July 24, 2017
The Eagles will win 10 games this season and will return to the NFL playoffs for the first time in four years.
How’s that for an optimistic spin on the first day of training camp?
Hey, I believe it. I believe the Eagles are the most underrated team in the league this year. I believe they will take the surprising 3-0 start in 2016 and build upon it, creating a genuine sense of hope for a sports team that Philadelphia hasn’t had in years. Above all, I believe in these Eagles.
It’s hard to imagine that the Birds could be underrated, given the attention they get in this passionate city and the national scrutiny created by an exciting young quarterback with an arsenal of new weapons. And yet, most power rankings have them in the 15-22 range, mediocre at best. Almost no one has them winning the NFC East.
What these self-proclaimed experts refuse to consider is just how improved the 2017 team is, thanks to some bold moves by GM Howie Roseman. The Eagles have more balance than any team in their division, and far more upside – unless your idea of upside is a 36-year old Eli Manning or a soon-to-be-suspended Ezekiel Elliott.
Obviously, the Eagles will be better offensively, if for no other reason than the maturation of Carson Wentz. My first inkling that 2017 would be different came during a conversation with the young quarterback during the NFL draft. He still couldn’t believe a team he was on had finished with a losing record (7-9). At no level had he ever experienced failure like that.
And there’s very little likelihood that it will happen again anytime soon, not with new receivers like Alshon Jeffrey and Torrey Smith, nor with a battering ram like LeGarrette Blount standing behind him. All of those new targets are bound to improve the contributions of returnees Jordan Matthews and Zack Ertz, too.
Yet the biggest difference is something that has slipped past even the most ardent Eagle followers. Barring another unfortunate trip to his local GNC, Lane Johnson will be at right tackle all season. The Eagles were a late fumble by Ryan Matthews in Detroit away from a 6-0 record with Johnson on the field last season. They were 2-8 during his suspension.
Any questions so far?
Defensively, yes, the Birds have lousy cornerbacks – as if any of the other 31 teams don’t have equally glaring holes somewhere on their rosters. So much has been made of the fact that there is no experience on the corners, but if the alternative is Nolan Carroll and Leodis McKelvin, aren’t the Eagles better off by default?
The skeptics fail to acknowledge what else has happened to the defense since last season. Gone are those two corners and an ineffective Connor Barwin. Rookie first-round pick Derek Barnett will double Barwin’s pitiful five sacks. Bet on it.
Timmy Jernigan is a much better pass rusher than Bennie Logan at defensive tackle, and Chris Long gives the Birds a smart, experienced alternative to Vinny Curry and Brandon Graham in the defensive-end rotation. Oh, yeah, the Eagles also have one of the best young defensive leaders in the NFL at middle linebacker, a quickly maturing Jordan Hicks.
Add up all of these major improvements on both sides of the ball, plus the inevitably strong special teams under coach Dave Fipp, and this is no seven or eight-win team. This is a team that will surprise the good teams on the schedule and will roll over the stiffs.
The biggest unknown is Doug Pederson, whose bold strategies – especially on fourth down – and even bolder statements suggest he is all-in himself in his second season as head coach. With smart players like Wentz and Hicks, Pederson doesn’t have to channel Einstein this year. He just has to give the young players some room to grow.
Brace yourself, Philadelphia. For the first time since 2013, you will have a sports team worthy of your passion. The 2017 Eagles are going to win 10 games, and they’re going to the playoffs. Believe it.
Matt Klentak doesn’t know it yet, but this may be the most important week of his career as GM of the Phillies. If he whiffs again at the trade deadline, he will lose a fan base that is already harboring deeper and deeper doubts about his ability to rebuild the team.
At 36, Klentak remains a totally unproven commodity, even after nearly two years of overseeing the Phils’ roster. After his trade of reliever Ken Giles very early in his tenure, the GM has spent a lot more time preaching patience than doing anything tangible to bring young talent into the organization.
Last year at this time, he had players whose entire purpose was to attract trade attention – starter Jeremy Hellickson, for example – and yet his only move came weeks after the July 31 deadline when he did a waiver deal involving catcher Carlos Ruiz. Since then, nothing.
“Whether it’s now,” he said on Saturday night, “whether it’s August, whether it’s the winter meetings, whether it’s spring training, no matter what, it’s generally still the same calculus: Does this potential transaction make sense for this franchise at this time?”
