Tonight begins the new NFL season. That’s something I’m usually pretty excited for, but this year there’s something sort of missing. Every year for the last decade at this time, I’d be looking at the Philadelphia Eagles and deciding whether Donovan McNabb, Brian Westbrook, and Brian Dawkins could win the division, win the NFC, or even win the Superbowl. Some years, I was more confident than others, and the Eagles have been good — perennially in the playoffs (8 times in 10 years, with 5 NFC Championship game appearances). But after being dismissed in successive games by their nemesis, the Dallas Cowboys (who were themselves dismissed by the Vikings a week later), Team Green made a significant overhaul of the squad.
Half the defensive starters have been moved out – with apparently an eye towards increasing last year’s weak pass rush. But improvements on the defensive line and especially at linebacker seem balanced by a weakening of the secondary – in other words, they’re betting the farm that they can harass an opposing QB before he finds the inevitably open receiver downfield. That might lead to an ulcer.
However nothing’s more glaring than the trade of Donovan McNabb and the release of Brian Westbrook. Those guys together accumulated a lot of yards for the Birds and it’s hard to imagine an Eagles team without them. They’ve been replaced by youngsters LeSean McCoy and Kevin Kolb. Kolb has looked good-but-not-great in his time as a QB, though Andy Reid says he’s “his guy” – it’s hard to think that he’s an improvement (at least in skill level) over McNabb — now playing for division rival Washington, which still feels all sorts of wrong.
A look at their schedule and I just have no idea how good this team is going to be. Their schedule isn’t terrible, but looking outside the NFC East, I see what ought to be wins in games against DET, JAX, and CHI and likely losses against GB, IND, and MIN. The other non-divisional games against SF, ATL, TN, and HOU seem to be toss-ups against other middling to hopeful teams and 3-3 against the division seems reasonable.
What’s that mean? Probably 8-8 and not in the playoffs – though if you told me they were going to be 5-11, I’d be disappointed but not surprised. The inverse (11-5)? For the first time in a decade, I don’t really think they can get there.
Who knows — like any season there will be surprises, but this uncertainty is pretty weird.