(Philadelphia, Pa) – I am naming Week 2 of the 2008 NFL season “Rivalry Weekend” as there are nine match-ups featuring rivalries. Two of the oldest rivalries in the NFL will be renewed this week as the Green Packers travel to the Detroit Lions (will play each other for the 156th time w/ the all-time record of 84-64-7 in favor of the Packers including them winning 7 of the last 8 games) and the bitter mid-west annual battle between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns has another rendition (have met 110 times with the series tied, 55-55). Browns kicker Phil Dawson, the longest-tenured Brown said it best by saying, “This isn’t just any week, it’s Steelers week”.
With the 50th anniversary of the AFL, there will be three renewals of old-time AFL rivalries two meeting for the 96th time versus each other in the Kansas City Chiefs playing the Oakland Raiders and the San Diego Chargers meeting the Denver Broncos. The New England (formerly Boston) Patriots will play the New York Jets for the 95th time. The Patriots traveling to the Jets will also be even more highlighted by the return of the Pats to the place that “Spygate” occurred. The country will want to see this match-up because Patriots fourth-year quarterback Matt Cassel is making his first career NFL start (actually first start since his high school days in 1999) in place of an injured Tom Brady. News came out this week that the 2007 NFL MVP after making 111 consecutive starts will need surgery to repair a left knee that has a torn MCL and ACL. Cassel will of course be matched against 17-year veteran Brett “the Jet” Favre, who will be making his 255th straight start and first regular season one in the Meadowlands.
Other rivalry games on the docket include divisional tests as the Seattle Seahawks travel down the coast to face the San Francisco 49ers (meeting for the 19th time), a key NFC South battle as the Falcons go to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (meeting for the 30th time), and the rivalry that I grew-up on the Philadelphia Eagles versus the Dallas Cowboys on the NFL’s biggest stage of ESPN Monday Night Football. I can just picture Philadelphia Eagles fans everywhere sitting in front of their televisions while giving out much love to the Cowboys and their public enemy number one Cowboys receiver Terrell Owens…Not!!
Unfortunately after only one week of play, some NFL fans are panicking a little over whether their team is a pretender or contender. To anyone feeling the pinch of the NFL season after one week of play, please relax as the NFL regular season is a 17-week marathon with many twists and turns ahead. It is too early to paint broad conclusions on team’s futures after one week. Sure injuries and deficiencies were prevalent throughout the league last week, but take the results from week one as partial results and at least wait until the first quarter of the season is over before jumping on or off your team’s bandwagon. As we saw last year with the Patriots brush at perfection it is almost unthinkable that a team can get through a season undefeated in today’s NFL — this fact should make you truly appreciative of the Herculean effort of the undefeated 1972 Dolphins.
An interesting stat is that at the end of Week 2, no more than 16 teams will be able to claim a perfect 2-0 record, leaving at least 16 clubs at 1-1 or 0-2. But being 1-1 or 0-2 after the first two weeks of the season is not a death sentence as since 2002, 42 of the 72 (58.3 percent) teams made the playoffs after starting at those marks. In fact, four of the past seven Super Bowl champions began their seasons with a 1-1 or 0-2 record, including the Super Bowl XLII Champion New York Giants, who started last season at 0-2.
Now get your popcorn ready as we take a look at this week’s featured game the Cowboys versus the Eagles.
Week 2 Featured Game
PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (1-0) at DALLAS COWBOYS (1-0) – Monday Night Football @8:30 PM ET on ESPN
Broadcast Team: Mike Tirico, Ron Jaworski, and Tony Kornheiser (You know it will be difficult for Jaws to keep his impartiality during this contest as he was an instrumental part of many Eagles-Cowboys battles during his career including the Eagles victory in the 1980 NFC Championship game).
