The 2012 season is just a couple short weeks away, so it’s time to start rolling out the predictions. Rather than stuff it all into one article, we will be closely examining every division in an eight-part series. Why not start with the best division in football? OK, so that is obviously up for debate, but being a New York Giants writer I thought I’d start with what I know best.
In this series we will make up some interesting awards, predict every team’s position in the divisional race and analyze how likely each team is to go far in the playoffs.
Enough babbling, here we go.
Divisional MVP – Eli Manning
This is a difficult one to determine, but ultimately I have to go with Giants quarterback Eli Manning because of how much he carried the team offensively last season. I narrowed the choices down to Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick and Manning, simply because they are two of the best in the game at their position and have so much influence on how well each offense clicks.
The difference is Vick is surrounded by talent in areas that the Giants are lacking offensively. Each team has superb receiving corps, but the Eagles have a better offensive line and this guy named LeSean McCoy toting the rock. McCoy exploded on to the scene with 1,309 yards and 20 total touchdowns last season. It also marked the second straight season he had more than 1,600 yards from scrimmage.
The Eagles finished 5th in rushing at 142.3 yards per game in 2011, whereas the Giants finished dead last at 89.2 yards per contest. The Giants also allowed 100 more quarterback pressures than any other team in football last season. To put it lightly, the Giants offensive line was bad last year, so for Manning to put up the numbers (4,933 yards, 29 touchdowns) he did was miraculous.
Divisional Offensive Player of the Year – LeSean McCoy
McCoy is one of the best young talents in the league and is just now entering his prime. Coming off two straight 1,600 yards from scrimmage seasons, he has the chance to build on that success and be even better. He had an astounding 20 touchdowns last season in just his third year in the league. With how explosive the Eagles’ offense is, it would be no surprise if the best offensive player, at least from a statistical stand point, came from their team.
Divisional Defensive Player of the Year – Jason Pierre-Paul
JPP dominated in just his second year in the league and, in my opinion, was an overlooked candidate for defensive player of the year. I cannot take away what Terrell Suggs does for the Baltimore Ravens, but JPP carried the Giants defense on multiple occasions.
He had 16.5 sacks, good for fourth in the league, and led all defensive lineman with 86 tackles. He did this despite having to compete for numbers with Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora. The scary thought is most, and even JPP himself, believe he has yet to reach his full potential. After all, he played just one year of collegiate ball.
If he continues to improve he will be one of the best defensive players in the league.
Divisional Rookie of the Year – Robert Griffin III
It is tough to go against anyone as electrifying as RGIII. The Baylor prospect and the No. 2 overall pick has been given the reins for the Washington Redskins. If he performs even a fraction of the way he performed in college, the Heisman trophy winner will be a fine professional.
It is also hard to ignore the success Cam Newton had in his first year, throwing for the most yards as a rookie in NFL history and breaking the single season rushing touchdown record by a quarterback. RGIII has all the same tools as Newton and is faster, so we could be looking at the next Michael Vick.
Final Divisional Standings, Record and Playoff Chances
1. Philadelphia Eagles (11-5, No. 3 seed) – The Eagles have to be the favorites to win the division after having a great offseason and doing well for themselves in the NFL draft. They significantly upgraded the defensive side of the ball, which held them back in 2011. They traded for DeMeco Ryans and drafted Fletcher Cox, Mychal Kendricks and Vinny Curry with their first three picks in the draft. The middle of their defense will be much more formidable and they now have an even better pass rush.
If the Eagles defense improves as much on the field as it did on paper, they will be a very dangerous team. If Vick can stay healthy this team could go very far in the playoffs. With the NFC as loaded as it is, they will have to play their very best to advance to the Super Bowl, but I would not be at all surprised if they made it there.
2. New York Giants (10-6, No. 5 seed) – The Giants defended their first Super Bowl championship under Tom Coughlin by going 12-4 and securing the top overall seed in the NFC in 2008, but I’m not sure their tough schedule will allow similar results in 2012. If they remain healthy and play up to their full potential they can beat anyone in the league, but we all know that never happens. Every year they drop a game or two they have no business losing.
Obviously given that they have done it twice in the last five seasons, the Giants can win it all as long as they get in the playoffs. They have the best chance to win the Super Bowl in the division, but in the regular season they are their own worst enemy.
3. Dallas Cowboys (10-6, miss playoffs) – The NFC is absolutely loaded with talented teams this season and we could very well see a team or two win 10 games and miss the playoffs, similar to what happened in 2010 when the Giants and Tampa Bay Buccaneers each missed the playoffs despite going 10-6.
The Cowboys drastically improved their secondary with the additions of Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne, so they could very easily prove me wrong and make the playoffs. The secondary was a huge reason they lost both games to the Giants which cost them the division last season. Though I do not trust Tony Romo in the playoffs if they do get in. He has to prove to me he can come through in the big moments before I called the Cowboys Super Bowl contenders.
4. Washington Redskins (6-10, miss playoffs) – The Redskins went all-in when they traded up to the No. 2 spot to take RGIII, and they are hoping to get a return on their investment sooner rather than later. I seriously doubt they will improve that much in year one, but the offense will be better and this could be a playoff team in a couple of years. They have a good nucleus of young players like RGIII, Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan.
That is all for our first part of the 2012 NFL predictions. Come back later this week to see part two!
Jeff is an NFL Featured Columnist for RantSports.com. He contributes mainly to the New York Giants and NFL Rumors pages. He also will occasionally touch on the NBA and humorous videos involving all sports.
Follow Jeff on Twitter @Jeff_Shull