Why Eagles Fans Should Root for the Patriots, and (Almost) Enjoy It

Why Eagles Fans Should Root for the Patriots, and (Almost) Enjoy It

Most of us are naturally inclined to root against the Giants. Just look
at what's on the line. Not only are the Birds' division rivals in the
NFC East, there's also the interstate rivalry with New Yorkers. As the
Cowboys have floundered for much of the past decade, the Giants have
replaced them as the Eagles' chief antagonists. Cheering for the Giants
is akin to pulling for the villain's plot to succeed in a Batman
flick.

However, some fans find themselves in a
troubling position as Super Bowl XLVI approaches, because the New
England Patriots are not exactly a likeable bunch of characters either.
They have a bit of a dynasty going on up there, the road for which was
paved -- in some minds -- by cheating. They dashed Philadelphia's title
dreams in Super Bowl XXXIX, the face of the franchise is married to a
supermodel, and the city of Boston has been exceptionally fortunate in
this millennium, winning championships in all four major sports within
the past seven years.

How do we root for that?

Thing
is, that's a whole other conference. The Eagles can't control what
happens in the AFC, so a Patriots victory, while insufferable for a few
days, will fade. However, the Birds could have prevented the Giants from
reaching this point, and should they win on Sunday, you will hear about
it -- from their fans, from our fans, from the media. It's going to be
everywhere, all offseason, all summer, during next season's tilts...
forever.

Okay, so the overwhelming majority of you
have already chosen not to align with the enemy, but you're
understandably still on the fence about New England. Truth is, they
aren't so bad once you get to know them. Really. In case watching a
rival go down in flames isn't quite motivation enough, here are a few
reasons you might get a modicum of enjoyment out of a Patriots
victory.

Former Eagles on the roster
If you're
looking for a sentimental angle, a pair of former Birds will be in
uniform for the Patriots: journeyman special teams ace Tracy White, and
one-time training camp darling Kyle Arrington.

White
was with Philadelphia for the 2008-09 seasons until he was traded to New
England for an undisclosed draft pick in 2012, which as it turns out
will be a sixth-round pick. Not bad. After attending Eagles' training
camp in Lehigh, Arrington spent 2008 on Tampa Bay's practice squad, and
played in the club's opener the following season before being released.
He wound up with the Pats, and has started in 31 games (including
playoffs) over the past two years. He tied for the league lead in
interceptions this season with seven.

Sure, those
two guys are a thin premise for cheering on New England, but perhaps not
when you consider who will be standing on the other sidelines: Stacy
Andrews, one of the most ridiculed free agent signings in Eagles
franchise history. No way you want that bum to get his ring,
right?

The
Patriot Way
It may sound like some cheesy cliche,
similar to Joe Banner referring to the Eagles' organization as the "gold
standard," but Philadelphians would embrace the tenets of the Patriot
Way. It's a true team-first concept up there in a world of me-first
professional athletes.

When Randy Moss started
causing a ruckus in the locker room, the Patriots dealt him to Minnesota
mid-season, despite the fact that Moss had caught 50 touchdown passes
in 52 games with the club. When expensive free agents such as Albert
Haynesworth aren't cutting it, the Patriots admit their mistake in the
most public way possible, clearing that roster spot for somebody who
gets it.

This is an organization that has taken a
permanent sideshow in Chad Ochocinco, and amidst the worst season of his
NFL career, incredibly has him toeing the company
line.

What you get is a roster somewhat lacking in
star power, instead assembled with players who buy in to their system.
Yes, they have Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, and Vince Wilfork -- that's
some legitimate greatness right there. They also have 18 undrafted
players, guys like Danny Woodhead and Arrington, carving out key roles.
They make homes for veterans such as Brian Waters and Shaun Ellis who
are maybe past their primes, and several of their best players are
overachieving castoffs who nobody really wanted, for instance Wes Welker
and even Brady.

It's a humble collection of athletes
that place the team's goal above all else. They don't make a lot of
noise in the media, they just go out and win football games. It's hard
not to respect that philosophy, especially in this day and
age.

Belichick is a mad scientist... and it's
fun to watch!
On Sunday, a diminutive kick
returner/wide receiver will fill in at nickel cornerback. An offensive
lineman will line up at tight end on certain run downs. A tight end will
take handoffs out of the backfield -- and these are just the
unconventional formations that we've seen already. Who knows what Bill
Belichick might have in store for the Giants.

No head
coach in the NFL is better at finding unique roles for his players. He
turned Troy Brown from a Pro-Bowl wide receiver into a full-time corner
in the twilight of his career. He allowed linebacker Mike Vrabel to
become a staple of the offense's goal-line package, catching 10
touchdown passes in his career. Long before Andy Reid pegged Dan Klecko
as the Eagles' fullback, the defensive tackle by trade had experimented
at the position in New England.

Heck, Tom Brady could
surprise punt the ball on third down, or the Patriots could attempt to
convert a 4th and 2 on their own 29-yard line. We wouldn't even count on
their running out the clock should things get out of hand -- after all,
they're far more efficient through the air.

