It's well documented by the Cold, Hard Football Facts that the NFC East is the glamour division of the NFL: four old-school, big-market teams whose histories are littered with legendary stars and famous coaches and who remain largely competitive today.
The 2007 season was no exception: nobody in the NFC East had a losing record, three of four teams reached the playoffs, and three of the four teams finished in the Top 10 in our Relativity Index, a measure of how teams performed relative to the average game of their opponents. Ironically, the one team in the NFC East that finished outside the Top 10 in Relativity won the Super Bowl.
So, naturally, the Big East of the NFL is a great place to kick off our 2008 Fillability Index.
The Fillability Index is the best way found anywhere in the seedy underworld of online football analysis to measure the off-season moves of each NFL team. Its brilliance is found in its simplicity: we size up each team based upon their statistical strengths and weaknesses last year, as measured by their ranking in all of our Quality Stats, and then determine whether they made the necessary off-season personnel moves to shore up those weaknesses.
Pretty simple. Yet nobody else does it.
So on to the Index.
DALLAS (2007 Quality Stats rankings)
LB Zach Thomas (Miami)
CB Adam Jones (Tennessee)
S Keith Davis (Miami)
DT Jason Ferguson (Miami)
RB Julius Jones (Seattle)
CB Jacques Reeves (Houston)
1 (22) Felix Jones, RB, Arkansas
1 (25) Mike Jenkins, CB, South Florida
2 (61) Martellus Bennett, TE, Texas A&M
4 (122) Tashard Choice, RB, Georgia Tech
5 (143) Orlando Scandrick, CB, Boise State
6 (167) Erik Walden, DE, Middle Tennessee State
Cowboys Fillability Overview
The Cowboys are the new "team that can't win the big game" until future evidence tells us otherwise.
They're led by a regular-season phenom quarterback who's now 0-2 in the playoffs – and played a key role in each defeat – and a veteran coach who's now 0-4 in the playoffs. In fact, as we noted last week
, Wade Phillips is the only coach among the 30 winningest coaches in history without a single post-season victory to his credit.
The stunning nature of the team's one-and-done playoff effort last year, after earning the NFC's No. 1 seed, is evident by looking at their across-the-board excellence in all of our Quality Stats in 2007. (Of course, at the time, we blamed their playoff defeat upon the dreaded Curse of Flutie
. But who knew then that the Giants would go on to even bigger wins at Green Bay and over the 18-0 Patriots? ... but we digress.)
The Cowboys displayed few statistical weaknesses last year, save for a propensity to play inefficient defensive football: simply look at their No. 17 ranking in our Bendability Index. So this leaves us with a team with few statistical holes to fill in the roster. It's more a matter of reloading and hoping for better performances out of key players once the playoffs roll around.
Dallas clearly doesn't believe that Marion Barber, one of the most exciting backs in football, is a full-time ballcarrier, or else they wouldn't have spent a No. 1 pick on explosive Arkansas running back Felix Jones to replace the departed Julius Jones (who, we always love to mention, hails from a town with one of the coolest-sounding names in the nation: Big Stone Gap, Virginia. Jones, for his part, will attempt to resuscitate the ailing Seattle ground game this year).
That left the rest of the off-season period a quest to shore up a defense that, though it was filled with big-name players, was consistently among the most inefficient groups in football last year (at least among playoff contenders) at keeping opponents off the scoreboard. Dallas devoted major resources to this effort, signing volatile but talented free agent CB Adam (formerly Pacman) Jones and former Miami defensive stalwart Zach Thomas, who may have a couple more years left in the tank, especially as a role player behind the Cowboys' younger linebackers. Dallas also drafted South Florida cornerback Mike Jenkins with their second first-round pick (and another CB in the fifth round). They could use help: the organization has devoted tons of high picks to its secondary. Yet, overall, these big-name players had struggled to fulfill their potential until placing No. 5 last year in Defensive Passer Rating.
For a team with few statistical holes to fill from 2007, it appears the Cowboys devoted many of their resources toward the right problems and should be a contender again ... at least until the playoffs roll around.
