Sunday, November 28, 2004

Coming back from an eventful weekend in Philly, I read two articles on the train that I want to link to later on. But first things first: The Eagles are NFC East champions again, improving to 10-1 after a 27-6 win over the fading New York Giants. With Donovan McNabb and Terrell Owens relatively quiet, the heroes were Brian Westbrook (two TDs, about 130 total yards from scrimmage), a defense that intercepted Eli Manning twice and sacked him five times while holding Tiki Barder to a merely good game rather than a 200-yard detonation, and an offensive line that included two guards I'd never heard of before but kept McNabb's jersey relatively clean and opened holes for Westbrook and Dorsey Levens. Oh yeah, and the special teams were outstanding, with David Akers nailing two longish field goals when the game was still close and Jevon Kearse blocking a punt to set up Westbrook's first score and essentially remove any doubt about the outcome.

This is the fourth straight division title for the Birds, and as they started to celebrate, just a little, it occurred to me why this looked familiar beyond the literal sight: they've become the Atlanta Braves. Now, they're still NINE division championships short of what the Braves have achieved, but in terms of year-in, year-out superior performance, it's a similar type of achievement... and considering the salary cap, injuries, and the theoretical leveling effects of the draft and the schedule, one could make an argument that four NFL division crowns isn't that much less impressive than what Atlanta has done.

What I worry about, though (and remember: I'm a Philadelphian; worry is inevitable as breathing and mispronouncing "water"), is that the Eagles face a similar block against reaching the true heights as the Braves seem to have. Every year, Atlanta towers over their division rivals, dominates the regular season, and then goes belly-up in the playoffs. The Eagles have done the same these last three years, though they've advanced further than the Braves recently have. Just as Bobby Cox always seems to get out-managed in October, Andy Reid has been out-coached in January. The result, in both cases, has been intense frustration.

The counter-argument, which I hope will prove determinative this NFL playoff year, is that while the Braves teams have obviously become less talented over the years--especially with the recent departures of Greg Maddux, Gary Sheffield, Javy Lopez et all--the Eagles have more raw ability on their current roster than they have at any point in Reid's tenure. Owens and Kearse have no ownership of those three NFC Championship Game losses; they have no ghosts to exorcise. Hopefully that will make the difference this winter.

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