When Michael Vick(notes) thinks back to his final pass of the 2010 season, a looping spiral toward the left corner of the end zone with 33 seconds remaining in a first-round playoff game at Lincoln Financial Field, he wishes he'd been a bit more patient.
With his Philadelphia Eagles trailing by five points and a first-and-10 from the Green Bay Packers' 27-yard-line, Vick dropped back and went for the win, only to watch cornerback Tramon Williams(notes) leap in front of Riley Cooper(notes) for the game-clinching interception. Had Vick checked down to Pro Bowl receiver DeSean Jackson(notes) at the 15, or tucked the ball and run, or thrown it away to live another down, Aaron Rodgers(notes) and friends might not have hoisted the Lombardi Trophy four weeks later.
"I'm hoping I can be in that situation again," Vick said last month when I visited the Eagles' training camp in Bethlehem, Pa. "I'm gonna try not to make the same mistake this year."
I predict that, come January, Vick will once again be in position to do something special for Philly in the postseason – and this time, I believe, he'll deliver. I felt this as I headed down to the locker rooms at The Linc in the minutes after Vick's pass was picked eight months ago, and the slew of talented players the Eagles acquired in the days after the lockout ended did nothing to curb my enthusiasm.
It turns out I'm not alone in thinking that the Eagles are pretty, pretty good. And while I realize that picking them to play in Super Bowl XLVI is pretty, pretty trendy, in my defense I've been on this bandwagon for awhile – certainly as far back as the end of the 2010 regular season, when I imprudently predicted Philly to prevail over the Pack, my preseason pick to win it all.
Confused? Here's all that you need to know: Contrary to semi-popular belief, I don't get emotionally invested in my forecasts, and if they seem blatantly unimaginative, chances are I'll talk myself into changing them. I'd rather be wrong than boring.
[Photos: See more of star QB Michael Vick]
As I reminded you at this time two years ago, and again in 2010, assuming that there will be substantial carryover from one NFL season to the next is a common trap. So, too, is overreacting to high-profile offseason acquisitions.
For all of these reasons, I should be wary of the Dream Team. Yet I'm willing to risk looking like a sucker when it comes to the Eagles, and being dubbed Captain Obvious, because I'm captivated by their locker room's ideal mix of swagger and hunger.
This is a group of players that expect to be great, and unlike the Donovan McNabb(notes)-led Philly contenders of the previous decade, it's not incumbent upon anyone – even the quarterback – to carry the team.
On offense, the list of playmakers reads like a fantasy draft: Jackson, wideout Jeremy Maclin(notes), slot receiver Jason Avant(notes), talented tight end Brent Celek(notes) and underrated halfback and emerging star LeSean (Shady) McCoy. Throw in recent pickups Steve Smith and Ronnie Brown(notes), and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg is going to have a lot of fun drawing up plays on the ol' greaseboard.
Then there's Vick, who just signed a reported $100 million contract (it's more like a five-year, $80 million deal for you cap-ologists out there) to continue one of the more stunning resurrection stories in professional sports history.
Though it took losing everything, including his freedom, for Vick to dedicate himself to his craft, he's now parlaying his unfathomable ability and a fortuitous partnership with Eagles coach Andy Reid into a space-age quarterbacking clinic.
When Vick had his one truly shaky performance of 2010, in a 24-14 defeat to the Minnesota Vikings on a strange Tuesday night at The Linc last December, critics seized upon his ineffectiveness in the face of the Vikes' repeated blitzes as a Kryptonite equivalent. Last month, Reid acknowledged that Vick wasn't as proficient against the blitz as he could have been in his first year as a starter since 2006, but said the quarterback spent the offseason working on that weakness.
"Now he's got it," Reid insisted. "People can say there's a way to stop Michael Vick, but this is a team sport. You've got this beautiful mind of Marty's and you've got to deal with what he's gonna throw at you, and there are all these other players you have to defend. You can say you're gonna stop Michael Vick, but you've got to stop the whole group."
Vick's response: "I've been hearing that for years. You can't design a defense to stop me, especially not on this team. We have so many weapons, and some teams have tried to make that their primary focus. That's when we run up the score."
