2011 regular-season records in parentheses
New York GIANTS (9-7)
Strengths: Coming off career-best year, two-time Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning seems to be getting better. With Jason Pierre-Paul, Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora, the defensive line might be finest in league; that makes Corey Webster-led secondary better. Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks give Manning 1-2 punch at wide receiver and WR Rueben Randle is going to surprise many in rookie season.
Weaknesses: While the offensive line protects Manning well, it did nothing with running game last season, finishing last in NFL. With TE Jake Ballard gone, free-agent signee Martellus Bennett needs to step up. Early injuries to Terrell Thomas and Prince Amukamara have thinned depth at cornerback.
Expectations: Many think Giants were lucky to win second Super Bowl in five years with late-season rush. Guess what? They have talent to do it again, especially if Manning stays healthy and D-line makes life miserable for opposing QB. If RB David Wilson runs as well, watch out.
Philadelphia EAGLES (8-8)
Strengths: Eagles have dynamic offense led by QB Michael Vick, All-Pro RB LeSean McCoy and WRs DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin. Four offensive linemen return, which helps continuity. Defensive line deep and really gets after QBs.
Weaknesses: Offensive line has to make up for loss of its best player, injured LT Jason Peters, and protect Vick, who is prone to injury. Defense needs to step up in second year under coordinator Juan Castillo, who seemed overmatched at times last season. Revamped LBs have to show more consistency and make an impact.
Expectations: After nine playoff appearances, five trips to the NFC title game and one Super Bowl loss in coach Andy Reid’s 14 seasons, fans and the organization feel nothing short of winning the Super Bowl will be good enough.
Dallas COWBOYS (8-8)
Strengths: DeMarcus Ware, the perennial Pro Bowl LB with 991/2 career sacks, 191/2 last season, and a defense with year under coordinator Rob Ryan. Additions of free-agent signee Brandon Carr and first-round pick Morris Claiborne strengthen secondary. QB Tony Romo coming off one of best seasons – 4,184 yards passing with 31 TDs and 10 interceptions.
Weaknesses: Depth at receiver behind hamstrung Miles Austin and Dez Bryant. WR Laurent Robinson excelled his one season with Romo as a No. 3 receiver, but turned that into a big free-agent deal elsewhere. Austin dealt with hamstring issues again during preseason after missing six games last year. Cowboys tried to upgrade offensive line with additions of free agents Bernadeau and Nate Livings. But both had injury issues, the starting tackles switched sides and expected starting center Phil Costa was hurt throughout preseason.
Expectations: Cowboys, with one postseason win the past 15 seasons, could make it back to playoffs. But getting owner Jerry Jones’ fourth Super Bowl title – sixth in franchise history – is probably a stretch.
Washington REDSKINS (5-11)
Strengths: Defensive front seven looks solid, with ageless LB London Fletcher anchoring unit hitting stride in third year of coordinator Jim Haslett’s 3-4 scheme. DE Jarvis Jenkins, who missed rookie year with injury, makes line deeper and stronger. Offenses will find it hard to account for outside LBs Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan, who between them should post impressive sack total. TE Fred Davis is a keeper, if he can avoid more off-the-field problems. Rookie QB Robert Griffin III will be joy to watch as he learns pro game.
Weaknesses: Coach Mike Shanahan likes to say he has more depth, but that could translate into lots of backup talent and not enough starting talent at some positions. No substantial upgrade to offensive line that has allowed 40 sacks each of the last three years, and RT Jammal Brown is sidelined again after hip surgery. None of RBs has ever rushed for 1,000 yards in a season, and 33-year-old Santana Moss is only WR with 1,000 yards receiving in a season. New SS Meriweather and Williams are reclamation projects.
Expectations: RGIII. RGIII. RGIII. Season is all about rookie and his learning curve.