coughlin's iron will kept the team together and Eli Manning's playoff magic put them over the top.
- Big Blue's D-line prevailed over Tom Brady in the Super Bowl. Again. Jason Pierre-Paul emerged as a super-star with 16.5 sacks.
- Rushers Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw may not have had gaudy stats, but no one outside of a fantasy cave took them lightly.
- New York signed Super Bowl hero LB Chase Blackburn right off his couch in midseason.
- The G-men finished the championship without a single healthy TE. Miracle-catch Mario Manningham is in San Francisco with RB Jacobs.
- The injured O-line shuffled constantly, but managed to protect No. 10 well enough for him to lead seven comebacks -- including one in the Big Game.
- LB Michael Boley provided invaluable leadership and versatility and feel-good sensation rookie Mark Herzlich came back from bone cancer to win a ring.
- Corey Webster has officially entered his prime as a corner. If only he could play both sides and safety, too.
- New York has two stupendous kickers and return man Jerrel Jernigan showed promise late.
The 2011 draft class was generally excellent.
- CB Aaron Ross signed with the Jaguars. Second-year corner Prince Amukamara promptly sustained a high ankle sprain after finally recovering from a broken foot. Rookie Jayron Hosley would be happy to jump into the starting spot, except that he has turf toe. DB Terrell Thomas suffered a setback in ACL recovery. Safety Taylor Sash is facing a four-game suspension. Opposing QBs will take note.
- DT Marvin Austin has yet to contribute to the team after a series of injuries. Chris Canty is out for a significant time period. Run-stuffing DT Shaun Roger developed blood clots and will be out for the season.
- Ahmad Bradshaw injured his hand. WR Hakeem Nicks broke his foot. Both promise to return for Week 1.
- Brace yourself for endless "can they repeat?" chatter. They can. It isn't likely.
- Big Blue stole TE Martellus Bennett from Dallas. He is a character (to put it mildly) who will test the kinder, gentler Coughlin to the max.
- Tom Coughlin had a preseason podium mini-meltdown over special teams play. Let's just say that there are job openings in the return game.
- Eli is doing his typical ho-hum August action: 81 percent passes completed and a QB rating of 119.
- Rookie rusher David Wilson joins WR Victor Cruz as the only excitement on the offense thus far.
- Rookie WR Reuben Randle will be featured just as quickly as he proves he's ready.
- O-lineman William Beatty has yet to return to pre-injury form. Fortunately for Eli, New York signed extremely veteran Sean Locklear.
- Former Bengal Keith Rivers has been subbing respectably for injured LB Boley.
- Two new DTs go by the name of Marcus - or Markus. Marcus Thomas and Markus Kuhn are filling the holes in that line and could be a cause for relief among the coaching staff.
Tony Romo is under intense pressure to bring a Super Bowl to Big D--and players are dropping like flies around him. Jason Witten has a partially lacerated spleen, Dez Bryant has patellar tendonitis and WR Miles Austin is out with chronic hamstring issues.
- There is no excuse for the Cowboys losing the NFC East Title in the last game of last year. That's why Jerry Jones is so lathered up in August.
- Attention Cowboy fans: It wasn't Romo's fault. He played through painful injuries to a 66.3 completion percentage, over 4,000 yards, 31 touchdowns and ten INTs. Lighten up, people.
- The O-line officially qualified as a "hot mess." Romo was sacked 39 times. See?
- The team drafted a wonderful RB in DeMarco Murray who was raising hopes in Texas -- right up until he broke his ankle. He has replaced Felix Jones as the premier back. Supposed star Felix Jones failed his conditioning test. How, exactly, is that even possible for a 20-something running back? Never mind; I don't want to know.
- If Dez Bryant would put just a little bit of effort into working at his job and a lot of effort into solving his psychological problems -- he would be a star of super-nova proportions. This time, he was arrested for domestic violence against his mother. In the "life is not fair" department, he is still a starter.
- With Witten trying to heal and Bennett now a Giant, TE will be an area of concern. John Phillips showed talent last preseason before injury and is grabbing the chance to impress.
- This team also needs more pass rush (excepting Demarcus Ware -- who "met" opposing quarterbacks 19.5 times).
- LB Sean Lee is a keeper.
- The less said about the 2011 Dallas secondary the better. The team brought in stud CB Brandon Carr from the Chiefs to be a secondary savior.
- Rookie PK Dan Bailey made 32 of 37 FGs.
- New punter Chris Jones made ten punts in 2011 and averaged over 42 yards.
- Linebackers Keith Brooking and Bradie James are no longer Cowboys.
- No. 3 WR Laurent Robinson is a Buccaneer. Kevin Ogletree and Dwayne Harris (with a monster game in Week 3) will compete for the job along with Cole Beasley and Andre Holmes.
- CB Mike Jenkins is still recovering from offseason shoulder surgery. The 'Boys moved up to draft corner Morris Claiborne, who has looked like the real deal. Former backup Barry Church has become the starting SS.
- Do we all remember Romo's broken ribs and punctured lung? Yeah. Staring Center Phil Costa has a strained lower back. Backup C David Arkin and guards Nate Livings and Mackenzy Bernadeau will attempt to come up with something that approaches pass protection. Sophomore Tyron Smith gets all the pressure as the new starting LT after Doug Free moved to RT.
- Will there be a third-string QB? Maybe not, with Kyle Orton as a solid backup behind Romo. Of course, if the line doesn't improve, four passers might not be enough.