Their
brand of football is a breath of fresh air in the copycat world of
professional sports. There's an extra level of intrigue when Julian
Edelman is trying to cover Victor Cruz, when Aaron Hernandez might be
more dangerous at running back than he is at tight end, and when the
idea is in your head that they really might attempt a pass to Nick
Solder, in the Super Bowl of all games.

That is
football, my friends, and Bill Belichick gets
it.

History
It may come as a small
consolation, or none at all, but what the Patriots have managed to
accomplish in the salary cap era may never be duplicated. You
understandably may not like the team or its fans one bit, but it may be
time to consider shifting from disdain to appreciation as the
Belichick-Brady combination head toward their final act. Both men are
among the greatest of all time at their respective jobs, and you
witnessed a run that's felled NFL records, nearly produced the league's
first 19-0 season, and featured a solid number of future Hall of
Famers.

One day, your grandchildren could be asking
if you ever saw Tom Brady coolly slide step in the pocket and deliver a
tight spiral as he operated one of his many game-winning drives, or
stare at you in wonder as you try to explain how a franchise won three
Super Bowls in four years during the age of parity. You'll talk about
the Tuck Rule Game and Spygate, but also Adam Vinatieri hitting three
championship-clinching field goals, and their intense rivalry with
Peyton Manning's Colts, which produced some of the finest contests ever
played on the gridiron.

Again, it may not provide
much comfort right now, but it's got to be better than being on the
wrong side of history. If the Giants should win for the second time in
five seasons, it will solidify the greatness of their head coach Tom
Coughlin, who was eternally on the hot seat during his tenure. It will
build on the legacy of Eli Manning, quite possibly the goofiest elite
quarterback the game has ever seen. It will create a legend out of their
front four, a group that will have once more catapulted New York to the
promised land using the old mantra "better late than
never."

The Patriots winning yet again has got to be
better than being constantly reminded that the Giants would then have
four Super Bowl Championships -- two against the most dominant franchise
of an era -- while Philadelphia has zero. A three-trophy lead is enough
as it is without them adding another.

Simply put,
who wants to live in a world where a division and regional rival has
ultimate bragging rights for a full year? Not I, and I hope not you
either.

End to End: Which 1 move will Flyers most likely make at Wednesday's NHL trade deadline?

End to End: Which 1 move will Flyers most likely make at Wednesday's NHL trade deadline?

Throughout the season, we'll ask questions about the Flyers to our resident hockey analysts and see what they have to say.

Going End to End this week are CSNPhilly.com producers/reporters Tom Dougherty, Jordan Hall and Greg Paone.

Today’s question: Which one move is most likely at Wednesday's NHL trade deadline?
 
Dougherty
There has been a lot of chatter about why the Flyers should sell at Wednesday's trade deadline. They won't be buying. Sell is the wrong word here. The Flyers are not selling and changing course. They are not trading Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek and starting over. Instead, the next logical step in the rebuild is to shed an expiring contract and open up a spot for a kid.

It just so happens the Flyers have three expiring contracts on defense, and one player comes to mind who would be attractive to contending teams and also paves the way for a defenseman at Lehigh Valley to gain some valuable NHL experience the rest of the season.

That player is Mark Streit, a 39-year-old puck-moving defenseman who can help a team's power play and provide some veteran leadership to boot. Streit has a modified no-trade clause in his contract, meaning he has a list of 10 teams he can be traded to, but that should not be a roadblock in moving him. He'll be a free agent on July 1 and a playoff run is far more attractive than wasting away the final two months of the season in mediocrity.

Streit does have a high cap hit ($5.25 million), but the Flyers could retain some of it. He comes off the books on July 1 and a rental for an acquiring team anyway. The cap hit would not be a deal-breaker here. That is an easy hurdle to clear in this situation.

There are valid arguments against trading Streit, and moving, say, Michael Del Zotto, another attractive expiring contract. Streit is a veteran voice in the Flyers' room and respected within the organization. He's still a valuable piece here. In a perfect world, general manager Ron Hextall can shed both Streit and Del Zotto and open up two spots on the blue line, clearing the way for two (2!) Phantoms defensemen to get some experience.

But, trading Streit is the one move I see as most likely to happen before Wednesday's deadline. Acquire a draft pick for Streit and call up Robert Hagg or Sam Morin. In this scenario, the bet here would be on Hagg. And remember, it's not selling, it's the next step.
 
Hall
Before the season, I was a big believer in trading one of the Flyers' goalies at the March 1 deadline.

Now, it makes even more sense in a season that appears to be headed for not much of anything.

Why hold on to two goalies set for unrestricted free agency when you'll almost certainly lose at least one for absolutely nothing this offseason? 

Michal Neuvirth turns 29 next month, as does Steve Mason in May. Both are having down seasons, but are still tradable and capable goalies -- whether it be in a starter's role or backup duty.

Is either goalie the Flyers' future when the team is ready for contention?

The orange and black are stocked with goaltending prospects in Anthony Stolarz, Alex Lyon, Carter Hart and Felix Sandstrom. Stolarz got a small taste of the NHL earlier this season and could more than hold down the second-string fort the rest of 2016-17. When the offseason comes, then you worry about what's next between the pipes.

