The 2010 NFL QB with the Most To Prove Debate… Defining Donovan McNabb’s Legacy

August 16, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Loyal Homer and Sports Geek.

This is a make or break season for Donovan McNabb. That sounds like a crazy thing to say about a guy whose team has made the playoffs eight of the last ten years and has won a playoff game in seven of those eight seasons. It is not crazy when you realize that McNabb will not be donning the familiar green #5 of the Philadelphia Eagles this season. Instead, he will wear #5 for their hated division rival, the Washington Redskins. It seems curious to rank such a successful player as the NFL quarterback with the most to prove, but from my vantage point as Optimist Prime, I think he is the perfect case study.

In all my years of watching football, I am not sure that I can think of a more polarizing quarterback than McNabb. Even though he has a 10-8 career playoff record, has been to five conference championship games, and one Super Bowl, the general football fan reaction to McNabb’s name is “That is the guy who choked in the Super Bowl” or “That is the guy who can’t win the big one.” Unfortunately, that is a reputation that stays with you until you do win the big one, even though your game may not have changed from before your big win to afterwards. The rap in Philly was always that Westbrook was the real weapon, or that McNabb just rode the coattails of the swarming, blitzing defense. Although the QB position in the NFL generally receives far too much of the credit and blame for a team’s success or failure, McNabb’s Philadelphia situation was more like receiving most of the blame for failure and just a dash of credit for success.

In an interesting contrast, while the general fan reaction is less positive on McNabb, the general media impression of him is quite positive. Tune into an ESPN season preview show and the commentators will generally laud his leadership qualities, his improvisation in the pocket, and his mental fortitude to play through a difficult fan situation in Philadelphia. Read a McNabb column written anywhere other than Philadelphia and you will generally read compliments regarding his graceful handling of the T.O. situation or various personnel move rumors over the years.

In my mind, this contrast between public opinion and media opinion is what makes this season so critical for McNabb’s legacy in the National Football League (in case Ron Jaworski is reading this, I want to make sure I sound out National Football League for the remainder of this post). McNabb’s move to the Skins is arguably the most high profile move of the offseason, and the national media spotlight will be on him. Combining national attention with a Washington fan base that is desperate for winning football after spending the last several months counting days between Strasburg starts and watching the Capitals flame out in the first round of the playoffs, the pressure on him may not have that biting Philly edge, but it will be intense.

The line between saint and sinner for McNabb this year is quite small. He turns 34 in November, and if he posts a couple of mediocre seasons in Washington I think the best case memory that football fans will have of him is that he was football’s Karl Malone. His worst case is that they will ignore his 32,873 career yards and 2.16-to-1 touchdown to interception ratio, and label him a choker who needed a championship defense to be successful.

However, if he has a season where he throws for 3,500 yards and leads the Skins to a playoff berth, he will be lauded locally and praised nationally. The Redskins are not expected to light the league on fire this year. Their success – and the national impression of McNabb – rides on his right arm this season. I cannot think of a quarterback with a greater chance to clarify his legacy in 2010 than Donovan McNabb.

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The Scariest Three Words in Sports Debate… You’ve Been Traded

August 9, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Bleacher Fan and Loyal Homer.

The three scariest words in sports are undoubtedly, “You’ve been traded.”

Yes, I realize that’s more like two words and a contraction, but you get my point. The simple utterance of this phrase has the ability to make or break an entire career. A trade can mean the difference between playing for the Los Angeles Lakers or the Utah Jazz, the New England Patriots or the Detroit Lions, the New York Yankees or the Kansas City Royals.

Every season in every professional sport trades are made, many of them advantageous to the players involved. But that is not always the case. Sometimes up and coming stars are relegated to obscurity. As a lifelong Yankees fan I have watched this happen to plenty of young guys in the farm system. Obviously not every prospect is going to make it, but an untimely trade to the wrong team can be disastrous. A player’s future can be derailed because a new team uses them ineffectively or at the wrong position. Or maybe the new team simply overworks a young star so much that their body breaks down.

Obviously trades can be beneficial. But, they also have the infamous ability to marginalize burgeoning stars and established veterans alike. Nomar Garciaparra is a case study. Nomar was Boston’s answer to Derek Jeter. He was a Red Sox Nation fan favorite if there ever was one. He was a rookie sensation that blossomed into one of the fiercest hitters in the league. He was respected and liked by his teammates. But his career took a dramatic turn for the worse because of a trade.

