So we, admittedly, underestimated the commitment required for us both to preview all 32 NFL teams together in a little more than a month. It's tedious, thankless work. So from now on we're splitting the rest of the teams among the two of us to get done twice as quick (and with half the work). It is with that that we're proud to bring to you the 25th of our 32 team previews for the upcoming NFL season, the Philadelphia Eagles.
TOM'S TAKE: One bad season and everyone's down on the Eagles. Tisk tisk.
Last season was what I like to call a mess. There was the whole debacle (pronounced DEB-uh-kull, not deb-AHK-le) with TPWIHRTN. And most people don't realize just how badly injuries affected the team. Believe it or not, I think last year was a good thing for them. They had the pain of three consecutive seasons of Super Bowl dreams and late-playoff letdowns, and the win-now pressure was beginning to mount. Now, with expectations low, the Eagles are going to be ready to shock a lot of people.
Donovan McNabb is 100% healthy. Has everyone forgotten that a healthy McNabb is one of the three best quarterbacks in the league? Everyone's uncertainty regarding the Eagles revolves around their receivers. It's true that they don't have PROVEN receivers, but they do have exciting ones. Reggie Brown will prove himself a true #1 this year -- he performed surprisingly well in emergency duty catching balls from Mike McMahon last year, and will only improve after a full offseason with McNabb. Hank Baskett won coaches over early in training camp and could start the season opposite Brown -- veterans Jabar Gaffney and Greg Lewis haven't done enough to stand out, and Todd Stinkston (nee Pinkston) is still nursing that bum Achilles. McNabb will be aided by two reliable targets at tight end -- L.J. Smith, who has the tools to emerge as an elite tight end, and Matt Schobel, a player who emerged on the Bengals.
Brian Westbrook is nursing an ankle sprain, leaving the Eagles depth at running back a concern. Westbrook has proven susceptible to nagging injuries the last few years, and ankle sprains are worrying injuries for running backs as is. They seem to linger and pop up as the season progresses. Ryan Moats stepped in admirably for Westbrook last season. He's proven he can block and catch respectively, as well as showing a flair for the big play. His main weakness is blitz pickup. If Westbrook goes down at any point this year, Moats will step in and might usurp his starting job. Westbrook is a hybrid back better suited as a compliment in a dual-back offense.
The Eagles offensive line will feature Shawn Andrews, who should use this year to emerge as one of the best guards in the league. Veterans Jon Runyan and William (Tra) Thomas are feeling rejuvenated, and getting Winston Justice in the second was an absolute steal. Rumors from Philadelphia have him replacing Thomas as the team's starting left tackle, in which case Thomas could be released or traded. The defensive line is one of the deepest in the league. Former Saint Darren Howard had a bad last year with New Orleans and his numbers from last season reflect this. But he'll take advantage of the double-teams that Jevon Kearse draws on the other side. Mike Patterson is a mammoth defensive tackle who will occupy two blockers, opening lanes for Darwin Walker. The team plans on going about five deep at linebacker. Besides the starting three (Jeremiah Trotter, Dhani Jones, and Matt McCoy), Andy Reid will rotate Shawn Barber, Mark Simoneau, and even Jevon Kearse. The secondary isn't as good as it was in 2004 or as bad as it was in 2005. They're very aggressive, and the safeties, Michael Lewis and Brian Dawkins, know how to lay the lumber. The wild card of this group is Matt Ware, who needs to work up the depth chart in order to make the team after being converted from corner to safety, but who has the ability and brain to start at one point in the future.
The Eagles will make the playoffs. I seriously believe that. I have a tough time seeing anyone unseat the Giants for the division title, but the Redskins and Cowboys, in my opinion, will sputter. I expect the Eagles to win 10 games and take a wild card spot in the NFC.