It's opening day of the 2008 NFL season, and since the season kicks off with two NFC East teams Thursday night, let's move the division and its AFC cousin up in the order here and have a look. The first game pick of the season follows.
1. Philadelphia Eagles (8-8, fourth place in 2007)
It looks like the window is closing on the Eagles, a team that's flirted with the big time for most of the last decade, but has reached the Super Bowl only once, losing to New England at the end of the 2004 season.
Stars like Donovan McNabb, Brian Dawkins and Brian Westbrook are getting long in the tooth, and even Andy Reid seems to be on his last coaching legs.
This column had the Eagles going to the Super Bowl last year. Whoops. Last place is this close to the Super Bowl, when you think about it. Wait. When you don't think about it is what I mean. The Eagles did a lot of filling in this off-season, but did make one big-splash acquisition with corner Asante Samuel.
I think McNabb will bounce back for a last hurrah and the attacking defense will get enough takeaways to make a decent offense look like a very good one. Then again, if he takes a bad step along the way and goes down with another injury, the Eagles will be headed straight for the basement of this tough division. Which, when you don't think about it, is not that far from the Super Bowl.
2. Dallas Cowboys (13-3, first place in 2007)
The Cowboys enjoyed tremendous health in '07, emblematic of how just about everything went their way in the regular season. They rolled to a 13-3 record before being upset in the playoffs by the New York Giants.
They're pretty much the same team this year, only they've added Adam, the Artist Formerly Known as Pacman, Jones. And they've got that score to settle from last year, so they should be poised for the Super Bowl run that the commentariat consensus says they will make.
I don't think so. Everything will have to go right again, not the least of which is that they'll have to get through an entire season without Jones and Terrell Owens, who's in a contract year, turning themselves into locker-room grenades. And the same for Tony Romo and his inamorata.
3. New York Giants (10-6, second place in 2007)
The Giants went on a classic overachiever's run last season as they won three road playoff games and then knocked off the undefeated New England Patriots in the Super Bowl. The championship earned them the respect they were so happy to not get as they drove for the title with a chip on their shoulders.
But it didn't necessarily make them an elite team likely to repeat. The David Tyree helmet-catch is not in the playbook -- and neither is the dropped game-clinching interception on the previous play. By new Eagle Asante Samuel, by the way. The unusual health along the offensive line is not something there's a recipe for repeating. I'm not the only one who's thinking this way, and hey, good news for the Giants. The chip is back in place as they embark on their title defense.
The Giants have lost not only the retired Michael Strahan from their pass rush but also the injured Osi Umenyiora. That'll hurt. Other than that rush, the Giants weren't elite anywhere last year, except at quarterback, at times. If Eli Manning takes the next step and becomes a consistent top-tier passer, it would go a long way toward getting this good but not great team back to the playoffs.
4. Washington (9-7, third place in 2007)
Jim Zorn is the greatest offensive coordinator in NFL history. Washington hired him away from the Seattle Seahawks on Jan. 26 and he was so good at it he only had to do it for two weeks in the off-season before he got promoted to head coach on Feb. 9.
The usually free-spending Dan Snyder regime didn't spend freely this off-season, so this will pretty much be the same team that went 9-7 last year under Joe Gibbs, a team that staggered early under the weight of the Sean Taylor tragedy, then rallied admirably down the stretch, winning its last four to make the playoffs.
It's not a bad team, but it's thin, and quarterback Jason Campbell, who is still a bit raw, will have to learn Zorn's Mike Holmgren-style West Coast system. Combine all that with six tough division games, and Washington could struggle.
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And so on to that opening game.
The weekly Panel o' Experts will be impaneled as usual this season, including my son, Buster, the game-pickinest 5-year-old on training wheels, and my daughter, Daisy, the coin-flippinest 3-year-old west of the Rockies. The kids take all favorites of six points or more. Porn star Adriana Sage will also participate again, along with a much less photogenic chunk of the commentariat. Winners in capital letters, and away we go.
Washington (8-8) at N.Y. GIANTS (10-6)
If the Washingtons are going to be any good this year, it's going to take them a while as Zorn gets his feet wet and his offense adopts a new scheme. Meanwhile, the Giants started last year by losing their first two games, then played at Washington. This column's Week 3 preview argued that that game would show us that "Washington's going to be a team to be reckoned with, and the Giants are going to commence circling the drain."
That's the kind of analysis you can't get just anywhere. Always ready to fight the last war, this column now heartily endorses the defending Super Bowl champs. This week anyway.
Buster: New York
2007 record: 158-98
What the Heck Picks: 3-13
Panel o' Experts members who wish Daisy would stifle it already about last year's results: 2