Who Will Be Top Dog in the NFC East?

Who Will Be Top Dog in the NFC East?

It's a simple truth, one there is really no need to debate: right now the NFC East is the toughest division in pro football. No division can claim to have four bigger market teams with more ravenous fan bases than the Eagles, Giants, Cowboys, and Redskins, and no division can claim to have four teams that play competitive football more routinely. Simply put, there aren't many gimmes in the NFC East.

Predicting who is going to come out on top isn't a whole lot easier. Last season, the Giants edged Philly and Dallas by one win, with their division championship boiling down to the final game of the season against the Cowboys on Sunday Night Football. Only the Redskins were also-rans, and they figure to be vastly improved this year.

The question is, who do you think will take it this year? We took a quick look at each team in the division, and we want to hear what you think.

Philadelphia Eagles

One thing you have to understand, the Eagles are traditionally very good within their own division. Last season they went 5-1 against NFC East opponents. In 2009 and '10, they were 4-2. It's a hallmark of Andy Reid teams, who are 38-22 against their rivals since the league went to four-team divisions in 2002.

They split with the Giants last season, but as we detail below, have been very strong against the team to the north. They demolished the Cowboys twice by a combined score of 54-14, granted Dallas was waving the white flag after the first quarter in meeting number two. They similarly pounded the Redskins 54-23, though they were already waving the white flag when the season began.

None of that necessarily means anything for next year. The Giants are the reigning world champions, the Cowboys are improved, and the Redskins could be a whole new team. Still, it's comforting to know there is something Reid does that gets his team prepared for these games. In 2011, the team that wore the crown last year finished 4-2 or better in six of eight divisions, at least 5-1 in five.

That looks good for the Eagles if they can continue to have success against the East, which is not a given. Two of their opponents got better over the offseason, and the other just won the Super Bowl.

Washington Redskins

The Redskins have had exactly four winning seasons in the last 19 years, and last reached the playoffs in 2007. However, there is reason to believe Washington could soon step out of the shadow that's been cast by the rest of the NFC East.

The Skins front office paid a steep price to move up four spots in April's draft to second overall, sending their first-round picks for the next two years and more to St. Louis to acquire Robert Griffin III. For a team that's won 15 games in the last three seasons combined, it will have been worth it if he becomes their franchise quarterback.

It's too early to anoint RG3 anything, but he instantly transforms Washington into a more credible opponent on any given Sunday. As we've seen in the past, whether it was Cam Newton in 2011, or Michael Vick when he entered the league with the Falcons, the combination of a pass-run threat under center can prove very difficult to defend even when it's a rookie. And Griffin is more advanced as a passer than either of those guys at this stage of their career, making him especially dangerous.

The Redskins are going to win more games this year, that much we're confident about. As far as climbing out of the basement and making a playoff bid is concerned, they are likely a few pieces away. The pieces around Griffin are lacking, and while the defense has a very good front seven, that secondary looks abysmal. They'll give teams trouble though, and it's a big reason why the East will once again be the toughest division in the NFL.

Dallas Cowboys

The Cowboys and Tony Romo remind us of the Eagles under Donovan McNabb in a manner of speaking. Obviously Dallas has been far less successful, but as outside observers, there's that appearance of Here they go again with a guy who hasn't won the big one. Heck, forget winning THE big one -- it seems Romo still hasn't won any big games.

To be fair, last season was one of Romo's best, and the fact the Cowboys finished 8-8 can hardly be blamed on him. That seems to be the problem in Dallas though. They finally get their quarterback to cut back on the horrible, hilariously ill-timed turnovers, mistakes, and all-around lousy performances, but they haven't seemed to complete the puzzle around him.

Which isn't to say Dallas won't have a good team this season, in fact they have one that could certainly win the East. They have tremendous talent at the skill positions, although none of them can seem to stay healthy, but the bigger problem is the interior of the offensive line still hasn't been addressed. The running game has suffered for years as a result, and Romo is constantly injured. He played 16 games last year, but battled rib injuries, plus missed 10 games in 2010 and three in '08.

That said, if Romo can survive a full season, one area that should see some improvement is the defense. The Cowboys completely revamped a secondary that ranked 23rd against the pass last season, which was seemed to be the primary source for the unit's issues. They've bolstered the ranks through free agency and the draft, so we'll see if it clears things up for Rob Ryan's group.

New York Giants

Like it or not, when they're the reigning Super Bowl champions, you have to admit the road to the top of the NFC East food chain goes through New York.

It was a traditional championship season for the Giants. Play just well enough to be a fringe Wild Card team only to watch the competition drop the ball, slip into a playoff spot, then get hot at the right time. That's how they did it in '07, that's how they did it last year. What it demonstrates is as long as they have Eli Manning and that destructive front four on defense, they will be in the mix.

The good news for the Eagles is they've had a great deal of success against the Giants recently. The Birds have taken seven of the last eight off of Big Blue -- eight of nine if you include postseason -- a run that goes back to 2008. New York finally broke up the winning streak with a W last season, then proceeded to lose the next tilt when Vince Young was under center.

So while the Giants are clearly the team to beat, the Eagles have had their number. That doesn't mean they will continue to own them in 2012, but New York is heading into the season with essentially the same squad as last season. It suggests the Birds can control their own destiny within the division as long as they take care of business elsewhere, just like last year.

