With training camp slowly approaching, expectations are higher than ever this season for players and fans of the Philadelphia Eagles after strong late-season performance last year.
After a Week 12 loss to the Baltimore Ravens last season, a game in which quarterback Donovan McNabb was benched in the second half, the Eagles sat at 5-5-1 and would need to play perfect football the last five weeks of the season if there was any hope of making the playoffs.
With an NFC Championship matchup against the Arizona Cardinals, who the team previously beat 48-20 earlier in the season, the Eagles appeared by some to be a team of destiny on their way to a Super Bowl after miraculously making the playoffs.
Despite the 32-25 loss, the Eagles held their heads high considering most analysts and fans around the league never gave them a shot of advancing as far as they did.
All they could think about was the fact that they needed to carry their hot streak over to 2009.
The fans will say whatever they want about the Eagles' offseason departures of key players, such as Brian Dawkins. He is irreplaceable at the safety position and will always be respected as one of the greatest players the franchise has ever had.
However, the Eagles arguably had one of the greatest offseasons in free agency and the draft. In March, the team signed free-agent fullback Leonard Weaver to a one-year deal worth around $1.75 million.
He should have an immediate impact blocking for the Eagles, who never really used the fullback position last season.
The team also acquired offensive tackle Jason Peters from the Buffalo Bills, who is arguably one of the best at his position in the league.
The 6′4″ 340-pound Peters should improve an offensive line that is dealing with the loss of Tra Thomas, who signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars this offseason.
In the 2009 NFL Draft, the Eagles were lucky enough to trade up and select Missouri wide receiver Jeremy Maclin with the 19th overall pick. Maclin joins a wide-receiver cast that already consists of Kevin Curtis and DeSean Jackson, two players who have shown they are capable of having 1,000-yard seasons.
The team also traded two fifth-round draft picks to the New England Patriots for cornerback Ellis Hobbs.
If anything, the Eagles make a strong case for finishing atop the NFC East this season thanks to the offseason. With the departure of star wide receivers Terrell Owens and Plaxico Burress, the NFC East may not be seen as competitive of a division as it has been the last few seasons.
The division may be strong, but there may be other divisions such as the NFC South or AFC East who are stronger.
Still, the Eagles showed they have what it takes to compete with the best teams in the league with the way they performed toward the end of last season. There is no reason not to believe they will finish atop the NFC East, if not the NFC.
The main factor for the Eagles in 2009 will be health.
Last season, Curtis only played in nine games due to a sports hernia he suffered at the beginning of the season. He looks to bounce back in 2009 after a disappointing campaign last year, in which he finished with 390 yards receiving and two touchdowns.
However, he may not be the most important player that needs to stay healthy on the team’s roster.
From ankle injuries to sports hernias, McNabb has seen his fair share of injuries as an Eagle. However, last season was the first time McNabb was healthy enough to play in all 16 regular season games since 2003.
As long as McNabb can stay healthy for the second consecutive season and takes advantage of the weapons he has on offense, look for the Eagles to finish 13-3 with home-field advantage throughout the playoffs in 2009.
You can follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/Eagles_FanVoice