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2007 Season Previews
Philadelphia Eagles (Last Year: 10-6)
Veteran Additions:
QB Kelly Holcomb, WR Kevin Curtis, DT Ian Scott, DT Montae Reagor, OLB Takeo Spikes,
Draft Picks:
QB Kevin Kolb, RB Tony Hunt, RB Nate Ilaoa, TE Brent Celek, DE Victor Abiamiri, OLB Stewart Bradley, CB C.J. Gaddis, S Rashad Barksdale.
Major Subtractions:
QB Jeff Garcia (TB), RB Reno Mahe, WR Donte' Stallworth (NE), OLB Shawn Barber (HOU), OLB Dhani Jones, CB Rod Hood (ARZ), S Michael Lewis (SF).

Offense This Year: Here's a surprise - Donovan McNabb has a chip on his shoulder. It seems like McNabb has been out to prove everyone wrong his entire career, from being booed on draft day, to hearing that A.J. Feeley and Jeff Garcia were better than him, to finding out that Peter King ranked him 12th among the NFL's quarterbacks, behind the likes of Jon Kitna and Vince Young. Now, McNabb is coming off a torn ACL and wants to show all the fans that he'll be available in Green Bay on Kickoff Sunday.

McNabb has practiced well, with all the reports being positive. However, what remains to be seen is how effective he'll be during live game action. Carson Palmer and Daunte Culpepper both returned from knee injuries last season. Palmer played well but clearly wasn't 100 percent until around Thanksgiving. Culpepper, meanwhile, was an abomination. I think McNabb will be OK; experts say it takes a year for the knee to heal and another for the mind to believe the knee has recovered. McNabb's 2007 season will probably mirror Palmer's 2006 campaign. He won't throw for 3,875 yards and 31 touchdowns like he did in 2004, but he should be able to do enough to carry his team to victory and become more effective on a weekly basis.

Besides McNabb's knee, one obstacle Philadelphia will need to overcome is its habit of seldom running the ball. Andy Reid is a really good coach, but he is also one of the most stubborn men in the NFL. It seems like Reid promises to maintain a more ground-based offense every season, but often breaks that vow by Week 3. I can't shake the memory of a battered and bruised McNabb throwing the first six plays of a 2005 contest in Denver and completing none of his passes. The good news, however, is there are two indications that Reid will change his play-calling. First, after McNabb went down, Brian Westbrook's average carries per game increased from 14.9 to 20. Second, the Eagles utilized a third-round pick on power running back Tony Hunt, who should be able to become the player Correll Buckhalter was supposed to be.

If the Eagles keep running the ball more, their offensive output will undoubtedly increase, thanks to a powerful front that allowed Brian Westbrook to gain 1,217 rushing yards at a 5.1 clip. Even the mediocre Buckhalter gained 4.2 yards per carry. Everyone on the offensive line, led by right guard Shawn Andrews, weighs more than 320 pounds. The group is built to run the ball. Let's hope Reid doesn't revert to a more aerial-based attack.

Although I just gushed about the line, I do have a concern. Tackles Jon Runyan and William Tra Thomas turn 34 and 33 in November, respectively. Runyan's been solid, but Thomas struggled in the playoffs against New Orleans. They both have reached the age of regression, so Philadelphia's sack total (28 in 2005) may increase.

When McNabb has to throw the ball, he'll have Westbrook and his 77 receptions by his side. However, Donte' Stallworth is gone, meaning Reggie Brown will have to become the No. 1 wide out for the first time in his career. Brown has caught 43 and 46 passes in his first two NFL seasons. That will have to increase significantly in 2007. Starting across from Brown will be the newly acquired Kevin Curtis, who is two years removed from notching 60 receptions, 801 yards and six touchdowns in St. Louis. That said, Curtis was a product of Mike Martz's system. No one paid attention to him with Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce on the field. We'll find out how effective he'll be now that defensive coordinators will be targeting him.

At tight end, the Eagles failed to find an upgrade over the severely inconsistent L.J. Smith, who looks great one second and drops about a million passes the next. Without the greatest receiving talent in the world surrounding him, it appears as though a lot will rely on the strength of McNabb's knee.

Defense This Year: While the fate of the offense rests on McNabb's knee, the defense's ability to stop teams from scoring will be determined by the defensive line. Stopping the run and getting to the quarterback were issues last year. Beginning with the former, the Eagles were ranked 22nd against opposing ground attacks in 2006, thanks the disappointing play of tackles Mike Patterson and Brodrick Bunkley. At least Patterson started all 16 games, even though he struggled in most of them. Bunkley, meanwhile, could not crack the starting lineup. In fact, the rookie from Florida State managed just nine tackles. While I'm not ready to deem Bunkley a bust just yet, he needs to prove that Philadelphia didn't waste the 14th pick in the 2006 NFL Draft on him. Fortunately, the Eagles signed a pair of defensive tackles, just in case Bunkley's destiny is nothing more than warming the bench. I'm not a big fan of Montae Reagor's, but I really like Ian Scott. He'll make a huge difference up front.

As for the pass rush, the Eagles were relentless the first two weeks of the season. But everything changed once Jevon Kearse was lost in a Week 2 battle against the Giants (6.5 sacks per game with Kearse; 1.7 without). Trent Cole, who collected four sacks in his first two contests, managed only four more the rest of the year, as opposing offensive lines were focused on him instead of Kearse. Darren Howard, meanwhile, collected only five sacks, a number that has to be disappointing to the Eagles' front office. A nice surprise was Juqua Thomas, who came out of nowhere to garner six sacks, including two against Michael Vick in Week 17. That's nice and everything, but Philadelphia needs Kearse to stay healthy. If he does, Cole, Thomas and Howard will find it easier to get to the quarterback. If not, the secondary will have a much tougher time covering opposing receivers.

