Saturday, September 12, 2009

Philadelphia Eagles 2009-2010 Forecast

Jacksonville Jaguars v Philadelphia Eagles
After a surprising late season turnaround, last year's Philadelphia Eagles team made another run to the NFC Championship game. Unfortunately, their season ended with a disappointing loss to the red hot Arizona Cardinals. Although this would have been an unforeseen possibility a couple months earlier, most expected the Eagles to emerge from that game victorious to make their second Super Bowl appearance in the Andy Reid/Donovan McNabb era.

The team headed into the off season with several important player decisions to make, seemingly needing to choose between "winning now" or building for a sustained future. Key players and positions in question were Donovan McNabb and quarterback; Brian Westbrook and running back; Tra Thomas, Jon Runyan and offensive tackle; Brian Dawkins and safety; and the ongoing media and fan debate about upgrading the wide receiver position. Under Jeffrey Lurie's ownership, the team has historically opted not to extend contracts of aging veterans in an effort to maintain ongoing competitiveness, but the players in question have all been leaders and cornerstones in the team's success over the past decade. With the team coming so close to realizing its goals, the organization was walking a literal tightrope.

Consensus of most pundits was that the team did a masterful job in the off season addressing these areas. By most accounts, the Eagles appeared to have covered all their needs, upgraded the talent and gotten younger in the process. Of course, that is all on paper and in people's minds, and Sunday we will see the beginning of how it actually plays out.

There are also many intangible factors that will have a large impact on the team's fortunes this year. Losing Brian Dawkins to free agency removes the spiritual leader and a huge overall presence on the team. The passing of Jim Johnson has forced the Eagles to transition the defensive coordinator role to young Sean McDermott. Johnson was widely regarded as one of the best defensive minds in football and loved by his players, so this is obviously a huge void to fill.

And, it would certainly be remiss to not mention the "wildcat" wild card, Michael Vick. The team surprised the football world by signing Vick in August after he was released from incarceration, and life around the team has not been the same since. As expected, this has gotten and continues to get a great deal of attention and scrutiny. It remains to be seen how much it has distracted the team from preparing for the upcoming season and what impact it will have on focus and chemistry going forward. A teflon coating may be in order for McNabb and Reid as quarterback debates will surely occur throughout the season.

The team is clearly not settled as it heads into the season opener in Charlotte on Sunday. The offensive line is a new cast that has been banged up and practiced very little together. The team's emerging run stuffer, middle linebacker Stewart Bradley, was lost for the season early in camp, and the back-ups have shown little
in regard to being able to replace him. Westbrook's health has continued to be a concern, especially without any seasoned veterans to step in, so the team will likely be counting heavily on rookie LeSean McCoy.

Without the aid of a crystal ball, or a peek at the medical files, here is my forecast for this year's team and the upcoming season:


The Eagles finished 9th in total offense and 6th in scoring in the NFL last season. On paper, the offense should be better and has the potential to move to the top of the rankings. McNabb continues to be one of the top ten quarterbacks in the league, and although he is sometimes criticized on his passing precision, his great strengths are that he does not turn the ball over and he makes plays. DeSean Jackson and Brent Celek appear ready to step up to the next level of performance, and will have big seasons. The presence of Vick, as well as the health of Shawn Andrews and Westbrook will be critical factors. I see McCoy and Maclin making progressively greater contributions as the season unfolds. Everything considered, I expect that both Andrews and Westbrook will be in and out of the line-up throughout the season (the former out more) and the quarterback controversies will out weigh any pick up in offensive creativity. McNabb's performance will vacillate with the level of protection that he gets upfront, so Andrews' likely frequent absences will also fuel the debates. This will result in a similar point total as last season, but wide ranging week to week offensive inconsistency. Unfortunately, the NFL does not allow teams to put points on account for future use.


The defense will not perform to last year's level due to the loss of Johnson, Dawkins and Bradley. Rookie Victor "Macho" Harris has playmaking ability and has the potential to be a good player for years to come, but he will be learning on the job this season and is nowhere near Dawkins in run support ability. Bradley made a big difference in the Eagles' emergence as a top run defense last year, so expect more vulnerability despite strong tackle play up front. Overall, the defense should fall into the league's top third, but will not approach its #3 ranking from a year ago.

Special Teams

David Akers has not been as reliable as earlier in his career, but is still solid. The team is loaded with kick and punt returners, so expect them to be one of the most explosive units in the league.

Coaching Staff

Andy Reid has proven to be in the top echelon of NFL coaches as evidenced by the team's consistent success and the cultivation of coaches under him. The questions that continue to dog him (no pun intended) relate to his ability to win the big one, namely the Super Bowl. Jim Johnson has been a large part of that success through the years. Although it may come in time, it is doubtful that McDermott will be able to mastermind and lead the defense at the same level in 2009.


The Eagles could stumble out of the blocks due to the multiple distractions and injuries. Vick will provide some ESPN highlights, but the net effect will be negative as controversies will distract and disrupt. The offensive line will never realize its potential, especially with its top player Shawn Andrews sitting out more games than he plays. The defense will lose aggressiveness and be more vulnerable as it tries to bolster its run support.

A couple months ago, I would have predicted seeing the Eagles in the Super Bowl with a legitimate chance to win. At this point, it seems that they will compete for the division title, make the playoffs, and then it will be a crap shoot in the post season. At that time, it will all depend on how the team has weathered the controversies and who is available to play, because on paper, the Eagles can beat any team in the NFC and possibly the NFL.

Eagles 11-5
Giants 11-5
Cowboys 10-6
Redskins 8-8

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