Once the face of the Boston Red Sox, Nomar’s entire legacy was undermined by a 2004 trade to the Chicago Cubs. He was dealt at the trade deadline in one of the most pivotal seasons in Red Sox history, the year the ended the 86 year drought and finally won another World Series. It was a campaign for the Red Sox that meant so much more to Boston than just winning the most coveted prize in baseball, it was a rebirth. The team finally won, but more importantly, they vanquished the New York Yankees to get there. It must have been an indescribable feeling for the Red Sox, one Nomar Garciaparra would never fully know.

Nomar continued to play, but both his skills and his star power seemed to diminish rapidly. His power numbers fell first, followed by his batting average, health, and, ultimately, playing time. He ended his career less auspiciously than it began, playing in a limited role for the Oakland Athletics. Nomar went from one of the most recognizable faces in baseball to Mr. Mia Ham. His fall from greatness was swift and painful to watch, and it was triggered by a trade.

No one is safe, no matter how iconic they appear to be or how much the media likes them. Donovan McNabb is proof. While he had a wild ride and somewhat of a love-hate relationship with Philadelphia since he was greeted to boos in the 1999 draft, he also went on to take the Eagles to new heights. With McNabb under center Philly made eight playoff appearances – including four consecutive NFC East championships from 2001-2004, five NFC Championship appearances, and a Super Bowl appearance. You would think those kinds of results would keep him safe from criticism and second guessing, but alas, no. McNabb’s fate was a trade within the division to a much less appealing Washington Redskins team.

Although McNabb figures to use this slight as motivation to succeed, he faces immense obstacles. Thus far he has remained optimistic even comparing his relocation at age 33 to John Elway in Denver, when Elway received a new head coach – and a big change – at age 34. But, as writer Matt Mosley points out, “Elway had Terrell Davis at running back and a stable offensive line,” something McNabb doesn’t bring with him to Washington. In fact, he doesn’t even have the young receiving corps of DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, and Jason Avant that he had back in the City of Brotherly Love, meaning this trade could be the abrupt punctuation on an otherwise impressive career.

Modern sports superstars wield considerably more power in controlling a career than those of the past. Since the advent of free agency, these privileged pros have literally gotten to choose the team of their liking on a semi-regular basis. Contemporary stars may even have an entourage of agents and publicists that work to secure even more career control. These players have their own dedicated staff working around the clock trying to place their client in the most lucrative situation possible–with full no trade clause and 4th year option, of course. But even when athletes land in scenarios they deem unfavorable they can still use a variety of tactics, including everything from holdouts to a highly publicized war of words, and try to get what they want. Unfortunately for players, however, this is not the reality for all professional athletes. Some still live and die by trades.

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The NFL Training Camp Hottest Coaching Seat Debate… Reid’s Hopes Pinned on Eagles’ Wings

July 26, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Loyal Homer and Sports Geek.

Andy Reid tried to get by without Donovan McNabb once before.

How did that work out for him? Backup quarterback Kevin Kolb passed for only 73 yards, zero touchdowns, and two interceptions on 23 passing attempts. Reid immediately went back to McNabb the following week, and McNabb responded by leading the Eagles through the rest of the season and into the NFC Championship game.

Now Reid and his Philadelphia Eagles have once again made the decision to put their franchise in the hands of Kolb, only this time Reid no longer has McNabb as a safety net. Should Kolb – who despite some impressive numbers in his few career starts is still an unproven quarterback – prove to be a bust as the full-time starter in Philly, the responsibility falls squarely on Andy Reid’s shoulders.

The problem for Reid is that Kolb used to be the insurance policy. Donovan McNabb was the face of the Eagles franchise for the last decade, and he was extremely successful during his time in Philadelphia. During his ten seasons in Philly McNabb was a six-time Pro-Bowler and he lead his team to eight different playoff appearances, including five NFC Championship games and one Super Bowl.

There can be little doubt that McNabb was a bit time contributor in Philadelphia and is due much of the credit for their successes over the past decade.

