Monday, February 05, 2007

Super Bowl XLI 

I remarked to my wife before Super Bowl XLI began: “I hope we don’t have a blow-out.” My mind harkened back to the lop-sided Super Bowls of the 1980s, when the New York Giants humiliated the Denver Broncos 39-20 in Super Bowl XXI, when the Washington Redskins defeated the Broncos 42-10 in Super Bowl XXII, when the San Francisco 49ers annihilated the … well, Broncos 55-10 in Super Bowl XXIV. This game, with the Bears conservative offense, had the capacity to be as dull and predictable as those games and the 34-21 victory the Tampa Bay Bucs won over the Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl XXXVII.

My fears were allayed on the first play as Devin Hester ran the opening kickoff back for a touchdown. No blowout. From there the game developed the way I figured that it would. The Colts overwhelming offensive firepower and newfound strength on the defensive side of the football enabled them to move the ball at will on the Bears. The Bears, offensively challenged with Rex Grossman as their QB, couldn’t do much of anything.

I think the story of this Super Bowl was really the inept offensive unit that the Bears ran all game long. Prior to the fourth quarter it managed just five first downs. Grossman simply lofted the ball into the air and allowed Colts defenders to knock it down or run under it and make the interception. The telling stat was that the Colts had the ball for 81 plays and the Bears for 48. The Bears offense left their defense on the field for Peyton Manning to slowly pick them apart. Aside from the blunder on Reggie Wayne’s 53-yard TD catch in the first quarter, you have to give credit to the Bears defensive unit for keeping the game close. Meanwhile, the Bears offense struggled to move the ball forward.

The Colts had a nice balance, smashing into the Bears 42 times on the ground for 191 yards.

Give credit to the Colts. They were definitely the better team and looked it. They had balance and were aggressive on defense. They really redeemed themselves for blowing that playoff game to the Steelers last season and for being man-handled by the Patriots all of those seasons past.

I think there were two MVPs of the Super Bowl instead of Peyton Manning. First, the award should go to Rex Grossman for completely killing the Bears offense. Second, the award ought to go to Domenic Rhodes and Joseph Addai jointly. Addai rushed 19 times for 77 yards and caught 10 passes for another 66. Rhodes caught a pass for eight yards and ran 21 times for 113 yards. They touched the ball on 51 of the Colts 81 plays and gained 264 of their 430 yards.

It was a good Super Bowl, but not quite the thrillers we had when the Patriots were in there against the Panthers and Eagles. Here’s hoping Super Bowl XLII is between the Eagles and Patriots.



Friday, February 02, 2007

Super Bowl XLI Predictions 

So Super Bowl XLI is this weekend, pitting two very unlikely teams against one another. The Chicago Bears, an offensively inept team that struggled badly at various moments in the NFL season, are playing the Indianapolis Colts, a team that seemed sunk when it fell behind the New England Patriots 21-3 in the AFC title game, but whom nevertheless rallied from the 18-point deficit and won 38-34 in dramatic fashion. I can’t say that I am impressed by either team. The Bears especially seemed to benefit strongly from home field advantage, while the Colts did seem to tough up their dead-last ranked defense and become a tougher team in the playoffs.

It reminds me a lot of last year’s Super Bowl, when two very flawed teams faced-off in Detroit. The Steelers had surged into the playoffs late with a team much weaker than the one that had gone 15-1 the previous season. The Seattle Seahawks, whose 13-3 regular season mark was largely built on the rubble on a depleted NFC, were nowhere as good as what their record suggested. I think that this game is very similar. Neither one of these teams dominated the opposition in the regular season, both of these teams had a lot of flaws. I personally expected to see the Saints and Patriots in this game.

I could see this game devolving into a blowout, the way so many Super Bowls in the 1980s did, if the Colts offense gets off to a fast start and the Bears offense struggles. I am skeptical about the big-play capacity of the Bears offense, so this is a definite possibility. Generally speaking, however, I think the Bears defense will keep the game close. I call it, Colts 27, Bears 17, with Peyton Manning, that long-suffering QB finally winning the big one.


Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Empty or Full? 

As I watched the seconds bleed off the clock on the Eagles 27-24 loss to the New Orleans Saints on Saturday night I began to ruminate on the Eagles season. Over the last few seasons we’ve been able to unequivicably state that a season was a success or a failure. 2001? Big success. The Eagles went to the NFC title game and nearly upset the mighty St. Louis Rams. 2003? Failure. The Eagles should have beaten the Carolina Panthers in their third consecutive NFC title game loss. 2004? Success. The Eagles went a franchise best 13-3 and went to the Super Bowl. 2005? Failure. A Super Bowl-quality team went 6-10 and was divided between McNabb and T.O.

What about 2006, I wondered. Success or failure? If you are a glass-half empty sort of guy you can hark back to McNabb’s belief that the Eagles could go 13-3 and make Super Bowl XLI and say that the season was a failure because they were three wins worse in the regular season and didn't make the Super Bowl. If you are glass-half full, you’d look at the fact that the Eagles made the playoffs at all after McNabb and Jevon Kearse were lost for the season and actually came within an ace of making their fifth NFC title game in six years. I’m sort of torn.

Yes, the Eagles struggled a lot in 2006. McNabb was alternatively brilliant, slinging the ball down field, seemingly making the Eagles look like the 1999 Rams and their Max-Q offense, and alternatively terrible, playing the Eagles into a hole in the game against the Buccaneers and blowing a huge lead to the Giants. If McNabb hadn’t gone down it is an open question as to whether or not the Eagles would have gone 5-1 and made the playoffs.

On the other hand, McNabb might have thrown for near-40 TD passes and been a factor in the MVP race. We’ll never know.

Generally, I think the year was a triumph. The Eagles lost Jevon Kearse and still played great defense. They lost McNabb and seemingly re-discovered their running game. Yes, they lost to the Saints, but they won the NFC East after everyone gave them up for dead and won three consecutive road games against the Redskins, Giants and Cowboys, something NOBODY said they could do at the outset of the season.

The Saints game wasn’t perfect at all. The offense, not the defense, lost the game with its slow start in the first half, then by botching opportunities to score … specifically I am thinking of the Eagles Second-and-One inside the five yard line that ended up being a field goal to make the game 27-24 instead of a touchdown to put the Eagles ahead 28-27, and the Eagles failure to score after recovering Reggie Bush’s late fumble. Should Andy Reid have gone for it on Fourth-and-fifteen? I say yes, but I understand the argument the other way: the Eagles did convert the play before and what were the chances of capturing lightning in the bottle again? Put it in the hands of your defense and play for the field goal later. I would have gone for it, but that’s a 50%-50% call.

I was deeply impressed by the Saints. This is not the old Aints of the past. This was an aggressive, well-coached team that has a lot of weapons. I think the Eagles D did a great, great job of keeping the Saints to 27 points. That could have been much, much worse. They were aggressive, forced Drew Brees to make bad throws and did a good job keeping the Saints bottled up. Sure the Saints ran the ball well, but the Eagles will always surrender rushing yards as opposed to big plays.

So now the Eagles move on. Free agency time, draft time. Planning for 2007. I personally think the Birds are well-positioned for 2007. McNabb will be back and hungrier than ever. I suspect that the Eagles will keep Jeff Garcia as their backup, which means if McNabb isn’t ready they’ll have a great QB waiting in the wings and they will have a great leader in the locker room. The offensive line is great and the Eagles skill players are second-to-none. They just need a little depth at running back and tight end. On the defensive side of the ball the Eagles will get Kearse back and seem to be improving in their linebacking corps. Some depth there in the draft and the Eagles will be fine. Kicker? David Akers. The Birds are loaded. They need some depth in the draft and they’ll be fine.

What will the NFC East look like? The Redskins are Jason Campbell’s team now and I am very skeptical about his abilities. Joe Gibbs seems tired and worn out. The Redskins will be lucky to get to 8-8. The Cowboys? Tony Romo looked very beatable late in the season and we’ll have to see how his botched hold will affect his mental state in 2007. That, and Bill Parcells will have to deal with the T.O. problem again. 2007 won’t be a good season for the ‘Boys and T.O. will drive Parcells to early retirement. The Giants? The less said the better: Tom Coughlin is a terrible coach and Eli Manning is a bust at QB. This team has 5-11 written all over it. The Eagles get a nice schedule too, with games against the offensively-challenged Bears, the inept Lions, the rebuilding Packers and the wildcard Vikings on the horizon. The Seahawks? Shell of the team they were in 2005. Add in games against the AFC East (Miami? Buffalo? East W’s) and the Birds are in good for ’07. This team could go 13-3 in '07.

As for the NFL playoffs, let me just say that I am stunned that the Patriots beat the Chargers Sunday. With the Eagles gone, I am turning my support to the Patriots. Brady and Belichick are brilliant competitors and have an opportunity to equal the mark the 1970s Pittsburgh Steelers made when they won four Super Bowls in six years. The Patriots could do so with a win in Super Bowl XLI, which would mark the Patriots as perhaps the greatest dynasty in NFL history, better than the ‘60s Packers, better than the ‘70s Steelers, better than the ‘80s-‘90s 49ers, greater than the ‘90s Cowboys. To win four titles in the free agency period with vastly different teams in a short time period … I defy anyone to name a greater team.


-NFC: The Saints win a blow-out, 34-10 in Chicago over the Bears. The Saints are too explosive and have too many weapons.

-AFC: The Patriots over the Colts 31-28 in Indy. The Patriots mastery of Peyton Manning continues, but the decisive factor will be the Patriots offense ability to run on the Colts defense, the first team to do that this off-season.

See everyone next Monday!


Monday, January 08, 2007

Grudge Match 

It was a grudge match, it was a dog fight, it was everything you’d expect an NFC East football game would be. In the end, the Philadelphia Eagles were tougher, grittier, nastier than their enemy. That is the reason why the Eagles defeated the New York Giants 23-20 yesterday in a game that cause me to shout: “Come on!!!!” about thirty times at the television. A few thoughts:

The MVP of the Eagles win was Brian Westbrook. Twenty carries, 141 yards and a TD. Westbrook didn’t catch many passes (just two catches for twelve yards) and his big punt return for a TD was knocked out by a penalty, but he was electric on the ground and had three key plays in the game:

-His 49-yard TD run in the second half on 2nd-and-1 to give the Eagles their first score of the game.
-Westbrook’s eleven yard run on the first play of the Eagles final possession, which moved the Eagles to mid-field and gave them plenty of time to milk the clock and still be confident of moving the ball into position.
-Finally, Westbrook’s thirteen yard run to the Giants nineteen yard line to set up the game-winner. It was a great run by Westbrook, who turned up the field and hit the afterburners once he saw a gap.

Without those runs, the Eagles would not have emerged victorious.

