At the halfway point of the 2011 season, very little has gone according to plan for the locally-connected athletes and coaches on the NFL landscape. That's not to say all has gone wrong for head coaches Andy Reid and Hue Jackson and players Ramses Barden and Eben Britton, but more so it speaks to the volatile nature of the week-to-week gauntlet that is professional football and how best laid plans can quickly be scattered in the wind by injuries, unforeseen circumstances and the overall parity of a league in which a game can go either way on any given Sunday.
There's plenty of football left to look ahead to and plenty of first-half highlights to pore over. The following midseason update will offer a look at both.
REID WAKING FROM
With each prominent player the Philadelphia Eagles added to an already talent-studded roster via free agency and trade in the offseason, the Dream Team drumbeat grew stronger, through media hype and fan expectations alike.
Once the Eagles actually started playing games, however, it became ever more apparent that a stacked roster on paper doesn't automatically translate to success on the field.
Losers of four in a row after opening with a win over the hapless St. Louis Rams on Sept. 11, the grand experiment threatened to blow up in the face of Reid, who is also the team's executive vice president of football operations. Mired in a mess of turnovers, penalties and bad breaks, the Eagles suffered frustrating losses to the Atlanta Falcons (Sept. 18), New York Giants (Sept. 25), San Francisco 49ers (Oct. 2) and Buffalo Bills (Oct. 9).
Now, having won their last two against divisional foes, a 20-13 win over the Washington Redskins on Oct. 16 and a 34-7 dismantling of the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday, the Eagles (3-4) are in a three-way tie for second place in the NFC East and the expectations and pressure seem to have ratcheted down to a level where the Eagles might actually have a chance to begin to mesh as a team and salvage the season.
"It's important you have the right attitude to correct mistakes," Reid, a former offensive lineman at Glendale Community College, told the Associated Press after the win over Dallas, which saw the Eagles improve to 13-0 following a bye week under Reid. "We'll continue to do that. We've got plenty of room to improve."
The second half begins with a Monday Night Football matchup against the visiting Chicago Bears that figures to be a battle between the Bears' hard-nosed defense and the Eagles' high-powered offense led by quarterback Michael Vick and running back LeSean McCoy.
"We look forward to the challenge of playing the Chicago Bears," Reid said in comments at a press conference posted on philadelphiaeagles.com. "They're playing good football and they're a good football team.
"We've had an opportunity to play them quite a few times, so they know us and we know them. It should be an exciting, good football game."
The former Glendale Community College quarterback's first season as head coach of the Oakland Raiders hasn't been without some unexpected twists and turns, but Jackson has kept the Raiders on course, and in a current three-way tie for first place in the AFC West, through it all.
The Raiders started out an up-and-down 2-2 after alternating wins over the Denver Broncos (Sept. 12) and New York Jets (Sept. 25) with losses to the Bills (Sept. 18) and the New England Patriots (Oct. 2).
Then the franchise was rocked to its core by the death of architect and patriarch, owner Al Davis, at age 82 on Oct. 8. The Raiders responded with a gritty 25-20 road win over the Houston Texans the very next day.
"[Oct. 8] was a tough day, but I could see the gleam in their eyes," Jackson told the Associated Press of his team on Oct. 9. "They weren't going to stop fighting. We truly, honestly believed that coach [Davis] was here with us today. I believe that wholeheartedly. I know he's looking down on this team and he's with us every step of the way.
"Trust me when I tell you this is coach Davis' football team. I'm just getting the opportunity to run it and lead it. Everything I do is with every thought (with him). That's going to be my guiding light as I go through this season."
Oakland followed up its emotional win over Houston with a 24-17 win over the Cleveland Browns on Oct. 16, but lost its starting quarterback Jason Campbell indefinitely to a broken collarbone in that game. Two days later, the Raiders completed a trade with the Cincinnati Bengals that sent a first-round draft pick and conditional second-round pick that could become a first-round pick to Cincinnati for holdout quarterback Carson Palmer.