2010 Predictions: Eagles will be NFC East champs

By MATTHEW WATERS
Staff Writer — mwaters@highhopesblog.com
________

With training camp right around the corner, ’tis the season to start making predictions about the 2010 NFL campaign. The teams at the top of the two conferences seem fairly clear, with the reigning Super Bowl champions, the New Orleans Saints, at the top of the NFC followed by the Minnesota Vikings (as long as Brett Favre returns).

In the AFC, the Indianapolis Colts are always in contention, and this year it’s hard to look past the New York Jets, so long as Darrelle Revis is back with the team shutting down their opponent’s top receiver each game. But the big question we care about here at High Hopes is the obvious one: Where will the Eagles fall into place?

The Eagles have the ninth hardest schedule for the 2010 season, which is determined by the total wins and losses of their opponent’s 2009 campaigns. Their tough schedule combined with the loss of offensive leaders Donovan McNabb and Brian Westbrook has many people doubting their ability to return to the playoffs. In recent reports released by ESPN’s NFL Live and the NFL Network, the Eagles are ranked 15th and 13th, respectively, leaving them just on the fringe of the playoffs. This is a safe selection for them since no one can really know what to expect until we see what Kolb can do on the field.

Maybe you’ll think I’m a fool, but I believe the Eagles will make the playoffs. I’ll even take it one step further, saying the Eagles will win the NFC East. Their only real competition in the division are the Dallas Cowboys; no one will convince me that McNabb will revive the lowly Washington Redskins after a 4-12 season. The New York Giants defense is still not what it was after winning the Super Bowl in 2008 and their offense still has a way to go before they can be considered a true threat. Dallas is certainly a worthy competitor, but their schedule is the third-toughest this season.

Winning the NFC East is a bold prediction, but I have my reasons:

  1. The Eagles only face four 2009 playoff teams. Granted, they’ll play five games against those playoff teams since the Cowboys are one of them, but the Packers were a Wild Card team and they start the season, so anything can happen in that game. The Cowboys on the other hand play six playoff teams in a total of seven games, including the Saints and the Arizona Cardinals, though the Cardinals are now lead by the unproven Matt Leinart. The Cowboys face the Vikings in Minnesota week six, which Eagles’ fans can only hope will be a repeat of their 2009 playoff meeting when the Vikings crushed the Cowboys 34-3. The Eagles, on the other hand, face the Vikings in week 16, and by then either team has the potential to be resting starters.
  2. The first half of Philadelphia’s season should be a walk in the park. I say should be, since the offense can come out flatly if Kolb doesn’t live up to his potential. But if he can step in and manage the game, there’s no excuse why the Eagles can’t go at least 5-2, if not 6-1, before their bye in week eight. They have just three home games against the Packers, Redskins and Falcons, but their away games are all against non-playoff teams: the Lions, Jaguars, 49ers and Titans. The Titans came on strong at the end of last season but much of that was because of Chris Johnson’s 2,000-yard season. Johnson wants a new contract and has been holding out of OTAs so far, so who knows if he’ll be in shape, or even with the Titans at all?
  3. Everyone is underplaying the Eagles right now. Let’s face it, with McNabb and Westbrook gone and a defense going into its second year without Brian Dawkins with no true leader, the Eagles are no longer considered a top-tier team. But with weapons like DeSean Jackson, Brent Celek, Leonard Weaver and an offensive line with a healthy Jason Peters watching Kolb’s blind side, the offense has a lot of potential. The defense can’t be completely counted out yet either, since Stewart Bradley returns to middle linebacker with Asante Samuel still covering opponent’s best receivers each week. Their draft was also defensively heavy, as they traded up for defensive end Brandon Graham and selected saftey Nate Allen with the “Donovan McNabb pick” in the second round. It’s not the best defense in the league but it’s certainly not one of the worst. The Eagles could easily catch enough opponents off guard to set them up for a good season.

Like I said, winning the NFC East is a bold prediction. Here’s a few reasons why I could be wrong:

  1. The second half of their season will be hellish. Philadelphia plays just one NFC East opponent during the first half, and that’s McNabb’s return to the Linc in week four. Five of the games in the second half are home games, but none of them are definite wins as they face the Colts coming off the bye, then the Giants, Texans, and the Vikings and Cowboys to round out the season. The four away games will be even tougher, since three of them are against divisional opponents and the other is against the Bears. I wouldn’t be shocked if the Eagles went 3-6 down the final stretch.
  2. Their roster can’t afford any injuries. And I mean none whatsoever. If Jackson goes down, Jeremy Maclin steps in as your top receiver with either Jason Avant or, unfortunately, Hank Baskett on the other side. If Celek were to get injured, Cornelius Ingram is the backup, but after his multiple ACL injuries who knows what he can actually do on the field. At running back, LeSean McCoy is really the only viable option; Eldra Buckley has looked promising at some points but there’s no saying whether he could carry the load.
  3. Then, there’s Kolb. If Kolb goes down, Michael Vick is there to fill his shoes — for now. Vick has been in the news recently due to the fact that someone was shot outside of his birthday party in Virginia Beach. As I stated in my last article, the Associated Press reported that a source close to the Eagles are strongly considering cutting him. Now, since there may have been a parole violation because of the incident in Virginia, Vick is no longer allowed to travel outside of the state of Pennsylvania without the OK from his probation officer. Currently, rookie Mike Kafka is their third-string quarterback, but the Eagles would need someone else to fill the role of backup if Vick is dismissed from the team.

  4. They could be too young to be successful this season. Philadelphia is the fourth-youngest team in the NFL with an average age of 25.2. This could just be a silly stat, but it could translate into a couple of things. First, they could be left without vocal leaders on both sides of the ball. The offensive weapons are too young, and no one will rally around Kolb if he doesn’t play well. Samuel has never been a “follow me” kind of guy, and Bradley may not play up to expectations in his first season back from an ACL injury. Second, even if the Eagles make the playoffs they don’t have the kind of experience they did before. McNabb and Westbrook used to be able to school youngsters on the playoff environment and how things change, and how it feels to win (but mostly lose) the big games. Now, there’s really only one player that’s been there for all their playoff runs: David Akers. As great as he’s been, can he really get a team fired up in the locker room and prepare them for the task at hand? Probably not.

After weighing both sides of the argument, it’s easy to see why the safe route is the most popular when discussing the Eagles’ chances in 2010. But regardless of the way the season play’s out, it will most likely be the first time in recent memory when the fans aren’t ready to boo at the drop of a hat because of an under throw or a wasted play by the quarterback — at least not until week four.

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