The Philadelphia Eagles, in 2008, had no right to play in the playoffs. They played so badly at times, it was embarrassing to be a fan last year. I don't know a single Eagles fan that wanted to go to work on Monday after tying the Bengals.
But the last few weeks of the season showed us all what they were capable of.
Then came the playoffs in which we all realized that this Eagles team really had what it takes to advance far into the playoffs.
While the NFC appears to be loaded with skilled teams this year, none of them displays the total package the Eagles display.
Now a season older and much more improved, the Eagles have emerged as the team to beat in the NFC.
Here are five reasons why...
1. The No. 3 Ranked Defense Returns 10 Starters.
While Brian Dawkins was officially my favorite Eagle of all time, let's face it, he was soft in coverage. With a potential liability in center field, the Eagles were still able to hold opponents to 182.1 passing yards per game.
Replacing Dawkins with whoever steps up and takes the spot will only be an upgrade in coverage.
While Quintin Demps and Sean Jones may not even combine for six forced fumbles, they should be able to prevent 10-15 of those 182.1 passing yards per game. And that's an underestimation.
Let's not forget that stopping the run was done with just as much success for the Eagles. Gone are the days of teams taking an early seven point lead and attempting to run the clock out with three minutes gone in the first quarter. The run-d really was that bad, before last year. But now...
The Eagles ranked fourth in the NFL with 92.2 rush yards per game allowed. Stewart Bradley, Brodrick Bunkley, Quintin Mikell, and others were major contributors to stopping the run.
These guys aren't even at their primes yet either...
2. The Youth and Maturation of the No. 3 Ranked Defense
With the youth on this defense, 48 years of experience between the projected starters combined and 4.4 years per starter, another offseason together will only make this group better.
The key players on defense are only going to get better. Scary isn't it....
Stewart Bradley and Brodrick Bunkley will both turn 26 a few months into the season.
While the old men on this side of the ball, Asante Samuel and Quintin Mikell, are entering their eighth season. I'd say they've still got at least half a tank left in their football lives gas tank.
Getting a little grey isn't always a bad thing. This group, through experiences shared last year, got a few greys and all that means is that they'll be able to respond to challenges that they weren't the best at last year.
I am more excited about this side of the ball than I am the offense. The offense which is a smorgasbord of immense talent...
3. Speed and Skill at the Skill Positions.
We know about Westbrook, we know about Kevin Curtis, and by now we all know about DeSean Jackson. Three guys who, at times, can do whatever they want on the field.
With Westbrook recovering from a procedure that equated to removing plaque off of teeth, enter LeSean McCoy. I think this kid is the real deal. Unfortunately, we'll have to wait and find out about that.
McCoy will be, this year, what we expected from Lorenzo Booker last year. Another Westbrook, right next to...well, Westbrook. Can you imagine that? My brain shuts down every time I try to think about it because of the pure awesomeness that could come from that.
Kevin Curtis is healthy again. With 1,000+ yards in his inaugural Eagles season, Curtis battles injury last year and wasn't what we expected. Missing games here and there and practice time in the preseason allow DeSean Jackson to get some time.
And get some time he did...
All DeSean Jackson did as a rookie was catch 62 balls for 912 yards. Rookies aren't supposed to do that.
Word from OTA's is that Jackson was un-coverable. Really, Asante Samuel and Sheldon Brown could keep up with him? I'm going to stop there because I'm getting lightheaded thinking about it.
The Eagles also drafted Jeremy Maclin, who should push Jason Avant for playing time out of the slot. Maclin has superstar speed and top ten talent, how this translates, only time will tell.
Brent Celek emerged last year as a top pass catching tight end last year with a post season Tony Gonzalez would wish for. Another year as the starter will only make him better.
The Eagles are, while not exactly proven, stacked at the skill positions. But the roster here is nothing compared to what we could see along the offensive line...
4. The Offensive Line.
Tra Thomas and John Runyan are gone and will be missed, but the mourning will not last long.
Jason Peters, while not performing as well as he could have last year, is still considered to be one of, if not the, best LTs in the game. Tra Thomas was good, but was never considered one of the best.
Shawn Andrews moves out to the RT spot creating what should be the best tackle tandem in the NFL.
Shawn Andrews, remember, had a season in '08 with lots to be desired. He suffered from depression issues as well as back problems. Bringing in his old college roommate, Peters, as well as his brother Stacie Andrews, Shawn is looking to have a bounce back season that declares him one of the best RTs in the game.
Stacie Andrews will be moved to his more natural position, alongside brother Shawn, at the RG position. While Todd Herremans mans the LG position. Herremans is on the verge of a Pro Bowl and should only continue to improve as he has since coming into the league in five years ago.
Center may be the one position that sees the most competition. Jamaal Jackson is the incumbent here but Nick Cole is right behind him. Nick Cole got to see extended time after Max Jean-Gilles was lost to injury replacing Shawn Andrews at the RG position.
While Jean-Gilles looked very good and proved to be able to provide great depth at the position, Cole proved great.
Cole, a natural C, should push for a starting spot at the position which will result in one of two outcomes.
1. Jamaal Jackson feels the pressure and responds by playing at the Pro Bowl level that is expected of him, or
2. Nick Cole runs away with the starting spot riding the high that he developed last year.
With the offensive line looking as good as it does, that means we should see some improved play from the QB position...
5. No. 5
Donovan McNabb finally put together 16 consecutive games in a single regular season last year and had the best one of his career. He passed for 3916 yards and 23 TDs.
While McNabb had thrown for more TDs in other seasons, he was never quite this effective.
McNabb is still in the prime of his career and will be protected by an improved offensive line.
He's finally got the plethora of weapons he's dreamed of and should be able to spread the ball around with ease.
There is no doubt in this Eagles fans mind that McNabb is the best QB in the division and a top five in the NFL.
Obviously time is the only thing that will tell us how this 2009 Eagles squad will perform. But before that clock starts to tick, its fun to think of the possibilities.
One last thing for all you readers out there, my division prediction...