Garcia and the Eagles offense played a pretty so-so game, although to be fair, much of their poor play was a product of horrible field position in the first quarter, which was not entirely their fault. A well-placed kick by the Giants that Reno Mahe realized he couldn’t take a chance on resulted in horrible field position for the Eagles. The Birds started four of their next drives in their own Red Zone. Hard to get much of anything going when you start on your own 9, 20, 2 and 16 yard lines.

After Westbrook the Eagles stand-out performer was Reggie Brown, who played spectacularly well, catching 7 passes for 73 yards. Brown’s catches were tough ones that extended Eagles drives. Great, great performance for Reggie.

The Eagles had more yards rushing (185) than passing (138 net) for probably the first time all season. Probably years. I loved the fact that the Eagles run-pass ratio was 1:1. As long as Andy leaves the play-calling up to Morty, the Eagles are set.

The Eagles D played well and kept the Giants offense shackled for much of the game in the middle. What saved the game for the Eagles was when the defense stood up during the first quarter and held the Giants to one first down in three possessions when the Giants got the ball at the Eagles 49, their own 48, then the Eagles 46 again. To get the ball on your foe’s side of the field and botch three opportunities to work with a short field is inexcusable.

Generally speaking I wasn’t impressed by the Giants. For all of their terrific field position and momentum at the outset of the game, they played like crap until the end of the fourth quarter. Eli’s pick was a disaster, a pass he was basically trying to force into double-coverage. Tiki Barber and Plaxico Burress burned the Eagles for big plays, especially at the start and end, but in the middle the Giants looked like their usual selves, tepidly trying to figure out if they should run or pass, not sure. Add in the bone-headed penalties, and this Giants team was a mess. I personally hope that Tom Coughlin comes back next season as the Giants coach because this guy made a mess of a talented team.

On to the rest of the playoffs...

-The Patriots played pretty commanding football against the Jets. In fact they played like the Patriots of old, grinding out a close lead and then capitalizing on late mistakes to blow the game wide-open. I thought that the Chargers would easily beat the Pats, but now I am not so sure.

Meanwhile, the Colts didn’t play as badly as the Chiefs and hold on for a 23-8 win over KC in a pretty uninspired game that – frankly – did not hold my attention on Saturday.

The Cowboys laughable botched field goal in Seattle did and left my jumping for joy. Anyone notice that the 21-20 final was the same score as the 1996 Monday Night Football game were the Eagles to the Cowboys lost on a botched hold on a field goal? Weird.

-Predictions. Well, the Ravens and Colts looks like an easy call. Unless Peyton Manning and the Colts can reverse years of lousy playoff performances, I suspect that Manning will struggle against the Ravens nasty, aggressive defense. The Ravens will score a defensive touchdown or two. Call it Ravens 27, Colts 10.

The Patriots and Chargers will be an interesting game. Can Bill Belichick devise a way to keep DaLanian Tomlinson in check? If anyone can, he can. I am going to go with the Chargers on the basis that they are a young team, an aggressive team defensively, and they are playing at home. But I think it is going to be a razor-thin game: Chargers 28, Patriots 27.

The Bears and the Seahawks. Sure Rex Grossman has played bad football in the second half, but Seattle isn’t much better. They look like a shell of the team that won the NFC title last year. Well, someone has to win it. It might as well be a … 13-10 Bears victory. Yawn.

Eagles and Saints? Well, it will be a tight game to be sure. I think the Eagles will be enough motivation to want to avenge the regular season’s 27-24 loss and pull out a 31-27 win at the end next Saturday night. On to the fifth NFC title game in six years for the Birds.


Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Hello 2007 

Well, I just got back from New Year’s break and I haven’t a whole lot of thoughts at the moment on the Phillies ... or the Eagles right now. Today’s post will just be a stream-of-consciousness thing …

-I went to Sunday’s Eagles – Falcons game at the Linc. Despite the Eagles first-teamers being removed once the Lions clinched the NFC East for the Birds with their miraculous 39-31 win over the Cowboys, I had a terrific time (first ever time at the Linc) and I got to see a great game as the Eagles won 24-17. The Eagles defense was fast and aggressive and the offense really moved the ball well through the air. Hank Baskett’s 89-yard TD pass was a thing of beauty.

As this was my first game at the Linc I want to note what a major, major improvement it was over the Vet: despite sitting high in Section 243, near the top of the stadium, I still had a great view of the action and got to see every little detail. I love that place.

-USC’s 32-18 victory over Michigan in the Rose Bowl hopefully shut the BCS rematch proponents up: Michigan had their chance and they blew it. Yet another Big Ten team stumbled and fell. Sad.

-I was overjoyed by Boise State’s 43-42 win over Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl. For the second time in three years (see, Utah, circa 2004), a small-time school blitzed through their season undefeated, played a good time in a big bowl, and won’t get the National Title. Disgrace. Boise State played a great game and humiliated everyone who said that Oklahoma was a lock to win. If Florida beats Ohio State, will someone explain why Boise State won’t be the National Champ?

-Speaking of disgrace: Notre Dame plays LSU in the Sugar Bowl tonight. Prediction: LSU 38-14. Notre Dame is a joke, their record this season built on smoke and mirrors. They lost the only games of significance on their schedule (USC and Michigan), and they beat a slew of lousy teams on their way there.

-Anyone else notice that the Big East is 3-0 in the Bowls?

-Some good games coming up this weekend. I like Kansas City over Indy 31-24. Sure K.C. has struggled a little this season, but the Colts are horrible against the run and the Chiefs are going to pound them with Larry Johnson all game long. See ya next year, Peyton Manning. Sunday night I see the Cowboys knocking off the Seahawks 21-20. New England over the New York Jets 17-10 in what will probably be the weekend’s best game. Finally, I like the Eagles to beat the Giants 27-13 on Sunday to earn the right to go to New Orleans and play the Saints.

-A few thoughts on the NFL: That final weekend to the season was a stunner. I cannot believe that the Broncos, Bengals and the Jaguars all missed out on the playoffs. I hope there is some hell to pay in each town because none of those three teams should have missed out. Over in Atlanta, Michael Vick continues to frustrate those who said things about him being the “Michael Jordan of football”. He’s a flashy player who screws up. A lot. He’s not consistent.

-Well, with Barry Zito finding a home in SF, the 2006-2007 free agency period comes to an end. I think it turned out well for the Phillies: they added two new starters to the rotation, got a third baseman, and avoided stupid mistakes like playing Carlos Lee $100 million bucks. Small miracles.

Back to regularly scheduled programming tomorrow.


Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Running the Gauntlet 

Just a quick word on the Eagles game today ….

What a commanding performance by the Eagles. It was one of those games where you’d have to say that the Eagles simply took it straight to the Cowboys and hammered them into submission. The Gauntlet, the impenetrable path of three consecutive games road against NFC East foes that people forecast in the preseason would be the Eagles sternest test and their likely undoing, turned into the best part of the season for the Birds. At 9-6 they are flying high, with a playoff berth in hand, and a division title in their mind’s eye.

The Eagles rushed for 204 yards on the ground, the most a Cowboys foe has accomplished in Big D since 2000. It was Brian Westbrook’s sixth 100+ yard rushing game of the season and got him to 1,214 yards on the ground, along with 76 catches for 670 yards through the air. How is he not going to the Pro Bowl?

The Eagles defense was once more the star of the game for the Eagles: flying around, hitting Tony Romo, they took T.O. out of the game and handcuffed the Cowboys offense, which managed a mere 201 yards of offense and turned the ball over three times. T.O. and Terry Glenn managed a total of three catches for 40 yards. That’s it.

Then there is the big goal-line stand where the Eagles turned the Cowboys and Marion Barber away three times from the one-yard line. (Barber: three rushes, three yards lost.) That was where the game was decided. Once the Cowboys blew their opportunity the Eagles never looked back.

-Since 2000, when the Eagles current era began with the Eagles 41-13 win over the Cowboys on the opening day of the season, the Eagles are 11-3* against the Cowboys. This major rivalry has become decidedly one-sided of late.

* And two of those wins were in 2005.

-This game was the best Christmas present that Eagles fans could have been given, but then T.O. made it a Happy Hanukkah by his post-game “I need to get the ball more” speech. It was inevitable it was going to happen and I think this game sealed T.O.’s fate in Big D: he’ll be gone because Bill Parcells doesn’t have time to deal with babies making millions of bucks. Say goodbye to T.O., Cowboys fans: he’s headed outta town.

Now the Eagles are assured of a few things:

-They are in the playoffs.
-They will be no worse than the fifth seed in the playoffs.
-They can win the division and be the third seed if they beat the reeling Falcons or if the Cowboys lose to the Lions.

The Eagles get the #3 seed along with the division, which would put them on a collision course with the Giants for the playoffs, a team that has “one-and-done” written all over it. I assume that the Giants will pull it together and beat the Redskins Saturday night to clinch the playoff berth. If they don’t, then the smart money is on the Packers, a team that the Eagles have owned of late, to make it. I’d put money on the Giants, losers of six of their last seven games, to be the Eagles round one foe. Be nice to avenge that week two loss, ‘eh?

More next week once we know where people are playing in January. Every have a Happy New Year’s! I’ll post tomorrow and Thursday at A Citizens Blog.


Monday, December 18, 2006


That is how many yards of rushing the Eagles had in yesterday’s 36-22 win over the hated New York Giants, probably the most satisfying win the Eagles have had since they beat the Dallas Cowboys back in October. With the victory the Eagles go to 8-6 and assume a commanding position in the NFC playoff picture.

First thoughts on the game:

Garcia is now 3-1 as the Eagles starter and I feel guilty for calling for A.J. Feeley to assume the reins. Andy Reid made the right call by putting Garcia in there. He’s done a nice job as the Eagles QB and seems nothing like the guy who sucked things up in Detroit and Cleveland the last two years: quiet, timid and unhappy. Jeff Garcia circa 2006 seems like a firey competitor, a guy who burns to win. You can bet he’ll be fired up on Xmas Day to face off with his old nemesis, T.O. Aside from that foolish spike and the subsequent pick, Garcia played a very, very nice game yesterday, riddling the Giants defense with quick passes, hitting on 19-of-28 for 237 yards and a TD.

On the ground the Eagles did a really nice job. Maybe they didn’t look like Nebraska, circa 1997, but they ran the ball effectively and controlled the clock nicely. The Eagles ran for 161 yards on 30 carries, generally exploiting the inexperienced Giants D-line all game long. Here is how the Eagles backs did:

Rushes / Yards / TDs
Westbrook: 19 / 97 / 2
Buckhalter: 8 / 48 / 1
Garcia: 3 / 16 / 0

In particular I thought the Eagles first TD was pure brilliance: setting Buckhalter and Westbrook in the backfield, faking a toss to the right to Westbrook, then handing the ball to Buckhalter on what amounted to a dive up the middle. The Giants defense was totally fooled and Buckhalter scored on an easy play.

