Let me begin by saying that I am by no means a delusional Eagles fan who thinks that their team can do no wrong. I also understand that the team has a lot of work to do in order to just make the playoffs, seeing as how they put themselves in a 1-4 hole to start the season. With that being said, I certainly don’t think it’s out of the question to say that the Eagles can win the NFC East, let alone earn a wild-card berth.
This season is beginning to remind me a little of the 2003 season. That year saw the Eagles limp out to a 2-3 start, after which they reeled off nine straight wins, finishing the regular season at a more-than-respectable 12-4 record and winning the division. It’s obvious that this team is significantly more talented than the 2003 team.
Here’s a quick comparison of the top of the depth chart at the offensive skill positions:
Position 2003 2011
QB Donovan McNabb Michael Vick
RB Brian Westbrook LeSean McCoy
WR James Thrash DeSean Jackson
WR Todd Pinkston Jeremy Maclin
WR Freddie Mitchell Jason Avant
TE Chad Lewis Brent Celek
Only one offensive skill player from the 2003 team went on to make the Pro-Bowl, and that was QB Donovan McNabb. Based on current production as well as potential, the Eagles easily have 5 players that could achieve that honor: QB Michael Vick, RB LeSean McCoy, WR DeSean Jackson, WR Jeremy Maclin and TE Brent Celek (especially if he continues to be as involved in the offense as he has the last 2 games). The 2011 version of the Eagles offense can easily “out-talent” any defense in the NFL. The key is for the young offensive line to continue to grow and improve, to play as a unit and to protect Vick and allow him to decimate opposing defenses as only he is able…and the entire team must keep the focus and intensity they have shown over the last few weeks.
On the defensive side of the ball, again the Eagles easily have more talent than the 2003 team. While that team started a more than adequate secondary of CBs Troy Vincent, Lito Sheppard and Bobby Taylor as well as safeties Michael Lewis and Brian Dawkins, the 2011 team brings to the table 3 of the best corners in the league: Nnamdi Asomugha, Asante Samuel and Dominic Rodgers-Cromartie as well as two safeties in Kurt Coleman and Nate Allen that are beginning to come into their own. This year’s team has a solid rotation on the defensive line that allows them to put pressure on the QB from anywhere on the line without bringing the blitz. The ability to pressure the opposing team without blitzing has taken pressure off of the young linebacking corps while allowing the talented secondary to play more man-to-man on the outside, which is undeniably their strength.
It’s an understatement to say that nothing in the NFL is guaranteed. However, if this Eagles team continues to improve upon their play from the last two games, they are going to be a force to be reckoned with for the remainder of the season. There are certainly some difficult games still to come, including three divisional games and hosting the ever-dangerous Patriots at home, but the Eagles opponents over the last 9 weeks have a collective record nine games below .500 (27-36). The Patriots defense has proven to be far from formidable so far this season, so it’s likely the Eagles will be able to keep up with New England in what is sure to be a shootout. That type of schedule, when combined with the difficult schedule that lies ahead for the division leading Giants (39-32 remaining opponent record) should leave Eagles fans with a glimmer a hope…as long as they team continues to play at a high level.
Anyone who knows their Eagles history is all too well aware of the fact that 2003 was the third of four consecutive years that the Eagles made it to the NFC championship game. At the same time, it was also the 3rd year in a row that they were bounced from the playoffs–one agonizing victory away from their first trip to the SuperBowl since 1980. This Eagles team has the potential to claim their first championship since the 1960 team, and to win the first championship for the team in the SuperBowl era. At the same time, it’s not out of the question to see the team finish 8-8 and miss the playoffs. Let’s hope the season has more resemblance to 2003 (with a few additional playoff victories) than, say, the 2007 team.