One more Eagles victory, and the Giants don't even make the tournament -- now they're champions. Can't change history, but you can learn from it.

Commence the Justin Anderson era

Commence the Justin Anderson era

Last night, the Philadelphia 76ers came seconds away from not just their second straight win since their already shorthanded team was further decimated over the All-Star break, but their second straight pantsing of New York after what should've been an easy Knicks win. Down double-digits for most of the second half -- and trailing by 12 with just five minutes to go -- the Ballers battled back to take a one-point lead on a Jahlil Okafor hook shot with nine seconds to go. But Carmelo Anthony was unstoppable virtually all night, and he victimized Robert Covington at the buzzer with a baseline jumper that avenged the T.J. McConnell shot a couple months earlier. Final score: Knicks 110, 76ers 109. 

Hard to get mad at this L when you're just overwhelmed with love for everyone on the roster. Dario Saric continued his awesome February with 19-15-5 -- the first Sixers rookie to put up those numbers in a half-century -- even though his shot wasn't really falling (7-17 FG, 1-5 3PT). That's what's really remarkable about Dario's recent hot streak, and what separates it from, say, Nik Stasukas' impossibly scorching late 2016 -- he's averaging 20 a game (along with nine rebounds and three assists) over his last seven, and he's shooting over 50% for that span, but he's doing it while only hitting 31% from deep. The fact that he's scoring so prolifically without getting a lot of lucky bounces means it's not just an unsustainable fluke, and that Dario's gonna be a problem for defenses in this league for a long time. 

Speaking of Nik -- he had some embarrassing moments in this one, including a thunderously missed dunk and a thrown-away pass while leading a 3-on-1 break, but he redeemed himself with some big shots in the fourth quarter, and ended up with a nice 14 points on 5-9 shooting. It's his seventh game in a row scoring double digits -- all since moving back to the bench, which is particularly remarkable when you consider that in his 21 games before that as a starter, he only scored in double-digits five times. His starting/reserve splits for the season remain absolutely absurd, but if his NBA destiny is just to be an awesome seventh man for us, we'll certainly take it. 

And as much crap as Jahlil Okafor has gotten from Sixers fans the last few weeks -- few more than me -- as the unlucky child left behind in the Sixers' divorce with Nerlens Noel, I gotta say: He was awesome in this one. 28 points and ten rebounds, and even though the Knicks paraded to the rim early (Okafor-Saric frontcourt, yikes), Jahlil got stronger as the game went on both sides of the ball, in a way I don't ever remember seeing from him before. He saved a good deal of his damage for the fourth quarter, with 11 points, including two absolutely gigantic buckets late, including the hook on the Sixers' scattered final possession that could've been the game-winner. The Nerlens trade will never be justifiable, but if Jah can keep playing like this, it'll certainly take some of the sting out.

So much more to rave about in this one: T.J. McConnell was as clutch late as Jah, even hitting a rare three-pointer (just his second of 2017) to nearly become a repeat Knicks-killer. Covington couldn't handle Carmelo (37 points on 15-25 shooting) at really any point in this one -- thus putting him in good company with every other Sixers wing defender of the past decade -- and his own shot wasn't falling, but he still powered his way to 20 and 10, and had three steals, making it six straight games with at least that many, the longest such streak in the NBA this season. Sergio Rodriguez had about the worst game a point guard could have (2 points on 1-8 shooting, with just one assist and terrible defense), but he's just about the only Sixer you didn't want to hug after this one. 

And oh yeah, welcome aboard Justin Anderson. Our latest acquisition didn't get to do a ton for us in this one, playing just three minutes and attempting one shot (a badly missed corner three), but he had some eye-catching moments on defense, and gave us all some nice Jason Richardson flashbacks wearing the #23. Looking forward to getting to know you, J-And.

Brandon Manning to face hearing for hit on Penguins' Jake Guentzel

Brandon Manning to face hearing for hit on Penguins' Jake Guentzel

As if Saturday night's deflating loss to the Penguins at Heinz Field wasn't enough, the Flyers could be coming out of the defeat minus a defenseman in the lineup.

Brandon Manning will have a hearing with the NHL's Department of Player Safety on Monday morning for his hit on Pittsburgh forward Jake Guentzel during the second period of the Stadium Series game.

That means a suspension is looming.

Just over three minutes into the second stanza on Saturday, Guentzel tried to corral a bouncing puck as he exited the Penguins' zone. He did not see Manning, who flattened him with a huge hit.

While the hit did seem a bit late in real speed to the naked eye, no interference penalty was called and play continued. Manning did look to leave his feet to the deliver the hit and make contact with Guentzel's head, though, so both could work against him during the hearing.

Video of the hit in question can be seen above.

Guentzel was not injured on the play, stayed in the game and finished the evening with two assists.

Manning has a clean history as he has never been suspended in the NHL.

If Manning does get suspended by the league, Michael Del Zotto is likely to draw back into the Flyers' lineup Tuesday against visiting Colorado.

Del Zotto, who is a prime candidate to be moved before Wednesday's trade deadline, has sat out the past three games as a healthy scratch.