As for the notion that defenses might try to mitigate his running ability by using a player as a spy who patrols the line of scrimmage, Vick was similarly dismissive: "I don't even notice a spy now. The last spy I saw was versus Jacksonville last year. DeSean ran a shallow cross right past him and scored. LeShon, DeSean – those guys will beat the spy. Maybe it used to be an option before, but I'm not that guy anymore. I'm getting the ball out."
When Vick gets the ball in Jackson's hands, hearts start racing as rapidly as the receiver changes directions, and with good reason. The 5-foot-10, 175-pound blur averaged 22.5 yards per catch last season and, assuming he and the Eagles can work out a lucrative contract extension, has a chance to be Jerry Rice to Vick's Steve Young for years to come.
Ask Jackson about the way Philly's 2010 season ended, and he doesn't talk about the fact that he flashed open at the 15 before Vick went up top for Cooper. Instead, he remembers what happened three plays earlier at the start of the Eagles' drive: With the ball at the Philly 34, Jackson caught a short pass over the middle, slipped a pair of would-be tacklers and raced into the open field. It looked like Jackson might score until linebacker Desmond Bishop(notes) tripped him up at the Green Bay 38 with a lunging leg tackle.
"I wish I would've been able to kick through that tackle," Jackson said. "It pisses me off that Desmond Bishop got me on that play – a guy I played with at Cal. Over the offseason he told me, 'Hey, I got you.' I said, 'Oh man, you were so lucky.' But I know I have to get stronger so I can run through stuff like that."
I think the Eagles will fight through all sorts of potential obstacles – the temptation to buy into their own hype; the potential for collapsing under the weight of expectations, a la the 2010 Dallas Cowboys; the adjustment to a new defensive scheme; the recent upheaval on the offensive line.
Building upon the glimpses of greatness that they gave us last season, as in last December's incredible road comeback victory over the New York Giants, the Eagles will position themselves for another postseason run. This time, needing a clutch play to beat a championship-caliber rival, Vick will calmly assess his options and make the right decision.
And though I won't officially unveil my predictions as to which teams will win their respective conferences until next week's Y! Sports video appearance, let's just say I expect the final result to be Super.
1) Since roughly half of the 12 playoff teams turn over on an annual basis (there were five last year), the fact that I'm picking six new postseason participants is hardly radical.
2) If I could see the future most of the time, rather than just sometimes, I'd be making business trips to Vegas and picking out a beach house in Kauai, rather than writing columns for the world's best sports website.
3) I have 32 babies, and I love them equally – some just give me more trouble than others. I sincerely don't root for any football team, except for Jackson and Bishop's alma mater, or whoever is playing USC or Stanford.
NFC: In addition to the Eagles (surprise!), I'm going with the Packers (still great, as long as Rodgers is standing), Falcons (Julio Jones(notes) will make a huge impact) and 49ers (the Harbaugh effect, though it'll take awhile to kick in) as division winners and the Bucs (Josh Freeman(notes) is on the verge of greatness) and Lions (another trendy pick, but astute football observers saw this coming awhile back) as wild-card teams. And while I believe the Falcons will take down the Eagles in Week 2 at the Georgia Dome, I see a Philly-Green Bay rematch for the conference title game.
AFC: Look for the Patriots (no one cares more about making statements in the regular season), Ravens (toughest team in football, and new fullback Vonta Leach(notes) will only accentuate that), Texans (it's got to happen sometime, right?) and Raiders (they're not booing, they're saying "Huueeeeeee") to capture division crowns and the Jets (try to take Shonn Greene(notes), Santonio Holmes(notes) and Plaxico Burress(notes) in your fantasy draft) and Browns (just a post-Mangini glasnost hunch) to edge out the Colts (four words: pain in the neck) and Steelers (there's a reason why Super Bowl losers have struggled for the last decade-plus, even if I'm not exactly sure what it is) for the wild-card berths. I've already made the case that the Silver and Black will be back in the AFC championship game; I'll reveal Oakland's opponent – and my predicted Super Bowl opponent for the Eagles – when I make my video picks.
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