NFC East: Things to consider

08/30/2012 01:31 EDT | Updated 10/29/2012 05:12 EDT
The seventh of an eight-part series on the league's divisions, to perhaps help you decide to which teams and players to back in the upcoming season.

The NFC East teams have been handed no favours with assignments against the NFC South and AFC North teams. There were five playoff teams in those two divisions, in addition to dynamo Cam Newton and Carolina.

Statistics below refer to 2011 regular season games unless otherwise noted.End of season trend includes playoff games. Close games refer to games decided by seven or less points.

Dallas Cowboys

- Average wins, past 5 years: 9.4

- 2011 record: 8-8

- Record in close games: 4-5

- Avg. loss margin: 9.6 points

- Avg. win margin: 12.4 points

- Games with 20 or more points scored: 10

- Games with 20 or less allowed: 9

- End of season trend: 1-4

Good vibes: All Tony Romo did last year was go for 31 TDs with just 10 picks, most after suffering rib and lung injuries … If Romo goes down, Kyle Orton a much better backup than they've had in recent years …DeMarcus Ware is a superstar, Sean Lee a tackling machine … Defence figures to be a lot better with additions of Morris Claiborne, Brandon Carr and Dan Connor, plus a second year under Rob Ryan … Dwayne Harris and Kevin Ogletree have performed well in preseason in battle for third receiver … DeMarco Murray and Felix Jones not the best backfield 1-2 punch, but maybe with the most big gain potential.

Caution signs: Injury concerns of varying degree already to top players: Ware, TE Jason Witten, WR Miles Austin and NT Jay Ratliff … All QBs make gaffes, Romo just makes them better than most … Dez Bryant immature even by WR standards … Offensive line maybe not as worrisome as a year ago, but still not great … Have to figure out the December swoon, they held division title in their hands last year but blew it … Secondary will be better but that's a relative term; lots of ground to go to be considered really good …Terrible with punts in 2011, on both sides of ball.

Who knows: Food for thought: Why does Ben Roethlisberger get lauded for toughness with much greater frequency than Romo, who's about 30 pounds lighter? On a serious note, few expect Dallas to challenge for the East title because they don't have the depth the Giants and Eagles possess. Therefore, early games against like teams that fell a few games short last year (Chicago, Seattle, Carolina) could be telling.

New York Giants

- Average wins, past 5 years: 9.8

- 2011 record: 9-7

- Record in close games: 5-3

- Avg. loss margin: 11.4 points

- Avg. win margin: 7.9 points

- Games with 20 or more points scored: 13

- Games with 20 or less allowed: 7

- End of season trend: 6-0

Good vibes: They now have even more players who know what it takes to emerge after 20 games as champions … Eli Manning as unflappable as they come and spreads the ball skillfully … By all accounts, RB David Wilson brings already talented offence another dimension … Defensively, Jean-Pierre Paul an emerging superstar and Corey Webster always unsung … Secondary not always statistically great but usually comes through when it's on the line.

Caution signs: Offensive stalwarts Mario Manningham and Brandon Jacobs are gone … Worst statistical NFL running game in 2011 … Linebacker group not the greatest, although they've added former first rounder Keith Rivers … Some changes at offensive line … Questions at tight end …Ranked in bottom six in yards allowed and passing yards …As would be expected, schedule is a beast: 49ers and Steelers in the middle, and this brutal December: @WAS, GB, @ATL, @BAL, PHI.

Who knows: The last time the Giants were coming off a championship they actually improved by two games (only to lose in the playoffs). With a 9-7 record that's entirely possible again. Here's a 'what if': Eli Manning, like his brother for over a decade, rarely misses a snap. What if he missed a game? The answer would be David Carr, who attempted 45 passes total in three previous seasons with the Giants.

Philadelphia Eagles

- Average wins, past 5 years: 9.2

- 2011 record: 8-8

- Record in close games: 2-5

- Avg. loss margin: 8 points

- Avg. win margin: 17.8 points

- Games with 20 or more points scored: 18.5

- Games with 20 or less allowed: 8.75

- End of season trend: 4-0

Good vibes: Plenty of weapons on offence — RB LaSean McCoy and receivers Desean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin lead the way … QB Michael Vick still a dynamic threat with arm and legs … Defensive core and Juan Castillo with another year under belts to hone system together … LB DeMeco Ryans could be one of the best offseason pickups in NFL … Defensive lineman Jason Babin a terror for QBs, and gets less acclaim than others of that ilk … Finished season strongly … Won their games by several points and lost most by just a few … Relatedly, going just 2-5 in close games unlikely to be repeated.

Caution signs: Team just always seems to be thrust into some kind of drama … Vick has two assignments, neither insignificant: Rebound in form, and avoid unnecessary risk … Vick and his mates turned the ball over a lot … If Vick is out, they will likely go with relatively unproven QB … Nnamdi Asomugha and secondary on the hot seat after poor year … Weren't ballhawks on defence …The Eagles face eight of last year's 12 playoff teams.

Who knows: There is so much talent on both sides of the ball, but led by a player who's a real question mark. The good news is, if his career pattern holds true, we are due to see Vick the Good. The bad news: Those eight playoff teams? The Eagles face six in their first eight games and need to find a way to get through that gauntlet at .500.

Washington Redskins

- Average wins, past 5 years: 5.4

- 2011 record: 5-11

- Record in close games: 3-5

- Avg. loss margin: 10.9 points

- Avg. win margin: 8.2 points

- Games with 20 or more points scored: 8

- Games with 20 or less allowed: 8

- End of season trend: 2-6

Good vibes: After years of mediocre journeymen, have a highly touted QB prospect in Robert Griffin III … RB Tim Hightower played for first time last week after 2011 ACL injury … They added Pierre Garcon, who caught 70 passes last year for Indy … TE Fred Davis a good passing option … Defensive front seven full of talented young players like Ryan Kerrigan and Brian Orakpo … Defence ranked well in yards allowed and sacks … Experienced co-ordinators in Kyle Shanahan and Jim Haslett … Have drawn struggling 2011 teams St. Louis, Tampa Bay and Minnesota early on.

Caution signs: There are questions at offensive line and the secondary … They will have to tailor offence to Griffin III, who played spread in college … Hightower might not recapture previous form, and other RB options don't get the pulse racing … Receiving corps now just functional, as opposed to lacking … After giving up several draft picks for Griffin, strange to take another QB in third round … Because they face NFC South and AFC North, still have to grapple with likes of Saints (season opener), Atlanta, Pittsburgh and the nearby Ravens.

Who knows: The Redskins really do seem to building a solid base for once, but will owner Daniel Snyder be patient with Mike Shanahan? For Washington to make the playoffs it would seem that everything has to go right: Outstanding season from the top rookie, great health, terrific turnover differential, etc. etc.