Not even Reid sure what to expect of young Eagles against Packers

Andy Reid is unsure how his young team will fare in the playoffs.
Andy Reid is unsure how his young team will fare in the playoffs.
Posted: January 04, 2011

NO NFL COACH is clairvoyant - and even if he were, Andy Reid doesn't tend to play that game very often. Still, you have to believe that the Eagles' coach has had a better handle on some of his other playoff teams over the years, teams with more experience and a more familiar cast than this one.

Thinking about it, it is hard not to go back to the very beginning of training camp and what has turned out to be the anthem for the season, back to the day when Reid said, "I think there's a little bit of unknown, which I kind of like."

Then. Now.

"I would say the feeling this week is comparable to other weeks in the season," Reid was saying yesterday, after his Monday news conference. "I know we've got a good team, but I also know that I haven't been through this with them. There are a lot of new pieces here and I haven't been through a playoff experience with them."

Reid has never had a younger team make the postseason than this one. He has never had a more dynamic quarterback than Michael Vick. He has never had a playoff defense that allowed this many points and passing touchdowns. Mix all of that together and the Eagles are a mysterious, singular stew.

In 18 playoff games under Reid, it is fair to say that more than 80 percent of them played out as expected. I can remember being really surprised only two or three times: that first wild-card win over Tampa Bay in the 2000 season, and the NFC Championship Game against Tampa Bay that closed the Vet in 2002, and maybe the second-round win over the New York Giants at the Meadowlands in 2008.

This year is different, though. Unconventional does not begin to describe this team. Unpredictable, too. And this group isn't exactly peaking, either, not given that they have played, in succession, 8 magical minutes out of 60 against the Giants, zero impressive minutes out of 60 against the Vikings, and then a faux game to close out the season against the Cowboys.

So when you ask Reid about why he might feel confident going into Sunday's wild-card playoff game against Green Bay, the unspoken part is about Vick and the talent of the players surrounding him. Out loud, though, what Reid chooses to talk about is the ephemeral and the intangible.

"You know what? I think it's energy," he said. "I think they have love for each other and they have love for the game. Everybody seems to be getting along really well. There aren't the rifts, or the jealousies, that you see on some teams. The players get along. The players get along with the coaches, too."

There is nothing that you can grab onto in that statement; energy, love, vapor. Reid is going on his gut here and he acknowledges as much.

He rested this inexperienced group in the season finale, even coming off the terrible loss to the Vikings, because of that instinct. He knows what is arriving in town next weekend. Reid knows Aaron Rodgers is an elite NFL quarterback, and he also knows he will not publicly state right now who his starting right cornerback is. The challenge there is plain, and it isn't the only one.

The Eagles are favored in this game (by 2 1/2 points at most gambling-type places) for one reason: Vick. His will be the most-watched quad contusion in the recent annals of medical science. The question for everyone will be, what can be the reasonable expectation if Vick's mobility is at, say, 90 percent? And is it a lot different than 100 percent?

We all know that he holds the ball as a strategy to make big plays, and that his legs are what make that strategy not only viable, but lethal. We all also know that it is likely going to take north of 24 points to win this game, and maybe well north. Reid said Vick and the Eagles' coaches were able to take a peek at the Packers' tapes last week while they weren't preparing to play the Cowboys, so that might give them a bit of a game-planning edge. Then again, Packers coach Mike McCarthy said his staff took a peek at the Eagles' stuff on Saturday, too. So who knows?

The search for hints will continue, but there are going to be no obvious touchstones, no definitive proofs. This isn't 2002, or 2003, or 2004. We really don't know. In many ways, the coach has to be included in that "we," even more than most Januarys.

"Every week has been different, whether it's good or bad," Reid said. "I have great expectations for this team, as do the players. But you have to go through the process."

Which means that, in a season fueled by the power of the unknown, we only find out Sunday what is left in that tank. *

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hofmanr@phillynews.com,

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http://go.philly.com/theidlerich.

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