On the defensive side of the ball the Eagles forced four turnovers, the biggest one being Sheldon Brown’s blitz which popped the ball into the air and was returned by Trent Cole for a TD to seal the game. Eli Manning looked dazed and confused, battered and bruised. After the initial drive of the game, where the Giants scored a Tiki Barber TD, the Giants offense looked flat and out of it.

In the matchup of coaching wits between Andy Reid and Tom Coughlin, it was no contest: Coughlin, the harsh and unimaginative disciplinarian, was utterly unable to match wits with the cunning Reid and the rest of the Eagles imaginative staff. Watching the Giants reminded me of Steve Spurrier’s Redskins: for all of the hype about Spurrier’s genius, he was a very unimaginative coach who stuck with a few basic ideas and never innovated or thought outside of the box. (e.g., Spurrier never spent time discussing blocking schemes with his coaches, instead telling them during their team meeting to “Block ‘em up. Block ‘em up good!”). Coughlin looked lost and confused about how to deal with the Eagles blitzes. Andy Reid and the Eagles were 4-0 against the ‘ol ball coach, so I hope Coughlin stays around as the G-men’s coach.

Alright, let’s look at the playoff picture. Let’s start low and talk about the wildcard. The following teams cannot beat the Eagles for a playoff slot:

-St. Louis: even if the Rams tie the Eagles at 8-8, the Eagles have a better conference record.
-San Francisco: even if the 49ers tie the Eagles at 8-8, the Eagles beat them in the regular season and thus own the tiebreaker.
-Carolina: ditto above.
-Green Bay: ditto again.

Which leaves the Eagles with three adversaries for the wildcard: the Vikings, the Falcons and the Giants.

-The 7-7 Falcons will play the Eagles in the season finale, so we’ll see if that becomes an issue, although the Falcons can really hurt themselves with a loss to the Carolina Panthers next week.

-The 7-7 Giants still have a shot, although if the Eagles beat the Cowboys on Christmas Day, the Eagles own a tiebreaker on the G-men: even if the teams tie at 9-7, the Eagles would own a 5-1 record vs. the NFC East and the G-men would be 4-2.

-The 6-8 Vikings have an outside shot at the Eagles if they win both of their games and the Eagles lose both of theirs.

Chances are that the Eagles will oust at least two of those teams and make one of the two wildcards.

The other issue is the NFC East, which is still up for grabs. If the Eagles win out, they’d take the NFC East thanks to sweeping the season series against the Cowboys. I guess we’ll see ….


Monday, December 11, 2006

Dawk Did It! 

The Eagles 21-19 victory over the Washington Redskins was a big, big win for the team as they continue on their unlikely march towards the playoffs. As I write this the Eagles are 7-6 and in the thick of the playoff hunt. What a difference a year makes, as last season’s Eagles team finished 6-10 and were pretty much instantly done with the playoffs after Donovan McNabb went down.

First let’s talk about yesterday’s game. Let’s credit the defense for this victory: okay, they allowed the Redskins to rush for 210 yards. The ‘Skins also converted on 7 of 16 third downs and had a total of 20 first downs in the game. Not great numbers, but the Eagles offense did little to help them. This was a victory for the D: they forced two turnovers to set up Eagles TDs, and they held the Redskins to just 19 points. Two plays in particular were huge:

-Michael Lewis’ 84-yard interception return for a touchdown in the second quarter, a play which gave the Eagles a 14-3 lead at a juncture where the Redskins were on the Eagles 23-yard line and were threatening to make it a 7-6 game or to surge ahead 10-7. The air seemed to go out of the Redskins after that. On the next drive the Redskins committed 15 yards of penalties and backed themselves into a 1st-and-25, which ended in a punt that Reno Mahe muffed. However the Redskins were too dazed and shaken to take advantage and ended up punting. On the next drive the Eagles made it a 21-3 game.

-The biggest play of the game was Brian Dawkins sack of Jason Campbell with a little over five minutes left in the game. Leading 21-16, the Eagles were trying to hold onto the lead when the Redskins took the ball on their own 15 and proceeded to drive down to the Eagles three yard line, bleeding over five minutes from the game clock. Down on the three the Eagles stiffened up and the Redskins imploded, netting zero yards on the next two plays, then committing a five yard penalty to make a 1st-and-Goal from the three into a 3rd-and-Goal on the eight. On the ensuing play Brian Dawkins knifed in and made a terrific sack of Campbell, forcing the Redskins to settle for the field goal and miss an opportunity to assume a 22-21 lead. The Eagles got the ball back and ran out the clock on some nifty plays.

Westbrook’s twelve yard scamper on 2nd-and-7 sealed the Eagles victory, as the clock wound to the two minute warning, and then the Redskins were powerless to stop it.

-A good game from Garcia, although the Eagles offensive unit vanished for big stretches of the game: 60 of Reggie Brown’s 73 yards came on one play. Donte Stallworth caught a TD, but only 31 yards on three catches. Westbrook was once more the Eagles best player: touching the ball 20 times and accumulating 126 yards of total offense.

-Okay, let’s start looking ahead … Last night’s 42-17 humiliation for the Cowboys at the hands of the New Orleans Saints makes the playoff race much, much more exciting. First off, the Cowboys looked like a shell of the team that has been dominating the NFC ever since Tony Romo took the reins in week 7 during their 36-22 loss to the New York Giants. The loss drops the ‘Boys to 8-5 and pretty much sinks any chance they had at a first round bye. With the 9-4 Saints playing the Redskins, Giants and slumping Panthers, and the 10-2 Bears playing games against the Packers, Lions, Rams and Buccaneers, I don’t see how the ‘Boys can be better than a three seed. And even there the ‘Boys have a problem: the Seahawks have three games left, two are against the 49ers and Buccaneers, two likely wins. If they can survive the Chargers, or if the ‘Boys lose another game, the Seahawks will likely take the three and push the ‘Boys to fourth.

-Okay, another issue I want to bring up is the NFC East title. The Eagles could still win it.

Impossible? No. If the Eagles defeat the Giants next week and then pull the upset on Christmas Day in Dallas, then finish the season with a win over Michael Vick and the Falcons, the Eagles will be 10-6. Let’s assume that the Cowboys will likewise win next week against the Falcons, and then will finish the year with a win over the Lions after losing on Xmas day. The Eagles and ‘Boys finish the year 10-6 each, but the Eagles own the NFC East by virtue of their sweep of the season series.

I’ll grant you that this is not a likely scenario, but it is possible. The Cowboys looked awful in yesterday’s game, nothing like the team that had gone 5-2 under Romo. The Saints looked like they could do whatever they wanted to the Saints, rolling up 28 first downs and 536 yards of offense. It was a humiliating performance and the 42-17 score isn’t even indicative of what the margin of victory really was: T.O.’s 34-yard TD in the third quarter was a fluke, the product of the ball flying thru the hands of a Saints defender and into T.O.’s surprised hands. Instead of an interception, the Cowboys had a touchdown. Fluke. Then the Saints scored a touchdown, recovered an on-side kick and jammed another TD down the ‘Boys throats. It was a humiliating game for a team that had gotten cocky.

-I am sure that Giants fans are probably busy blowing their 27-13 win over a slumping Carolina Panthers game well out of proportion as it helped them break a humiliating four-game losing streak. I say BFD: the Panthers were slumping out of the playoff race thanks to the Eagles win over them last weekend. All the Giants did was get some sloppy seconds.

-The NFC playoff picture looks like this: basically the Bears, Seahawks and Saints have their divisions locked up. The Cowboys control their own destiny, but look vulnerable. The Eagles and the Giants can catch the Cowboys for the NFC East, but they are both likely shooting for the wildcard. The wildcard is basically a three-team race between the Giants, Eagles, and Falcons. Forget the Panthers, they are finished mentally. The Vikes have a shot, but must walk a tough road: next week vs. the Jets, then games against the Packers and Rams. Sure they could win ‘em, but they are 6-7, need help and they don’t play a fellow competitor. The Falcons play the Cowboys and Eagles down the stretch, so they are more of the threat. Saturday’s Falcons-Cowboys game has very, very big playoff implications.

I think the playoff picture will shake out as:

NFC North: Chicago (#1)
NFC South: New Orleans (#2)
NFC West: Seattle (#3)
NFC East: Dallas (#4)
Wildcards: Eagles (#5), Falcons (#6)

-Over on the AFC side … The Chargers look like a lock to own home-field advantage in the AFC playoffs. Sure, they have some tough games (Kansas City, Seattle and Arizona) on the schedule, but they control their own destiny and have been playing great football, plus their last two games are non-conference. Did you know that the Chargers only two losses have both been by 3 points? 16-13 at the Ravens and 30-27 at the Chiefs … Despite their recent foibles, it looks like the Colts will win the AFC South … What the heck happened to the Patriots? 21-0 loss to the Dolphins? … I think the AFC division winners are basically set. Sure, the Patriots, Ravens, and Colts all could lose, but that isn’t likely at all. The AFC playoffs are basically a massive wildcard scramble. I think the Jaguars are in a good spot, so I think the race is basically a chase. Can the Bengals hold off the Broncos, Chiefs and Jets? While I like the Bengals and I respect the fact that they have won four in a row since losing five of six games, they have a tough road: Colts, Patriots and Steelers. Good luck. The Broncos have a nice chance, partly thanks to the fact that they get to play the Bengals and take their destiny into their own hands. But I really like the Jets: Minnesota, Miami and Oakland? Those are three W’s. I think the AFC playoff picture will shake out as:

AFC West: San Diego (#1)
AFC North: Baltimore (#2)
AFC East: New England (#3)
AFC South: Indy (#4)
Wildcards: Jacksonville (#5), N.Y. Jets (#6)

Sunday, Eagles and Giants. I predict a 24-17 Eagles victory in the wilds of northern New Jersey, with the Eagles harassing Eli Manning all game long. Poor Eli. He plays like he can hear all of the Giants fans asking the same question his father probably did when he was growing up: “Why can’t you be like your brother?” Peyton Manning might come up short in big moments, but Eli comes up short in big ones and in small ones. Jim Johnson toys with Eli and the Eagles win.

Anyway, enjoy. I expect to post something on my Phillies blog later today.


Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Miracle @ the Linc 

As I watched last night’s Eagles-Panthers game I allowed a thought to creep into my head: “The Eagles might just win this game.”

Shocking, I know. I see that just 16% of Yahoo! Sports Pick ‘em users picked the Eagles to win this game. I don’t blame them: if I were betting I’d have money on Carolina. No McNabb, having lost five of their last six games, facing a team desperately trying to get back into the playoff mix … No way the Eagles could win, I thought.

Final score, Eagles 27-24. Suddenly the Eagles season doesn’t look so grim?

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. First, let’s talk about the game:

How did the Eagles win? By winning the turnover battle: allowing no turnovers while forcing two big ones late in the game for the Panthers. The Eagles also did a nice job containing Carolina’s ground game and forcing the inconsistent Jake Delhomme to take to the air and try to win it. Delhomme won the game for the Birds on his picks.

