So you think Kevin Kolb is going to be the next Aaron Rodgers, eh? Well, we'll see if he is ready for that comparison right away -- Smack! Pow! -- in the opening game of the season when the Packers come to town. Can the young Eagles win on the road? Well, the next two games are in Detroit and then in Jacksonville, so the September schedule offers a lot of excellent tests for this football team.
And then, drum roll please, Donovan McNabb (and Terrell Owens?) and the Washington Redskins visit Lincoln Financial Field in Week 4 in a nationally-televised game that is sure to bring down the house.
That's the kind of schedule it is. There are eight nationally-televised games, including five already scheduled for prime time. And the last three games of the season -- at the Giants, home with Minnesota and Dallas -- are currently scheduled for 1 p.m. and could be flexed to the national spotlight. Clearly, the networks think the Eagles are going to be a team to watch very closely with all of this young talent.
For the third straight season, the Eagles end against Dallas, this time at Lincoln Financial Field. It's a beaut of a schedule, it really is, and for the purposes of having some fun, I've got the Eagles pegged to go -- and I'm way, way out on a limb here -- 16-0. I think that should be good enough for a first-round bye and home-field advantage in the NFC playoffs.
Here is a week-by-week look the season ahead through my eyes ...
September 12, vs. Green Bay
Yeah, yeah, Kolb vs. Rodgers will be the pre-game talk, but when it comes right down to it the show-stopper will be Asante Samuel, who registers 14 tackles and 3 interceptions and then shrugs off a media that has criticized him throughout the off-season for his A. Lack of tackling skills; and B. His tendency to take chances in coverage.
"The media knew what it was getting when the Eagles signed me," says Samuel, up to a robust 210 pounds after an off-season of lifting weights. "I will let my play do the talking now."
Chuck Bednarik is featured during a halftime segment at Lincoln Financial Field as the Eagles honor the memory of their last NFL title, in 1960 when the team defeated Green Bay, 17-13.
"I think I could play now," said Bednarik. "Look, nobody even plays both ways anymore ..."
**September 19, at Detroit
Ernie Sims is the honorary captain and Andy Reid pulls a shocker: He inserts Sims as the kickoff return man to open the game.
"I received an email from a Discussion Board poster named James," said Reid, after a game in which Sims returned two kickoffs for touchdowns and registered 26 tackles in a 41-3 win. "He suggested giving Sims a look at quarterback and on kickoff returns. I couldn't do all that, but it made sense to see if Ernie could return kicks. He sure was fired up for the game."
In their first visit to Ford Field since the 2004 season, the Eagles dominated play. Darryl Tapp had three sacks of quarterback Matthew Stafford and Brodrick Bunkley returned a fumble 99 yards for a touchdown. The media-shy Bunkley had fellow defensive tackle Mike Patterson stand in for him in the post-game interview room.
"It isn't as easy as it looks to run all the way down the field," said Patterson. "You guys want to race?"
**September 26, at Jacksonville
In the brutal heat of the North Florida sun, head athletic trainer Rick Burkholder, always on the cutting edge, introduces bee urine to a players' diet that already includes pickle juice, Pedialyte and s'mores.
"It helps the players focus, it reduces concussions and we've seen studies that it limits torn anterior cruciate ligaments," said Burkholder.
Stewart Bradley, rounding into top form after suffering a torn ACL last year, stuffs Jacksonville running back Maurice Jones-Drew-Smith, Jr. and actually picks him up and carries him 97 yards for a touchdown to decide the game for the Eagles.
"It isn't as easy as picking up a football and running all that way, but Barry Rubin's conditioning program has paid off," said Bradley. "We spent a month carrying Nick Cole from one side of the field to the other, and the work made this seem pretty easy by comparison."
After the game, Bradley is spotted by the always-alert media posing for GQ Magazine wearing skippy shorts and a polo shirt in a planned spread for Football Players And Their Styles.
**October 3, vs. Washington
Serious stuff here. No joking around. McNabb insists this is "just another game" while Owens tears up in a press conference in the middle of the week as he refers to "my quarterback" and all of the things McNabb has endured in his first three weeks as a Redskin.
The game isn't close. Trent Cole has a field day against George Starke, who was cajoled out of retirement to play left tackle as the Redskins try to resurrect "The Hogs." Starke, at age 62, is no match for Cole.
"I don't like Hogs, on the football field or when I'm out hunting," says Cole. "I bagged me a few today, didn't I?"
McNabb mistakenly chest bumps with Swoop before the game, setting into motion a miserable afternoon. By the end of the third quarter, Owens is pulled off the sidelines and sent to the locker room after he is seen badgering Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan on the sidelines.