Dallas Fillability Grade: B+
N.Y. GIANTS (2007 Quality Stats rankings)
QB David Carr (Carolina)
LB Danny Clark (Houston)
S Sammy Knight (Jacksonville)
WR Craphonso Thorpe (Indianapolis)
TE Jeremy Shockey (New Orleans)
DE Michael Strahan (Retired)
S Gibril Wilson (Oakland)
LB Reggie Torbor (Miami)
DT William Joseph (Oakland)
LB Kawika Mitchell (Buffalo)
1 (31) Kenny Phillips, S, Miami
2 (63) Terrell Thomas, CB, USC
3 (95) Mario Manningham, WR, Michigan
4 (123) Bryan Kehl, OLB, BYU
5 (165) Jonathan Goff, LB, Vanderbilt
6 (198) Andre Woodson, QB, Kentucky
6 (199) Robert Henderson, DE, Sountern Mississippi
Giants Fillability Overview
We're still searching for indications that the Giants of the 2007 regular season were capable of becoming the champion Giants of the 2007 postseason.
We'll probably never find it.
It's really just stunning to consider that Big Blue won the Super Bowl last year when you look at this team through the lens of our Quality Stats: the Giants were mediocre to bad in most areas of the game last year. Just look at their average rank in our Quality Stats of 16.4 (among 32 teams). According to our advanced calculations, 16.4 out of 32 equals slightly below average. Then, somehow, they turned it all around in the playoffs. There's never been anyhing like it in NFL history.
They Giants fared well last year in only two phases of the game: they boasted the sixth best offensive line in football and – in an area that would carry them to their stunning victory over the Patriots – New York fielded the top-ranked Defensive Hogs in the NFL in 2007. The world got a look at those Hogs in action as they humiliated the highest-scoring offense in league history in Super Bowl XLII, holding the Patriots to 14 points and registering five sacks in the process.
With that said, it's just not reasonable to expect lightning to strike twice. And New York has plenty of areas to shore up to get back to the promised land.
They worked to solidify the league's No. 17 pass defense (as measured by Defensive Passer Rating) by grabbing veteran safety Sammy Knight and by grabbing d-backs with their first two picks in the draft.
Eli Manning's postseason run masked the fact that the passing attack – as measured by Passing Yards Per Attempt – fit snugly among the bottom half of the NFL in 2007 (23rd overall). But the Giants aren't resting on Eli's postseason laurels: they devoted their third-round pick to Michigan stud Mario Manningham.
The irony of the Manningham selection is that Super Bowl hero David Tyree may have trouble making the Giants roster, with its glut of receivers, this year unless he displays the special teams capabilities that made him a Pro Bowler in that area in 2005.
Keep in mind, however, that the defense lost several players, led by face-of-the-franchise defensive end Michael Strahan, and two linebackers, Reggie Torbor and Kawika Mitchell, who saw plenty of playing time last year. The Giants seem to have done little to replace those losses, though the return of hybrid DE/LB Mathias Kiwanuka from injury should soften those blows.
N.Y. Giants Fillability Grade: C
PHILADELPHIA (Quality Stats rankings)
CB Asante Samuel (New England)
DE Chris Clemons (Oakland)
DL Dan Klecko (Indianapolis)
LB Rocky Boiman (Indianapolis)
TE Kris Wilson (Kansas City)
RB Lorenzo Booker (Miami)
DE Jevon Kearse (Tennessee)
FB Thomas Tapeh (Minnesota)
CB William James (Buffalo)
LB Takeo Spikes (Unsigned)
DT Ian Scott (Carolina)
2 (47) Trevor Laws, DT, Notre Dame
2 (49) DeSean Jackson, WR, California
3 (80) Bryan Smith, DE, Mcneese State
4 (109) Michael McGlynn, OG, Pittsburgh
4 (117) Quintin Demps, S, UTEP
4 (131) Jack Ikegwuonu, CB, Wisconsin
6 (184) Michael Gibson, OG, California
6 (200) Joe Mays, LB, North Dakota State
6 (203) Andrew Studebaker, DE, Wheaton
7 (230) King Dunlap, OT, Auburn
Eagles Fillability Overview
The Eagles were so bland last year that we confused them with a meal of tofu burgers and rice cakes. We wanted the savory cheese steak the Eagles gave us back in 2004.
Philly wobbled into the 2007 season on the hobbled leg of quarterback Donovan McNabb and never managed to pull it all together.
They lost their first two games of the year to Green Bay and Washington, then gave signs of life with an explosive 56-21 win over the Lions, but fumbled and bumbled their way to an 8-8 season. If not for that 35-point win over sack-sad Detroit, Philly might have been almost statistically perfectly mediocre: they scored just 36 points more than they surrendered all year (336-300).
