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Preseason power rankings: No. 9

It started with a benching.

When Andy Reid sat Donovan McNabb during the second half of a miserable loss to
Baltimore last season, it felt like the end of an era.

The Eagles were 5-5, and a ten-year marriage between coach, quarterback, system,
and city felt ready to dissolve. Maybe it would have, too, if backup quarterback Kevin Kolb played a little better. Or if the Eagles didn’t have to play again only four days later.

But Kolb tanked, McNabb returned to rout the Cardinals, and suddenly Philadelphia’s
record started to reflect how well they were playing all along.

The excruciatingly bizarre close losses that have marked the Andy Reid era stopped,
at least until the NFC Championship.

What should have been the lowest moment of McNabb’s career instead became a turning
point. The Eagles beat the Giants in New York twice. They humiliated the Cowboys to end their season. They came up one defensive stop short of the Super Bowl, but McNabb suddenly had

The team’s franchise quarterback wanted a new contract. But instead of extending McNabb’s deal, the Eagles just gave him a raise on his next two years.

In case the message wasn’t implicit, McNabb spelled it out repeatedly in the press
conference announcing his contract. These Eagles are Super Bowl or bust for the next two years.

As if the pressure wasn’t great enough, Eagles team president Joe Banner was quoted at the onset of training camp that Philadelphia had the league’s best roster.

The statement isn’t as crazy as you think, but the team may also have the most pressure, especially after adding Michael Vick.

And Banner will admit that the best laid offseason plans tend to find trouble when teams put the pads on.

Shawn Andrews will miss Week One, and he may be the key to their offensive line. Starting middle linebacker Stewart Bradley is out for the season, leaving a gaping hole in their run defense. Talented rookie tight end Cornelius Ingram is also out for the year.

Still, the questions in Philadelphia go beyond roster talent and injuries.

The Eagles played their best last year after hope was lost. Now can they handle being the favorites in a heavyweight division?

No matter what happens, there isn’t a more fascinating team in the league to watch.

Enjoy it while you can, because the expiration date on the McNabb/Reid Eagles is fast approaching.

Key Player: Brian Westbrook. LeSean McCoy will help, but the Eagles offense still goes through Westbrook. He needs to show he’s recovered from the injuries that made him ordinary down the stretch in 2008.

Rookie to watch: McCoy. With first-round pick Jeremy Maclin not expected to play a major role, this was an easy pick. McCoy could wind up having a bigger role than Correll Buckhalter did in an effort to save wear and tear on Westbrook.

Best veteran acquisition: Jason Peters. He’s as talented as any left tackle in the league. If he is coached up well, the Eagles stole him from the Bills.

Key game: Week Fourteen, at New York Giants. Usually we pick a game towards the beginning of the season. But we’re confident both of these teams will stay in contention all year, and this one could decide the divison.