With problems getting to the quarterback plaguing the team in Kearse's absence, the Eagles had to be thankful that their starting secondary was so talented. Cornerback Lito Sheppard, who seems to make the Pro Bowl every year, picked off six passes in 2006. Sheldon Brown, meanwhile, is one of the more underrated defensive backs in the league. The leader of the secondary, however, is Brian Dawkins, a Hall of Fame-bound free safety. Despite his age (33), Dawkins had a career year last season. Whether he can continue his dynamic play at 34 is a huge question. The fourth member of the secondary will likely be a liability once again, however. I still believe the Eagles should have moved up in the first round and obtained strong safety Michael Griffin to replace the mediocre Sean Considine. I like Considine as a reserve, but he seemed to be overmatched at times last year.

While Philadelphia didn't add a safety this offseason, it acquired a major talent in Takeo Spikes. Spikes, already penciled in at weak-side linebacker, has the ability and athleticism to play anywhere on the linebacking corps. That's a good thing because middle linebacker Jeremiah Trotter seemed to slow down during the latter stages of the 2006 campaign. Omar Gaither, who was extremely impressive as a rookie last year, is currently slated behind Trotter and may see some action. At strong side, Chris Gocong will likely start the opener at Green Bay. I've repeatedly opined that Gocong is more suited for a 3-4 scheme. I just don't think he'll be that effective for the Eagles, but like a lot of things concerning their defense, that remains to be seen.

Schedule and Intangibles: After being injured and hitting only 6-of-11 attempts from beyond 40 yards in 2005, David Akers nailed 6-of-8 field goals from that same distance in 2006. ... For the second straight year, the Eagles failed to return a touchdown on special teams. They also surrendered one themselves last season. That needs to change. ... Philadelphia seems to have a very favorable schedule; it should be able to start 4-0 versus Green Bay, Washington, Detroit and the Tiki Barber-less Giants before a matchup with the Jets on Oct. 14. Other cupcakes include: Minnesota, Miami and Washington (twice). A crucial game that could decide home-field advantage in the playoffs is a Dec. 23 contest at New Orleans.

Additional Reading: Endless Banter coming soon.

Positional Rankings (0-4 stars):
Quarterbacks
Offensive Line
Secondary
Running Backs
Defensive Line
Special Teams
Receivers
Linebackers
Coaching


Divisional Rival History:
Dallas Cowboys: The Eagles usually dominate their divisional opponents. They've won 11 of the past 14 matchups against the Cowboys, including a sweep in 2006.
New York Giants: Although the Giants managed an improbable comeback in Philadelphia last year, the Eagles have triumphed nine of the past 13 times the two teams have clashed.
Washington Redskins: Pure domination. The Eagles have claimed eight of the past 10 battles.

Fantasy Football:
Donovan McNabb: Although I believe Donovan McNabb will play well coming off a busted knee, I wouldn't risk my entire fantasy season on it. If you take McNabb, make sure you have a dependable backup.
Projected Stats: 3,300 passing yards. 24 passing TDs. 120 rushing yards. 1 rushing TD.
Projected Fantasy Points: 327.

Brian Westbrook: If you have a late first-round pick in a league that counts receptions, consider Brian Westbrook. The Villanova product rushed for 1,217 yards, caught 77 passes and scored 11 touchdowns in 2006.
Projected Stats: 1,200 rushing yards. 800 receiving yards. 12 total TDs.
Projected Fantasy Points: 272.

L.J. Smith: A solid tight end in fantasy football, unless your league deducts points for dropped passes.
Projected Stats: 650 receiving yards. 4 TDs.
Projected Fantasy Points: 89.

Reggie Brown: The Eagles love to spread the ball around, so I wouldn't expect monstrous numbers from Reggie Brown, even though he's the No. 1 wide out for the first time in his career.
Projected Stats: 1,025 receiving yards. 8 TDs.
Projected Fantasy Points: 150.

Kevin Curtis: The numbers Kevin Curtis garnered in St. Louis were the product of Mike Martz's system. Notice that his production declined last year with Scott Linehan on the sidelines.
Projected Stats: 600 receiving yards. 4 TDs.
Projected Fantasy Points: 84.

Hank Baskett: Started five games as an undrafted rookie. Hank Baskett has a lot of potential, but I wouldn't expect him to do anything fantasy-wise this season.
Projected Stats: 530 receiving yards. 3 TDs.
Projected Fantasy Points: 71.

David Akers: His 23 attempted field goals in 2006 were a statistical anomaly. He's still one of the top kickers in the NFL.
Projected Stats: 23-29 FG (1-2 50+). 42 XP.
Projected Fantasy Points: 121.

Philadelphia Defense: If Jevon Kearse stays healthy, the Eagles will collect a large number of sacks and interceptions, and limit most foes to 17 points or less. That's a huge "if", however.
Projected Fantasy Ranking: Top 12 Defense.

Analysis: The Eagles have to be one of the top favorites to reach the Super Bowl in a weak conference. I don't think they'll win the whole thing, but they definitely have a shot.

Projection: 11-5 (1st in the NFC East)


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