The Philadelphia Eagles are starting a season filled with high expectations on the road. While Eagles fans like myself don't know how the year will go, we are at least confident that we can win the opening game on the road. It is against an overmatched opponent led by a young quarterback, so the hope is that a win will give Philadelphia confidence against tougher opponents down the line. Yet that formula didn't work after beating the St. Louis Rams in last year's Week 1.
At this time last season, the Eagles started their 'Dream Team' year by taking care of a Rams team that would finish at 2-14. But that 31-13 victory at St. Louis gave Philadelphia false hope - and hopefully history won't repeat itself if the 2012 Eagles take care of the Cleveland Browns on Sept. 9.
When the Eagles visited the Rams in Week 1 of 2011, St. Louis at least had some expectations of its own. After nearly winning the NFC West in 2010 with a 7-9 record, and with Sam Bradford coming off a successful rookie season, the Rams hoped to start taking the next step. But after being thumped by the Birds, the Rams utterly collapsed back into the NFL's basement.
The Browns are already there, having come off a 4-12 season in 2011. They too have a young quarterback in charge - although Brandon Weeden is 28 years old despite being a rookie. Yet Weeden and running back Trent Richardson hope to lift Cleveland back into football relevancy, starting against Philadelphia.
This season opener for the Eagles looks to be a mere bump in the road, before it faces tougher opponents like the Baltimore Ravens, Pittsburgh Steelers and New York Giants in the coming weeks. Likewise, last year's opening game looked to be a mere bump for Philadelphia, before it took on the Atlanta Falcons, Giants and San Francisco 49ers. But after that 'bump' against the Rams, the Eagles didn't win again for another month.
The signs that 2011 wouldn't be a dream year were there in St. Louis, as Philadelphia started slow, couldn't defend the run until Stephen Jackson got hurt, and took a bit too long to pull away. But we Eagles fans dismissed it as mere opening game jitters - and were proven utterly wrong over the next several weeks.
This time we won't be so naïve, as we will be quicker to worry if the Eagles struggle over the Browns. Since there's no Dream Team hype or overconfidence, a bad performance in Cleveland won't fuel us with confidence for games against Baltimore, Pittsburgh or New York. Even if Philadelphia cruises to victory like it's supposed to, we can't get too carried away.
Last year, the Eagles looked pretty good for the most part against an inferior team in Week 1, and then much tougher games brought us back to reality. The same formula could well repeat itself in 2012, given Philadelphia's tough early schedule and uncertain future.
If there's a sense of déjà vu in the opening game, it will bode well for the Eagles in the short term, since they started 1-0 last year. But after that, things need to turn out a little differently when they don't have the Browns to beat up - if they even beat Cleveland up at all.
Robert Dougherty is a life-long Philadelphia resident who has followed the Eagles since he was eight years old.
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