We'll see Jim Johnson's blitzing, aggressive defense on Sunday but it won't be coming from Eagles defensive coordinator Juan Castillo. Former Eagles assistant Steve Spagnuolo has brought Johnson's pressure defense to St. Louis and he has a number of pieces, like defensive end Chris Long and linebacker James Laurinaitis that fit into the scheme. But the Rams are old and average in the secondary and if the Eagles offensive line can hold up (OK, a big if), than Michael Vick should have open receivers to target. Eagles, 28-10.
What goes right: For at least one game, Castillo quells fears about his play-calling.
What goes wrong: Not much. Let's say kicker Alex Henery misses a relatively makeable field goal.
The schedule isn't brutal, but it's close. Two road games against an up-and-comer and a playoff-worthy team and then a home date against the N.Y. Giants confront the Eagles to start. The slate gets easier over the next three weeks with the 49ers visiting the Linc and the Eagles traveling to Buffalo and then Washington. If they can go 4-2 -- and it says here they do -- and avoid the Andy Reid slow start as all the new pieces fall into place, then the Eagles should be off and running. If they go 3-3 or 2-4, then making the playoffs will be a struggle. That being said, there's just too much talent on this team to not make the postseason. With Reid, that's never been the problem. It's when he gets there, and in the last two years it's been one and down. The forecast here is an 11-5 record, another NFC East crown and even a playoff victory or two. But the season ends with another NFC championship loss and Reid's future with the Eagles as murky as the Schuylkill River.
Packers > N.Y. Jets
I expect the Rams to get their hits on Vick, but not enough to shut down the Eagles offense, which will take off behind LeSean McCoy, even as the top wide receivers round back into form. The Eagles defense is still a work in progress, but the Rams don’t have the firepower to make them pay just yet. It’s probably a close game, with the Eagles pulling away late. Eagles, 27-17.
What goes right: Vick and DeSean Jackson get on track with a big strike despite not connecting much in the preseason.
What goes wrong: Steven Jackson exploits the aggressive defensive line for some big gains.
The Eagles went 10-6 last year and have much more talent this time around. Vick will probably come back to Earth a bit from his midseason form last year, but will still play at a high level most weeks and the defense will be better with all the new star power. The offensive line? It was a question last year, too, but the offense still scored plenty. The Eagles have enough firepower to win the division and should be able to win a playoff game. But I’ve got a feeling that as the competition level steps up, the “get a lead and rush the passer” philosophy runs into an opponent who keeps the game close, stops the quick strikes and hurts the Eagles with the run. Eagles go 11-5, win the NFC East and a Wild Card game, but go out in the divisional round.
Saints > Patriots
We'll have predictions for every game this season Friday mornings at Birds' Eye View. Feel free to give us your picks and check out Sunday's Inquirer and here at philly.com for complete advance coverage of the Eagles-Rams game.