Now that McNabb is gone, Kolb is no longer the insurance policy. And the situation at the quarterback position is MUCH different today.

Last season the Eagles touted a quarterbacking corps that was envied around much of the NFL. At starter was a Pro-Bowl quarterback with a very serviceable back up and a former superstar who is trying to break his way back into the league. This season, however, the Pro-Bowl quarterback is out of the equation and the team is left simply with a recently promoted (but still unproven) starter, and a guy who has essentially not played substantial football since the 2006 season.

In fairness, Kolb is not set up for failure with the Eagles. He will have some of the brightest young talent in the league at his disposal with guys like DeSean Jackson, LeSean McCoy, and Jeremy Maclin. All three of those weapons are extremely fast and athletic. Kolb, who has demonstrated very solid passing accuracy, should have no problem in getting the ball to them in open field.

This is a franchise where the leadership (and fans) have grown accustomed to the playoffs, and the fact that Donovan McNabb is no longer the quarterback will not be considered an acceptable excuse for failure.

The Eagles reside in one of the most competitive divisions in the NFL, and during this most recent off-season the head coach sent the superstar quarterback to play for a division rival, which happens to now be coached by a two-time Super Bowl Champion (something that Reid himself has yet to accomplish).

It is now up to Andy Reid to prove that he made the right decision, as his future in Philadelphia hinges on the success or failure of an untested, unproven Kevin Kolb.

Seats don’t get much hotter than that!

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The 2010 Biggest Pre-Draft Move Debate… Pre-Draft Story Drought

April 23, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Bleacher Fan and Sports Geek.

The NFL Draft kicked off yesterday and I could not have been more lukewarm about it. You have probably heard the expression “No news, is good news”, but that is not really the case for a football fan around the NFL Draft. There just was not that much to get excited about. Aside from, Brandon Marshall’s deal to the Dolphins and Donovan McNabb’s in-division trade to the Redskins, things have pretty much been a total yawnfest. The biggest story leading up to this NFL Draft was the lack of stories leading up to the NFL Draft.

Ben Roethlisberger did more than his fair share to try and stir up NFL storylines and prompt trade talk, but the deal never got done. Although Big Ben did not verbally demand a trade out of Pittsburgh, his actions sure did. After putting himself in compromising situation after situation, the Steelers’ QB made himself increasingly expendable, and when the news broke just days ago that he was going to be suspended for six games during the 2010 season, he really gave the Steelers a reason to let him go. There were plenty of teams who would have benefited from the on-field talents of Roethlisberger under center (and he is sure to keep the local legal team busy with defense cases), but only the Oakland Raiders emerged as serious suitors. It seemed like the Oakland Raiders were a logical match who would surely jump at the opportunity to acquire a quarterback with a Super Bowl winning pedigree, but the two sides could not come to an agreement. Maybe the Raiders thought they could get off cheaper trying to draft a quarterback or maybe they were just trying to protect the co-ed population in the greater Oakland area, but it seems that Big Ben will be back in Pittsburgh in 2010 after his suspension runs its course.

There was hope that things might pick up after Donovan McNabb was traded to the Washington Redskins. Many thought that this was a sign of wilder wheeling and dealing to come, but again… nothing. There There was some minor speculation that Washington might sign free agent Terrell Owens, which is a deal I wish had gone down because it would have been supremely entertaining. Watching McNabb and TO team up again while both are trying to prove they are still elite competitors would have been either an unbelievable comeback story for the once dynamic duo, or a delicious train wreck of epic proportions. Either way the public would have gotten to enjoy the show, but are instead left wondering about what might have been.

Another Redskin, Albert Haynesworth, got the rumor mill going as well this off season, as trade talk emerged about a potential return to Tennessee for the former Titan. Despite cashing in on a huge payday last season signing with Washington, Haynesworth seemed to have no interest in adjusting to the Redskins’ defensive schemes. There was talk that he might make his way back to Tennessee in time to mix up the draft board for the two teams and potentially add some more drama to the draft. But like every other rumored move lately it did not happen. The big man may still rumble back in to the Music City, but he’ll do so after the kickoff of the NFL draft.

I really did not see this wave of inactivity coming. Usually the NFL is abuzz with pre-draft stories and big moves. Picks and players swapping teams set the tone for an entertaining draft, but this year it was all quiet on the football front leading up to draft day.

