They’re “all in.” They’re going for it this year. Nothing less than a championship will be considered a success.
That sounds just like the Phillies’ World-Series-title-or-bust attitude. But there’s a difference between the two teams. The difference is the Phillies are clearly the best team in the National League, if not all of baseball. The Eagles, on the other hand, have some stiff competition for the title of best team in the NFC.
The Green Bay Packers are in the NFC. The Packers won the Super Bowl last season despite sustaining a ton of injuries. Just in case anyone had forgotten about their championship season, the Packers served up a reminder with 28 first-half points Thursday night against the New Orleans Saints, who won the Super Bowl two seasons ago and are again expected to challenge for NFC supremacy.
The Atlanta Falcons are yet another team that could represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. Sports Illustrated’s Peter King picks the Falcons to win the Super Bowl.
So while the Phillies are the clear-cut favorites to represent the National League in the World Series, the Eagles aren’t the clear-cut favorites to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. They’re in the mix. But they may not be the favorites, let alone the clear-cut favorites.
Like the Phillies, the Eagles should win their division. In fact, the Atlanta Braves presented a greater obstacle to the Phillies in the NL East than the Cowboys, Giants or Redskins should present to the Eagles in the NFC East.
But when you’re “all in” and determined to win a championship, winning the division is just the first step. The season’s success will be determined by the playoffs. Not qualifying for the playoffs would be considered an unmitigated disaster.
The playoffs are where success and failure will be determined. That’s where the Phillies succeeded in 2008 and 2009, winning the World Series in 2008 and returning to the World Series the following season. That’s where the Eagles have failed, having not reached the Super Bowl since 2005.
Remember when the Eagles lost three straight NFC Championship games? The first one didn’t alter the feeling that the season was a success. The second one hurt and left fans with mixed feelings about the season. The third one hurt the most and prevented that season from being considered a success.
Why did the third trip hurt the most? Because that was the season in which a Super Bowl appearance was an expectation, not a hope.
It seems that the Super Bowl is again an expectation for the Eagles this season. The expectation of postseason success is a heavy burden to carry.
The secret to postseason success in baseball is pitching. That is why the Phillies are the overwhelming favorites to emerge from the NL. No team in baseball can match the Phillies’ rotation of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and either Roy Oswalt or rookie Vance Worley.
One of the secrets to postseason success in football is having an elite quarterback. Another is having a terrific defense. The Eagles may have one of these elements … or they may have neither.
The Eagles’ defense was not very good last season. They were awful in the red zone. Historically awful.
The defense should be better this season. With Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie added to a group that already features Asante Samuel and Joselio Hanson, the Eagles have the best cornerbacks in the NFL. The Eagles also improved their defensive line by signing free agents Cullen Jenkins and Jason Babin.
But there are huge questions at linebacker and safety. There is also uncertainty about the effectiveness of Juan Castillo, who is making the transition from offensive line coach to defensive coordinator.
The defense should be better, but it’s difficult to imagine a defense with a first-time coordinator and the questions the Eagles have at linebacker and safety becoming the type of dominating defense that carries a team to a Super Bowl.
So what about the quarterback? Can he carry the Eagles to the Super Bowl? Michael Vick is certainly being paid like an elite quarterback, making more than every quarterback except the Patriots’ Tom Brady and the Colts’ Peyton Manning, widely considered the two best quarterbacks in the world. But is he an elite quarterback? Is he even the best quarterback in the NFC?
You could certainly make a case that Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers is the best quarterback in the NFC. With his Super Bowl ring, he may even be on the verge of joining Manning and Brady in the elite quarterback club. The Saints’ Drew Brees is a terrific quarterback. He, too, has a Super Bowl ring. Neither Rodgers nor Brees were along for the ride when their teams won the Super Bowl. They were instrumental in their teams’ championships.
Atlanta’s Matt Ryan, who attended Penn Charter, hasn’t won a Super Bowl – yet. Neither has Vick.
This doesn’t mean that Vick won’t win a Super Bowl. But it demonstrates that the Eagles don’t necessarily have an edge at quarterback against their toughest NFC rivals.
Without a clear edge at quarterback or on defense, it’s difficult to argue that the Eagles should be the favorites to win the NFC. Again, that doesn’t mean they won reach the Super Bowl.
But they’re not the Phillies of the NFL. Not yet.