A lot of week-by-week game previews of the upcoming 2012 NFL season have been flying around lately. I personally think it’s delusional to preview any game when we haven’t even made it to training camp yet. But I understand football writers and broadcasters need to get veeery creative and theoretical to fill space in early July.
The real problem with projecting game previews from Week 1 through Week 17 is that each game played changes the reality of the following week’s matchup. There’s no way to predict with certainty in July how different teams will match up in October, November or December. Changes in team personnel and injury status will be coming in wholesale waves. Every good team will have a bad game here or there. Every underdog team will rise to the occasion at least once. Some teams will trend upward early then crash like stones.
That’s why I’m allowing myself to look no further ahead than Game 5… That’s the Battle of Pennsylvania at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh…
Coming back from Pittsburgh with a “W” on October 7th would be a huge benchmark achievement for the Eagles in 2012. Now losing that game will not mean necessarily anything horrible, either. It’s just that a big win over a tough out-of-conference opponent at that exact juncture in the season would probably insure two things:
(1) the Eagles are good enough and tough enough early in the season to beat a physical playoff contender on the road;
(2) the Eagles avoid the disastrous “slow start”, possibly coming back home from that game at least with a 3-2 record.
Anyway, that’s how my mind thinks about Game 5 at Pittsburgh. It’s a critical pressure point in the schedule.
A quick review on how the season unfolds over the first 5 games:
1. Sunday, September 9, at CLEVELAND… 1:00 pm
2. Sunday, September 16, hosting BALTIMORE in Philly…1:00 pm
3. Sunday, September 23, at ARIZONA… 4:05 pm
4. Sunday, September 30, hosting N.Y. GIANTS in Philly… 8:20 pm
5. Sunday, October 7, at PITTSBURGH… 1:00 pm.
(DETROIT comes to Philly the following week for Game 6, then a BYE WEEK for the Eagles…)
Realistically, you want to be at least 3-2 coming out of those first 5 games. You want to avoid the 1-4 or the 0-5 at all costs, of course. Now 2-3 would be do-able if you can turn it around with a big win over the Lions in Week 6 to go into your Bye Week at 3-3. You can restart your season and start stacking some “W”‘s from there. But it’s important for the Eagles especially to establish a winning trend early for another reason:
Key trend analysis stat for Eagles: SLOW STARTERS…
The Eagles have not usually been a fast starter over their history, but even less so over recent history. Over the last five years, the Eagles’ best record after 5 games has been 3-2. That was in 2010 and 2009. Having a fast start while hitting the ground running can mean so much to early matchups. That’s why the Pittsburgh game is a classic Game 5 litmus test for the Eagles’ ability to show a positive change in trend, as the Steelers are just the opposite— they are notorious FAST STARTERS:
Pittsburgh Steelers After 5 Games Final Record
2011 3-2 12-4
2010 4-1 12-4
2009 3-2 9-7
2008 4-1 12-4
2007 4-1 10-6
2011 1-4 8-8
2010 3-2 10-6
2009 3-2 11-5
2008 2-3 9-6-1
2007 2-3 8-8
The play on the field will dictate the ultimate result at Pittsburgh on October 7. Throw out all the trend analyses at that point. And it’s way premature to begin previewing player matchups or looking at things like Dick Lebeau’s defensive schemes which undoubtedly will be fine-tuning until then. I’m just looking at this Game 5 as the logistic tipping point in the Eagles 2012 season. It could very well point an arrow in the direction we’re headed…maybe even the start of a whole new trend.