Hyped-up Packers have tough matchup in Philly

PHILADELPHIA (AP) - September 12, 2010

Picked by many experts to reach the Super Bowl, all the Packers have to do now is actually play out the season and get there. That's the hard part. Just ask the Eagles, who host the Packers in the season opener Sunday.

For much of the last decade, the Eagles were the consensus pick to represent the NFC in the Big Game. But despite five trips to the conference championship in an eight-year span, Philadelphia advanced to only one Super Bowl and lost.

Expectations are high for the Packers, and they should be. They've got a young quarterback - Aaron Rodgers - who's on the verge of joining the league's elite. Their offense is dynamic and their defense led by 2009 defensive player of the year Charles Woodson is stout.

Oh, one more thing. They've got an important intangible: swagger.

"For sure, we've got a swagger, a killer one, too," tight end Jermichael Finley said. "We're going to come out and show it Sunday. You come back Tuesday and tell me what you think."

Those are confident words.

"We know that they're a good football team," Eagles coach Andy Reid said. "People are predicting them to go to the Super Bowl and rightly so. That's a quality team. To a man, I think if you ask our football team, they look forward to the challenge."

Both teams are coming off 11-win seasons and first-round playoff losses. However, they're heading in opposite directions.

For the Packers, anything less than a championship wouldn't be considered a successful season in a town that's looking to celebrate its 13th NFL title. That's down the road, though. Now the focus is on the Eagles.

"We talked about the Super Bowl expectations, we set our goals for the season on the first day of training camp," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "But we don't sit around and talk about all the things that you all talk about in the paper. We don't sit and talk about all the articles and the things written about our football team, pro or con. We're talking about Philadelphia. I like the confidence of our team, but we're at the starting line. We're 0-0. We're preparing to win our first game."

In Philadelphia, management refuses to call this a rebuilding year despite drastic changes in the offseason. The Eagles traded six-time Pro Bowl quarterback Donovan McNabb and handed unproven Kevin Kolb the starting job. Several other veterans who helped Philadelphia achieve its success in the 00s are gone, too. Brian Westbrook, Sheldon Brown and Shawn Andrews are among those who went elsewhere.

Overall, the Eagles are a young team. Their offense features a 23-year-old receiver - DeSean Jackson - who already has developed into one of the most dangerous playmakers in the league, and a pair of talented 22-year-olds - wideout Jeremy Maclin and running back LeSean McCoy.

On defense, coordinator Sean McDermott is counting heavily on rookies Brandon Graham and Nate Allen to strengthen a unit that struggled last year. Graham, a first-round pick, starts at defensive end opposite Pro Bowl end Trent Cole. Allen, a second-round pick, steps in at free safety, where the Eagles have sought a replacement since losing Brian Dawkins after the 2008 season.

"We have some new faces and we have some young players," McDermott said. "You want to see how players react, and how they play together, and how they handle adverse situations. We've been through some adverse situations already in camp and handled them extremely well and some in the preseason games. But, that experience is important. So, each and every play we'll continue to build upon that experience and the players will get more and more comfortable with one another."

The Packers are starting on the road for the first time under McCarthy, who enters his fifth season. It won't be the most pleasant atmosphere for visitors. The Eagles will be honoring the 50th anniversary of their last championship season with a special ceremony and they'll wear the kelly green uniforms from 1960.

No doubt, the cheesesteak heads won't welcome any cheeseheads at the Linc.

"Their fans, boy, they're ornery," Packers receiver Greg Jennings said. "They're ornery from the moment you come through that tunnel. Any time you're playing away, the home team is playing downhill mentality. They have the advantage because they have that 12th man. You have to come out and counterpunch them in the mouth before they actually hit you. That's our mindset."

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