Bob Ford: Eagles schedule needs the 'how'

Posted: April 17, 2012

We already knew the who and the where, and on Tuesday evening, the NFL added the when to the equation that Andy Reid and the Eagles will try to solve beginning in September in what might be a do-or-done year for Reid, or might be just pretty much like every other season since 1999.

It has been a significant wait for the Eagles to enter the new millennium, but maybe the 2012 schedule that was released in an overwrought unveiling by the league, will be the ticket to the land Reid promised the franchise would someday visit. As Promised Lands go, winning one stinking football championship can't really pack with flowing milk and honey or eternal bliss, but the fans of the Philadelphia Eagles are willing to try it on and see how it feels anyway.

As noted NFL expert Bullwinkle J. Moose always said, "This time for sure."

Seeing how the battle plan is laid out makes the coming season seem finally real, particularly for those who had hoped for a cold-weather trip to Arizona or Tampa (one out of two) or those trying to lock up hotel dates in New Orleans for the upcoming Crescent City Road Trip & Derm Abrasion Festival.

From here, it looks as if the Eagles might benefit from playing the tougher portion of the schedule in the beginning before Michael Vick and whoever else gets hurt again. After opening on the road against a bad Browns team, the Eagles next eight games are against teams that were no worse than .500 in 2011, and five teams that had double-digit wins. After their eighth game, a Monday Nighter on Nov. 5 in New Orleans, the Eagles don't play another 2011 double-digit win team all season.

If Reid can get them through the first two months in reasonable health and, let's say, with a 5-3 record, then the Eagles won't just compete for the division again. They will win it going away.

It's all fine speculation and some of it based on historical precedent, but it is also nothing more than idle guesswork designed to fill the empty time after the schedule is announced and answer the unanswerable question of, "So what?"

The Eagles are capable of playing a tough schedule very well or an easy schedule poorly. They can lose games at home that seem nearly impossible to lose (see San Francisco and Arizona in 2011), and win road games, particularly against division opponents when the smart money would suggest otherwise (see New York and Dallas, also 2011).

How the road games are bunched, where the easier opponents are stacked and - here's the hinge on which all seasons swing, or so people make it sound - when the bye arrives, are interesting enough to dissect, but all of those knives have cut two ways in the past.

No, fortunately or unfortunately, all that matters is how the Eagles play, not who they play or where or when. Last season, as the offense gave the ball away and the defense was too porous and mismatched, they were every bit as bad as the 4-8 record preceding the final four wins that even owner Jeffrey Lurie labeled "fool's gold."

What they have this season is a fair test of a schedule, neither too difficult nor too easy. Based on last year's regular season records, their opponents in 2012 averaged 8.25 wins, which seems like about the right challenge for an 8-8 team.

The home schedule is a little bit tougher than the road schedule, so even those advantages and disadvantages even out. Among their division rivals, getting Detroit and Arizona from the NFC North and West, is supposed to be more difficult than getting Chicago and Seattle, as Dallas did, and a little easier than getting Green Bay and San Francisco, as the Giants did.

That calculus is based on numbers that have already been erased from the board, however. Detroit could return to earth this season. Chicago could improve. San Francisco could tire of Jim Harbaugh even more quickly than expected. A meteor could fall on Seattle. (Well, it would make a good movie, in any case.)

It only matters that Reid has the Eagles ready, which he did not when the lockout ended abruptly and, despite condensed preparation time, he continued with plans to recast the entire defense. Then there is the matter of luck. If the turnovers committed by the offense, largely attributable to mistakes by Vick, were bad luck as well as bad football, then there is hope the law of averages will let them off this time.

In the offseason, the moves have been pretty solid. They addressed the middle linebacker hole with the addition of DeMeco Ryans and quickly moved to replace the loss of tackle Jason Peters by sigining Demeetrus Bell. Without fanfare, they moved past some of the more egregious mistakes of 2011, declining to resign Vince Young, Steve Smith, Ronnie Brown and others.

Along the way, Reid felt it necessary to clear his throat and issue a statement that said he was-to in charge. That was in response to a published report that Reid threatened to quit unless he got more influence over personnel decisions, with the implication that general manager Howie Roseman had eroded some of Reid's previous power.

Not the case, according to Reid. If he is a man unsure of his place in the organization, or one who expects to clean out his office if things don't go well this time, it certainly doesn't show.

After all this time, he knows the drill. After Tuesday, he knows the when that goes with the who and the where. Now his only job is to provide the how.


Contact columnist Bob Ford at bford@phillynews.com, read his blog at www.philly.com/postpatterns, and follow @bobfordsports on Twitter.

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