In the end, the draft itself proved to be far more exciting (with Cowboys trading up to get Dez Bryant and Tim Tebow being drafted above Jimmy Clausen) than any pre-draft story.

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The Biggest 2010 NFL Offseason Debate – Trouble in the Nation’s Capital

February 8, 2010

Read opposing arguments from Sports Geek and Loyal Homer.

We get it, the Saints won the Super Bowl… but that is SOOOO last night! For the 31 other teams in the league, Super Bowl XLIV is ancient history. So, while the Black and Gold continue their partying on Bourbon Street, the rest of the NFL is already looking ahead to what needs to be done in 2010.

Some teams have already made changes in their coaching personnel, while others are getting ready for free agency and the draft. Then there is the Washington Redskins.

The Redskins may not have had the worst record in the NFL, but I still believe they were the worst team in the NFL. Of their 4-12 record, they only managed to beat ONE team with a better record than them, the 8-8 Denver Broncos. Their remaining three wins came against the 1-15 Rams (whom they BARELY beat by a score of 9-7), the 3-13 Buccaneers (in another nailbiter – 16-13), and the 4-12 Raiders. Among their losses were teams like the 4-12 Kansas City Chiefs and the 2-14 Detroit Lions (which, by the way, snapped a Lions’ losing streak that spanned into three different NFL seasons).

No team underwhelmed quite like the Redskins did in 2009. As a result of the lackluster showing, their (former) head coach, Jim Zorn, was stripped of all play calling responsibilities only six weeks into the season. Everyone knew it would be just a matter of time before Zorn was fired, and the only question was to try and guess just how bad the state of the team would be when the axe finally fell.

Allow me to answer that question for newly appointed head coach Mike Shanahan – the state of the team is TERRIBLE! The laundry-list of problems Shanahan must solve before the 2010 season gets underway is extremely daunting. Unfortunately, there is not a single issue that can be EASILY remedied!

For his part, Shanahan has been to the promised-land as a head coach, and has two Super Bowl rings already to his credit. It should be noted, though, that was with a Denver Broncos team that included John Elway, Rod Smith, Terrell Davis, Shannon Sharpe, and a host of other outstanding athletes. This Redskins organization that he is inheriting is a completely different monster, and it will be an arduous uphill battle for Shanahan if fans in our nation’s capital expect to see ANY results.

To begin with, Shanahan must first build his coaching staff. He has gotten a jump on this particular assignment, including the hiring of his own son, Kyle, as the new offensive coordinator. His biggest problem, however, is going to be in deciding the direction he wants to take his team with regard to the players in his locker-room, including a MAJOR deficiency at the quarterback position.

I will say it again – Jason Campbell is NOT a solid quarterback in the NFL. Do not let his numbers fool you. With 3,618 passing yards, 20 touchdowns, and 64.5 percent accuracy, it appears that Campbell is a good passer. When you break down those numbers a bit further, though they it tell a much different story. To begin with, the only stat that he was among the top-10 quarterbacks in the league in during 2009 was interceptions, of which he threw 15.

The Redskins spent much of 2009 playing from behind. As such, they saw a lot of soft coverage in the defenses they faced, and even the prevent. It is not surprising, then, to find out that Campbell’s only REAL effectiveness came in situations when the ‘Skins trailed by at least two scores. During those games when the Redskins were behind by at least nine points, Campbell threw for a combined total of five touchdowns and only one interception. When the scoring margin was +/- 8 points (which usually brings tighter pass coverage on the defensive side of the ball), Campbell was good for only eight touchdowns, but he threw TEN interceptions.

Likewise, he only had two games in the season where he threw for more than 300-yards, both of which came in losses. To counter those totals, he had six games with LESS THAN 200-yards passing. In the game against the Kansas City Chiefs he threw the ball only 16 times for 89 yards and an interception before finally being benched for backup quarterback Todd Collins.

Compounding the problems that come from lacking a reliable quarterback are the locker-room issues that stem from a losing mentality. Running back Clinton Portis, who is no stranger to controversy, once again made headlines for his locker-room antics… which included an incident where Portis admittedly approached the Redskins coaches during a game and requested they bench one of his teammates, fullback Mike Sellers.

