The NFL preseason starts Sunday with the Hall of Fame Game between the Arizona Cardinals and New Orleans Saints, and then it truly gets underway with six more games the following Thursday.
So, starting today, we’ll go division by division providing a preseason primer for all 32 NFL teams.
Monday: NFC East
Tuesday: NFC North
Wednesday: NFC South
Thursday: NFC West
Friday: AFC East
Aug. 6: AFC North
Aug. 7: AFC South
Aug. 8: AFC West
NFC EAST LEVEL OF UNCERTAINTY (1-10)
Cowboys (5): There’s always at least a little bit of uncertainty when it comes to “America’s Team,” particularly when they’re coming off yet another season with no playoffs. Dallas won’t necessarily be looking to prove a ton in the preseason, though, as third-year coach Jason Garrett is set at most of the key positions.
Eagles (5): After an eye-catching 2011 offseason, Philadelphia was relatively quiet this year, instead choosing to address more subtle needs like the defensive front seven. The “Dream Team” was a debacle, but the Eagles closed the season on an impressive four-game winning streak and earned the No. 1 spot in Phil Steele’s NFL power rankings. Is this the season they finally live up to the hype?
Giants (2): We’ve already established that New York might be the most disrespected defending Super Bowl champions of the past decade, since no one seems to believe they even win the NFC East, let alone another championship. But when your main questions in training camp center around a backup running back and a third wide receiver, there’s not a whole lot of uncertainty.
Redskins (9): Mike Shanahan is the league’s best ATS coach in the preseason, dating back to his days with the Denver Broncos. You know he’ll want to give first-round pick Robert Griffin III a good test drive with the team’s four preseason games. Washington sold its soul to trade up and select the Heisman Trophy winner, so now the pressure is on Shanahan to quickly turn him into a winner.
Here’s how each NFC East team has fared for gamblers in the preseason since realignment in 2002 (10 years).
Cowboys: 23-18 ATS | 20-20-1 O/U
Eagles: 18-23 ATS | 23-18 O/U
Giants: 19-18-4 ATS | 17-24 O/U
Redskins: 20-23 ATS | 19-24 O/U
Added: CB Morris Claiborne, CB Brandon Carr, QB Kyle Orton, ILB Dan Connor,
Lost: WR Laurent Robinson, ILB Bradie James, CB Terrance Newman
Added: ILB DeMeco Ryans, DT Fletcher Cox, ILB Mychal Kendricks, OT Demetress Bell
Lost: CB Asante Samuel, QB Vince Young, DE Juqua Parker
Added: RB David Wilson, TE Martellus Bennett, DT Shaun Rogers, OLB Keith Rivers
Lost: RB Brandon Jacobs, WR Mario Manningham, TE Jake Ballard, CB Aaron Ross
Added: QB Robert Griffin III, WR Pierre Garcon, FS Tanard Jackson, PK Neil Rackers
Lost: WR Jabar Gaffney, FS Laron Landry, OLB Rocky McIntosh
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Cowboys | WR Danny Coale & WR Kevin Ogletree
Dallas is set at both starting wideout spots (Miles Austin and Dez Bryant) and tight end (Jason Witten), but the loss of Laurent Robinson—who turned into a favorite target for Tony Romo—could hurt. Ogletree was a verbal punching bag for Romo on national TV, and no other receiver has much, if any, experience. With an injury-prone set of starting pass-catchers, finding capable backups is Priority No. 1 in Dallas.
Eagles | OT Demetress Bell & OT King Dunlap
Jason Peters is regarded as one of the elite left tackles in the league, earning first-team All Pro honors in 2011. But he ruptured his Achilles twice in the offseason and will miss the year, meaning it will fall on either Bell or Dunlap to fill in. The left-tackle position is particularly tricky for the Eagles when you have to protect Michael Vick, who is constantly scrambling and has a history of injuries.
Giants | RB David Wilson & WR Rueben Randle
New York’s front office made their confidence in their own drafting ability clear when they let Brandon Jacobs and Mario Manningham walk to the 49ers and then drafted Wilson and Randle with their top two picks to replace them. Jacobs and Manningham weren’t quite difference-makers, but they each brought an element to the team’s offense that needs to be replaced. The preseason for Wilson and Randle is bigger than for anyone else.
Redskins | RB Tim Hightower & RB Roy Helu
Choosing Robert Griffin III here would be too easy. Last year, we saw Cam Newton infuse the Panthers’ offense with his legs and arm, and now we’ll see if RGIII can do the same. Hightower was having a solid year in 2011 before tearing his ACL, and now Helu is the presumptive starter entering camp. Helu is only 23 years old and is a great pass-catching threat (379 receiving yards) out of the backfield, which could prove to be a huge help for Griffin III.