-Yes, MeShawn Johnson and Steve Smith played nice games, catching a total of eight passes for 119 yards and two TDs, but they were out-played by the Eagles duo of Reggie Brown and Donte Stallworth, who caught nine passes for 190 yards and two TDs. For the first time since they played the Redskins, Stallworth had a big game, and Brown has been nearly invisible for weeks.

-Nice to see the Eagles get some yardage out of the run game, rushing for 98 yards.

-Garcia played a pretty amazing game. I had called for A.J. Feeley to jump into the fray over Garcia, but I was wrong. Garcia has generally played well thus far this season in McNabb’s relief. Yesterday he threw for 312 yards, 3 TDs and no picks. So far this season he’s thrown for 641 yards and six TDs without a pick.

-Give enormous credit to the Eagles defense, which has been much maligned of late. The Eagles D forced the Panthers to go three-and-out six times, and on three of those drives the Carolina offense lost yards. Even though they did not sack Delhomme, they got pressure and forced him to make mistakes. Well done.

-So where does this leave the Eagles in terms of the playoff hunt? Well, despite how badly the Eagles have been playing, despite how much they have struggled … if the 2006 regular season were to end today, the Eagles would back in as the #6 seed. And the Eagles would probably play the Cowboys.

The fact that the Eagles are still in the playoff race is extraordinary. I figured that the Eagles would limp to a 6-10 finish like they did in 2005, and wouldn’t matter at all in the playoff picture. Happily, they are very much in the mix right now, one of four 6-6 teams dueling for a wildcard slot. The best thing about that is that they now own a tie-breaker on the Panthers thanks to last night. They play the Giants again and could gain that edge on them by beating them in two weeks. Finally, the Falcons play the Eagles on New Year’s Eve and that could decide who gets to go to the playoffs.

The Eagles actually stand a decent chance of making the playoffs, but the key is going to be winning their next game against the Washington Redskins. It will not be easy. It will be the first of three road games, against a foe desperately trying to save face with the end of the season fast-approaching. (Oh, and a victory over the Redskins would assure that the Eagles don’t finish fourth.) Against a foe that likes to run the ball and against a coach that has success against the Birds.

But if the Eagles win and carry that momentum into their game against the Giants, suddenly the post-season looks like a real possibility, because the Eagles can beat Michael Vick and the Falcons. Suddenly 8-8 or 9-7 looks like a real possibility. We’ll see.


Monday, November 27, 2006

Couldn't Flex Out of This One... 

The NFL’s must-hyped, much-discussed “flex schedule” couldn’t save NBC from showing last night’s 45-21 annihilation of the Eagles at the hands of the 10-1 Indy Colts. Largely born out of last season’s 42-0 embarrassment at the hands of the Seattle Seahawks, ABC dropped Monday Night Football because it was difficult – it not impossible – to rally weary people to the TV set to sit through a horrifying football game when they could be watching Donald Trump display his massive ego for all of the world to see on NBC (“…And I like to think that we sell the classiest, best donuts in all of the world …”) The Donald, so oblivious to his own absurd ridiculousness, is much more fun and entertaining. The flex schedule was part of the NFL's efforts to make prime-time football more appealing to the networks and to make NBC hype the heck out of Sunday Night games when most fans are tired and want to go to sleep, or are having difficulty persuading their spouses to watch a 9th hour of football instead of "Desperate Housewives".

Sadly, when NBC decided to push this game to Sunday night they made a tragic error when hours later McNabb went down. Gone was the dream matchup of Peyton Manning and Donovan McNabb, the NFL’s two best QBs, replaced by the sight of Jeff Garcia desperately running for his life. Gone was the battle between the reeling Colts and the desperate Eagles. And gone were the viewers. I could barely be motivated to watch and found myself wondering what was happening on "Housewives". It had to be better than this.

In losing their fifth game in their last six, the Eagles have revived horrifying memories of 2005. Meanwhile, their arch-nemesis, T.O., marches towards the playoffs behind a tough defense and a QB who isn’t an immobile target in the pocket. After the Eagles 38-24 victory over the Cowboys earlier in the season little has gone right for the Eagles and little has gone wrong for the Cowboys. Have to feel that T.O. is more than a little happy right now, yeh?

Last night the Colts pounded the Eagles into submission with an astonishing 237 yards rushing on 41 carries. Peyton Manning got to take the night off, throwing just 20 times and completing 14 for another 183 yards. The Colts accumulated 15 first downs on the ground in the game, which saw the heretofore unimpressive Joseph Addai score four TDs. For probably the first time ever with Peyton Manning under center the Colts gained more yardage on the ground than in the air.

Jeff Garcia looked utterly hopeless and I hope that the Garcia Experience lasts no longer. Put in A.J. and take a shot. This team needs someone to stretch the field and restore some memories of the ’02 miracle, when the Eagles looked finished and ended up storming to the best record in the conference.

If there was a plus side to last night’s humiliation, it was that Brian Westbrook had some nice stats, carrying the ball 20 times for 124 yards and catching another seven passes for 46 yards. Westbrook accumulated 170 of the Eagles 300 yards (57%). The rest of the Eagles offense might as well been invisible: Donte Stallworth and Reggie Brown caught two passes for nine yards each. The Eagles wideouts had eight catches for 64 yards and a TD … Terrible. Simply terrible. The Colts defense was able to shorten the field and limit what the Eagles could do to small plays. The Eagles longest play from scrimmage was a 21-yard run by Westbrook. Their longest pass was a 19-yarder to Buckhalter. From an offense that was leading the league in 20+ or 30+ yard plays, this is a major calamity and goes to show you how utterly reliant the Eagles were on McNabb to get much of anything going.

Ironically, despite the Eagles loss, their playoff chances remain open in the NFC. Assuming that Seattle wins tonight against Green Bay, the Eagles only sit a game out of the playoff picture at 5-6, just behind the Giants and Panthers for the two wildcard slots. Despite the Eagles foibles, their NFC mates are very to get them into the playoffs:

-The Atlanta Falcons have collapsed, losing four in the row and it looks like More will be fired for the nightmare that Michael Vick has become. Since defeating the Cincinnati Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers in consecutive weeks, two games that saw Vick throw 7 TDs and just 2 Ints, and average 9.18 yards per pass, Vick has thrown 3 TD passes and had six turnovers (four picks, two fumbles), hit just 45% of his passes and average 4.88 yards a pass.

-The Giants have lost three in a row and Tom Coughlin ought to be fired for yesterday’s 24-21 loss to the Titans. For a team to lose concentration like that … it has to be the coach’s fault.

-The Panthers are bizarrely inconsistent. How did they lose yesterday to the Redskins and their rookie QB?

-After looking like a juggernaut, the Bears suddenly look very beatable when Rex Grossman under center.

Right now the NFC looks like a three-way battle between the Seahawks (if they are healthy), the Cowboys and the Saints for supremacy. The Bears will win the division, but the wildcard race looks wide-open. None of these teams seem to want to win it and make the playoffs. Maybe the Eagles will return to January football after all?

The AFC side looks very strong: the Chargers are peaking, the Patriots are playing good ball, the Ravens humiliated the Steelers on Sunday, and the Colts will win the South in a walk. The question is whether the Bengals, Jets and Jaguars can catch the Chiefs and Broncos, two very beatable teams, for the wildcard slots. I say yes, and I predict that the Bengals and Jaguars will be the AFC’s other teams in the playoffs. We’ll see how things shape up next week. Oh yeah, and the Eagles play the Panthers on MNF next week. Suddenly the game doesn’t seem so hopeless.


Monday, November 20, 2006

The End 

-Simply losing yesterday’s game to the woeful Tennessee Titans 31-13 put the Eagles in too big of a hole to climb out of. It isn’t so much their record: 5-5 isn’t bad, given that there are a bunch of 6-4 and 5-5 teams the Eagles are pursuing, but their upcoming schedule is too daunting for them to recover from: Sunday night against the Colts (not as difficult as it might seem – Tony Dungy teams don’t deal with adversity well), Monday night against the Panthers (which could be an ouch game), then three consecutive road division games against the Redskins, Cowboys and Giants, followed by what I felt could be the essential equivalent of a playoff game: the season finale at the Linc against the Falcons. It was too tough a road to drive, given that the Eagles had dropped four of their last five games. When the news was official that McNabb was done, it was official that the Eagles were done too.

-So what is the closing line on McNabb? 180 of 316 (57%), 18 TDs, 6 Ints (3-to-1 ratio), 2,647 yards (264.7 yards per game). Interestingly, despite the lack of T.O. (and having big play man Donte Stallworth in-and-out of the lineup), McNabb actually averaged slightly more yards per pass in 2006 than in 2004 (8.4 to 8.3). Extrapolated to a full season, McNabb would have thrown 31 TD passes and 10 Ints, basically what he did in 2004 (31 TDs and 8 picks), and 4,579 yards, much better than the T.O. campaign (3,875).

-So now the Eagles are left with A.J. Feeley and Jeff Garcia. Feeley, remember, filled in for McNabb and Koy Detmer after both went down in ‘02 and led the Eagles to a 5-1 finish to wrap up the season not only get the Birds into the playoffs but put them in with home-field advantage. Can A.J. perform the same magic? I doubt it, but giving Feeley the reins over Garcia would put a younger, more accurate arm in the Eagles lineup and rekindle memories of ’02. Oh, and T.O. wouldn’t explode with joy when the Cowboys beat the Eagles later this season if Feeley is under center instead of his old nemesis Garcia.

-Now it is time to look at 2007. The Eagles have a lot of problems: they can’t run effectively (28th in rushing attempts), they can’t stop the run (22nd in yards per rush allowed), they lack a consistent big play receiver … they have a lot of holes to fill and drafting low again might be nice.

-Sadly, I think you have to start and think about who will succeed McNabb under center. The ACL is a 8-12 month injury. McNabb might not be ready until Turkey Day, 2007. He might miss the entire ’07 campaign. He might not ever come back, if things go wrong.

I think the Eagles long-term strategy needs to be as follows: play A.J. Feeley this season over Garcia. At the end of the season cut Garcia loose and sign a big-time QB in transition to be the Eagles insurance for McNabb’s return. Bank on McNabb returning in 2007, but leave wiggle room for if he has any troubles and you need someone to start the first half of the season in 2007. Start thinking about drafting McNabb’s successor in the ’08 draft. Groom him to be ready in 2010.

-Enjoy this week. I intend to gorge myself on turkey Thursday. My prediction for Sunday is Colts 38, Eagles 10. Good luck A.J.


Monday, November 13, 2006

Birds 27, Native Americans 3. 

Being the nerd that I am I sat down after the Eagles game on Sunday and figured out that the Eagles had run the ball 189 times this season prior to Sunday in eight games and had thrown the ball 299 times, or roughly 61% of the Eagles plays from scrimmage. The Eagles threw the ball three times for every two that they ran it going into yesterday.

