NFC East offenses primed for takeoff
With most of the offseason changes made, we begin an eight-week look at how teams stack up fantasywise for the coming season, starting with the NFC East. Next week: The NFC North.
•What we learned in 2003: Quincy Carter is not a waste. He might not be their long-term solution, but Carter has improved enough to keep Dallas' offense viable until Drew Henson takes over, probably in 2005.
•Key changes: Coach Bill Parcells tabbed Julius Jones in the second round in hopes of finding a running game, then cut last year's starter, Troy Hambrick. Parcells also brought in Keyshawn Johnson from Tampa Bay, giving Carter a needed productive possession receiver while surrendering only an unproductive Joey Galloway.
•Remaining question: Whether Jones is the answer. Fans were upset when the Cowboys traded their first-round pick instead of taking Steven Jackson, but the last time Parcells handed a rookie the role of feature back, Curtis Martin ran for 1,487 yards and had 15 TDs for the Patriots in 1995.
•2004 schedule: The Cowboys open with five winnable games, and their toughest stretch is six games from Nov. 15-Dec. 19 when they play the Eagles twice and play at Seattle and Baltimore.
NEW YORK GIANTS
•What we learned in 2003: That the Giants needed a change. Whether coach Tom Coughlin is what they needed is the open question, but his hard-nosed style ought to produce better results once the Giants rebuild their talent base.
•Key changes: The entire offseason is about quarterback Eli Manning. He could start from Week 1, and if he matches his brother Peyton's 26 TDs even with the atrocious 28 interceptions in 1998, the Giants would be ecstatic.
•Remaining question: Do you want anybody on this team? Jeremy Shockey will be a top-five pick at tight end, but he needs to score more (four TDs in two seasons). Tiki Barber will drive Coughlin nuts with his fumbling and will split time with a rejuvenated Ron Dayne. Amani Toomer and Ike Hilliard are solid receivers but will be average at best in a rebuilding situation.
•What the schedule says: Nothing will be easy, not with Seattle, St. Louis and Tampa Bay in the first five weeks and four of the final six games on the road.
•What we learned in 2003: Brian Westbrook (seven TDs) and Correll Buckhalter (eight TDs) can handle the running duties. Westbrook is the better receiver, Buckhalter the better runner, and both will have slightly better numbers now that Duce Staley is gone.
•Key changes: T.O., T.O., T.O. Almost nothing else matters to the Eagles' offense other than Terrell Owens. If he is as good as advertised and doesn't cause trouble, Philadelphia could have the best offense in the league.
•Remaining questions: How accurate can quarterback Donovan McNabb be? He never has completed more than 58.4% of his passes, and if he misses Owens deep, McNabb can be sure he will hear about it.
•What the schedule says: There is no reason the Eagles shouldn't go 12-4 and score plenty. Their toughest game should be a high-scoring one, Week 16 in St. Louis, and the other key matchups are all at home.
•What we learned in 2003: That offensive line play is tied directly to points scored. Steve Spurrier didn't believe in pass protection, but new coach Joe Gibbs does, and the Redskins have enough talent to make immediate improvement here.
•Key changes: Many, again. The Redskins have a new quarterback (Mark Brunell) and running back (Clinton Portis). Brunell won't make it through the season healthy, so Patrick Ramsey will get some time, but Portis is the unquestioned every-down back.
•Remaining questions: Who will be the second receiver and what will happen when Brunell gets hurt. The offense will produce a second good receiver (No. 3 fantasy) and Darnerien McCants could beat Rod Gardner and James Thrash. Ramsey must prove he can shake the pounding he took in 2003.
•2004 schedule: Nothing will be easy, although the Redskins should be competitive. The crucial span is four road games in six weeks ending in Week 16, which could wear them out in the fantasy playoffs.