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2005 preview: Eagles

Charles Robinson
Yahoo Sports
NFC East predictions
1. Philadelphia
2. Dallas
3. Washington
4. N.Y. Giants
Philadelphia Eagles
Head coach: Andy Reid, seventh season
2004 record: 13-3
2004 rankings: Offense, ninth (351.1 yards/game); Defense, 10th (319.7 yards/game)
2005 strength of schedule: 30th
From SportingNews.com: NFC East overview

Finally, the Eagles got over their NFC championship hump – and without Terrell Owens. While Philadelphia had been among the league's elite for several years, 2004 was the biggest stride yet, largely thanks to Owens who instilled a new attitude in the team.

Owens' recovery from a broken leg and damaged knee ligaments should go down as one of the most miraculous comebacks of all time. And while the Eagles didn't win the Super Bowl, they took the next step toward winning one. The window of opportunity should remain wide open for several years.

OFFENSE

Bottom line – it's a different unit with Owens than without. That doesn't mean the Eagles can't win the NFC without Owens in the lineup. It just means that they can't be as dominant depending on Todd Pinkston and Greg Lewis.

Don't worry about Donovan McNabb. He has matured into a genuine top-flight quarterback. But his life on the field is made far easier with Owens in the fold (notice I didn't say off the field). You simply can't depend on the receiving corps without Owens.

Running back Brian Westbrook is a great threat, but it's a shame that injuries have made the team so careful about the number of offensive looks he gets. Watching him play, you can definitely see shades of the old Marshall Faulk, but Westbrook's fragility keeps him from getting the ball enough to put up Faulk-type numbers. However, if the Owens situation blows up in training camp and T.O. gets suspended by the team, there'll be no caution over Westbrook's touches. He'll become the center of the offense.

The offensive line is solid, and it should get even better now that Shawn Andrews is healthy.

DEFENSE

The group that surrendered only 260 points last season has 10 starters back. This unit also picked up loads of depth in the offseason in the form of six defensive draft picks, including defensive tackle Mike Patterson and linebacker Matt McCoy.

While most of the picks will be shuffled to the bottom of the depth chart and groomed, Patterson will be expected to jump into the tackle rotation of Corey Simon, Hollis Thomas, Darwin Walker and Sam Rayburn. If Simon's contract impasse worsens in training camp (and it is starting to sound pretty dire), he still could be dealt.

Good luck finding cracks in the rest of the defense. Though defensive end Derrick Burgess is gone, his departure opens up an opportunity for N.D. Kalu, who is more than capable of picking up the slack.

SPECIAL TEAMS

The loss of backup linebacker and special teams ace Ike Reese is going to hurt, but the unit will get some live bodies in rookies McCoy and Trent Cole.

David Akers may be the best kicker in football – with New England's Adam Vinatieri being the only other sound argument. Punter Dirk Johnson is solid.

PREDICTION

The Eagles will finish 13-3 and first in the NFC East.