The Philadelphia Eagles could have an undefeated regular season, set records and breeze through the playoffs.
Nothing matters more than winning their elusive first Super Bowl. Anything less would be considered a failure this season.
The Eagles have done it all over the last decade except win it all. They've reached the playoffs seven times, made five trips to the NFC championship game and went to the Super Bowl once, only to come up three points short against New England.
Time could be running out on coach Andy Reid and quarterback Donovan McNabb, who are entering their 11th season together in Philadelphia. Neither has a contract beyond 2010, and they may have to deliver the team's first NFL title since 1960 to stick around.
"The only thing I care about is winning and holding up that trophy at the end and winning the Super Bowl," McNabb said. "That's the only thing that matters."
The Eagles are so desperate to win they brought in Michael Vick to give the offense an extra dimension. The three-time Pro Bowl quarterback is expected to play a leading role in Philadelphia's version of the wildcat offense. Vick isn't eligible to play until Week 3 after being reinstated to the NFL following an 18-month prison sentence for running a dogfighting operation.
Signing Vick was a stunning move for an organization that prides itself on strong morals and has little tolerance for players with character issues. But Reid, with McNabb's support, persuaded owner Jeffrey Lurie to give Vick a second chance. Lurie agonized over the decision, but he eventually agreed _ not because the Eagles want to become the new landing spot for reformed players, but because Vick could help the team win now.
"I've often said that we are full pedal to the metal," Lurie said. "And when coach Reid said this man can give us a dimension that we don't have and add another weapon to our offense in unpredictable ways, in partnership with the players that we have and the quarterback we have, then again, (it was) a soul-searching tough decision, but something that we think can improve the team and at the same time create social change."
Make no mistake, winning is the top priority here. Vick gives Reid and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg another option and opposing defenses more to worry about. The Eagles scored a franchise-record 416 points last year without Vick or wide receiver Jeremy Maclin and running back LeSean McCoy, the team's first two draft picks. There's no telling what this offense can achieve with this talented trio in the mix.
Star running back Brian Westbrook is determined to prove injuries and turning 30 won't slow him down. Wideout DeSean Jackson seems poised to build on an outstanding rookie season. McNabb appears at the top of his game, rebounding well from his first career benching last year to lead the Eagles to a 4-1 record down the stretch; an unlikely playoff spot as the No. 6 seed; two road playoff wins; and a near-comeback win at Arizona in the NFC title game.
The key to the offense could be how a revamped line meshes and if the unit stays healthy. The five projected starters didn't take a snap together in the preseason and left guard Todd Herremans is sidelined with a foot injury. New bookend tackles Jason Peters on the left side and Shawn Andrews on the right replace longtime starters Tra Thomas and Jon Runyan. Shawn's brother, Stacy Andrews, is the new right guard.
"It will be a process. There will be highs and there will be lows. We'll just make sure there are more highs than lows," McNabb said. "The communication is very key and the chemistry just continues to get better and better every week. When you fill in new guys in different positions, sometimes it's tough because you have to adjust now from preseason to games, and there are going to be times throughout the game where we are going to look crisp and there are going to be times when we don't. We have to make sure that we capitalize on those mistakes and be able to change some negatives to positives."
The biggest question marks for the Eagles are on defense. First, the unit lost its on-field leader when seven-time Pro Bowl free safety Brian Dawkins signed with Denver in free agency. Next, the Eagles lost longtime defensive coordinator Jim Johnson. A highly regarded mastermind, Johnson passed away in July following a battle with cancer. Then, middle linebacker Stewart Bradley, the signal-caller on defense, went down with a season-ending knee injury.
Rookie Victor 'Macho' Harris beat out second-year pro Quintin Demps for Dawkins' spot. Sean McDermott, one of Johnson's disciples, takes over the coaching duties. Omar Gaither regained his old starting job in place of Bradley.
"We know what is out there, what we are capable of doing, but come Sunday, it's about proving it," veteran cornerback Sheldon Brown said. "When I watch film and I look at our defense, I'm looking for guys I can trust. I need to know what everybody around me is doing. We have nine starters back and I know those players. I know Omar at middle linebacker. I know we have a rookie (Macho Harris) at free safety who has to grow up in a hurry. It's up to everyone to come prepared to do our part and to help in any way we can. That's how you win as a defense and as a team. Everybody helps everybody."