PHILADELPHIA - AUGUST 13: Michael Vick #7 of the Philadelphia Eagles walks to the sideline against the Jacksonville Jaguars during their preseason game at Lincoln Financial Field on August 13 2010 in Philadelphia Pennsylvania. (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
People play better when they feel wanted.
Those 7 words, spoken by Howie Roseman earlier this offseason when explaining part of the motive behind the DeSean Jackson contract, gives you an inside look at why the Eagles think this year will be different.
In the eyes of the Eagles, the reasoning behind last years disaster of a season was mental and not physical. It was poor decision making at bad times. Mental errors and being careless with the ball. Bad attitudes on defense. A locker room where some of its biggest stars felt unwanted. The Eagles became a team last season that lost its way, going from supremely confident to a team that didn't believe in itself- and didn't think management did either.
So when the Eagles put together their offseason plan, it's clear that they felt the issue was not talent. It was not the size, speed, or ability of the players. To the Eagles, they lost games because the players were a mental mess.
By investing in the players already in the locker room, having a strong draft, and adding only a few key players from other teams, the Eagles are banking on things improving. As Roseman put it, they are hoping that by making the players feel wanted, the product on the field will improve.
Will that be the case?
When deciding how the 2012 season will go for the Philadelphia Eagles, it really comes down to one thing and one thing only: Michael Vick and his ability to stay healthy. If Vick can stay on the field, this team is going to the Super Bowl.
And count me in as someone who thinks that's exactly where he will take them.
They have the talent, they have the right mix of veterans/young players, and they have a coach who has been there. But most importantly, they have a freshly motivated Vick.
When Vick took the field after Kevin Kolb, he was motivated like never before. He was out there to prove the doubters wrong and was playing to stay in the league. He was also- more realistically- playing for a lucrative contract. When he accomplished those things, it's clear he took a step back. He was careless with the ball last year and was not the player the Eagles handed their franchise over to.
Because of his poor play last year, he is now playing for the same things he was when he first took over the Eagles. He is trying to prove that he is still the quarterback in Philly, and that Nick Foles is not the future. He is playing to make the Eagles keep him next year, and not move on to another quarterback. He is playing to win the fans back. He is playing for his career.
The Eagles are also fortunate to be in an NFC where there are no clear cut favorites. Look at the teams who were in the NFC "Final 4" last year- Green Bay Packers, New York Giants, San Francisco 49ers and New Orleans Saints. In my opinion none of them are a lock to make it back, and each have big questions surrounding them.
The Saints don't have Sean Payton and Johnathon Vilma. The Giants are without Mario Manningham and could suffer from a Super Bowl hangover. The 49ers still have Alex Smith at quarterback and have "disappointing year" written all over them after over-achieving last year. The Packers have major problems on defense, but probably pose the biggest roadblock for the Eagles.
Speaking of defense, Juan Castillo's unit is the number one reason fans point to when saying why this season will be disappointing. There is no doubt that the defense cost the Eagles games last year, but Philadelphia is not the only place with problems on defense. In fact, out of the teams I see as standing in the Eagles way (Green Bay and New York Giants), they arguably have the best defense. Even out of the other teams that will be a factor in the NFC- Dallas, Detroit, San Francisco, Chicago, Atlanta- the only team that without question has a better defense is the 49ers.
The Eagles allowed less yards per game then the Giants and Packers. They allowed less points than both of those teams as well, and they also had the most sacks out of the 3. The Eagles accomplished this with a first-year defensive coordinator, a mix of players who had to wear name tags to know each other, and (by players admissions) running 2 different defenses during the same play. That speaks the talent on the defense. Fans might not be happy with Juan Castillo, but it's unlikely that he won't make any improvement. If Castillo can even just be a little better on game day- the addition of Todd Bowles will help with that- this Eagles defense could be very, very good.
The NFC is wide open for the taking. The Eagles have the talent to do it.
Which brings us back to Vick. With the weapons on offense, and what I see as one of the better defenses in the league, it all lands on Vick's shoulders. If he stays healthy, this team is going to the Super Bowl.
I think he will- and that parade down Broad Street will finally happen.
And not just in our dreams.
NFC Wildcard: Eagles over Giants, Packers over Panthers
AFC Wildcard: Texans over Bengals, Ravens over Steelers
NFC Divisional Round: Eagles over Seahawks, Packers over Bears
AFC Divisional Round: Broncos over Texans, Patriots over Ravens
AFC Conference Championship: Patriots over Broncos
NFC Conference Championship: Eagles over Packers
SUPER BOWL: Eagles over Patriots
Follow Eliot Shorr-Parks on Twitter at @EliotShorrParks