The essence of what makes a winning football team generally stays the same. Obviously strong player personnel and scheme play a large part, the ability to exploit your oppositions weaknesses cannot be overlooked - then you have the aspects that you can't control - luck (NO had less forced fumbles than Washington, but had more than double the Fumbles recovered - bounce of the ball, ricochets, timing etc.), weather, injuries just to name a few.
However what comprises a strong roster?
The Saints won the Superbowl with Jermon Bushrod and Carl Nicks playing left tackle and left guard, Mike Bell (unwanted by the Saints) and Pierre Thomas taking the bulk of the carries, Marques Colston, Devery Henderson, Robert Meacham and Jeremy Shockey as their top receivers.
On defense their three of their starting linebackers were Marvin Mitchell (7th round), Scott Shanle (7th Round) and Scott Fujita (5th round). With respect, while you could make an argument for Colston and Shockey (who only 569 yards and 3TD's), the others are hardly all-pro players.
Their stars on the other hand:
Certainly Drew Brees and Sean Payton were their centerpieces on offense. Payton with his clever play calls and Brees with his quick release. However none of their players were in the top 5 for passing, receiving or rushing yards.
Their defense was helped by a very good defensive line [28.5 of 35 sacks], Jonathan Vilma [110 Tackles, 2 sacks and 3 INT's] in the middle and their defensive backs creating turnovers [19 of 26 INT's (5TD's), 7 of 15 FF's].
However through scheme and execution, they defeated the Colts who had a better roster and came from the tougher conference.
With this in mind now we turn our attention to the Redskins and the Mike Shanahan era.
First - Free Agency was a comparatively quiet period for the Redskins. The difference is that the Shanahan plan (or Shanaplan) is about team building. By adding leadership to guide the younger players and inspiring the established vets (Cooley and Hall come to mind) the team dynamic has been shifted. Obviously there has been dead (and overpaid) weight thrown overboard, this enhances the idea of competition that will prove to be the difference.
Second - The importance of the offensive line was addressed as the key priority in the draft. Williams-Dockery-Rabach-Hicks-Williams (as I see it) is much better than how it ended last year. The key remains both Williams - Both Trent and Mike need to shatter perceptions about their work ethic and transition well to the zone-blocking scheme. Obviously Trent will have a harder time making the leap from college to pro, especially protecting McNabb's blind side.
Dockery needs to recapture that form in his first stint as a Redskin, while Hicks needs raise his game if he is to be a starter once again. Heyor is a capable back-up, but I think he will be a swing tackle on the bench.
Third - How does this defense transition to the 3-4? The Redskins have always had the defense to keep their side in the game, but without a potent offense, they were tired and uninspired. Interestingly enough the Redskins D matches up statistically very well to the Saints D in most departments except for turnovers. They also held Dallas to 24 points total in their 2 matches. With the better field position and points on the board that comes from a potent offense, the Skins D will find themselves in a better position to create turnovers and stop points.
Finally - This off-season comes with it Donovan McNabb, a man who has been deprived of weapons, yet turned average players into playmakers. Look at these players:
LJ Smith having 600 yards 5TD in 2006. James Thrash averaging 700 yards and 7TD's in 01 and 02. Kevin Curtis having a 1,100 yard 6TD season in 2007. Reggie Brown averaging 800 yards and 6TD's in 06 and 07.
I believe that with Thomas and Moss as the wide-outs, Cooley at TE and Davis splitting into the slot (or other 2 TE set variations) - this team will create mismatches. Firstly, that set shows run as well as pass. If a team goes nickel, then you can run on them - if a team goes base, then you can pass on them since someone should win that match-up - or just check down to Portis who can make something happen.
Something that hurt McNabb was the overuse of play action on based on the calls by Andy Reid or Marty Mornhinweg. Since the Eagles never established a running game, the defense would usually sell out the run and play the pass. Conversely, Shanahan never gives up on the running game. This helps the chains move, opens up play action, keeps the defense from selling out to the pass and also opens up the ability for McNabb to run himself.
Yes this team has question marks, however they have the coaching staff in place to create vast improvements in a small amount of time. Looking at the roster alone (factoring in younger players progressing), I can't help but think that this team should be at least 8-8, however with better offensive schemes and with a fully healthy football team I don't think that the rest of the NFC East is unbeatable. This defense has Dallas' number and the Eagles will resort to a dink and dunk offense with the turnover prone Kevin Kolb.
This team is a threat now, and will only improve as the years roll on.