A game in the middle of October – win or loss – rarely dictates the rest of the season is going to unfold for a given team. Heck, at this point last year, the Green Bay Packers were a .500 team coming off back-to-back overtime losses, and looking up at the Chicago Bears in their own divisional standings. Yet three and a half months later, they stood in the center of that gaudy monstrosity in Dallas, hoisting the Lombardi Trophy as Super Bowl champions.
But when the Philadelphia Eagles visit FedEx Field this Sunday to take on the Washington Redskins, this mid-October game will be different. Because, depending on what the outcome is around 4:30pm that afternoon, we’re going to learn a whole lot about both teams, and their prospects for the 2011 season.
Let’s start with the much-discussed Eagles. For them, this isn’t a “must win” game; it’s a “can’t, under any circumstance, lose” game. If the Eagles lose this game and get to 1-5, barring some miraculous rally later on, it could very well cost Eagles coach Andy Reid his job. When your notoriously frugal franchise goes and blows insane amounts of money to acquire Nnamdi Asomugha, Cullen Jenkins, Jason Babin, Ryan Harris, Steve Smith, Ronnie Brown, and Vince Young, all in hopes of gearing up for a Super Bowl run, it always follows that anything less than the goal in mind is considered a failure. But to even think about the Super Bowl, you actually have to make the playoffs, the odds of which will be dramatically lowered for the Eagles should they lose on Sunday. In the modern Super Bowl era of the NFL, only one team has started their season 1-5, only to make the playoffs: the 1970 Colts. And that was 41 years ago, so it’s not exactly like there’s any precedent handy to draw from.
When juxtaposed against the bevvy of problems and flaws that this Eagles team has shown, Young’s comment referring to this squad as a “Dream Team,” before they even played a preseason game, is nothing short of completely asinine. Their offensive line is terrible. Their defense might be worse; they can’t stop the run to save their life (3rd worst in the league), and they’ve given up over 85 yards rushing to an opposing running back in every single game they’ve played this season.
And that high-priced secondary, with those three Pro Bowl cornerbacks (Asomugha, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, and Asante Samuel)? All sizzle, and no steak. They’ve allowed the second most touchdown passes in the NFL and the third highest average opposing quarterback rating. They’re in the bottom third of the league in interceptions (three), opponent’s completion percentage, and opponents yards per attempt.
But there’s also one more problem with this squad, which everyone conveniently forgets to talk about: Eagles quarterback Michael Vick.
Whatever your opinions of him may be due to his off-the-field issues and legal troubles, the following are indisputable facts: since Thanksgiving weekend of last season, Vick is 4-7 as the Eagles starting quarterback (4-8 if you count the playoff losss against the Packers). This season, he’s has the most turnovers of any player in the NFL (14). I don’t care how many bounced passes or bad breaks he’s had: seven interceptions and seven fumbles in five games is laughably ridiculous. Vick may be the most gifted playmaker in the entire league, but it’s a complete joke in the way that the Philadelphia fan base that refuses to acknowledge this fact, just like they refuse to acknowledge how much they were against signing him in the first place, only to change their tune once he replaced Kevin Kolb as the starter and started winning games.
Let’s be honest: you’re damn right if i’m relishing the current demise of the Eagles. For years, us Redskins fans had to hear the taunts from Philadelphia fans about how we’re the “offseason Super Bowl winners” and “paper champions.” Watching the Eagles try to buy themselves a Lombardi Trophy, i’m firmly enjoying being the kettle who calls the pot “black.”
And yet, there’s a reason that this 1-4 Eagles team is favored, on the road, against a division leading team with a 3-1 record – the first time that’s ever happened in NFL history. If the Eagles do find a way to stop self-destructing – please, Lord, just push this off for one more week – this is a damn scary football team. It’s essentially the same offense that punched us in the gut, slapped us in the face (repeatedly), stole our lunch money, and gave us an atomic wedgie, a couple of wet willies, and a swirlie on national television last November – only slightly better.
With Vick, LeSean McCoy, DeSean Jackson, and Jeremy Maclin, they’re arguably the most explosive offense in the entire NFL. I hate using cliches, but the Eagles literally can score from any part of the field on a single given play. Their team speed on offense is ridiculous; when a guy like Jeremy Maclin – someone who runs a sub-4.5 40 yard dash – is one of your middle of the pack speed receivers (and slower than your quarterback), that’s saying a lot. And being honest: McCoy scares the living crap out of me. I don’t know if there’s a more elusive, dangerous runner in the open-field, this side of a healthy & productive Chris Johnson.
The Eagles players know that they’re basically playing for their coaches jobs; many of the Eagles are supposedly dedicating their performance this Sunday to saving Reid’s job. But for the Redskins, this probably isnt the most important game of the season for the Redskins – just the most telling.
Here’s what we know about the Redskins: they took care of business in the season-opener, beating a depleted Giants team by two touchdowns. They had to come back in the fourth quarter to beat Arizona, who looks to be a lot crappier than we thought they’d be. They pummeled a horrible Rams offense and pulled out a victory in St. Louis on the backs of the Defense (essentially inspite of quarterback Rex Grossman’s abysmal performace). And on National Television, they both blew a fourth quarter lead and completely choked at critical moments, allowing the Cowboys to beat them.
So, there’s a reason for the skepticism and disbelief about this team being a legitimate threat in the NFC East, let alone the NFC. In four games, they have only one “quality” win. Grossman is simply not a good quarterback (i’m not even sure if we can call him “serviceable”); he’s played two-and-a-half lousy games of football, and the season is only four games old. The offensive line play is inconsistent. The offense has no true playmaker or game-changing threat that scares opposing defense.
But a win this Sunday, over Philadelphia? That changes things. If the Redskins really have the ability and the killer instinct to put their foot on the throats of this vastly overrated “dream team”, and put them (and Reid) out their misery, that will speak volumes, even if it’s against a team that’s well into their self-destruct sequence. To beat a extraordinarily talented and dangerous team, who’ll be playing with their 2011 season and possibly several coaches jobs on the line, would be an enormous “building block”-type win. The last time a Redskins squad had only one loss through six weeks of the NFL season was the last time they won the NFC East (1999).
If the Redskins lose (as everyone predicts they will), to steal a quote from Dennis Green: “they are who we thought they were” – a resurrected franchise with an infusion of young talent mixed with smart free agent signings, but still with plenty of work to do, before they’re truly “legitimate.” But even if it is just one game in October, a win changes all of that. We’ll have ample reason to believe that the corner really has turned for this team.
But they have to beat Philadelphia first.
So by bedtime this Sunday, we’ll know whether the 2011 Eagles will either remain on life support or need their last rights delivered, and we’ll have a much better clue as to what we can realistically expect from the 2011 Redskins.
This column has been cross-posted on RedskinsGab.com