After the season ended, Portis was at it again. Only this time it was in a war of words with Jason Campbell. During an interview, Portis criticized Campbell for not being a leader, which evoked a very quick and harsh response from Campbell.

These are just some of the examples of the mess that Shanahan has been tasked with trying to clean up. The Washington Redskins (who are already in one of the NFL’s toughest divisions with the Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants, and Philadelphia Eagles) have a LOT to fix this offseason, and they do not have much time to get it done.

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The Best Decision About A Coach Debate – The Skins Try to Upgrade Once Again

January 18, 2010

Read the arguments from Bleacher Fan and Sports Geek.

It has been a crazy “silly season” for both college and pro football coaches. There has been a lot of turnover, as head coaches and coordinators have been getting canned in high numbers. One change that everyone knew was going to happen took place in the capital city of Washington. Jim Zorn was a sitting duck for much of the season as his Redskins had some really bad losses. Thus, it was no surprise when he was fired the day after the end of the regular season. What was even less of a surprise was the hiring of Mike Shanahan as his replacement. Shanahan is a proven winner and I think it is the best coaching decision made this offseason.

Obviously, Shanahan’s resume speaks for itself. He has won two Super Bowls, winning back in 1997 and 1998. His critics will argue that Shanahan has not won without John Elway, who retired after the second Super Bowl (has it really been that long since we last saw Elway in action?). But, as a whole, he still finished with a record of 138-86 record in 14 years with the Broncos, and ten of those years were without #7 leading his patented fourth quarter comebacks.

Meanwhile, the Redskins have been in a state of flux for many years, as Shanahan is the seventh head coach Washington has had since 1999, the year current owner Daniel Snyder purchased the team. Can you name the previous six coaches? There is Norv Turner (who is feeling some heat today from Chargers fans), interim head coach Terry Robiskie, Marty Schottenheimer, Steve Spurrier, Joe Gibbs, Jim Zorn, and now Shanahan.

The Redskins are one of the league’s most valuable franchises, ranking second behind the Dallas Cowboys. Yet, their success on the field does not come close to matching their success off the field. It will be Shanahan’s job to turn things around. He has a strong defense, as that unit has not been the problem with this team in recent years. Newly hired defensive coordinator Jim Haslett will attempt to keep the ball rolling with the defense, and hopefully keep Albert Haynesworth worth happy. The real key to Shanahan’s success will be what he decides to do with quarterback Jason Campbell. Campbell has had minimal success with the Redskins, and the team will have to make a decision on what to do with him. Shanahan has had a mixed bag of success with quarterbacks, with Brian Griese, Jake Plummer, and Jay Cutler being among the guys Shanahan has coached in the post-Elway era.

Mike Shanahan is a proven winner. There is a lot to be done in Washington, as anyone can see by the way the 2009 team played at times. But he is the man for the job, and he is the best hire by any professional franchise or college program this offseason.

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The Best Game of The Weekend Debate – Got Any Spare Change?!

October 16, 2009

Read Sports Geek’s and Loyal Homer’s arguments about which game will be the best to watch this weekend.

Happy Boss’s Day Everyone!

In honor of this most excellent occasion designed to recognize the efforts of bosses, managers, supervisors, and leaders everywhere, I want to remind everyone out there that top performers are not the only ones worth watching. Although the reasons may not always be positive, the underperformers require focus as well. There is a matchup this weekend in the NFL that will likely not make any headlines, but it is worth watching nonetheless. That matchup will take place at FedEx Field in Washington, where the Redskins will play host to the Kansas City Chiefs.

Why is this game worth watching? There is a good chance this game may end up deciding the first pick of the 2010 NFL draft (although the St. Louis Rams and Oakland Raiders may have something to say about that. Editor’s Note: Uh, how about those Brownies, Bleacher FaN??).

Before I get into the matchup, though, the boss in me wants to give some long-overdue recognition to the Washington Redskins, who may be the most charitable team in the NFL!

If the NFL were a major city, then FedEx Field would be its soup kitchen. The Redskins just HATE to see a fellow NFL team suffer. They graciously open their doors to all the struggling, down-on-their-luck, win-starved teams of the league, offering a brief period of respite along with the opportunity to feel like a REAL football team again, even if only for just one day!

