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2012 NFL Preview: Eagles can contend for division crown

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Justin Boone, TSN.ca
8/28/2012 12:13:27 PM
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Reasons To Believe

1. Here's To Good Health - The Eagles' offence was slowed by injuries throughout most of 2011 and still managed to finished ranked fourth overall. The health issues began when an off-season illness caused wide receiver Jeremy Maclin to show up to camp underweight. Maclin also missed time later in the year. Quarterback Michael Vick was also sidelined in November and early December. This season, the offence begins the year at full speed, with Maclin poised for a breakout year and Vick looking to reestablish himself as a dominant force through the air and on the ground. The Eagles also have explosive receiver DeSean Jackson and star running back LeSean McCoy giving them one of the most dangerous attacks in the league.

2. The Middle Man - In recent years, Philadelphia has struggled to stop the run. The result has been a defence that can get after the quarterback (DE Jason Babin had 18 sacks in 2011), but gives up big chunks of yardage on the ground. The team may have finally rectified that issue by trading for former Texans middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans. If Ryans can bring the same run-stuffing ability he showed while in Houston, then the Eagles defence could transform into an elite unit. Ryans' presence in the middle should also help Brian Rolle and second round draft pick Mychal Kendricks use their speed to make plays on the outside.

3. Team Chemistry - When teams acquire the amount of free agent talent that the Eagles did in 2011, finding a way for those players to bond on the field takes time. The Eagles' coaching staff found that out the hard way when the team stumbled out of the gates to begin the season. However, as the year progressed the team's play improved and that late season success may have been a result of their players finally gelling, which bodes well for this upcoming season. With one of the most skilled rosters in the NFC, the Eagles are hoping the pieces fit together in 2012.

Reasons To Doubt

1. Protection Issues - Pro Bowl offensive tackle Jason Peters will miss the year after tearing his Achilles in the spring. Philadelphia brought in former Buffalo Bills left tackle Demetress Bell to replace him, but King Dunlap beat him out, meaning the position is no longer considered a strength for the team. Offensive line coach Howard Mudd will continue to work his magic, which helped the Eagles' line open holes for McCoy's 20-touchdown season. While the success of the running game is important, the key to the season will be keeping Vick healthy.

2. Down On The Corner - Nnamdi Asomugha was considered to be the prize of the 2011 free agent crop, a shutdown corner who could lock down opposing teams' top receiver every Sunday. However, Asomugha didn't assimilate into the Eagles' defensive scheme as well as the team had planned. During his time with the Raiders, Asomugha excelled at man coverage. In Philadelphia, he is often called on to drop back and play zone. In the preseason, with a year in the system, Asomugha is still looking out of sorts at times. With Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz, Dez Bryant and Miles Austin lurking in the division, Asomugha will need to answer the call in the regular season.

3. Tough Schedule - Last season, the Eagles managed only one win in five games against teams that eventually made the playoffs. Things can change quickly in the NFL, but this year Philadelphia faces eight teams that reached the post-season a year ago, including six of their first eight games. Playing in a notoriously difficult NFC East, if the Eagles get off to another slow start, playoff hopes may be lost by the midway mark. The NFC will be extremely competitive and if the Eagles are unable to win the division, there are no guarantees that they will be able to capture a wild card berth.

What To Expect

Heading into last season the Eagles had several new pieces and because of the lockout they didn't get a full off-season program to get everyone on the same page. A year later, with a full training camp under their belts, Philadelphia should truly be in position to contend for the division crown and the NFC Championship. No longer burdened by Vince Young's "Dream Team" claims, the Eagles are flying somewhat under the radar, which is hard with a team that boasts this much talent. If Vick plays the majority of the year, Reid will get his club back to the post-season for the 10th time in his 14 years as the Eagles' head coach.

Michael Vick (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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