Which makes yesterday’s game against the Washington Redskins a beautiful thing: the Birds ran the ball 34 times and threw it just 27, or just 44%. The Eagles finally discovered their running game. Brian Westbrook carried the ball for 113 yards on 22 carries, the kind of day we've been expecting from him for a while.

The game’s final drive was a masterpiece. Taking the ball at their own 28 with a little over nine minutes left on the clock, the Eagles proceeded to pound the ball down the Redskins throat. Westbrook ran five consecutive plays, gaining 3, 3, 4, 2 & 11 yards. After Buckhalter ran once and lost a yard, Westbrook ran for 21 yards. Then Buckhalter carried for 3 and 1 yards before McNabb hit Westbrook for a 7 yard pass to keep the drive alive on third and six. After Buckhalter rushed for another 4 yards the Eagles could simply take a knee and run the clock out. Ten carries, fifty-one yards and over nine minutes bled off the clock. It was simply a masterpiece, a spectacular close to the Eagles dominating performance yesterday afternoon. Finally, after allowing the Giants back into the game after leading 24-7, the Eagles figured out how to close out a game.

Apparently Andy Reid turned over play-calling duties to Marty Mornhinweg and the move as a good one: the Eagles broke out of their rut and really stuck it to a good Redskins defense. McNabb’s stats don’t look great (12 of 26, 222 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT), but they were a major improvement from the Jacksonville game (18 of 34, 161 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT) and the Bucs game (3 INTs). The real big news for the Eagles offense was the return of wideout Donte Stallworth, whom McNabb clearly missed during the team’s three-game losing streak. Stallworth had six of the Eagles twelve catches and 139 of the Eagles 222 passing yards. Reggie Brown, L.J. Smith and Westbrook managed just six catches for 83 yards. Westbrook and Stallworth were the Eagles offense on Sunday.

Defensively the Eagles D didn’t have a big task: stop one of the NFL’s least explosive offenses, but they did a nice job collaring the Redskins offense. Mark Brunnell had apparently never lost to the Eagles as an NFL QB, but the Redskins offense netted just 278 yards on Sunday and just 132 were in the air. The Eagles porous pass coverage tightened up and it looked like the Redkins couldn’t stretch the field at all. Maybe the weather had something to do with that, but the Eagles threw the ball effectively deep, so credit the Eagles secondary with keeping Antwan Randle El and Santana Moss bottled up.

That cap on the Redskins pass game – and the game-ending injury to running back Clinton Portis – kept the Redskins from running the ball with too much effectiveness. The Redskins got 146 yards on the ground, but this is a team that needs to run to survive. They got some rushing yards, but the Eagles offense took the big plays and got the points.

There was a ton of good news for the Eagles on Sunday. First off, the Atlanta Falcons unexpectedly laid an egg against the terrible, awful Cleveland Browns, losing 17-13. Vick turned the ball over three times against the Browns and was roundly booed by the fans. Then the Minnesota Vikings lost to the Packers 23-17 to drop them to 4-5. Then, best of all, the Chicago Bears rallied from a 13-3 deficit and roared back to beat the New York Giants 38-20 in a game that has to leave the Giants depressed about the direction the team is going in. More good news: the Saints lost to the Steelers 38-31 yesterday, which means that the Saints advantage over the Eagles is somewhat diminished should the Panthers come on strong late in the season and take the NFC South.

If the playoffs were to begin today the 5-4 Eagles would be in as the higher of the two wildcards thanks to the tie-breaker they hold on the 5-4 Cowboys and the strength of a superior conference record over the 5-4 Falcons and the 5-4 Panthers (assuming that the Panthers defeat the Bucs on Monday Night Football).

I’m not saying that the Eagles are locked in as a wildcard team, but if they cannot over-take the Giants they have a route to the playoffs to take. Winning the NFC East, however, is looking like a definite possibility: the Giants get the Jaguars in Jacksonville on Monday Night Football in a game that looks like a definite ‘L’ for them, followed by the Titans on the road, the Cowboys and then the Panthers in Carolina. The Giants could see their record drop to 7-6 going into the game on December 17 in the Meadowlands against the Eagles. After that the Giants play the Saints and Redskins.

The Cowboys are emerging as the more significant threat to the Eagles as this season shapes up: whomever scheduled the Cowboys must have been taking bribes from Jerry Jones or something, because I am at a loss to explain why the ‘Boys got such a sweetheart of a scheduling deal as this: five of their last seven games are at home. The Eagles play four of their last six on the road. The Cowboys get the Indianapolis Colts at home. The Eagles go to the RCA Dome to play the Colts. Oh, and the Eagles play the Redskins, Giants and Cowboys on the road on consecutive weeks. This schedule was designed to give the Cowboys a shot at the post-season and to keep the Eagles out.

Up next for the Eagles, home against the Tennessee Titans. Make no mistake about it: this is a vital, must-win game for the Eagles. They need to get to 6-4 and set themselves up for their last six games: the Colts, the Panthers, the three NFC East games, and the Falcons. The Titans are 2-7 and I don’t think that Vince Young is going to live up to all of the hype in Nashville. He looks like he has fewer tools than Michael Vick and Vick is a stunningly inconsistent player, looking very good one week against the Steelers, and then losing to the Lions and Browns. Add in the Titans internal turmoil between the coach and GM, and this team looks like a loser next Sunday. The Eagles have always had success against Vick and mobile QBs in general, which is good news. The Eagles have got to win, otherwise they have an exactly 0% margin of error against the rest of the league.

Check out my Phillies blog: I am wrapping up my big series on the 1950 Phillies this week.


Monday, November 06, 2006

Best Week the Eagles have had for a while... 

The Eagles didn’t play yesterday but they still had a nice day. In addition to resting up a few games ended up going their way and helped their post-season chances, including three games that were upsets and saw teams the Eagles might be chasing in December drop to 4-4 instead of going to 5-3:

-The Minnesota Vikings lost to the 49ers 9-3 in a game that the Vikes ought to have won by a pretty hefty margin. The loss drops the Vikings to 4-4 and is just their second conference loss, important for the Eagles because they might find themselves in competition with the Vikes for the wildcard.

-The Cowboys lost 22-19 to the Redskins, a major victory for the Eagles because it keeps the Cowboys record at 4-4 and keeps the Eagles in second since they own the tie-breaker. At this point the Cowboys are a much bigger threat to do something than the Redskins, so any game the Cowboys lose helps the Eagles out.

-The St. Louis Rams lost 31-17 to the Kansas City Chiefs, which likewise drops their record to 4-4.

-Best of all the Detroit Lions came out of nowhere and upset the Falcons and Michael Vick. After Vick had put together sterling performances in the last two weeks against the Steelers and Cincinnati, he proceeds to turn in a bad performance and lose a conference game. The loss keeps the Falcons record at 5-3 and keeps the Eagles within striking distance.

-In the outside chance that the Eagles can take the division and make a run on homefield advantage in the playoffs (the former being much more likely than the latter), then the Miami Dolphins did the Eagles a big favor by beating the Bears yesterday.

Aside from the Giants narrowly beating the Texans 14-10, yesterday worked out very, very nicely for the Birds. The team got rested and ready for a grueling stretch. Next week they play the Redskins at the Linc. If they want to stay in the playoff race, this is a must-win game.

As many people know I live in the South Hills area of Pittsburgh, so I follow the Steelers (this town is as quiet as a tomb when they play) and yesterday’s tough 31-20 loss to the Denver Broncos basically ends their season. They are 2-6 and sit four games behind the Baltimore Ravens and two behind the Cincinnati Bengals. The Steelers still have to play the Bengals once, the Ravens twice and they get non-conference games against the Saints and Panthers. Their only solace is that they get three cream-puff games: two against the Browns and a game against the Buccaneers. In order for the Steelers to make the playoffs they’ll basically have to go 8-0 or 7-1 and get some luck because the wildcard isn’t an option: San Diego and Jacksonville, the two teams currently sitting in the wildcard slots, both own tie-breakers on the Steelers. Their only chance is for the Ravens and the Bengals to implode and give them a chance to sneak in and win the AFC North. That is unlikely, although I don’t think the Ravens are anywhere good as their 6-2 record looks. I think the Steelers will basically stagger to the finish line at 7-9 and that this is Bill Cowher’s final year with the Steelers.


Monday, October 30, 2006

Jags 13, Birds 6 

As for the Eagles 13-6 loss yesterday to the Jacksonville Jaguars … Well, the less said the better. The Eagles great Achillies Heel – both of them – were exposed for the world to see on Sunday. First, the Eagles cannot run the ball. Just 85 yards on 20 carries, but 37 of those came from McNabb scrambling five times. Correll Buckhalter managed just ten yards on two carries and Westbrook got 38 yards on thirteen carries. Simply put, the Eagles could not run the ball worth anything and it caused the Jaguar defenders to tee off on McNabb and the wideouts and clamp down on them.

The Eagles passing game had its worst game of the season as a result: McNabb completed just eighteen passes for 161 yards, easily a season-low. Players not named Westbrook caught ten passes for 93 yards. An offense that relies on big plays got none. What really stuns me was how the Eagles wideouts managed just five catches for 73 yards, and Donte Stallworth had three of those grabs. Reggie Brown and Greg Lewis might as well been invisible yesterday. They did nothing.

A big disappointment was L.J. Smith, the Eagles tight end. With the wideouts bottled up, L.J. ought to have had a bigger play making plays, but he caught just one pass for eleven yards. Terrible.

So while I fault McNabb a little for the Eagles poor performance, it was really the failure of the supporting cast – Westbrook dropping passes, the Eagles wideouts vanishing, the Eagles backs not running the ball – that led the Eagles to score just six points. Easily a season-low.

And the Eagles D couldn’t stop the run at all. Jacksonville looked like Nebraska circa 1997 back there, running the ball 46 times for 207 yards. Fred Taylor had 103 yards, Jones-Drew had 77 and David Girard had 36. The Jaguars run game was so good they threw just 17 passes and completed just ten for 87 yards. The Eagles will face Clinton Portis and the Redskins twice this season along with Michael Vick in the season finale (that is starting to loom like a very important game), so we have to stop their running games or we won’t make the playoffs.

So what do the Eagles playoff chances look like? Not good, but anything can happen in this league. What is important is for the Eagles to stick it to the Washington Redskins when they come out of the bye and make up some ground and quick. Last season the Eagles entered the Redskins game at 4-3 and had just dismissed T.O. They lost a game they could have won 17-10 and saw their season implode with a 21-20 loss to the Cowboys the next week. If the Eagles lose to the Redskins they will fall to 4-5 and will need a lot of help getting into the playoffs.

It’s a Must-Win.