Consider some of their charitable deeds of the past few seasons.

During the 2008 season – the ‘Skins welcomed the St. Louis Rams, a team that at the time was 0-4 – and gave the Rams their first win of the season. Later that season the ‘Skins played the 1-11-1 Cincinnati Bengals and allowed the Bengals to enjoy only the second win of the season.

The Redskins 2008 season was not a cheap attempt at a good tax deduction, though, for the charity of the Redskins knows no bounds. In 2009, the Redskins have continued their charitable ways, allowing the Detroit Lions a win, the first since 2007 (ending a 19-game losing streak). The Redskins followed that gift up by allowing the Carolina Panthers to realize the first win of the season last Sunday. That does not include additional noble efforts against Tampa Bay and St. Louis, BARELY escaping those two games with wins by beating St. Louis by a score of 9-7 and Tampa Bay by a score of 16-13 (sometimes, there is just no helping a team that refuses to acknowledge they need the help).

Well, it seems that the word is out, now, and the underprivileged teams from around the league are lining up outside of Washington with their open arms, hoping for a brief opportunity to accept a helping hand so graciously offered by the Redskins. Did you know that every opponent that has faced the Redskins this season was winless going into the matchup?! That means this Sunday the Redskins will play their SIXTH CONSECUTIVE WINLESS TEAM (technically, the New York Giants were winless when the two played as it was the first week and the Giants were 0-0) of the season, which makes the 2-3 record EXTREMELY disappointing! Next in line are the 0-5 Chiefs, a team that has played more competitive football this season than the winless record indicates.

The Chiefs are coming off of a VERY competitive game against the Dallas Cowboys, a team that needed overtime to pull out a victory at Arrowhead Stadium last weekend. For the Chiefs, Washington may be their best hope to follow in the footsteps of the 2008 Rams and the 2009 Lions and Panthers, earning the first win of the season against those kind-hearted Redskins.

Let me be the first to stand up and applaud the Washington Redskins for realizing that there are more important things in life than winning a game, and one of those things is to help out a struggling neighbor in need!

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The NFL Most Deceiving Record Debate – Andy Reid Uses Misdirection, Fools Fans, League

September 30, 2009

Read Loyal Homer and Bleacher Fan’s arguments about which team they believe has the most deceiving record in the NFL.

The headline fits. Andy Reid is putting together one heckuva a coaching job so far in the 2009 season. He signed quarterback he did not need in Michael Vick, he unexpectedly lost a quarterback he DID need with Donavan McNabb’s injury, and he is getting much more of a quarterback he was not sure he even wanted in Kevin Kolb.

After a 1-3 preseason (like THAT matters), the Philadelphia Eagles have looked quite solid with a 2-1 record as the team enters its bye week. The Eagles are currently second in the NFC East behind the New York Giants. The team has overcome the potential distraction of Michael Vick’s presence as McNabb seems to remain the team’s leader despite his injury.

Everything seems to point to a great season for the Eagles, right? Wrong. The Philadelphia Eagles have the league’s most deceiving win-loss record.

After the team returns from the bye week it will host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a team that is thanking its lucky stars the Cleveland Browns are so bad. Then the Eagles hit the road to face the 1-2 Oakland Raiders and the 1-2 Washington Redskins – you know, the team that just lost to the DETROIT LIONS. It is hard to imagine an easier schedule in the entire league. It is very possible that the team ends up 5-1 after the first two months of the season are in the books.

But, that is when the wheels will fall off the Eagles’ first class train ride to Miami for Super Bowl XLIV.

When the calendar turns to November, the season becomes more difficult and the team’s true nature will be revealed. The Eagles play five games in November, starting by hosting the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys before hitting the road to face the San Diego Chargers and the Chicago Bears. The final game of the month is at home against the struggling Redskins. November may change the Eagles 5-1 fortunes as they play much tougher defenses and offenses that will test the team’s limits.

The season does not get any easier in December, either. The Eagles play the Atlanta Falcons in Atlanta – think they will boo Michael Vick? – then the Giants in New York before hosting a resurgent San Francisco 49ers and the league’s best defense to date, the Denver Broncos. Then they play at Dallas to end the season.

