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NFL 2005: Eagles Should Romp in NFC East

By BARRY WILNER, AP Football Writer


Tuesday, August 30, 2005



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(08-30) 02:24 PDT (AP) --



Donovan McNabb probably could throw his passes left-handed to Terrell Owens, who could carry a mirror downfield admiring himself, and the Eagles still would win this division.



An exaggeration? Sure. But one that emphasizes how lopsided the NFC East race figures to be again this season. By Thanksgiving, Philadelphia could be celebrating a fifth straight division crown.



It isn't just that the Eagles have the best overall roster in the East, filled with leaders, and an excellent coaching staff. They also know how to win, and getting to the Super Bowl last winter will be a further boost.



Besides, the other three division members are, at best, mediocre. The Giants have questions all over on defense and on the offensive line, and a relative novice — albeit a very talented one — at quarterback. The Cowboys also have a lot of holes and leadership questions. Washington seems good enough to send Joe Gibbs back to NASCAR very soon.



The Eagles swept their divisional games in 2004 and are quite capable of a repeat. Even with the tumult Owens has caused and season-ending injuries to Todd Pinkston and Correll Buckhalter, they far and away are the class of the East.



That's most noticeable defensively. Philly's secondary, led by Brian Dawkins and Michael Lewis at safety, is the league's best. Jeremiah Trotter was sensational at middle linebacker when inserted into the lineup in midseason. Defensive end Jevon Kearse should be more of a menace in his second season with the team, and the line is versatile and deep, even without Corey Simon, who was granted free agency Sunday.



Coordinator Jim Johnson will call for blitzes and more blitzes.



"We know we are a nasty defense. We know we are a good defense, but last year we didn't have enough takeaways," Trotter said. "That's a focus for us this year, getting the ball."



When they get it, McNabb will hand it or throw it to do-everything back Brian Westbrook, a perfect player for Philly's scheme. Or he'll find L.J. Smith, a tight end ready to emerge.



And then there is T.O. Somehow, despite all the turmoil this summer, there's a belief that Owens will be as dynamic as ever — maybe if only to stick it to the organization he's upset with for not renegotiating a $49 million contract.



Few coaches could steer a team through such dysfunction, but Andy Reid is masterful handling myriad personalities. Besides, only Owens really is disruptive.



"I can't sit here and try to tell you what Terrell is going to do," said Dawkins, an All-Pro. "Only Terrell knows what he is going to do."



Whatever he does, it will make headlines.



The main headlines coming out of Dallas could be whether Bill Parcells will stick it out beyond this season if the Cowboys are losers again. Same thing for Gibbs in D.C. And from the Meadowlands, the focus will be on just how far Eli Manning has progressed.



Manning is nursing a sore elbow, robbing him of valuable practice time. He played poorly for the first four games of his stint as a starter last season, but came on in the final three to raise hopes in New York.



Unfortunately for Giants fans, this team doesn't appear ready to have a winning record, particularly if it has injuries. Other than Michael Strahan, who comes off a torn pectoral muscle that cost him half of last season, there are no defensive stars — although linebacker Antonio Pierce was a solid addition and rookie Justin Tuck has had a strong summer.



Tiki Barber, a superb all-around back in his prime, is the best offensive weapon, and WR Plaxico Burress could be a nice complement for tight end Jeremy Shockey if he has his head on straight.



Coach Tom Coughlin needs more peace between players and staff than he had last season, and he can't afford to overwork Barber. Even if the Giants don't reach .500, if Manning develops, the year will be worthwhile.



Parcells has been in midseason form this summer, bemoaning all kinds of perceived problems with his club. He has some big-time playmakers in safety Roy Williams, running back Julius Jones, tight end Jason Witten and, quite possibly, first-round pick DeMarcus Ware. He has been unstoppable as a 3-4 end or linebacker during the preseason.



Parcells also has little support for Williams in the secondary, and while Williams might be the best run defender at his position in the NFL, he's not so hot in coverage.



Also, the Cowboys have key players with lots of wear, starting with quarterback Drew Bledsoe and extending to wide receivers Terry Glenn and Keyshawn Johnson, guard Larry Allen, defensive tackle La'Roi Glover and nose tackle Jason Ferguson.



"We've got a few moving parts," Parcells says. "I wish it wasn't quite this many."



One of the major moving parts in Washington could be Gibbs, the franchise's most successful coach in his first stint. Another stinker like 2004 could drive him back to Tony Stewart and Bobby Labonte.



The Redskins have that potential, too. Their defense, coordinated by Gregg Williams, is just fine and gets back linebacker LaVar Arrington to complement linebacker Marcus Washington, cornerback Shawn Springs and, if he doesn't get sentenced to jail time for threatening someone with a gun in a dispute over an all-terrain vehicle, safety Sean Taylor.



But the offense, Gibbs' baby, has been weak. Neither Patrick Ramsey nor Mark Brunell seems to be the answer at quarterback. If that doesn't change, would Gibbs go with Jason Campbell, the rookie from Auburn he traded up to get in the draft?



Running back Clinton Portis should get 1,200 yards rushing behind an upgraded line that has a healthy tackle in Jon Jansen this year. But few teams will be as dismal throwing it, and the special teams need upgrading.






Predictions: Philadelphia (12-4); New York (7-9); Dallas (7-9); Washington (5-11).




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