December 29, 2010

The ante has been upped.

Whether the Philadelphia Eagles like it or not, they've upped the ante for 2010.

A few months ago, when Kevin Kolb's continued maturity was the season's main selling point, 8-8 would have been acceptable. LeSean McCoy was a question mark. The defense was relatively unknown. It was a young team that had a good chance of maturing into a championship contender over the next few years.

Five Pro Bowlers, one MVP-caliber quarterback and one Coach of the Year candidate later, that's no longer acceptable.

The talent is there, the ability is there. We've seen them win big games, we've seen them win close games, we've seen them win good games. A healthy, competitive Eagles team could, and should, compete for a Super Bowl. But they're not healthy, and minus the mind-exploding quarter in New York, they haven't been very competitive. So now is the time for the Eagles to decide how they want the season to end.

On my way home tonight, a radio caller mentioned that this time, we can't blame Donovan McNabb. It's been interesting to note the improvements in the two-minute drill, the comeback offense, the way they've finished out close wins with a bang. That wasn't what we'd come to expect with McNabb under center, especially near the end of his Eagles career, and it provided hope for the future.

But those October and November flashes of brilliance won't matter once January rolls around. As always, we'll lose all interest in regular season wins, Pro Bowl nominations, record-setting offenses and award ceremonies. Hell, even one or two playoff victories won't cut it. McNabb-led teams have been there, done that.

The bar has been returned to where it once was; nothing but a championship is acceptable. Granted, this is a young team; they could win next year, or the year after that, if these young players continue to gel. But the NFL might not be this wide open in 2011 and 2012. The New England Patriots are the prohibitive favorites, but they aren't the 2004 Patriots. Nor are they the 2007 Patriots.

Overall, it's a very lackluster league, shades of the 2002 season that produced a Tampa Bay/Oakland Super Bowl. Had the Eagles beaten Tampa in the NFC Championship Game, that one would have been theirs. This one might be just as within reach.

So what's derailing the Eagles' chances? Bad playcalling, weak defense, fatigue, inexperience, regression to the mean -- call it whatever you want. But it's inexcusable to lose to the Minnesota Vikings, and there's no reason they shouldn't compete with the Chicago Bears or Green Bay Packers come playoff time.

When Dallas comes to town on Sunday, the Eagles need to sit Michael Vick, sit DeSean Jackson, sit Asante Samuel, sit anyone that's good. Rest everyone up and take your shot at the Packers or the Giants in the first round. This will be your bye week; hopefully it's enough. It's been a great ride, but we've all seen those before. Fix what's ailing you and ride Vick to glory; you might not get another chance that's this good.

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