October 10, at San Francisco
In yet another trip to San Francisco, the Eagles re-create one of their greatest victories as a team, and elect Koy Detmer and Chad Lewis as their honorary captains. Detmer, wearing the same jeans he wore in 2002 when the Eagles won in San Francisco, calls the coin flip correctly and then, with nobody looking, pinches the coin and puts it in his pocket.
"I can buy a tube of toothpaste with that," says the fiscally-sound Detmer, laughing.
As for the game, well, nothing is ever as it seems. DeSean Jackson celebrates his return to his hometown with 11 catches for 245 yards and 4 touchdowns, and Jeremy Maclin scores twice and the Eagles roll with Kolb and Michael Vick splitting snaps.
"I think," said Kolb, indicating that he and Andy Reid are on the same page, "it's just a matter of the coach putting us in the right position to make plays."
The Eagles have averaged 35 points per game in their torrid start, but long-time NFL analyst Ray Didinger expresses concern that the Eagles are throwing the ball 59 percent of the time and running it only 41 percent of the time.
"I don't know how long this can last," says Ray Diddy.
**October 17, vs. Atlanta
Matt Ryan and Kolb square off in a battle of two of the best young quarterbacks in the league, but it is Mike Bell's turn to carry the offense. Reid, listening to Didinger's on-air suggestions, skews his ratio and orders a strong running game. The Eagles get six David Akers field goals and beat Atlanta, 18-17.
Bell carries 29 times for 80 yards, prompting former Eagles running back Heath Sherman to wonder if the Eagles offense has gone back to its Rich Kotite-days shell.
"Man, we used to run and run and never go anywhere," said Sherman. "This is like the dark ages of Eagles football."
No matter. Didinger and WIP sports radio are thrilled at the run/pass ratio and suggest Reid should continue on the same path.
**October 24, at Tennessee
The defensive challenge is to corral Titans quarterback Vince Young, so the ever-innovative Sean McDermott uses Vick as a "spy" on defense.
"I know the angles, so it makes sense," says Vick after the game. Young is held to 192 rushing yards and only 16 passing yards and the Eagles win, 38-10.
Shady McCoy gains 246 yards and steals the headlines away from Tennessee's Chris Johnson. The Eagles hand off twice to Stacy Andrews, now fully recovered from his knee injury. He scores twice from a yard away, and the Eagles marketing department immediately calls in former Eagle (and former Chicago Bear, by the way) William "The Refrigerator" Perry for a press conference on Monday after the game.
**November 7, vs. Indianapolis
Hank Baskett sits with McDermott throughout the bye week and breaks down the habits of Peyton Manning.
"I know," said Baskett, "that Peyton doesn't like to eat carbs before the game, so make sure the pre-game meal is loaded with cheesesteaks. And he only likes Lemon-Lime Gatorade. I can't stand the guy. I took all the blame for the Super Bowl, but I'm not the one who threw the interception ..."
National television's Larry King does a sit-down chat with Kendra, Baskett's wife, asking her hard-hitting questions about the difference between the Colts and the Eagles.
"Well," says Kendra, digging in, "the shopping in Indianapolis really sucked ..."
In a defensive battle, the Eagles topple Manning and the Colts, 62-60. Jon Dorenbos, forced into action at tight end, catches a two-point conversion to win the game.
**November 15, at Washington
ESPN's crew of Ron Jaworski and Jon Gruden engage McNabb and Kolb in a game of foosball and the game ends when an enraged Gruden, down 2-nil, pounds the goalie into submission.
"I can't get this guy to do anything right," Gruden explodes. It makes for a great episode of ESPN's Chucky's World and gives Kolb and McNabb a chance to relax over a couple of glasses of milk the night before the game.
The nationally-televised game is a great one, and a very important one in the NFC East. Brent Celek has a huge game, the Eagles offense has terrific balance and the Eagles win going away, 27-17.
Reid and Shanahan meet in the middle of the field after the game and Reid whispers into Shanahan's ear ...
"Mike, something I've always wanted to ask you," says Reid.
"Anything, Andy. What is it?" says Shanahan.
"How do you get that great tan? I'm so doggone Irish and it just doesn't work and here we are in November and you still look great," says Reid.
**November 21, vs. Giants
It's Sunday night football at Lincoln Financial Field and the scene is surreal. Eli Manning has vowed revenge on Baskett for making brother Peyton sick to his tummy ("Mommy was up with Peyton all night after that one," said Eli) and spreads a nasty rumor that Kendra's weekly show on the *E! *network has been cancelled.
So it's war, for sure. In a bitterly-contested game, the Eagles win 24-21 as Akers christens his experience in the new stadium with a game-winning 39-yard field goal with two seconds remaining.
