Posted: September 4, 2013, 12:26 PM ; Updated: September 4, 2013, 12:26 PM
1. New York Giants
2012 record: 9–7
The Giants have their sights set on their third Super Bowl title in six years. The passing game is in good shape with QB Eli Manning (3,948 passing yards, 26 TDs) and WRs Victor Cruz (10 TDs) and Hakeem Nicks (692 receiving yards). The ground attack will have to adjust to the loss of RB Ahmad Bradshaw (1,015 rushing yards), who was released, but Andre Brown (385 yards) and David Wilson (358 yards) both have star potential. The Giants' defense is known for its pass rush, but DE Jason Pierre-Paul (6½ sacks) may not be at full strength after off-season back surgery. New DT Cullen Jenkins will provide a huge boost to a unit that gave up 129.1 rushing yards per game in 2012 (25th in the NFL).
BOTTOM LINE: The Giants have the best blend of talent and experience in the NFC East.
2. Dallas Cowboys
2012 Record: 8–8
The Cowboys played in a lot of close games last season, going 7–6 in contests that were decided by 10 points or fewer. QB Tony Romo (4,903 passing yards, 28 TDs) is on the hot seat after throwing 19 interceptions in 2012. He'll be helped by a core of elite pass catchers in TE Jason Witten (1,039 receiving yards), Dez Bryant (1,382 yards), and Miles Austin (943 yards). The Cowboys' D will switch to a 4–3 alignment under new defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin. The defense features the dynamic duo of Anthony Spencer (11 sacks) and DeMarcus Ware (11½ sacks).
BOTTOM LINE: This division is up for grabs. If Romo can come up big in crunch time, Dallas will be a playoff team.
3. Washington Redskins
2012 Record: 10–6
Last season, two rookies, QB Robert Griffin III (3,200 passing yards) and RB Alfred Morris (1,613 rushing yards), led Washington to its first division title since 1999. This year the big question is whether RG3 will be at full strength following right knee surgery. He may stay in the pocket more and look for veteran receivers Pierre Garcon (633 yards) and Santana Moss (573 yards). The defense is led by dependable linebackers London Fletcher (139 tackles) and Ryan Kerrigan (8½ sacks). However, the secondary that gave up 4,511 passing yards (30th in the NFL) last season is still weak.
BOTTOM LINE: It's all about RG3's knee. The superstar must stay healthy for the Skins to have another shot at the playoffs.
4. Philadelphia Eagles
2012 Record: 4–12
New coach Chip Kelly brings his experience running a high-powered offense at the University of Oregon to a struggling Eagles squad. His first order of business is getting RBLeSean McCoy (840 rushing yards) back on track. QB Michael Vick (2,362 passing yards) is also coming off a poor season and will face competition for the starting job from Nick Foles. WR Jeremy Maclin (857 receiving yards) is out for the year with a right-knee injury, so DeSean Jackson (700 yards) will have to make big plays. On defense, Philadelphia must improve a pass rush that managed only 30 sacks in 2012 (tied for 25th in the NFL).
BOTTOM LINE: If McCoy and the passing game return to form, the Eagles will challenge for a wild-card spot.
DID YOU KNOW?
Redskins RB Alfred Morris had a good-luck charm in 2012: his old car, a 1991 Mazda 626, which he calls his "baby." Morris's 1,613 rushing yards were the third most in NFL history for a rookie.
PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER/SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (GIANTS), RICTAPIA/ICON SMI (COWBOYS), CARLOS M. SAAVEDRA FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (REDSKINS), SIMON BRUTY/SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (EAGLES)