NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (7-3) at PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (4-6)
Sunday, 4:15 P.M. ET, CBS, Direct TV (713), Sirius (NE 93, Phi 132)
Dare we say "Super Bowl preview?" On Labor Day, we circled the date for this game between the dream team and the team of the 'Aughts decade. It turns out the Eagles are more dreamers than dream team. Yet, the Eagles are capable of running the table to take the division. That's unlikely, but the Giants' failure to deliver a knockout blow keeps the Eagles in the playoff hunt. Deathwatch or amazing turnaround, we just cannot avert our eyes from Philadelphia.
What To Watch
Michael Vick: will he, or won't he play? Vince Young took the first team practice snaps this week, so everyone assumes he will start in Vick's place. You heard that one about "assume," haven't you. The Eagles list Vick as Questionable and have been suspiciously silent all week. I do not buy it, but will play along just for this preview.
Young is a Vick clone with some of Vick's mobility and many of the same issues when Vick joined the team. Vick and Young were too full of themselves to be completely coachable. Both went through searing experiences to appreciate their second chance. The Eagles are better for it. The falloff in talent from Vick to Young is not as steep as it is in Chicago. The problem is that Vick was not having that good a season with 11 interceptions to go with 11 TD passes. His passer rating is a mere 79.8. If Young starts, The Eagles will lean even more on RB LeSean McCoy to limit turnovers.
The Patriots are just above average on run defense. Philadelphia's passing offense could present problems, especially if Vick starts. For all the ballyhoo about New England's last place defense, the Patriots do well disrupting the pass. The Pats have 15 interceptions and 23 sacks. Pass disruption is more important than restricting yards. Bill Belichick isn't as concerned about New England's defensive standing as are pundits. Belichick is smarter than we are. I mean that as a compliment, by the way.
Belichick and Tom Brady can defeat any pass rush. Philadelphia's pass rush is better now that the players understand the wide-9 concepts, but you best believe Brady welcomes rushes off the edge, especially of he looks across the scrimmage line and sees that Nnamdi Asomugha is not there. New England is favored by 3.5
Who Will Win
The Eagles have too many moving parts to make a valid prediction. If Michael Vick is well enough to play, he will start. If Vick starts, the Eagles will win. Otherwise, advantage Patriots.