NFC East preview

Cowboys' QB Tony Romo. (Getty Images)
Quarterback Eli Manning and running back Brandon Jacobs are back to power the Giants.. (Getty Images)
Eagles' QB Kevin Kolb. (Getty Images)

1. Dallas

The Cowboys consider themselves Super Bowl contenders. If Dallas gets that far, it would be the first team in NFL history to host pro football’s title game and play in it, and it would do so in the state-of-the-art stadium owner Jerry Jones unveiled last year.

The Cowboys have a realistic chance of making it happen. Dallas has youth, speed and depth at critical positions, including running back, wide receiver and its defensive front seven.

But the franchise still is most identified with quarterback Tony Romo, who has been sublime during the regular season and inadequate in the playoffs. Romo finally won a playoff game last season, but Dallas proved no match for Minnesota in the conference semifinals.

Injuries along the offensive line and to rookie wide receiver Dez Bryant in the preseason are a concern, but not enough to keep the Cowboys from ranking among the elite NFC teams.

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2.New York

The Giants’ defensive standards have been so high that their rank of 13th in the league last season was considered a failure. They started the season 5-0 and appeared a safe bet to win the division before a remarkable collapse and a failure to make the playoffs.

This team has too much championship pedigree to allow a repeat. The defense includes fierce pass rushers Osi Umenyiora, Justin Tuck and Mathias Kiwanuka.

New York must be able to keep quarterbacks uncomfortable in order to keep the burden off an ordinary secondary that was vulnerable to the deep ball last season.

The Giants also must get a rebound season from running back Brandon Jacobs, who played hurt much of last year. Quarterback Eli Manning has some talented wide receivers, notably Steve Smith, who set a team record last season with 107 receptions.

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3. Washington

Donovan McNabb gives the Redskins instant credibility at quarterback, but that’s about the only really good news offensively. It appears this season will feature a running back committee of Clinton Portis, Larry Johnson and perhaps Willie Parker. That would have been a formidable backfield five years ago.

The wide receivers are a trouble spot. Besides Santana Moss, the contingent includes Joey Galloway—yes, he’s still in the league—and Bobby Wade. Tight end Chris Cooley, back from an ankle injury, could be McNabb’s top pass catcher.

McNabb should have been the story during preseason, but disgruntled defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth made that impossible. Haynesworth was a distraction throughout camp until he appeared to patch up his differences with Coach Mike Shanahan before the team’s third preseason game.

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All indications are that Coach Andy Reid and the Eagles front office are confident Kevin Kolb will be more than a viable replacement for McNabb.

The quarterback, who has two NFL starts to his name, does have a wealth of talent around him, especially wide receiver DeSean Jackson, who is a threat to score every time he touches the ball. He forms a potent duo with Jeremy Maclin.

Running back LeSean McCoy, who had nearly 1,000 yards from scrimmage as a rookie, will have the backfield to himself after the club parted ways with Brian Westbrook.

Injuries crippled the defense last year. Philadelphia added Ernie Sims, formerly of the Lions, to fortify the linebacker position.

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