- D-lineman Jay Ratliff just suffered a high ankle sprain. Terrific. However, the linebackers still have Demarcus Ware. The only QB in the league not scared of Ware is Tony Romo.
- Rumor has it that the team may be interested in Jeremy Shockey if Witten is out for long. Well, wouldn't that be interesting?
- Try not to laugh: There is a fierce competition for the long-snapper spot.
- Who is going into the season at cornerback?
- With Felix Jones so unreliable, Dallas fans had better hope that starting rusher Demarco Murray stays on the field. It gets kind of murky in the backfield after those two.
Jerry Jones is starting to panic; there's an edge of desperation creeping into his voice. Head Coach Jason Garrett has been groomed for this job for 20 years, but if he can't turn the corner this season -- his long career as a Cowboy may end.
The summer story in Philadelphia is the play of third-round rookie QB, Nick Foles.
- The "dream team" was such a disaster that the guy who said it (Vince Young) now works for Buffalo.
- RB LeSean McCoy is an undisputed star. TE Brent Celek labors in total silence -- right up until he suddenly appears in the end zone.
- Despite virtually universal criticism, Juan Castillo's implementation of Jim Washburn's "wide-nine" defense eventually became a scheme that gave opposing offenses fits.
- Under-sized LBs struggled, though sixth-rounder Brian Rolle emerged late in the year as a keeper and Casey Matthews (yes, Clay's brother) might make it at this level.
- The team ended up hitting a draft jackpot with PK Alex Henery, who hit 24-of-27 in 2011.
- 2011 was one of only four seasons out of the 13 years that Reid has been the head coach that the team did not make the playoffs.
- After an impressive preseason debut, Foles has looked like a man completely ready to come off the bench: something Vick's backups always seem to do.
- Mike Kafka may have lost his hold on the clipboard due to a broken hand, but Philly has to keep three QBs on the team. See point No. 1.
- Veteran Trent Edwards has shone -- against opposition third- and fourth-stringers.
- Pass rusher Trent Cole was injured early, allowing former CFL player Phillip Hunt to audition. Meanwhile, DE Brandon Graham is subduing critics with a strong preseason.
- The team lost LT Jason Peters before camp and signed former Bill Demetress Bell, who isn't as successful as envisioned .
- CB Asante Samuel has moved on, leaving stars Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Nnamdi Asomugha as the starters. Rookie Brandon Boykin has surprised and may well end up at nickel.
- WR Riley Cooper broke his collarbone. He's not a starter, but he's a necessary component.
- The Eagles gave Michael Vick100 million. They'll just have to live with the fact that he apparently has a stunted sense of self-preservation.
- The Philadelphia defense is going to be much, much better this season. In the first quarter of preseason Week 3, they had four sacks and two fumble recoveries. Okay, it was against the Cleveland Browns, but still.
- Ending last season without a return man, the Eagles scored with UFA Damaris Johnson.
If you've been on the moon, the 'Skins have a hot new quarterback. And he is sizzling!
- While technically, this team has a new quarterback, in reality one could simply say that they finally have a quarterback.
- The team boasted a -14 turnover ration. Who knew it went that high?
- The team didn't crack 20 points for seven straight games.
- If Mike Shanahan's name wasn't, well, Shanahan--he would have been fired.
- If OC Kyle Shanahan's name wasn't...you get it.
- The team finally got a Denver-style RB in Tim Hightower, only to have him blow out his knee. He is just easing his way back this August. Roy Helu, Ryan Torain and Evan Royster are in the mix.
- Fred Davis proved he could play TE in the NFL. Chris Cooley phoned it in even before he broke his leg.
- WR Santana Moss looked old, slow and chubby.
- The O-line is in flux. Trent Williams should be a Pro-Bowl LT, but he was suspended for substance abuse. The rest of them were a merry-go-round of injuries.
- The defense provided some bright spots as NT Barry Cofield stormed into his new position with a passion and the linebacking corps featured Brian Orakpo and rookie eye-opener Ryan Kerrigan. Plus, they have the ageless wonder, London Fletcher.
- The secondary struggled with age and injuries.
- Assuming here that you know who Robert Griffin III is and why Washington is excited to have him.
- The 'Skins are trying to protect RGIII with two-tight end sets. Let's just say it's a good thing Griffin is a runner.
- Safety Brandon Meriweather and Orakpo were both injured in preseason. Both are expected back.
- Alfred Morris is the new rusher in the nation's capitol. Who? He is a sixth-rounder from Florida Atlantic. He can also catch.
- Kyle Shanahan waited until Week 3 to open up the offense. RGIII overthrew some receivers, but the potential is there.
- WR Pierre Garcon is the new big threat, but Santana Moss has lost 20 lbs and doesn't look ready for a rocker just yet. Former 49er Josh Morgan should contribute.
- Brandon Banks, Anthony Armstrong, Aldrick Robinson, Niles Paul and Dezmon Briscoe are competing in the return specialist/WR slot.
- Watch one of the league's future hopes at QB develop before your eyes.
- RB Morris looks like something truly special.
- PK Graham Gano was not dependable last season and is now battling with veteran Neil Rackers. Rackers is much better-looking. What? That's not relevant?
- TE Niles Paul is making a lot of noise. Cooley says he's back to full strength. He'd better be or he's playing fullback.
- The O-line must improve for Griffin to succeed -- not mention stay out of the hospital.
- Watch Rookie CB Richard Crawford. This team needs new blood in the secondary. The safety position is in total flux, but Tanard Jackson could be a starter eventually.
- The team drafted QB Kirk Cousins as a developmental project. He's really smart. Look out, Rex Grossman.