I don’t have to listen hard to hear Hank Williams Jr crying out, “Are you ready for some football” as the rivalry that I grew-up on in Philadelphia returns this week. This week 2 contest, pits the Eagles in the familiar role of underdogs to the Dallas Cowboys, whose cast of characters (T.O, Romo, Pacman, Tank, Jerry, and everybody else) are fresh off starring in the HBO series Hard Knocks. As if the whole Donovan McNabb vs. Terrell “T.O” Owens 3-year old rift wasn’t enough to hype this game (Owens twisted the knife further by saying this year’s Cowboys team is “Way Better” than the 2004 Eagles Super Bowl team he was on), more fuel will be added to the fire because the eyes of the nation will be on this featured ESPN Monday Night Football battle — NFL fans always circle this one on their calendar as these two teams have met 27 times in prime-time since 2000.
I can only imagine the number of offices that will be empty on Tuesday morning as people sleep-in after watching the rivalry that I put right up there above any other traditional NFL feuds. You can have the Steelers-Browns, Browns-Bengals, Patriots-Colts, Cowboys-Redskins, Packers-Lions, Raiders-Broncos and Patriots-Jets as Eagles-Cowboys means more to me. I have never missed a game in over 25+ years, especially when Buddy Ryan was leading the Birds against “America’s Team” — NFL Films gave them that title, but Philadelphians say those words with disdain right from their hearts. In my home growing up, this game took on a whole new meaning, because I am ashamed to say my brother has been a stinking Cowboys fan since we were kids first watching football in the late ‘70s. He always loves to rub it in, whether it is calling or texting, every time they play that the Cowboys own five Super Bowl titles while the Eagles have none. The strange thing is my brother is not alone as a Cowboys fan living in Eagles’ territory – probably due to the fact the ‘Boys were on TV every Sunday at 4:00 PM for like twenty straight years – making for some great local heated banter on message boards and sports talk radio over “Philly Cowboys Fan Traitors”.
In regards to the action on the field, though this is an early season match-up that you know will have future division and possibly playoff implications. Both the Eagles and Cowboys are coming into their week 2 battle after having “Yardage Explosions” in week one. The two teams are currently ranked Numbers 1 and 2 respectively in total yards in the league. The Eagles racked up 522 yards in a 38-3 win over the Rams and the Cowboys rolled over the Browns to the tune of 487 yards in their 28-10 win. How important are their rankings, Monday will be the first time since November 19, 2006 (Cincinnati, 545 at New Orleans, 513) that teams have met the week after posting at least 475 yards of offense.
The storylines for the game start with the quarterbacks as 10-year veteran Donovan McNabb leads the Eagles against Tony Romo and the Cowboys for possibly the last time in Texas Stadium. McNabb (respectable 10-5 vs. Cowboys) has been very quiet regarding all the talk around playing T.O and the Cowboys. He doesn’t need to say much as his week one numbers (21-33, 361 yards – NFL leading, 3 TDs, 0 INT, and 131.0 rating) speak for themselves. McNabb knows that a hostile crowd awaits him, but he will have a lot of help from an offensive line that didn’t allow a sack last week and an emerging receiving corps led by rookie DeSean Jackson – last week for the first time since 1960 the Birds had three receivers go over 100 yards.
Romo also had a very good effort last week producing passing numbers of 24-32, 320 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT, and a 103.6 passer rating in a tough 28-10 road win over Cleveland. But Mr. Jessica Simpson has had his difficulty in the past handling defensive pressure from the Eagles as shown by his record of 1-2, 6 interceptions thrown, and being sacked seven times versus the Birds in his career. Some NFL experts say that the Eagles 23-7 demolition of the Cowboys on Christmas Day 2006 provided the blueprint for stopping Romo. In that loss, Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson turned his defense loose as Romo was harassed over and over (sacked twice, but was hit at least 10 times) into throwing two interceptions, one of which was returned over 100 yards for a touchdown by cornerback Lito Sheppard. Speaking of Sheppard, he lives to play against the Cowboys as he has an interception in 7 of the last 8 games against them.
Key match-ups to watch for:
Brian Westbrook vs. the Dallas OLBs – The Cowboys outside linebackers (Greg Ellis and DeMarcus Ware) are known more for rushing the passer than their coverage skills. Westbrook loves playing the Cowboys and in ’07, he made the play of the year forgoing a touchdown by laying down at the 1-yard line in order to run out the clock in a December win.