Monday, October 23, 2006

Bucs 23, Eagles 21 

All I could think, as I digested the Eagles stunning 23-21 loss yesterday to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was: Wow, that really sucked.

Let’s face it: the Bucs were lucky and the Eagles deserved to lose more than the Bucs deserved to win. The Eagles allowed a pair of defensive touchdowns and surrendered a 62-yard field goal at the very end. You won’t see very many games like that, even in the ever unpredictable NFL, but the Bucs luck was a product of a very sloppy game from Donovan McNabb. Here are my thoughts on the matter:

1. Going into yesterday’s game Donovan McNabb had thrown 13 TDs and 2 Ints. Yesterday he threw 3 TDs and 3 picks. Yesterday McNabb posted his season-low QB rating, just 83.3, the second consecutive week he’s posted his season low QB rating. At the moment McNabb is still leading the NFL in passing yards and TD passes, but he’s fallen to second in QB rating behind Peyton Manning. As Donovan goes, so goes the Eagles …

2. There actually was a lot to like about yesterday’s game (aside from the score): the Bucs netted just 196 yards against the Eagles D, and just 85 through the air, which had been a bit of a weakness. They contained the Bucs offense very well and gave them a hard time. The problem with the Eagles D’s performance was that they didn’t do two things: sack the QB (just two for nine yards); and they didn’t force a turnover.

3. The Eagles moved the ball against a good defense when they weren’t turning it over. The Eagles rushed for an impressive 208 yards on the ground, which is a major, major improvement over the last few weeks. Westbrook got 100 yards rushing and receiving, which is good news: the Eagles need him to stretch the field like Marshall Faulk used to do for the St. Louis Rams.

4. The Eagles wideouts looked pretty bottled up. We need Donte Stallworth back to making impact plays soon. The Eagles wideouts had 12 catches for 166 yards. And 41 of those came on one of Reggie Brown’s catches. C’mon guys: you are giving TO ammo!

5. The really bad news is that the loss technically drops the Eagles into third place at the moment, although that will change with tonight’s Cowboys-Giants game (the Eagles will lap the loser for second). A quick gaze at the playoff picture reveals a few issues for the Eagles: the Bears are 6-0 and show no signs of slowing down. The Saints are 5-1 and now own a tiebreaker on the Eagles. Home field advantage and a first-round playoff bye might be off the table for the Eagles for the 2006 playoffs. Perhaps both teams will struggle down the stretch (we are talking about the Saints, after all, but I doubt it. I think that getting that first round bye that has been so vital to the Eagles playing in the NFC title game is not going to happen.

The real problem is that the Eagles need to start turning their attention to the mundane tasks of winning the division, getting into the playoffs, and making sure they do better than .500. The NFC looks much stronger than in years past, so winning the NFC East might be the Eagles best bet for making the playoffs, because there are a lot of good teams with four wins sitting in second or third place in their divisions right now (Rams, Vikings, Falcons, Panthers). The Eagles late-season matchups with the Falcons and Panthers might loom larger, as they might determine playoff tie-breakers in the event that the Eagles find themselves looking for a wildcard.

Anybody notice how much tougher that schedule looks? Panthers. Falcons. Jaguars. Colts. Cowboys and Giants on the road. The Redskins twice. It is going to be tough for the Eagles to go 10-6. Sad to say, but this loss might loom very large as the season rolls on.


Tuesday, October 17, 2006

I was watching... 

The NFL network last night and observed the pitifull performance turned in by Eagles Cheerleaders Janipher and Allison in last night's episode. Jeez, dead-last? Terrible. Simply terrible. I can't believe they got the Cleveland Browns and Chicago Bears mixed up as well. Tisk, tisk.


Monday, October 16, 2006

They Aren't the Aints Anymore... 

The Eagles 27-24 loss to New Orleans yesterday is extremely disappointing, especially given the fact that the Cowboys and Giants both won their games, but it wasn’t overly surprising: the Saints are for real. They have a good QB in Drew Brees, who it hitting on all cylinders and runs the Saints short-range passing game very, very well. Meanwhile, the Saints D is much better than it has been, much more aggressive, much more brutal.

I don’t think the Eagles played a bad game. Streaky, yes, but bad … definitely not. The Saints disrupted McNabb well enough, but couldn’t prevent the Eagles Offense from scoring 24 points. I have a couple of thoughts:

1. The Eagles need to run the ball more. They called 35 passes to 19 runs. I am not saying that their pass-run ratio is going to be 1:1, but it ought to be a little closer to that than 2:1.

2. The Saints really did a nice job holding Brian Westbrook in check. Three receiving yards? Ouch.

3. McNabb didn’t spread the ball like he did against the Cowboys: Reggie Brown was the sole Eagles WR who got anything going in the game. A week removed from his big 87-yard TD and Hank Baskett got nothing?

4. Another week, another pick for Lito Shepard.

5. McNabb is off to a blistering start and didn’t get slowed much yesterday – although yesterday was a season-low in terms of passing yardage. Still, McNabb is hitting on 59% of his throws, with 1,849 yards, 13 TDs and 2 INTs. Right now McNabb is leading the NFL in TD passes, yardage and QB rating.

Up next: the Eagles play the Buccaneers. First time the Eagles have played the Buccaneers since they lost the first game at the Linc, 17-0, part of the disastrous 0-2 start to the 2003 campaign, which saw them roll off ten victories in their final eleven games. I wouldn’t quite call it a “must-win”, but it is the easiest game on the Eagles schedule until they play Tennessee at the end of November.

Check out Part III of my series on the Wiz Kids over at A Citizens Blog.


Thursday, October 12, 2006

T.O. Wars: The Wrath of Parcells 

It was only a matter of time before Mt. Owens blew up and I think it happened yesterday with T.O.’s little tantrum to the media where he bitched about not getting the ball enough. My favorite part was when T.O. acknowledged being told that the Cowboys base offense wouldn’t change to accommodate him, but he signed on with the ‘Boys anyway and expected them to make him the focal point of their offense. I could just imagine Bill Parcells slapping his hand to his face and groaning when he heard that.

Thanks to this last week I think you can safely say that T.O.’s days in Dallas are numbered. How long do you think a master motivator / manipulator like Bill Parcells is going to put up with this crap? He’s had to deal with the T.O. show all summer long and now that it is fall and he’s right back to acting like a spoiled child, when will Parcells simply say: “Enough is enough”? And yet here is T.O. doing what he did in San Francisco and what he did in Philadelphia: blaming the quarterback, reaming out the coaches for not adjusting their plans to fit his designs, and making his battle about him vs. the team and not the team vs. the rest of the NFL.

I was watching the NFL network’s replay of the Eagles and Cowboys and I was struck by what everyone said afterwards about Lito Shepard’s first pick, when T.O. broke up the field and Bledsoe underthrew the route: Troy Aikman speculated that the play was more a miscommunication between T.O. and Bledsoe than Bledsoe making a bad throw. In the post-game, Bledsoe claimed he and T.O. had a miscommunication and that was why the pick happened. T.O.? Usual act from him: veiled accusations that the play was Bledsoe’s fault. The unbiased observer (Aikman) faulted T.O. for a miscommunication, Bledsoe took responsibility for his end of a mutual mistake, T.O. blamed someone else.

Eagles – Saints this week. Not to denigrate the Saints, but I don’t believe that they are anywhere near as good as their 4-1 record suggests. Three of their four wins were against the Browns, Packers and Buccaneers. Combined record of those teams: 2-12. I was impressed by their emotional homecoming win over the Falcons, but can they sustain that emotion? I doubt it. They haven’t come into contact with a team as explosive and aggressive as this one yet.

Stay tuned for Part II of the Wiz Kids, my series on the 1950 Philadelphia Phillies, tomorrow on my Phillies blog, A Citizen's Blog.


Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Best Sunday Ever! 

Sorry for the belated post on the Eagles 38-24 victory over the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday. I actually was in the Philadelphia area this past weekend and didn’t return to my home outside Pittsburgh until late yesterday night.

I honestly don’t think that the Eagles game could have gone any better. There were no reports of ugliness in the stands towards T.O., the Eagles won and won a division game (better still), McNabb had a terrific day and T.O. was basically shut out and spent part of the time on the sidelines screaming at his coaches. Bill Parcells won’t tolerate that for much longer.

-Generally, I am going to echo the sentiment of every other pundit: the Eagles-Cowboys game was a massive victory for the Eagles defense. They provided the Giants and Redskins with a compelling blueprint for containing T.O.: put a body on him at all times and put pressure on Drew Bledsoe, that enormous statute that sits in the Cowboys pocket. Bledsoe has a cannon for an arm, but he’s an old-style pocket passer in a mobile QB age.

Even without Jevon Kearse the Eagles D played great, consistently getting pressure up the middle to Bledsoe, forcing him to throw the ball away or take a sack. I was really impressed by the job that Brian Dawkins, Sheldon Brown and Lito Shepard did all game long in coverage with T.O. and Terry Glenn and Jason Witten. This is a Dallas team with lots of weapons on offense and the Eagles did a great job putting pressure on Bledsoe and keeping those guys contained for nearly the entire game. The secondary turned in a terrific performance. Now if the linebackers could finally stop the running game…

-McNabb is on track to throw for a Peyton Manning-like 5,126 yards this season. Thus far this season he’s thrown for 314, 350, 296, 288 and 354 yards. McNabb has also thrown eleven TD’s and just one INT. Yes, he’s been picked once in 176 attempts. He’s also averaging 9.1 yards per pass attempt. He’s been fantastic this season. Honestly, this might be his finest season yet, better than his T.O.-inflated 2004 campaign, better than his do-it-himself 2000 campaign where Marshall Faulk robbed him of the MVP. He has to be the MVP front-runner for 2006. He’s carried the Eagles with their weak rushing attack on his arm without a super-star wide-out back there. As long as #5 is out there, the Eagles can win.

-Well, the Eagles still can’t get much of a running game going. I wonder if the Steelers would consider parting with Duce Staley. He knows our system, he’s popular and he’s still a good runner. Plus the Steelers are content to go with Najea Davenport and Willie Parker. The Eagles need some sort of #2 back to take the pressure off Westbrook and open some lanes.

-Something else that impressed me from Sunday: the Eagles threw for 354 yards without Donte Stallworth, arguably their best wideout. Hopefully he’ll play Sunday. I figure he and Darren Howard would be up to it.

-Sunday: Saints. In the past I’d figure you could put a gigantic ‘W’ next to this game, but the ‘Aints are playing well. What worries me is not their momentum, but why they are winning: the play of their running back duo of Reggie Bush and Deuce McAllister. Seems to me that this is the type of attack that the Eagles are ill-equipped to stop, with their problems stopping the running game. I still think the Eagles will win, but it is vital they get a ‘W’ this week and next so they are 6-1 going into the Jacksonville game, which will be tough and physical. After that, they get the meat of their schedule: Carolina, Giants and Cowboys on the road, the Redskins twice, Indy, and Vick and the Falcons. Win now, survive later.

