The Eagles kick off their 2010 campaign this Sunday against the Green Bay Packers. They'll be donning their throwback kelly green jerseys to mark the franchise's last NFL championship, which came 50 years ago, ironically against these same Packers. So as the team celebrates (laments?) 50 years since its last title, what are the reasons to be optimistic about 2010?
5. One year doesn't predict the next -- The Cowboys blew out the Eagles to end last season. That must mean they're miles better than us and our only option is to marvel at their greatness and crown them division champs, right? Not exactly. Anyone remember how 2008 ended? The Eagles blew out the Cowboys in embarrassing fashion to knock them out of the playoffs. A year later, Dallas turned the tables. There's really no reason to believe the Eagles can't or won't do the same this season. Any hardcore better will tell you how dangerous teams playing with revenge in mind are. That will be your 2010 Eagles squad.
Last year there were five new division winners. The previous year there was a record six. The odds are against the same team winning the NFC East again.
4. The offensive line is finally healthy -- The Eagles struggled in preseason with some of the same issues they struggled with in late 2009, most notably injuries on the offensive line. Winston Justice was the only starting offensive lineman to play all 16 games for the Birds last year and it showed. If you look at the last two losses to Dallas and the mid season loss to Oakland, the offensive line struggles thanks to loss of Jason Peters, Jamaal Jackson, and Todd Herremans were painfully noticeable. This year has started off similarly as both Herremans and Jackson missed most of the preseason with injuries they've been rehabbing all offseason. Nick Cole, who started at RG & C last year suffered with injuries all camp and Stacy Andrews was...Andrews.
However, week one we'll see Justice, Cole, Jackson, Herremans & Peters all back starting. It remains to be seen how healthy Jamaal Jackson is given that he's less than a year removed from major knee surgery ... but last year, In games where this exact lineup was healthy, the Eagles went 8-1.
3. An improved defense -- The Eagles defense wasn't statistically all that bad last year, but it was pretty obvious that something was missing. A lot of that had to do with injuries as well. Their secondary was beat up and every linebacker was hurt at some point. Their front four got pressure inconsistently. Some games they were all over the QB and others they'd struggle. The addition of top pick Brandon Graham, who had a great camp and a solid preseason, looks like he could form a very dangerous pass rush tandem with pro bowler Trent Cole. The beat up linebacker corps gets Stewart Bradley back after starting five different guys at middle linebacker this year. The addition of Ernie Sims from Detroit brings a high energy, high effort presence to the weak side.
Last year, the Eagles never really filled the hole created when Brian Dawkins left. This year, they chose Nate Allen with the pick they got for Donovan McNabb and so far the rookie has made the starting FS job his own. This isn't some mid-round rookie they converted from corner in preseason. Allen is a real talent and while he's likely to make his share of rookie mistakes, he should be a stabilizing presence in the secondary for years to come.
2. The best corps of Eagles receivers you may have ever seen -- There may be some older Eagles fans that saw the days of Tommy MacDonald who could possibly have an argument, but this is the best corps of Eagles receivers in my lifetime. Since the West Coast Offense came to town, years before even Andy Reid got here, Philadelphia has gone wide receiver mad. The Andy Reid era, which saw more and more passing, saw a chorus of fans pleading for star WRs grow by the year. It all culminated with the trade for Terrell Owens, which ended up helping the team to a Super Bowl appearance, then it crumbled. The yearly calls for any name WR on the market remained as loud as ever. But since then, the Eagles started really drafting smart. First they took Jason Avant in the fourth round. Then came DeSean Jackson in the second round. Last year saw a trade up in the first to grab Jeremy Maclin. This year, the Eagles took Riley Cooper, who went on to be the darling of camp. Add in the breakout year at TE that Brent Celek had last season and suddenly, receiver is no longer a weakness. In fact, it's one of the teams' biggest strengths. They've got a talent, young, and balanced group that is going to make for the best situation a young QB has probably ever stepped into as an Eagle.
1. Youth -- The old sports cliche that's been repeated in every Eagles season preview for the past six years has been "Has the Eagles window closed?" or how about "Is the Eagles window closing?" "How long before the window closes?" I suppose these were worthwhile questions to ask of a team with an aging roster. However, the funny thing was that the Eagles roster didn't really age. It continued to get younger and younger. It wasn't until the team let Brian Dawkins, Brian Westbrook and Donovan McNabb all go in the span of a year that everyone realized it. After trading Donovan McNabb this offseason, they still have a roster that won 11 games and made the playoffs last year. Their average age is about 24... Guys like DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, and Brent Celek aren't even in their primes yet.