Everyone knows there are few guarantees in life. Except for the whole death-and-taxes thing.
When it comes to sports, the NFL in particular, such certainties are even more rare. I mean, teams routinely rise from worst-to-first in a one-year span and injuries and other uncontrollable variables can destroy the plans of even the seemingly most bulletproof of expected contenders. Raise your hand if you foresaw the Tampa Bay Buccaneers winning four more games than the Dallas Cowboys in 2010 last August.
With that premise in mind, it may be best not to get too sucked in over the incessant buildup of the Philadelphia Eagles, this season’s designated trendy choice to achieve Super Bowl glory, even as difficult as may be to downplay the enviable ensemble of talent the team has collected during its recent spending splurge.
There’s no debating the job head coach Andy Reid and general manager Howie Roseman did during the belated and frenzied signing period. The duo was able to stealthily move and land the biggest prize on this year’s free-agent market — cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha — and brought in two other quality pieces to an overhauled defense with the signings of linemen Cullen Jenkins and Jason Babin. And that doesn’t include the addition of proven corner Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, part of an admirable haul the Eagles were able to obtain in exchange for disposable second-string quarterback Kevin Kolb.
Philadelphia was even able to lure brand-name performers to fill in backup roles, snaring Titans castoff Vince Young and former No. 2 overall pick Ronnie Brown to provide strong depth at quarterback and running back, respectively.
Clear winners of this year’s offseason, now the Eagles’ challenge may be withstanding the challenge of sky-high presumptions, a hefty burden that has befallen other supposed championship-caliber clubs in the not-so-distant past. The Cowboys crumbled under those same conditions last season. The Vikings came close before ultimately failing as consensus NFC favorites the previous year. Dallas was expected to run the conference table in 2008, but fell prey to a toxic combination of injuries and infighting.
With an organization renowned for its stablility and a superior coach in Reid, Philadelphia does appear better equipped to prepare for those pitfalls that did in those predecessors, and with the exception of the mercurial Young, none of the newcomers are potential chemistry-killers like the ones that had a hand in the Cowboys’ 2008 demise. Still, to say the Eagles will have an easy path in a well-stocked NFC that houses the last two Super Bowl winners is as preposterous as it is premature.
A side effect of Philadelphia’s all-in mentality is that it’s caused some of its chief competition to up the ante as well.
- New Orleans’ offseason moves didn’t produce nearly the amount of punch, save for the team’s shipment of an unhappy Reggie Bush to Miami. However, ex- Charger Darren Sproles is as good — if not better — a replacement for the high-profile running back, while a defense that was one of the league’s stingiest against the pass last season got tougher to run on as well after adding 670 pounds of bulk along the interior line in the form of beefy tackles Aubrayo Franklin and Shaun Rogers.
Atlanta was able to solve one of its most glaring needs by signing former Vikings defensive end Ray Edwards, giving the defending NFC South champs an established pass-rushing complement to sack-master John Abraham, while successfully retaining the core group of a team that won a conference-best 13 games in 2010, two more than the Saints and three greater than the Eagles.
And in case anyone forgot, there’s also the Green Bay Packers to deal with.
The reigning world champs were customary silent in free agency, but remember that last season’s historic run was made without the services of several injured players, including such prominent ones as emerging star tight end Jermichael Finley and dependable running back Ryan Grant. An already formidable offense would become even more dangerous if those two can reclaim their form, and the Pack shouldn’t lack the motivation needed to combat the dreaded Super Bowl hangover after having to witness Philly’s deluge of press clippings.
With an abundance of skilled playmakers on offense and a defense that should be an upgrade on last year’s disappointing unit following the influx of new faces, there’s no question the Eagles possess the goods to make a serious run at an elusive Lombardi Trophy and reclaim their lost standing as the toast of a city that’s been bleeding Phillies red for the last few years. But just like the other upper-echelon inhabitants of the NFC, and the rest of the league as well, there will be ifs.
If a defense that may have a rookie (Casey Matthews) calling signals at the pivotal middle linebacker position and an unproven new coordinator (Juan Castillo) running the show can make considerable progress. If valuable wide receiver Jeremy Maclin isn’t slowed down by a mysterious illness that’s kept him out of camp thus far. If disgruntled wideout DeSean Jackson and cornerback Asante Samuel, possibly relegated to a reduced role with the additions of Asomugha and Rodgers-Cromartie, don’t become needless distractions.
And what if Michael Vick, who hasn’t played a full 16-game season since 2006, sustains a serious injury that keeps him out for a significant amount of time? While Young’s an excellent insurance policy, will he show the aptitude, leadership and most importantly — the maturity — to win games in January and February if need be?