Check out my Phillies blog, A Citizens Blog, to read Part I of my series on the 1950 Phillies.


Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Let the Fun Begin... 

Eagles fans gearing up for T.O. Let the fun begin!


Tuesday, October 03, 2006

If Wishes Were Horses ... 

Let’s talk some football … Do you know what really pisses me off about the Eagles 30-24 OT loss in week two to the Giants? We’d be 4-0 heading into this Sunday’s matchup with T.O. with games right after that against the over-rated Saints and the ripe-for-the-plucking Buccaneers. We could have been 7-0 heading into the pre-bye game against the Jaguars.

Still, 3-1 is good and the Eagles turned in a dominating performance last night. The defense did a great job with Brett Favre. Sure they never sacked him, but they got pressure in on him the entire evening and forced him to throw two interceptions and twenty incompletions. The Packers never got anything going all night long.

On the other side of the ball, the Eagles looked like the old pre-T.O. team. McNabb ran for 47 yards, something that he got away from once T.O. joined the team and he injured his hernia last year. Donovan looked good out there, juking and jiving around the field, spreading the ball around and throwing lasers. His 21-yard toss to L.J. Smith was literally perfect – the only way he could have gotten the ball to him was to thread the needle and lay it in over the defender’s hands. McNabb looked confident and in-control.

I thought the Eagles run-game was so-so. They did a decent job given that they didn’t have Brian Westbrook in the backfield. Moats and Buckhalter combined for 71 yards on 18 carries which is … so-so. They need to commit to the run more late in games to close them out. In McNabb’s final drive of the game they were still throwing the ball. They need to commit to the run at the end of games more.

Anyway, with the Eagles season just heating up and the Phillies season winding down I am anticipating doing more posting at The Bird Blog in the coming weeks, especially with T.O. vs. McNabb in the offing next week. Over at A Citizen's Blog, my Phillies blog, I will continue to follow the playoffs, discuss the Phillies post-season decisions and start posting my big, big, big project next Tuesday morning.


Monday, September 25, 2006

Good First-Half, Lousy Second 

(I promise to return to longer posts once the Phillies season is over.)

Nice 38-24 win the Eagles got in the City by the Bay. McNabb riddled the ‘Niners D for 296 yards and two TDs on 18-of-33 passing. The Eagles D scored a touchdown and did a good job bottling up the ‘Niners offense early before slackening off and allowing some cheap second-half yardage. Here are the 49ers yards by quarter:

1st Quarter: 12
2nd Quarter: 93
3rd Quarter: 177
4th Quarter: 90

The Eagles out-gained the ‘Niners 172 to 12 in the first quarter, and 318 to 105 in the first half.

Mike Patterson made probably the decisive play of the game when he ran the fumble back for a TD, which made the game 31-3 and effectively put it out of reach for the 49ers.

My only gripe … well, my two gripes are that the Eagles turned in another miserable second-half performance and they really didn’t run the ball again.

First, the Birds netted -16 yards in the third quarter while the ‘Niners got 177. Time of Possession in the second half was lop-sided: the ‘Niners held the ball for 21:15 while the Birds had it for 8:45.

Second, the Birds really didn’t try to run the ball. Sure Brian Westbrook had 117 yards of rushing. He also only carried the ball eight times and 61% of those yards came on a single play. Look at what the Eagles did in their second-half drives: run by Westbrook for five yards, McNabb incomplete, McNabb incomplete, Punt. Next drive: McNabb completes a pass for negative one yard, Buckhalter runs for two yards, McNabb sacked, punt. Next drive: McNabb incomplete, Westbrook runs for seven yards, McNabb passes for five yards, McNabb passes for sixty yards, Westbrook rushes for touchdown. Next drive: Moats runs for eight yards, McNabb incomplete, McNabb incomplete, Punt. Next Drive: Buckhalter for three yards, Buckhalter for four yards, McNabb sacked, Punt.

Second-half play selection: ten passes, seven runs. They still need more balance.

Next-up: Monday Night against the 1-2 Packers and Brett Favre, who had his best game in probably a year or two yesterday against the Lions (25-of-35, 340 yards, three TDs). Not an easy game, plus the Eagles have to avoid the temptation of looking forward to October 8th against the Cowboys.


Thursday, September 21, 2006

4th & 1 

I've been having fun with You Tube.com looking at clips from The Daily Show and the Colbert Report and I found this clip of the Eagles 4th & 1 stand against the Dallas Cowboys in 1995. Great moment in Eagles history. Watch!


Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Hold on... 

Okay, so here is the deal. I really want to get back to blogging the Eagles and I have a lot to say about the team, especially after last weekend's 30-24 loss to the G-men. But right now all of my energy is focused on A Citizens Blog: the Phillies run to the post-season and some long-term projects I am wrapping up there. Check back in October, and I'll be back full-tilt.


Wednesday, August 30, 2006

NFL Preview 2006 

I’ve decided to do a brief NFL preview which I will post jointly on A Citizens Blog and The Bird Blog, my old quasi-defunct Eagles blog. I don’t blog the Eagles because I don’t have enough time and working with the baseball stats is so much fun: stats aren’t nearly as important in football, where so much is done that cannot be measured and is left up to opinion (e.g., blocking, coverage techniques, etc). I will chime in from time-to-time this season on how I think things are going.

Last year was a terrible year for the Eagles and I hope that they’ll improve. What I saw from Donovan in the preseason suggests that they’ll bounce back quite nicely: Donovan looked crisp and sharp, moving around with authority in the pocket and really zipping the ball. I think he’ll do well.

Overall, I’d say that there is a lot of parity in the NFL this season. The Steelers aren’t clear favorites to repeat, and the talent gap between the NFC and AFC is much narrower. Things are wide-open this season. Here are my predictions, starting in the AFC:

AFC East: (Playoff Seeding)
1. New England Patriots (2)
2. Miami Dolphins
3. Buffalo Bills
4. New York Jets

AFC East: The Dolphins have made some moves, but it is hard not to be impressed by the continued resiliency of the New England Patriots. Other teams add flashy players and make noise, but the Pats win by consistency and toughness. Tom Brady is a winner too. As long as they have a ground game, the Pats are the class of the division. Are the Dolphins really improved? Everyone assumes to now that they’ve got Dante Culpepper, but I am not sure Culpepper is an improvement. He’s a flashy QB and he’s got talent, but he’s also too error-prone to be an effective field general like Brady. The Dolphins will be solid on defense, but Culpepper makes too many mistakes. The Bills are busy rebuilding and won’t challenge the Pats and Dolphins. This is a franchise stuck in neutral. As for the Jets, the less said the better. I feel a lot of pity for these guys. I think the careers of Curtis Martin and Chad Pennington’s are at an end and that their defense is broken down. This is the start of a rebuilding campaign in New York.

AFC North
1. Pittsburgh Steelers (3)
2. Cincinnati Bengals (5)
3. Baltimore Ravens
4. Cleveland Browns

AFC North: The North was once the weakest division in the NFL, but it has gotten much stronger of late. I like the Steelers to win the division again. They’ve got a pretty good defensive unit and even without Jerome Bettis they’ll run the ball quite effectively. My only question I have about the Stillers is Roethlisberger: he looked rusty in the Steelers-Eagles preseason game and I have to wonder if the accident is messing with his head. The Steelers apparently want to throw the ball more this season, which I think is a major mistake: Roethlisberger is the ball-control QB. He’s not a gun-slinger. The Bengals have a major question mark: Carson Palmer. Is Carson Palmer 100%? I’m not so sure. He had a great season in 2005 and seemed poised for greatness. Will his injury destroy that promise? It is a major if. Otherwise I think the Bengals are actually more talented than the Steelers: they have a lot of weapons on offense and seemed to get better as the season wore on. They had the fourth-highest scoring offense in the NFL last season. Their defense is good but not great. If Carson Palmer is 100% this will be a good duel between the Bengals and Steelers for the AFC North, otherwise the Steelers can weather the QB storm better than the Bengals can because they can rely on their defense. As for the Ravens, they’ll be better than last year because they have a major upgrade at QB with Steve McNair. But is McNair the difference-maker? I doubt it. The Ravens feel like they’ve worn down, all those seasons of the defense having to pitch shutouts in order for the Kyle Boller-led offense to win. What they really need is for Jamal Lewis to return to his pre-prison form and become their star running back again. The Ravens will be good, but they won’t do much better than 9-7 or 10-6 at best. The Cleveland Browns are hopeless. They really are. This team has no QB and their star player is Kellen Winslow, who acts like he has an IQ of 6. This team looks like 3-13 and a high draft pick.

AFC South
1. Indianapolis Colts (4)
2. Jacksonville Jaguars
3. Tennessee Titans
4. Houston Texans

AFC South: I actually think there will be a close race for the division title between the Jags and Colts. I like the Colts, though they will be nothing even remotely as good as last year’s squad. I like Peyton Manning a lot, but this team won’t be as good as last year. Their spectacular implosion after starting the season 13-0 was impressive. This team has no mental toughness and I doubt that it will be able to return to the playoffs and make the push to the Super Bowl. Peyton Manning will continue to throw for 4,000 yards a season and throw 35-40 TD passes a season, but the Colts D isn’t tough enough (yes, they ranked second in the NFL in points allowed, but that was a function of their offense holding onto the ball) and their running game won’t be that good in 2006. Look for teams to put more pressure on Manning and clamp down on his wideouts more. I like the Jaguars and I think that Byron Leftwich will make strides as the Jags QB, but this team needs to improve its defense in 2006. They gave up too many rushing yards to the opposition and didn’t move the ball consistently enough. They are a year away. I look at the Titans and I wonder if they didn’t make a major mistake with Vince Young. Yes, he looked spectacular in college. Clearly, the Titans are hoping Young has Michael Vick-like talent. The problem is that Vick himself hasn’t realized his own talent: he is a maddeningly inconsistent QB. One minute he looks like a genius, the next he’s throwing picks and making bad choices. I suspect Young will be more streaky than Vick. In the here and now, I expect Young to take over as the Titans QB later in the season and he’s going to struggle. There isn’t much talent left back there. This team needs to forget about those glory days when they were trying to win the Super Bowl and concentrate on rebuilding. As for the Texans … this team passed on Young and Reggie Bush and selected a D-lineman. They need help at nearly every position on offense and show no signs of making a run at a 8-8 record, let alone a 11-5 one. This is a franchise that has “also-ran” stamped on it.