But right now, one of the most rational decisions for the Flyers at the trade deadline would be moving a goalie. Neuvirth currently carries a more reasonable cap hit at $1.625 million, while Mason is at $4.1 million. Make a tough decision and start prepping more for the road ahead.

I think a trade can and should be done by Wednesday.

Paone
Thanks to injury and Dave Hakstol's recent emphasis on defensive structure, Del Zotto hasn't been in the Flyers' lineup much recently. Del Zotto is now healed from the lower-body injury that kept him out for a couple of weeks, so the part about an emphasis on defensive structure is important here when talking about his status with the Flyers.

Del Zotto has never been a defense-first type player. His strength is clearly his offensive ability. But unfortunately for Del Zotto, that's just not what the Flyers need out of their defensemen these days. So it should be no surprise he has slid down Hakstol's depth chart as the need for his role has decreased dramatically. But there are plenty of teams out there, contending ones, too, that could use some offensive punch on the blue line and on the power play. Del Zotto has played in only 30 games this season with four goals and six assists and is a role player these days, but there's a role for him somewhere out there. It's just not in Philadelphia anymore.

His $3.875 million cap hit is a bit steep, but he's a UFA at season's end, so it will come off the books. That should make a team much more willing to take a chance on Del Zotto and his cap in exchange for a draft pick, which Hextall values. Plus, he's not likely to be back here next year anyway, as the Flyers will likely start infusing more of the defensive talent they have in the minors into the big club. So might as well get something for him while you can. Contending teams can never have too much depth and those teams like to build depth through the trade market at this time of year. There's a fit somewhere out there for Del Zotto before the March 1 trade deadline.

Phillies 10, Blue Jays 3: Jeremy Hellickson limbers up, offense continues to hit

Phillies 10, Blue Jays 3: Jeremy Hellickson limbers up, offense continues to hit

DUNEDIN, Fla. — Jeremy Hellickson did not shine in his spring debut Sunday, but he didn’t have to.

Hellickson projects to be the Phillies' opening day starter for the second straight year, but with five weeks to go before it all starts for real in Cincinnati, he has plenty of time to put a coat of polish on his game.

The right-hander knocked off some wintertime rust with two innings of work against the Toronto Blue Jays. He gave up four hits and two runs, walked one and did not strike out a batter.

"I felt great," Hellickson said. "I wasn't really commanding the fastball like I wanted, but my arm and my body felt good."

Hellickson went 12-10 with a 3.71 ERA in 32 starts for the Phillies last season and could have opted for free agency in the offseason. However, he surveyed the marketplace and determined he'd be better off taking the Phillies' qualifying offer of $17.2 million for 2017 and trying his luck on the free-agent market next season.

So he's betting on himself.

"That's kind of how I'm looking at it," he said. "It was easy to do that just with the way I felt last year. I think I can definitely repeat or exceed what I did last year."

The Phillies can't give Hellickson another qualifying offer after this season so it's quite possible they will look to deal him in July. But that won't necessarily be easy. The Phils had talks with a number of teams about Hellickson last July and were unable to consummate a deal. It will be tougher this July as Hellickson’s salary has jumped by $10 million. The Phillies may have to eat some of that salary to get a deal they like.

Hellickson was asked if he was ready for another summer of trade rumors.

"No," he said with a wry smile. "But I know it's coming."

He's holding out hope that the Phillies will play their way into contention and the front office keeps the rotation together. He believes it's possible.

"I think we have a really good team here," he said. "Hopefully we're the ones trading for guys at the deadline.

"I've been reading some stuff saying (Aaron) Nola is a No. 5 guy. If Nola's your No. 5 guy, you have a pretty good rotation. I definitely think one through five we can give six, seven, eight strong innings every time out. Then with the guys, we signed for the back of our bullpen, it'll make our jobs that much easier. The days we don't have it, I feel like we can hand it off to those guys after five or six. We're in pretty good shape."

The game
The Phillies beat the Jays, 10-3, on the strength of 13 hits and three Toronto errors. The Phils had eight hits in Saturday’s win over the Yankees.

Cam Perkins, Pedro Florimon and Daniel Nava all had two hits. Rhys Hoskins and Ryan Hanigan both walked twice. Andres Blanco homered. Brock Stassi doubled. Nick Williams had a hit, two RBIs and a walk. Power-hitting rightfielder Dylan Cozens stole two bases.

Cozens is a legitimate stolen-base threat. In addition to belting 40 homers at Double A Reading last season, he swiped 21 bags and was only caught once.

"You've got to like his tools," manager Pete Mackanin said. "He's really an athletic guy. He's got good hands at the plate. I think he's going to hit because he doesn't have a lot of excess body movement. He hits a lot with his hands and I think in time he'll cut down on the strikeouts and he'll be an even better player. He looks like a solid defender, good hitting ability, a lot of power and some speed."

On the mound
Ben Lively and Alberto Tirado both pitched two scoreless innings and Pat Neshek and Michael Mariot had one each.

Up next
Jerad Eikchoff makes his spring debut when the Phillies host the Tampa Bay Rays on Monday afternoon.

Clay Buchholz will get the start Tuesday against Baltimore.