What Klentak doesn’t realize because he’s so insulated from the fans is that they are already fed up with his lack of urgency. The stands are half-empty, the team has the worst record in baseball, and the kid GM is using fancy words like calculus instead of making moves. (All I know about calculus is that I was terrible at it in school.)
One week from today, the trade deadline will pass, and so will the remaining patience of a fan base that has endured five straight losing seasons. Hellickson must go, as should Pat Neshek, Howie Kendrick, and Joaquin Benoit, among others. Even Tommy Joseph, who is blocking a better prospect, Rhys Hoskins, needs a new home.
What Klentak – and his overrated boss, president Andy MacPhail – has failed to grasp is that Philadelphia does not react well to inertia, especially when its team is 28 games under .500. The GM acts as if he has all the time in the world to do his job. He doesn’t. Not in this city.
If he has another unproductive week, Matt Klentak is going to find out, in no uncertain terms, what it’s like to get on the wrong side of the most passionate sports city in America.
In our lifetimes, no person has done more to undermine confidence in our criminal justice system than O.J. Simpson. Watching him win parole last week was like re-living the nightmare 22 years ago when he got away with murder.
The same look of relief that nauseated most of America after he was found not guilty of the murders of his wife Nicole and Ron Goldman in 1995 spread across his face again last week when a Nevada parole board voted to release him on Oct. 1 after nine years in prison for armed robbery.
Legally, the board may have had no choice. Morally, they needed to find a way to keep his smug face behind bars for as long as possible. One thing was clear during the 75-minute hearing: Simpson has learned nothing after nine years in captivity. His demeanor remains just as offensive today as it was during and after his murder trial.
Can you imagine the reaction by his nemesis, Fred Goldman, when Simpson announced, with a straight face, that he has lived a “conflict-free life” – completely ignoring the eight 911 calls Nicole made to police for domestic abuse before the murder?
Simpson’s statement that he had no involvement with any weapons was even more maddening. What about the gun he brandished during the famous low-speed chase just before his arrest for murder? And then there’s the knife that carved up two innocent victims. Does he really think everybody forgot about those?
My great fear now is that Simpson will find the embrace of enough star-struck people to make the rest of his life comfortable. The fact that the parole-board members – one wearing a Kansas City Chiefs tie, no less – saw him still as one of the greatest running backs in football history rather than a criminal was yet another blow to justice.
If the law cannot keep Simpson behind bars, it’s up to the public to make his life the living hell he deserves for what he did.
And finally ...
• Sixers fans have to calm down about the idea of LeBron James joining his pal, Ben Simmons, in Philadelphia for the 2018-‘19 season. A tweet by James last week wishing Simmons a happy birthday is all it took to set off the latest flurry of delusions. First, Simmons is going to have to prove he can play in the NBA. Then all the kids will have to stay healthy. Winning more than 28 games would help, too. Until all of that happens, LeBron is not coming here. So, chill.
• Big3 founder Ice Cube did Allen Iverson’s damaged image no good last week when the rapper/movie star said that he knew at 2 p.m. on July 16 that Iverson would not be playing that night in Philadelphia. No announcement of Iverson’s still-mysterious illness was made until 5:30 p.m., 30 minutes before the start of the first game. Iverson said he hopes to come back here to play soon. Just one question: Does he plan to rip off his loyal fans again, or will he do the right thing and play for free this time?
• If the Miami Marlins were able to get four prospects, including one of the highest-rated outfielders, from the Mariners for David Phelps (3.45 ERA), don’t you wonder why Phils GM Matt Klentak couldn’t get an even better deal for a far more effective reliever, Pat Neshek (1.14 ERA)? Did Klentak even call Seattle? One week before the deadline, trades are getting done – just not by the Phillies.
• Ex-Eagle quarterback Michael Vick had to apologize last week after suggesting that anthem protestor Colin Kaepernick might have better luck finding a job if he cut his hair. Vick answered a fair question with his honest opinion, and promptly got crushed on social media. With the PC police prowling Twitter and Facebook in search of the next victim, why would anyone ever tell the truth? Vick should have told all of his dissenters to go to hell
• Top draft pick Nolan Patrick still hasn’t been able to practice with his new Flyers teammates because of what GM Ron Hextall called “a face infection.” Huh? First, it was a sports hernia and now, a face infection. Add that to all the broken feet and torn knees by the next generation of Philadelphia superstars, and it’s time to wonder if the city is jinxed. I mean, a face infection? Seriously?