AFC West
1. San Diego Chargers (1)
2. Kansas City Chiefs (6)
3. Denver Broncos
4. Oakland Raiders

AFC West: I really like the Chargers. I like the Chargers as a 13-3 team with definite Super Bowl aspirations. Here are some of the reasons why I like the Chargers: 1) They were the NFL’s top defense against the run in 2005, allowing just 84 yards a game. 2) They were the NFL’s fifth-highest scoring offense. 3) They were the NFL’s fifth-best team at converting on third down. 4) They were the NFL’s fifth-best team at getting to the quarterback. This team has a lot of weapons. LaDamien Tomlinson is probably the best running back in the league and Phillip Rivers is going to step into the breach and play much better than Drew Brees. Bottom-line: this is the AFC’s best team. The Chiefs are a great team and I’d like to pick them to win the division, but I don’t think the Chiefs are tight enough on defense to make it happen. They will score points in droves. And Larry Johnson, despite being a Penn State alum, is a good running back. But this team needs an overhaul on defense. I was not surprised at all when the Denver Broncos lost the AFC title game to the Steelers: I suspected Jake Plummer was going to collapse under the pressure and sure enough he did. I like Mike Shanahan, but he needs to drop Jake Plummer like a hot potato and move on to Jay Cutler. This is a talented team, but their QB is holding them back. Meanwhile, in Oakland, the Randy Moss show enters season two. The Raiders used to be a great franchise but have been shells of themselves since Jon Gruden left to go to Tampa. They need a toughness and aggressiveness that I don’t think Art Shell is going to provide. Their biggest problem is that they don’t have a QB: Aaron Brooks never played well enough to justify his inconsistency. Their lack of a QB is going to drive Randy Moss nuts. He’s going to catch 50-60 passes and be lucky to hit 1,000 yards, and that is going to cause Randy Moss’ head to explore in fury. As long as this team has a pain in the ass distraction like Moss on the roster they will struggle to rebuild. My advice to Art Shell: cut Moss, start rebuilding. This team is a flop.


The AFC playoffs kick off with the Steelers defeating the pesky Chiefs in a tight game that sees a bit of a role reversal: the Steelers throwing the ball while the Chiefs pound it on the ground. Home field gives the Stillers their edge as they win. Meanwhile the Bengals and Colts have a high-scoring track meet in the Dome that the Bengals win due to their toughness. In the divisional round the Bengals are routed by the Chargers, who thwart the Bengals at every turn with a high-scoring offense and a tough D. Carson Palmer is hurried all game long. Meanwhile, the Patriots continue their domination of the Steelers, winning on a late field goal in Foxboro. The Chargers and Pats square off the next week but the warm weather helps the Chargers to emerge victorious.

Wildcard round
(3) Pittsburgh Steelers over (6) Kansas City Chiefs, 16-13
(5) Cincinnati Bengals over (4) Indianapolis Colts, 38-31

Divisional Round
(2) New England Patriots over (3) Pittsburgh Steelers, 21-20
(1) San Diego Chargers over (5) Cincinnati Bengals, 38-15

AFC Championship Game:
(1) San Diego Chargers over (2) New England Patriots, 24-21

On to the NFC...

NFC East
1. Philadelphia Eagles (1)
2. New York Giants
3. Washington Redskins
4. Dallas Cowboys

NFC East: Everyone keeps talking about how improved the Giants, Redskins and Cowboys are. The most improved team in the division has to be the Eagles. 1) They get Donovan McNabb back. 2) They have depth again in the D-line with Darren Howard and Jevon Kearse being 100%. 3) They got rid of T.O. 4) Correll Buckhalter is going to have a monster season. I’m impressed from what I saw in the preseason. The Birds look to be united, McNabb looks focused and determined and the defense looks rested and ready. The Eagles are a veteran team loaded with a nice mix of younger and veteran players. In the four seasons before T.O. came to Philly the Eagles went 11-5, 11-5, 12-4, and 12-4 and made the playoffs each year. This team looks like those pre-T.O. teams. As long as the Eagles establish a running game with Buckhalter and Westbrook, they will once more put points on the board. Look for L.J. Smith to be the breakout player, catching lots on red zone TDs. I like the Giants for second, although this team will struggle. Adding Lavar Arrington leaves me profoundly unimpressed. He’s a college superstar who can’t live up to the hype. Same with Eli Manning. Same with Jeremy Shockey. There are a lot of players on the Giants who look good on paper but games aren’t played on paper. As for Tom Coughlin, he is a terrible coach for a team of veterans like this. Coughlin was just what the Jaguars needed circa 1995 and 1996, a tough disciplinarian who whipped them into shape. Naturally, after that the Jaguars broke down and never got to the top because Coughlin was too narrow-minded and too rigid to adjust his approach to the game. These Giants will chafe under Coughlin’s demands and I expect this season to be very rocky. Same old Redskins. They added a few players and Antwaan Ranel-El will play well occasionally for the ‘Skins, but this team needs a new QB. Mark Brunell isn’t cutting it. It is pretty much the same old story for the Redskins: they add people via free agency, spend a lot and don’t get much of a return. I expect a tough year for Joe Gibbs. This team will go 7-9. I look at the mess in Dallas and can’t help but want to point at Cowboys fans and laugh. Suckers. He’s YOUR problem now. Same old T.O. Just by bitching about his hamstring and stating that he doesn’t need to practice he’s gotten under Bill Parcells skin and given the ‘Boys a major distraction. This guy is a cancer. Add in he problem that the ‘Boys need a new QB – Drew Bledsoe is past his prime and too immobile to be an effective QB anymore – and you can see the makings of a loooong year in Big D. Honestly, I expect this season to be so miserable for Parcells, I’d expect him to leave town at the end.

NFC North
1. Chicago Bears (3)
2. Minnesota Vikings
3. Green Bay Packers
4. Detroit Lions

NFC North: The Bears will win this division by default. They have a weak offense and one of the best defenses in the NFL. Playing six of their games against the Lions, Vikes and Pack, they are going to win the division. This is the only team in the NFL that can consistently win 9-7 games. Will they be better at QB with Rex Grossman? I doubt it. They don’t have much talent on offense, but with their D, they’ll still win the weakest division in football. I think the Vikes are a year away. They’ve got some talent, but Brad Childress needs some time to install his system and get things going. They might be a nice dark horse at the end of the year, but not now. This will be Brett Favre’s last harrah in Green Bay, but it won’t be a good one. Favre is starting to really struggle these days and should have retired last season. There is talent on the Packers, but they really need to sit down and rebuild and prepare for life after Favre. The less said about the Lions the better. All of those years picking wideouts who never do anything. Joey Harrington. Matt Millen is the worst GM in the game and needs to leave ASAP. This team needs to tear down and rebuild from the bottom up.

NFC South
1. Carolina Panthers (2)
2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5)
3. Atlanta Falcons (6)
4. New Orleans Saints

AFC South: Is this the best division in the NFL? Maybe. I think the Carolina Panthers are a great team. They have a nasty defense that takes the ball away from the opposition, they have an explosive offense that can move the ball and control it on the ground. They also have a cagey QB in Jake Delhomme. The Panthers are a great team. I am not a big fan of the Buccaneers, specifically Chris Simms. I think the Bucs got lucky in ’05 and played over their heads. That said, this is still a good team. They will run the ball well with Williams and they will corral Michael Vick twice a year. That ought to be good enough for 10-6 and a wildcard. With the Falcons and Michael Vick I keep waiting to be impressed. There is a ton on talent on this team and their QB is sanctified by the rest of the NFL as being the “Michael Jordan on the NFL”, and yet they only ranked fourteenth in the NFL in points scored. Huh? They were eighteenth in points allowed. There is something wrong with these guys and the way they play football. If Vick could ever convert his talent into results, he’d live up to his hype, but now I’d say the Falcons will fight to go 9-7 and make the playoffs. With Deuce McAllister and Reggie Bush in the backfield, the Saints could have one of the most lethal offenses in the NFL. I like what I see from Reggie Bush: he’s got moves and he looks difficult to bring down. I think the Saints might surprise a lot of people and be halfway decent in 2006. Maybe even be in the playoff mix. They have a lot of promise for 2007.

NFC West
1. Seattle Seahawks (4)
2. Arizona Cardinals
3. San Francisco 49ers
4. St. Louis Rams

NFC West. I was surprised that the Super Bowl between the Seahawks and Steelers was so close. The Seahawks were a paper tiger, blitzing through a weak schedule (never beating a team with a winning record, aside from the Giants), catching the offensively-challenged Redskins and the running-game-less-Panthers in the playoffs before inevitably losing to the Stillers. Even so, it was a surprise to me that the Seahawks nearly won, despite the referees bias for the Black and Gold. That said, the Seahawks are back and are the class of a weak division. I see this as a re-play of 2005, although the Seahawks will finish 10-6 instead of 13-3. They have a good collection of talent, but aren’t particularly strong. I think the Cardinals might surprise some people. They’ve got weapons with Edgerin James and Larry Fitzgerald, and when Matt Leinart takes over for Kurt Warner, they are going to put some points on the board. If any team can beat the Seahawks, it is them. The 49ers are making strides. Alex Smith looks like he’s going to have a good season as the Niners QB. The problem is that the rest of the team needs to keep upgrading. The Niners have to hope for an 8-8 record at best. As for the Rams, at least St. Louis fans have fond memories of those two Super Bowls when it looked like the Rams were dynasty in the making. Those days are gone. This team has no talent and no shot at making a run.

NFC Playoffs

The class of the NFC are the Eagles and Panthers, who will have to wait to rematch the 2003 NFC Title game once more. In the wildcard round the Bears will corral Michael Vick in the cold of Chicago, while the Bucs manhandle the less-physical Seahawks. In the divisional round the Bears inability to run or pass leaves them at the mercy of the Panthers, who win easily. The Eagles, meanwhile, avenge the 2002 NFC Title game as well, defeating the Bucs easily. The 2006 NFC title game is a close contest, but the Eagles prevail thanks to an improved running game and an improved run defense. On to Super Bowl XLI.

Wildcard Round:
(3) Chicago Bears over (6) Atlanta Falcons, 10-7
(5) Tampa Bay Bucs over (4) Seattle Seahawks, 17-7

Divisional Round:
(1) Philadelphia Eagles over (5) Tampa Bay Bucs, 31-21
(2) Carolina Panthers over (3) Chicago Bears, 28-20

NFC Championship:
(1) Philadelphia Eagles over (2) Carolina Panthers, 27-24

Super Bowl XLI will be between the Chargers and the Eagles. Sadly for those fond of history it won’t be a rematch of a previous Super Bowl or a grudge match between two coaches who don’t like each other. Marty Schottenheimer will be the sentimental favorite, coaching in his first Super Bowl after all of those years with the Browns, Chiefs, Redskins and Chargers. It will be a battle between two high-octane offenses, as Phillip Rivers and Donovan McNabb move the ball up and down the field at will. In the end, the Eagles newfound ability to stop the run will be the decisive factor. Call it, Philadelphia Eagles 31, San Diego Chargers 24.

Everyone, go check out A Citizen's Blog and keep track of this exciting playoff race that the Phillies are involved in ... I will be back for the Eagles season soon ....


This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?