The Skinny: Which team will show up in 2005? The one that overachieved in 2003 and made the playoffs with a collection of stiffs? Or the same collection of stiffs that a year later went 5-11 like every other year. One thing is for sure. A lot of the stiffs are gone, the players left are good enough to play for Parcells. They also had an excellent draft and free agency period that will pay dividends for years to come.
Starter: I've had many things to say about the aquisition of Drew Bledsoe. None of them are good, and most have not been printed because you as an audience demand that I use polite language . That said, he's a veteran presence, he's been to the Pro Bowl, and the line should do a better job of keeping him upright Grade: Somewhere in between C+ and B-. Since we're not grading on a curve, C+
Depth: Drew Henson and Tony Romo. Yikes. OK, Henson had one touchdown and and went 10-18 for 78 yards with 1 TD and 1 pick on Thanksgiving Day last year, but he was pulled! He's probably still mentally shell shocked from that. Plus, he still had to compete for the backup job this year. And no one's sure what to make of Romo. Grade: D
Starter: From Athlon Sports' 2005 NFL Preview:
Despite missing half the teams' games, [Julius] Jones rushed for 819 yardsHoly Schnikes! Let's hope he is as durable as Athlon says Grade: A
and seven touchdowns on 197 carries. He was at his best down the stretch, and he
showed his durability by becoming the first Cowboy running back to have 30 or
more carries in 3 straight games.
Depth: If, by chance, Julius has a repeat of 2004's injury, Anthony Thomas is a 1,000 yard back and Marion Barber III (Can we call him MB3, please?) has a decent Big 10 pedigree.Grade: A-
Starters: Terry Glenn should improve now that he's recovered from injury and Bledsoe is throwing him passes again. Keyshawn Johnson may not be the star he once was, but he at least catches the d--- ball when you thow him the d--- ball. Oh, and he led the team with 981 yards. Grade: B+
Depth: Quincy Morgan, and... and... and... Then again, they really don't need to run 4 reciever sets with Witten at TE. Grade: D
Starter: Jeremy Shockey may get the headlines in this division, but Jason Witten is turning out to be a better player. He had a team-high 87 catches for 980 yards and Grade: A.
Depth: Dan Campbell provides good blocking and good hands, and is an excellent complement to Witten. Grade: B
Starters: Probably the best left side of an offensive line, run blocking and pass blocking in the NFL with Larry Allen and Flozell Adams. Al Johnson was a steady performer at Center, and Marco Rivera should improve the right side at guard. The only question mark is if Rob Pettiti will be a positive contributor. Grade: B
Reserves: Depth everywhere but right tackle Grade: C
Starters: A year of transition, but so far, it looks like La'Roi Glover, Jason Ferguson, and Greg Ellis will play 3 man lines just fine. Grade: B
Depth: Rookie Chris Canty has surprised everyone so far and DE Marcus Spears will contribute on passing downs when healthy Grade: B
Starters: DeMarcus Ware, in a word, WOW! (He played in the Sun Belt? How did all the SEC and Conference USA miss this kid?) Dat Nguyen always brings heart, toughness, athleticism, and leadership. The question is, who starts at the other inside and outside linebacker spots. Grade: B+
Depth: Rookie Kevin Burnett will be a serious contender for playing time. Grade: B
(By the way, Cowboys fans, aren't you glad you didn't pick up Shawne Merriman in the draft right now?)
Starters: Terrence Newman finally has some help in the form of Aaron Glenn or Anthony Henry. Grade: A
Depth: Whichever one of Anthony Henry or Aaron Glenn that doesn't start will make a great nickel corner. Grade: B
Starters: Pro Bowler Roy Williams will finally take over at strong safety, which gives him a chance to be a run stuffer and play a more rover-type SS that he played at OU. The question is at the other safety Grade: B-, which is about what you get when you average an A+ and a D.
Depth: This grade could be better if Justin Beriault's knee recovers. As it stands... Grade: D
Kicker: They just cut Billy Cundiff. Jose Cortez or Seth Marler? Yikes. Take your pick. Grade: D+
Punter: Aussie Mat McBriar gave them a consistent punter last year. Grade: A
Returners: Trying out all kinds of combinations. We'll see how it works Grade: C, for now.
Head Coach: I know it looks bad on The Tuna that Belichick won 2 Super Bowls without him, but Bill Parcells is still one of the best at setting the tone for a team, designing systems that work, engendering loyalty, and game management. (Stay, Bill, it will get better!) Grade: A
Offensive Coordinator: Sean Payton has been billed as an offensive wunderkind, but now he's got the talent to work with that he didn't have on Jim Fassel's Giants. Grade: B+
Defensive Coordinator: Mike Zimmer has put together great defenses on bad Cowboy teams, but now he's going through the 3-4 learning curve with everyone else. Grade: B-
Best Record Guess: As much improved as this team is, they still aren't taking the division despite Philly's problems. We'll have to see how Drew Bledsoe works out, but overall, the conditions are ripe for a bounce-back year. 10-6 and a Wild Card
The Rest of the East
Philadelphia: My heart says I should downgrade this team with T.O. threatening to sabotage it, but my head says they still have the best defense and coaching in the NFC, and could win with or without Owens. Best Guess: 13-3, and home field advantage.
Washington: Let's face it, the 'Skins alleged personnel can't give Joe Gibbs enough to work with. Gibbs is still a good coach, he just doesn't have much to work with on offense besides Clinton Portis. The defense is OK, but it's not one that can bail out a bad offense. Best Guess: 5-11, 3rd Place
New York Giants: With Eli Manning nursing injuries, "That dude who's married to the chick from Survivor and The View" backing him up, a bad offensive line and an aging defense, there's no hope for the Giants. Giants fans better enjoy their third stringers beating the Jets' third stringers because that's going to be the highlight of their year. Best Guess: 2-14, and another high draft pick... for the Chargers.
Next: Part 12: NFL Playoffs and Super Bowl
Back: Part 10: NFC North, NFC South, NFC West