**November 28, at Chicago
In a rare trip to Chicago's Soldier Field, the Eagles attack Bears quarterback Jay Cutler with an inventive blitz scheme and overwhelm the Bears, 31-3. Eagles fans, some of whom have had to declare for a temporary Illinois citizenship, are delirious in their praise of the Eagles.
"This is exactly how we saw it all along," says WIP morning host Angelo Cataldi the next morning. "I have never doubted Andy Reid and his vision for a moment."
Vick plays most of the second half and completes 16 of 19 passes and is asked after the game if he feels he should be starting in the NFL.
"Some day, I will get back out there and have my chance," he says.
Bears fans circle the bus and demand that Vick agrees to sign with the Bears as an unrestricted free agent after the season.
**December 2, vs. Houston
The Houston Texans come to town, a homecoming for quarterback Matt Schaub and running back Steve Slaton. They are treated to a big party at Chickie's and Pete's the night before the NFL Network game, and Shoulder Pads Shawn, a great Eagles fan, sneaks into the party and substitutes paprika for bay seasoning and the cheese fries are ruined. Both Schaub and Slaton are unable to get out of bed for the game and the Texans are ruined.
With a big lead, Reid finally gives in and allows Sims to take some snaps at quarterback. He hands off, mostly, but Reid calls one passing play -- a go route to tight end Cornelius Ingram. Sims' pass falls 30 yards short.
"It's the last time I listen to a fan, I'll tell you that," says Reid. James is ridiculed on the Discussion Boards and changes his name to Stone Cold, and then cries about being a "victim" among Eagles fans.
**December 12, at Dallas
Beautiful stadium, nice people, a really great time at Cowboys Stadium. No jokes, please. The Eagles get back at the Cowboys and the revamped defense limits Dallas to 62 total yards in a 28-0 victory.
"Running against this defense," says safety Quintin Mikell, "is like spitting in the wind. Oops. Was I supposed to say that?
**December 19, at Giants
Huge late-season game at Giants/Jets/Meadowlands/WE NEED A SPONSOR!! Stadium. The Eagles get the ground game going in a game in which there are, surprisingly, swirling winds.
"Funny," said Kolb after the 17-10 victory, "it wasn't windy on the way here."
Of course not. There is controversy. Fact-finding reporter Howard Eskin from WIP radio, found in the 400 level of the building selling Rolex watches out from under his Ventresca sports jacket, notices that every door is open and that all "official" Giants employees have walkie-talkies and are communicating with Giants head coach Tom Coughlin on the sidelines.
"I'll get to the bottom of this," Eskin tweets after the game, as he rushes to grab a drink for a dry-mouthed Reid prior to the head coach's press conference.
**December 26, vs. Vikings
With a wind-chill of 14 degrees, Brett Favre trots out on the field wearing a fur coat and Wrangler jeans under his uniform. The Eagles are asked to install a specially-designed, heated rocking chair on the Vikings sidelines for Favre when he comes to the sidelines.
Bud Grant is asked by Minnesota head coach Brad Childress to help coach in the late-season game and the Vikings employ a physical style, using running back Adrian Peterson on all but three snaps in the first half. Peterson finishes with 147 yards on 48 rushing attempts, but Quintin Demps intercepts a Favre pass late in the game and returns it 72 yards for the game-winning points.
"I saw Brian Dawkins do that in a playoff game against Mr. Favre a few years ago, and I've been trying to follow in Dawk's footsteps, so this was only natural," said Demps, who celebrated his selection to the Pro Bowl with his ninth interception of the season. "I'm just taking what the offenses are giving me."
**January 2, vs. Dallas
Moved from its 1 p.m. original time to the prime time, this game means a lot for Dallas. A win and the Cowboys are in the playoffs. A loss and they go home. The Cowboys are reeling from controversy earlier in the week, when Owner Jerry Jones was video taped at a late-night function criticizing his entire team.
"Why did I ever get rid of Terrell Owens?" says Jones in the grainy video. "Now there was a guy who knew what it took to win."
With Vick running the offense, the Eagles spread things out and Vick shows the speed he has had all season. He tosses a touchdown pass to Ingram and another one to Martin Rucker, his first in the NFL. Marlin Jackson stars at safety, proclaiming himself all the way back after seasons of back-to-back knee surgery.
And the sold-out crowd at Lincoln Financial Field chants *"Jerry, Jerrr-rry" *as the Cowboys' clearly-shaken owner makes his way down to the field at the end of the game.
It is a glorious way to end the season, and Andy Reid, showing his appreciation for the team, does three back handsprings on the way through the tunnel and into the locker room as the Eagles prepare for a week off and home-field advantage in the NFC playoffs.
That's the way I see the regular season going. That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.