A strong start is vital if the team believes it has any chance to make the playoffs. The Eagles must bank early victories against subpar teams to ready itself when the schedule becomes more difficult when the weather turns colder.

The Eagles also struggle with injuries year in, year out. Running back Brian Westbrook has never avoided injured reserve for an entire season. McNabb has been injured more often in recent years, too. The Eagles have already lost four players for the entire season are playing with a depleted linebacking corps and secondary.

The Eagles also play in a very difficult division where the Cowboys and Giants are two of the elite teams in the entire league. The Wild Card spots are more uncertain than ever before, too, considering the emergence of the NFC North as a decent division and the strength of the Falcons and New Orleans Saints in the NFC South. For the Eagles to have a shot at returning to playoff glory, early wins must be combined with the capacity to survive the season physically and emotionally.

With a depleted, injury-riddled team and an increasingly difficult schedule on the horizon, the Philadelphia Eagles have the most deceiving record in the NFL.

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The 2009 Toughest Division in the NFL Debate – The NFC East is the Beast of the NFL

August 31, 2009

Read Sports Geek and Bleacher Fan’s arguments for which division in the NFL will be the toughest in the 2009 season.

We are less than two weeks away from the start of the NFL season. The anticipation is building. Some starting positions have been decided, while others are still up for grabs. Once those are all settled the teams can focus on the season and made that seventeen week push to the playoffs. Some will have more difficult roads than others, due in large part to where they play – which division. For example, the NFC West and AFC West appear to be down once again. But several other division races are sure to be exciting up until Week 17. After evaluating all of the divisions, I have decided that the NFC East is the overall best division in the NFL.

One element that makes this race interesting is that all four teams are in cities that are in the top 10 in television markets. These teams do not lack for attention and it sure helps that all four are competitive. I am not sure that you can look at any other division and realistically say “Any team in that division can make the playoffs.” Last year, the four teams all had at least a .500 record. The only other division that could say that was the NFC South.

The Philadelphia Eagles, who made the playoffs last year as a wild card and advanced to the NFC conference championship, return a strong nucleus. Granted, some of the stars like quarterback Donavan McNabb and running back Brian Westbrook are getting older. But they added some potential playmakers by drafting wide receiver Jeremy Maclin and running back LeSean McCoy. Plus, you may have heard that they also picked up a backup quarterback. Some guy by the name of Michael Vick.

The New York Giants, the reigning division winner, struggled down the stretch without Plaxico Burress. I am not convinced they have addressed their offensive concerns in the offseason. Running back Derrick Ward left via free agency. The wide receiving core is young and inexperienced. Not to mention that last season’s defensive coordinator, Steve Spagnuolo, left to become head coach of the St. Louis Rams. With that said, the Giants are just two years removed from a championship, and they still have to be considered a threat to win the division. Eli Manning also has a new contract, so he will be itching to prove his worth and prove the critics wrong who say the Giants overpaid.

The Dallas Cowboys are America’s team, and this year they are America’s team without society’s newest reality TV star Terrell Owens. This is a big year for head coach Wade Phillips, too. Missing the playoffs is a real possibility, especially in this division. You know general manager Jerry Jones will be looking for a scapegoat if the Cowboys do not make the playoffs in their first year of playing in beautiful new Cowboys Stadium. Fortunately, plenty of weapons return. The key to the Cowboys is whether or not wide receiver Roy Williams can step up and become the number one receiver the Cowboys expect him to be. The playoffs are a realistic goal.

The Washington Redskins, after getting off to a very strong start, limped to a 2-6 finish. We all know Redskins owner Daniel Snyder refuses to sit still, and he proved us right again by giving an extremely big contract to defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth. Perhaps no quarterback in the league is facing more pressure than Jason Campbell. After flirting with acquiring Jay Cutler and trading up to draft Mark Sanchez, the Redskins decided to stick with Campbell who is entering a contract year. Campbell is popular in the clubhouse, but it is his responsibility to get the Redskins back to the playoffs. Finishing 8-8 was the worst record in the division, which says a lot about the strength and the parity in the division.

All four of these teams can realistically make the playoffs. Can any other division say that? Maybe the AFC East. Maybe!! But the NFC East has a much stronger case and overall, from top to bottom, the teams are better. The division is the class of the NFL!

