Sunday, September 14, 2008
Wednesday, September 3, 2008
In the NFL, early September is like a clean slate. Every team has the same record and every fan is an optimist. For me, it's the most exciting and nerve-twinging time of the entire year. The 2008 Fantasy Football season kicks off this Thursday and on Sunday, the Philadelphia Eagles play their first meaningful game in 9 long months. I, for one, am really excited about the Eagles chances this year. Yes, they play in football's toughest divison, the NFC East, and yes, they have some question marks on their team. Show me a team that doesn't have any question marks. Even the highly-lauded Dallas Cowgirls, whom many "experts" are already annointing the champs, have a number of issues. Yes, they had 13 Pro Bowlers, and yes, they had 13 regular season wins, but that doesn't mean shit if you can't win a playoff game (which Dallas hasn't done in 12 years). Say what you will about the Eagles, but when they get into the playoffs, they kick at least one team's ass.
Many haters will point to the Eagles lack of playmakers at wide receiver. It's a valid concern, but let's look at some recent history. From 2000 to 2003, the Eagles made the playoffs all of those years and won a total of 5 playoff games. They won those games with receivers named Charles Johnson/Torrence Small and James Thrash/Todd Pinkston. They were the absolute worst! McNabb's options at receiver this year are so much better than these femmes. Brian Westbrook is finally being recognized as one of the game's best. He's a dazzling runner and an even better receiver. He had 90 catches last year on his way to a record-setting season. Desean Jackson, the exciting rookie out of Cal, has been lighting up the preseason. I know what you're thinking, "James, it's only the preseason". I agree that the preseason doesn't mean shit, but what's been obvious is that McNabb likes Fraction Jackson and is looking to throw the ball in his direction. If McNabb likes you, you're gonna get a lot of opportunities. If he doesn't, you're not gonna be in Philly for very long (see Mitchell, Freddie). The things I like about Jackson is that he's both fast and quick, has got natural hands, great vision, and a preternatural ability to make things happen in the open field. He's going to contribute immensely on special teams, and I honestly see him catching 60 balls this year. The sports hernia injury to "White Lightening" Kevin Curtis hurts the team, but guys like Westbrook, Jackson, and TE LJ Smith will be able to shoulder the load until Curtis returns. Plus, there's talk out of Philly that the Eagles will actually be using the mythical Fade route this year. If you have a tall receiver who can jump, the fade route is one of the deadliest plays in the NFL (see last 2 minutes of Superbowl XLII). The Eagles never really called the play that much because Donovan isn't very good at throwing the fade. But this year, McNabb and Hank Basket (6'4 & New Mexico high jump champion) have been practicing the fade route a lot. If they can run that play, that should help the Eagles red zone production substantially.
The thing I like most about the Eagles this year is their defense. Statistically, they were a top 10 defense last year. They were one of the best defenses in the red zone and on 4th down. They have a young, supremely-talented, deep D-line rotation with pass-rushing monster Trent Cole leading the way. Mike Patterson is an unheralded, but extremely productive player who had over 100 tackles from the DT position last year. Broderick Bunkley improved substantially in his second year, and I look for him to have a breakout year. I love his energy in the game and on the sideline. He's always the first guy on the sideline waiting for the offensive/special team players to come off the field so he can congratulate them. I get pumped up just watching him get pumped up. Our linebackers are young, but talented. I have this gut-feeling that MLB Stew Bradley is an All-Pro in the making. He played very well down the stretch last year, but we'll have to see how he holds up over 16 games. Our secondary is the best in the league. We have three terrific corners in Asante Samuel, Sheldon Brown, and Lito Sheppard. Lito's not happy with his contract or in his nickelback role, but the best way to help himself is to stay healthy, stay on the field, and make plays. If he does that, somebody will pay him next year. Brian Dawkins, my favorite all-time player, is back for his 13 season and it may very well be his last. Age and durability is definitely a concern with Dawk, but he comes in this year in the best shape of his life. I think this is the year when Dawkins returns to the form that we've all known and expected from him.
The Eagles have just as good a shot to win as any team. They have the talent, and they have the desire, but can they put it all together. I absolutely cannot wait until Sunday.