The Eagles open with a bang in 2011, two tough road games that will test this team's mettle, its leadership, its focus. Want to know how much progress the coaching staff has made studying the blitzes that handcuffed the offense enough down the stretch in 2010? Well, welcome to the 2011 opener, with St. Louis head coach Steve Spagnuolo, a Jim Johnson disciple, looking for ways to attack Michael Vick with pressure defense.
One week later, on September 18, the Eagles play again on the road, this time in Atlanta in a Sunday night game on NBC.
Two road games against good teams to open the season. We'll know very, very early how good this team really is.
All along, the schedule has nooks and crannies and fun matchups. The NFC East schedule opens in Week 3 when the Giants come to town for a 1 p.m. game on FOX. Then it's the 49ers at Lincoln Financial Field to open October. Road games at Buffalo and Washington follow before the bye week.
Are you feeling 5-1 at the bye week, or what? I am, if the Eagles are as good as I think they're going to be.
When the Eagles return from the bye week, they host Dallas in another NBC game on October 30. It's the first of three straight home games, followed by the Bears (on Monday, November 7 on ESPN) and then the Cardinals. Any reason the Eagles aren't in the 8-1 neighborhood at this point?
So then it's on to the home stretch. And it's an unusual ride, hard to say how difficult it is because we don't know how teams are going to look at that point in the season, but it is certainly going to be a grind. A tough road game on November 20 -- again an NBC broadcast -- at the Giants kicks off the challenge, then it's the Patriots visiting Philadelphia on November 27 and then a shorter-than-short week when the Eagles go to Seattle to play the Seahawks for an NFL Network game on Thursday, December 1.
Think of it this way: Giants on a Sunday night, Patriots the following Sunday and then the Eagles pack up two days later and head to Seattle for the December 1 game. Brutal. But the Eagles can come out of that minefield 10-2 or 9-3 and then they are set up nicely for the finish.
A sweet mini-bye week follows the game in Seattle and then the Eagles play at Miami on December 11 -- I'm thinking 20,000 Eagles fans *need *to be there to get an early-winter tan -- before the Eagles host the Jets on December 24 at 4:15 and then close out the season with two games in the NFC East -- December 24 at Dallas in a 4:15 kickoff at Cowboys Stadium and then a closer on January 1 at 1 p.m. against Washington at Lincoln Financial Field.
I love the schedule. Why not? Go get the Rams early, before they come together. Play at Atlanta and show the national television audience how legit this team is and how primed the Eagles are for a Super run this season. Come out of the gates strong and then pour it on in September and October, build some momentum for the tough stretch down the season. Make that late-season mini-bye week worthwhile by taking care of business in Seattle and then hitting the road to whip up on the Dolphins.
How many wins? Well, hey, I'm in it to win 'em all. I think the Eagles are going to be a terrific team. I think 12 wins, maybe 13, are certainly within reach. I think the Eagles have to start fast and finish strong. They have some work to do here, of course, but the season is right there in front of us.
I wonder how you feel, with this work stoppage and all. I saw the schedule and felt the same tingle, the same surge of excitement, as I always feel. We know that the way the schedule looks now isn't the way it will look in a matter of months, but who cares? I see big wins. I see great things. I see a schedule that loves the Eagles in prime time, America's Team, one that every fan of every team wants to see.
I see a schedule with a lot of wins on it. I see a season to remember with a fantastic Eagles team coming together quickly and proving right away that it is the real deal.
A lot of things have to go right for any team to win the Super Bowl. There are quirks in every schedule. There are tough spots, unfair travel asks, a bunch of guts needed to overcome some obstacles. But this team, the one that played in 2010 and is only going to be better in 2011, knows how to win in tough spots. If anything, the Eagles must be better at Lincoln Financial Field, where they were only 4-5 last season.
There can be no letdowns, not with a tough schedule ahead. Seeing the schedule, feeling the buzz, it only makes the desire greater for the work stoppage to end, and for football to resume as normal. The Eagles have a great, great year ahead. Let's all pray we enjoy it -- the players, the coaches, the fans who love the game so much -- every step of the 17-week marathon of a regular season.