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The 2009 Toughest Division in the NFL Debate – The East Coast Excitement Continues in 2009!

August 31, 2009

Read Sports Geek and Loyal Homer’s arguments for which division in the NFL will be the toughest in the 2009 season.

It’s football week at The Sports Debates! And what better way to kick it off than to take a look at which division in the NFL is going to be the toughest, most competitive in the league?

Sports Geek is arguing for the NFC North, and Loyal Homer is arguing for the NFC East.

As for Bleacher Fan, I asked myself the following three questions to try and determine which will be the division to watch in 2009:

  1. 2008 Performance (Was it a competitive division top-to-bottom last year?)
  2. Personnel (Did all of the teams within the division get better in the offseason?)
  3. 2009 Schedule (Will the season provide a strong enough test for the division?)

There was only one division that I could answer ‘YES’ to all of the questions, and that was the AFC East.

2008 Performance

Going into the 2008 season, many expected the NFC East to be the toughest division in football. The New York Giants were reigning 2007 Super Bowl champs, and the Dallas Cowboys were a very popular preseason pick to represent the NFC in 2008. Also in the mix were the Washington Redskins and Philadelphia Eagles, both with potential to upset the balance of power in the division. Top to bottom, the NFC East appeared to be the division to watch.

The 2008 season, however, proved those expectations wrong. Thanks to quarterback issues, the Cowboys and Eagles both had periodic struggles (Dallas collapsed after Tony Romo’s injury and Philadelphia had a minor mid-season controversy after benching Donovan McNabb). In Washington, the Redskins ended up being the most unpredictable team in football. They were able to win in Dallas, defeated the NFC Champion Arizona Cardinals, and won both games against the Eagles (who also reached the NFC Championship game), but lost to the St. Louis Rams (who finished the season at 2-14), the Cincinnati Bengals (4-11-1), and the San Francisco 49ers (7-9).

Instead, the AFC East ended up as the most exciting to watch. Entering week 17 of the season, the Miami Dolphins and New England Patriots were both tied at 10-5, with the New York Jets one game behind at 9-6. There were many different playoff scenarios for the division. It was entirely possible that all three teams could finish tied at 10-6. It was also possible that ALL THREE teams could make the playoffs, or only ONE of the three could make the playoffs. Making the division race even more exciting was the fact that the Jets were scheduled to play the Dolphins that week.

When the dust settled, the Dolphins (who just one year prior finished with a league-worst 1-15 record) ended up clinching the division by defeating the Jets 24-17. The Patriots, who finished 2008 with a very impressive 11-5 record DESPITE losing Tom Brady in week 1, still somehow missed the playoffs, becoming the first 11-win team in over 20 years not to reach the postseason.


All four teams have upgraded in the offseason. The most notable signings for each team are:

  • The Patriots expect to bring quarterback Tom Brady back this season (although a shoulder injury at the hands of Redskins defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth last weekend has some questioning his current health).
  • The Jets feel confident that they can successfully work their highly rated draft pick out of Southern Cal, quarterback Mark Sanchez, into their offense.
  • In Buffalo, the big news of the offseason was the signing of Pro Bowl wide receiver Terrell Owens
  • The Dolphins resigned their former Defensive Player of the Year, Pro Bowler Jason Taylor, after he spent the last season in Washington.

2009 Schedule

The AFC East will be facing off against the AFC South and the NFC South in 2009. While those divisions include a couple teams which could provide for easy pickings (primarily the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Jacksonville Jaguars), the majority of teams on their schedule are expected to perform very well this year. In 2008, the Jaguars were the only team to finish below .500, and four of the eight teams finished with more than 10 wins: the Tennessee Titans (13-3), Carolina Panthers (12-4), Indianapolis Colts (12-4), and the Atlanta Falcons (11-5). All four of those teams also reached the playoffs last season, and should provide some stiff competition for the AFC East in 2009.

When you break down all of the factors that make for exciting football to watch (talent, expectations, and challenges), the AFC East has it all. I expect the division race to once again go all the way to the last week of the season, and once again expect to see multiple teams also in the Wild Card hunt. In 2009, the best football will be played in the toughest division in the NFL – the AFC East!

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