- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 26, 2007

DALLAS COWBOYS

Last season: 9-7, second place.

Coach:Wade Phillips (48-42), eighth season, first with Cowboys.

Story line: Can Phillips succeed where taskmaster Tuna failed?

Power game: The 3-4 defense is chock full of young talent including linebacker DeMarcus Ware, corner Terence Newman and safety Roy Williams. QB Tony Romo had a fine debut season as the starter. Running back Julius Jones will play hard for a new contract. Wideouts Terrell Owens and Terry Glenn are fine if healthy.

Achilles’ heel: Owens and Glenn, both 33, weren’t 100 percent this summer. The defense’s late collapse produced a 1-3 finish in 2006.

On the hot seat: Phillips. Predecessor Bill Parcells, a two-time Super Bowl winner in New York, was 0-2 in the playoffs in Dallas, but he also was larger than life.

Bottom line: If the Cowboys respond to Phillips’ softer touch and the receivers stay healthy, they could be a major factor in the NFC.

PHILADELPHIA EAGLES

Last season: 10-6, first place.

Coach: Andy Reid (88-54), ninth season.

Story line: Can Donovan McNabb avoid yet another injury-shortened year?

Power game: The secondary, led by safety Brian Hawkins, remains perhaps the NFL’s best. Running back Brian Westbrook is a threat catching and running. McNabb is a terrific leader when healthy. The offensive line is strong.

Achilles’ heel: The reworked linebacking corps hasn’t played together. Receivers Reggie Brown and Kevin Curtis are still works in progress.

On the hot seat: McNabb, believe it or not. The Eagles were just 5-5 with their longtime starter last year, 6-2 after he got hurt. Then they used their first draft pick (second round) on QB Kevin Kolb.

Bottom line: If McNabb is his usual self and the moves in the front seven help the defense, the Eagles could fly into a second Super Bowl in four years.

NEW YORK GIANTS

Last season: 8-8 (lost in wild card round)

Coach: Tom Coughlin (93-83, 25-25 with Giants), fourth season

Story line: Now in his fourth season, Eli Manning gets a chance to carry the Giants’ offense.

Power game: Defensive ends Michael Strahan (when he gets into shape) and Osi Umenyiora are a tremendous pass-rushing tandem. Linebacker Antonio Pierce anchors the defense.

Achilles’ heel: Running backs Brandon Jacobs and Rueben Droughns are unlikely to match Tiki Barber’s 1,662 yards rushing. Second-year player Mathias Kiwanuka moves from defensive end to outside linebacker.

On the hot seat: Coughlin. He survived last year but had to fire both coordinators, so anything less than a playoff berth will mean curtains.

Bottom line: Unless Manning has a breakout season, the Giants simply don’t have enough quality parts to reach .500.

PREDICTED FINISH

1. Philadelphia 2. Dallas 3. Washington 4. N.Y. Giants

MVP candidate: QB Donovan McNabb, Eagles

Best coach: Andy Reid, Eagles

Top newcomer: Linebacker London Fletcher, Redskins

Most missed: Running back Tiki Barber, Giants

Top rookie: Safety LaRon Landry, Redskins

Best stadium: Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia

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