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Games People Play 4.12.2006

By Rick Racela

Eagles’ 2006 Schedule Sparks Conversation
So what about that schedule?
Amid the Sixers’ late-season collapse, the Flyers drafting behind the front-running Rangers and the underachieving Phillies off to another atrocious start, the Eagles’ schedule was released.
The NFL has managed to make a shrewd spectacle out of something as mundane as publishing its upcoming schedule. 
If you were online at about 2 p.m. last Thursday you may have received a colorful and illustrative email from NFL.com.  You were invited to click on the logo of your favorite team and be linked to its Web site and 2006 regular season schedule. 
But around these parts, it’s big news when it’s the Birds.  Whether that’s a slap at the area’s other professional franchises or just a trend of this sports generation, Eagles’ football is second to none in fan interest.
Just ask the folks on talk radio.  Or simply listen to the caller topics.
So what about the schedule?  Aside from the inevitable Grinch and T.O. jokes for Christmas Day’s trip to Dallas, the schedule appears front loaded with easier games and back loaded with brutality.
Sept. 10 (I’m so glad they stay now avoid Labor Day weekend) is the debut game at Houston. The Texans should have former USC star Reggie Bush crashing into the Eagle line and a new coach, Gary Kubiak, looking to make a splash.  Philly should win.
The always difficult Giants come to town seven days later.  Eli Manning will be a good quarterback soon and I know Tiki Barber kills the Birds with regularity.  This is a toss up, but I’ll go with the Eagles.
At San Francisco on Sept. 24 could be a letdown contest, but the Niners are far from rebuilt so the Eagles should be 3-0 when the team plane climbs to cruising altitude heading east.
Green Bay at home, with or without Brett Favre, should also be an Eagles’ victory on Monday Night Football, Oct. 2.
Hosting Dallas on Oct. 15 will be interesting, of course.  Terrell Owens will be on center stage but these games never quite turn out like they’re billed.  If Drew Bledsoe is healthy, Dallas could win in Philly, but then again, injuries are the big unknown.
I’ll give it to the Cowboys because the Tuna will run the ball while the Birds’ secondary keep several eyes on T.O.
Katrina killed the Saints organization and the Oct. 15 game in the rebuilding Big Easy will be a Bird victory.
At Tampa Bay is another one of those trip-up games.  It’s too difficult to know how the Eagles will react to a second straight plane ride south.  I’ll give it to Tampa.
Jacksonville at home on Oct. 29 will go to the Eagles as they rebound at home.
The bye week is later, Nov. 5, to be exact.  That’s a good thing.
Washington at the Linc on Nov. 12 will be a battle, but it’ll be the Eagles’ who come out on top. I don’t fear Tennessee at home, either.  They don’t seem to have enough juice.
At Indy on Nov. 26 is an Eagle loss regardless of the Colts losing Edgerrin James.  Peyton Manning is still the best quarterback, no matter what the Colts have or have not accomplished in the post-season.
Carolina, like the Giants, gives the Eagles lots of trouble.   It’ll be a battle at home on Monday, Dec. 4.  Panther coach John Fox knows how to beat the Birds better than any coach in the league.  Edge to the Panthers.
Now comes the most talked about piece of the schedule.  Consecutive road games versus the Redskins, Giants and Cowboys will most likely make or break the 2006 campaign.
If there’s a healthy Donovan McNabb and a not-so-stubborn coach Andy Reid calling running plays, the Eagles will be a much better team, but these three games depend upon injuries on all sides.
It’s impossible to know in mid-April, but the threat of McNabb and Brian Westbrook running should yield two victories for the Birds in these three crucial contests.
Atlanta closes the regular season in South Philadelphia.  Eagles’ defensive coordinator Jim Johnson has a knack for containing Falcon QB Michael Vick and if this game matters, it’ll come down to containing Vick’s scrambling.
It’ll be interesting to see what, if any, strategic adjustments Reid makes.   More emphasis on the ground game will allow the defense to rest and make McNabb a better passer by keeping opposing defenses off balance.
It’s odd to sit and concoct scenarios that may or may not take place months from now.   But everyone’s talking about it.  

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