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NFL Preview: 5 Things to Know About NFC East

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Eli Manning and Robert Griffin III (credit: Al Bello/Getty Images)

Eli Manning and Robert Griffin III (credit: Al Bello/Getty Images)

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RG3’s knee in Washington, Chip Kelly’s arrival in Philadelphia and Tony Romo’s contract in Dallas were some of the biggest stories in the NFL during the offseason.

Left out were the New York Giants, the NFC East’s best team the past five years.

That’s just fine with the four-time Super Bowl champions. When they’ve been overlooked recently, the Giants sneaked into the playoffs and won Super Bowls in 2007 and 2011.

Simply getting there would be historic this year because no team has ever played in a Super Bowl at home. The first cold-weather Super Bowl is being held in New Jersey next February, and the Giants are aiming for it.

First, they have to make it out of a tough division.

“We’ve talked about it throughout the preseason,” Giants coach Tom Coughlin said of the big game coming to the Meadowlands. “Much has been made about the number of days until (the game), so it’s a constant reminder. Plus historically, the home team has never played, so that’s a nice thing to be aware of. But we have a long way to go to be in that situation. There are 32 teams that the Super Bowl championship is their goal right now. But we have to make sure we take care of all the nuts and bolts in order to get to a position where you’re even able to compete for something like that.”

Five things to know about the NFC East:

WIDE-OPEN RACE: The Giants, Redskins and Cowboys enter the season with legitimate shots to win the NFC East. Meanwhile, the Eagles are clearly rebuilding under Kelly, their new coach with the unique approach and high-octane offense. The Redskins are defending division champs and would be favorites to finish first if it weren’t for questions about Robert Griffin III’s knee. RG3 led Washington to its first division title in 13 years, won the league’s Offensive Rookie of the Year award and tore up his knee in a playoff loss to Seattle. He’s on track to return for the opener against Philadelphia, but that’s no certainty, and it’s natural to wonder if the injury will slow him down.

There are questions about Romo in Dallas, too. He signed a six-year, $108 million deal that included more guaranteed money — $55 million — than Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco got from Baltimore. Romo is 1-6 in elimination games, so that deal raised plenty of eyebrows around the league. There are no questions about Eli Manning in New York; he is a proven winner in his prime.

ELITE ELI IS WHY GIANTS WILL WIN: Led by Manning, the Giants have what it takes on offense to win the East. Victor Cruz returned from a heel injury, and Hakeem Nicks, Rueben Randle and Brandon Myers give Manning plenty of targets. If running back David Wilson plays to his potential, he’ll open up the passing game for Manning even more.

Defense is the key for New York. The Giants made big changes after finishing second worst on defense in 2012. Former Eagles tackle Cullen Jenkins should bolster a poor run defense. Ryan Mundy, signed from Pittsburgh, steps into a starting role at safety after Stevie Brown injured his knee. Dan Connor comes over from Dallas to play middle linebacker.

RG3’S KNEE TOO MUCH A QUESTION: The Redskins need a healthy RG3 because they’re not the same team if Kirk Cousins has to start. With Griffin, coach Mike Shanahan and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan can use that innovative zone-read that created nightmares for defenses a year ago. But will RG3 have the same speed, quickness and elusiveness after reconstructive ligament surgery?

Alfred Morris comes off an excellent rookie season and should be featured more to take the load off Griffin. Defense could be Washington’s downfall. The Redskins had the 28th-ranked unit, but are counting on the return of Brian Orakpo from injury to help them significantly.

ROMO IS NO FLACCO: Pressure is on Romo now that he’s got the richest contract in franchise history and is being paid like a Super Bowl champion rather than a big-game flop. Romo has weapons in Dez Bryant and Miles Austin, but injury-prone running back DeMarco Murray has to stay healthy and hold onto the ball. The offensive line needs to protect Romo better than last year and open lanes for Murray after a dismal season on the ground.

On defense, Monte Kiffin replaced defensive coordinator Rob Ryan and installed a new system. But the players remain the same and have to adjust to a 4-3 alignment.

CHIP DOESN’T HAVE ALL THE CHIPS: The Eagles might end up being the most exciting last-place team in the history of the NFL. Kelly had tremendous success with his up-tempo offense at Oregon and has the pieces to make it dynamic at this level. Michael Vick outplayed Nick Foles to win the starting QB job, and he seems rejuvenated running Kelly’s system. LeSean McCoy, DeSean Jackson and Jason Avant are playmakers, and the offensive line will be strong if healthy. The defense was a flop last year, and needs time and talent to adjust to a 3-4 scheme.

(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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