The team's mediocrity is also evident in our Quality Stats – where the Eagles' average rank was an almost perfectly bland 15.1.
Philly's big weakness was an inability to generate explosive scoring plays. They were 23rd on our pivotal Big Play Index with a net mark of -8, while generating just 38 Big Plays in their favor. Only six teams last year produced fewer Big Plays. The Eagles also fared poorly in scoring efficiency, with a No. 22 rank in our Scoreability Index.
All in all, it sounded like the same old Eagles of the McNabb Era: a solid team with loads of potential that just never has enough playmakers. If we had any feelings in our roly-poly bodies, we'd shudder to consider how inept the 2007 Eagles offense might have been if not for their electric Pro Bowler Brian Westbrook, who led the team in both rushing (1,333 yards) and receptions (90).
Let's put Philly's offensive capabilities this way: you know a team's in trouble offensively when it's second most explosive weapon was a 29-year-old white wide receiver out of Utah State (Kevin Curtis, 1,110 receiving yards, 6 TD).
Instead of loading up on some help, the team's big off-season money went to former New England CB Asante Samuel. He's definitely a playmaker – and that won't hurt. But keep in mind that former Patriots during the Belichick Era flop more frequently than Dick Fosbury
when they move to other teams.
Meanwhile, little was done on the offensive side of the ball, save for the addition of second-round wideout DeSean Jackson out of California.
It doesn't sound like enough for a team that had to rip off three straight wins at the end of 2007 just to salvage a .500 season and who scored about as often as we do with Victoria's Secret models. The Eagles scored 17 points or fewer in 10 of 16 games last year.
A healthy McNabb will certainly help the offense this year. But he may find himself mired in the same frustrating situation, a dearth of playmakers, that has defined much of the McNabb Era.
Philly Phillability Grade: Ph
WASHINGTON (Quality Stats rankings)
DE Jason Taylor (Miami)
WR Jerome Mathis (Houston)
QB Mark Brunell (New Orleans)
WR Reche Caldwell (St. Louis)
WR Brandon Lloyd (Chicago)
CB David Macklin (St. Louis)
2 (34) Devin Thomas, WR, Michigan State
2 (48) Fred Davis, TE, USC
2 (51) Malcolm Kelly, WR, Oklahoma
3 (96) Chad Rinehart, OG, Northern Iowa
4 (124) Justin Tryon, CB, Arizona State
6 (168) Durant Brooks, P, Georgia Tech
6 (180) Kareem Moore, S, Nicholls State
6 (186) Colt Brennan, QB, Hawaii
7 (242) Rob Jackson, DE, Kansas State
7 (249) Christopher Horton, S, UCLA
Redskins Fillability Overview
If not for their division rivals from up I-95 in Philly, the Redskins might have staked a claim as the most mediocre team of 2007.
Instead, they blew a date with mediocrity thanks to a big win over the Cowboys, who made a half-hearted effort in the season finale. It earned the Redskins a 9-7 record and a 3,000 mile trip across country to get their heads handed to them by Seattle in the wildcard round.
Washington treaded water around the middle of virtually every one of our Quality Stats last year, ranking no better than 9th (Defensive Hog Index) and no worse than 19th (Scoreabilty, Special Teams) – for a nifty average rank of a slightly-above average 14.3 in our nine categories.
Like their partners in mediocrity from Philly, Washington's biggest needs were to improve a team that had some trouble creating ways to score, as evidenced by the below-average ranking in Scoreability and an 18th spot on our all-important Big Play Index (teams that won the Big Play Index last year won 84.1 percent of the time).
But unlike Philly's brain trust under veteran head coach Andy Reid, Washington, under new head coach Jim Zorn, clearly got the message that changes were needed.
The Redskins devoted tons of resources to juicing the offense.
They benefitted from 10 draft picks this year and the top four all went to offensive players, with the top three all pass catchers. The team also added Hawaii's record-setting quarterback Colt Brennan in the sixth round – he's an undersized passer who played against second-tier talent in college, but who has plenty of upside and could prove to be a well-chosen, low-risk selection if the Jason Campbell experiment ultimately fails.
All in all, a good off-season for the Redskins. If the new coaching staff can prove itself, the team is well poised to make another run at the playoffs.
Washington Fillability Grade: B+