The Eagles Receivers vs. the Dallas Secondary -Though the Cowboys have several big names in their secondary (CB Terrance Newman, CB Mike Jenkins, CB Anthony Henry, CB Pacman Jones, FS Ken Hamlin, and SS Roy Williams) this group had trouble covering man to man especially against play action. The Cowboys are trying to watch Williams on passing downs, so the Eagles could attack there. Jones is trying to wipe off the rust after not playing last season. Expect McNabb and rookie DeSean Jackson — first Philly rookie WR to start an opener since Calvin Williams in 1990, had six catches for 106 yards and returned a punt 60 yards in Week 1 — to try and get deep early. Also watch for tight end LJ Smith on seam routes against Williams.
The Eagles O-line vs. the Dallas Pass Rush – The Cowboys have a formidable group rushing the passer led by double-digit sack guys Ellis and DeMarcus Ware (has 4.5 sacks in 4 prior meetings w/ Eagles). The key will be for veteran bookends Jon Runyan and William Thomas to get their hands on the smaller pass rushers. The Birds D-line will also have to tackle well in stopping Cowboys battering ram Marion Barber even though he maybe slowed by a rib injury suffered in week one.
Eagles LB’s vs. Cowboys TE Jason Witten – The Pro Bowl tight end always seems to save his best for the Eagles, probably since they passed over him for Smith in the 2003 NFL Draft. The Eagles set of young linebacker (Bradley, Gocong, and Gaither) along with their safeties will need to make sure coverage holes are not left open for Witten underneath. Remember Witten had one of his best games in the Cowboys 38-17 shellacking of the Eagles last year on Sunday Night Football. In that game, he had 3 catches for 77 yards with one touchdown and also had the play of the game as he ran helmetless for a 53-yard catch and run. The linebackers will also have to keep an eye on rookie speedster RB Felix Jones.
Eagles DE Trend Cole vs. Cowboys OT Flozell Adams – This match-up of two Pro Bowl players will serve as the barometer of how much pressure Romo will see. Everyone knows Romo gets happy-feet when pressured, so the Eagles high-motor sack man will try to get around the giant left tackle. Their 2007 battles presented two very different pictures. In the first game, Cole recorded 4 tackles and had zero sacks in a Dallas win. However in the second meeting, Cole had 3 tackles, one pass defensed, one sack and a huge forced fumble in an Eagles 10-6 win. Pressure will also keep the ball out of T.O’s hands and maybe we will see a dust-up on the Cowboys sideline if Owens and Romo are not on the same page.
LV’s Pick: Much like Jaws, I am conflicted in picking this game. Sure I am supposed to be an impartial journalist, but on the other hand I grew up loathing the Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys own a 52-42 edge going into this week’s battle, but recently under Andy Reid the tables have turned with Big Red having a 13-5 record against the ‘Boys including winning 3 of the last 4 games. With Eagles Defensive Coordinator Jim Johnson supplying a pressure-filled game plan, look for the Birds to win the turnover battle on their way to a tight 23-20 win with a David Akers’ field goal being the difference.
NFL Week 2
Sun, Sep 14
GB @ DET 1:00 PM (FOX)
CHI @ CAR 1:00 PM (FOX)
NYG @ STL 1:00 PM (FOX)
NO @ WAS 1:00 PM (FOX)
BUF @ JAC 1:00 PM (CBS)
TEN @ CIN 1:00 PM (CBS)
OAK @ KC 1:00 PM (CBS)
IND @ MIN 1:00 PM (CBS)
ATL @ TB 4:05 PM (FOX)
SF @ SEA 4:05 PM (FOX)
SD @ DEN 4:15 PM (CBS)
BAL @ HOU 4:15 PM (CBS)
MIA @ ARI 4:15 PM (CBS)
NE @ NYJ 4:15 PM (CBS)
PIT @ CLE 8:15 PM (NBC)
Mon, Sep 15
PHI @ DAL 8:30 PM (ESPN)
Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award -winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)