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- Early NFC nod: Seahawks, or Eagles?

Sports Critic September 2, 2004
Sports Critic

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By Alex Fitzsimmons from sportscolumn.com, email at alexcolumn@aol.com

The NFC has improved dramatically during the 2004 off-season thus far. A conference loaded with premiere coaches, especially in the East, has propelled the NFC to the top of the football world. Two teams in particular have raised the bar of excellence and will battle it out for the coveted bid to the 2005 Super Bowl.

These two teams are the Seattle Seahawks, and the Philadelphia Eagles. Seattle was a first round exit last year losing in overtime to the Green Bay Packers. Philly came so close but for the third straight year, couldn’t quite get over the hump in the NFC. Both teams will be seeking a vengeance and you can bet they’ll be ready for round two.

What makes the Seahawks such a dangerous team in the NFC this year? Their offense. The Seahawks boasted the leagues 6th best passing offense led by 28 year old quarterback Matt Hasselbeck and 26 year old running back Shaun Alexander. Hasselbeck is a young star in the NFL, and should only continue to improve over the next few seasons.

Matt Hasselbeck was the anchor of the Seahawks offense last year, as every good quarterback should be. Hasselbeck threw for 3,841 yards with 26 passing TD’s, and earned a QB rating of 88.8.

Last season, Shaun Alexander was Hasselbeck’s main offensive weapon accounting for a huge part of the team’s offensive production, both running and receiving the ball. A great runner in the trenches and at the goal line, Alexander scored 14 rushing touchdowns and 2 receiving. He also rushed for 1,435 yards.

Being that Alexander’s primary role in Seattle’s offense was power and not a long yard gainer, the addition of Maurice Morris should give the Seahawks more flexibility when running the football. Alexander will still be the feature back, but Morris can still contribute in long yardage situations to add a new dimension to the offensive approach.

Still young and developing, Morris ran the ball 38 times last year and averaged 6.3 yards per carry.

Defensively the Seahawks were lackluster. Overall, they were ranked 19th in the league, surrendering 327.4 yards per game. The Seahawks were ranked 14th in the league against the run giving up an average of 109.9 rushing yards per game, and a dismal 217.5 passing yards per game received them a ranking of 27th in the league.

Additions of Bobby Taylor from Philly, and Grant Wistrom from St. Louis should help the defensive woes in Seattle. Michael Boulware, second round linebacker from FSU, signed a multi-year deal with the Seahawks; he should also contribute on defense.

With every great fairy tale there is a villain, and Seattle’s villain last year was their wide receivers. The breakaway speed of Darrell Jackson and Koren Robinson proved great at times, and fatal at others. The Seahawks led the league in dropped passes last season. If the Seahawks can reverse that stat in 2004, they should have little difficulty winning their division.

Losing in the NFC Championship Game for the third straight season was not the script the Philadelphia Eagles had written. To correct this typo in their manuscript, the Eagles added All-Star wide receiver Terrell Owens and explosive defensive end Jevon Kearse.

Donovan McNabb and Terrell Owens should combine to create the most dreaded tandem in the NFL next year. McNabb threw for 3,216 yards with 16 passing TD’s, ha also ran in 3 scores, and earned a QB rating of 79.6.

Owens’ skills are unquestioned: 80 receptions, 1,102 yards, and 9 TD’s with the 49ers last year. But will that be enough? The Eagles are playing in arguably the best division in the NFL, and have lost key pieces in the secondary.

Jevon Kearse will definitely aid the defense this season, if he can stay healthy. Kearse has been injury prone his entire career and his ability to stay healthy will lead to the success or demise of this team.

Kearse had 42 tackles last year with the Titans, forced 4 fumbles, had one interception, and sacked 10 quarterbacks, in 14 games.

Another big question mark for Philly will be the running back. The Eagles lost Duce Staley last season, and will ultimately hand the carries over to Brian Westbrook. With Buckhalter is done for the year, the load will have to be carried by Westbrook. A man with unlimited potential, can he handle the pressure? In 117 rushing attempts last season, Westbrook rushed for 613 yards, scored 7 rushing TD’s, and 4 receiving.

The front line for the Eagles may be in top form with the addition of Kearse, but the secondary has taken a huge blow this year. The Eagles lost Bobby Taylor to the Seahawks, and Troy Vincent to the Jets.

As we begin the early preseason phases and enter training camp, I would have to give the early nod in the NFC to the Seattle Seahawks. The Eagles look like a great team on paper, but too many question marks still remain about injuries, and players performing at a high level. The Seahawks have fewer issues to deal with this off-season as they prepare to start the regular season, and I strongly believe that they have what it takes to go all the way in the NFC. Sorry TO, your pom-poms and sharpie weren’t enough to get my vote.

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