By Joseph Santoliquito

The Phillies won’t be playing a meaningful game again until next Wednesday, when it looks like they’ll be hosting the Cincinnati Reds in the divisional round of the National League playoffs. So now that thrusts all the attention on the return of a particular someone (you live in a dank cave if you don’t know who) that’s been a lightning rod of both teeth-gnashing angst and some pretty good times over the previous 11 seasons in Philadelphia—Donovan McNabb.

Expect every national so-called pundit to descend on Philadelphia, of course lugging the obligatory stale Santa Claus-snowball references along with them (they’ll never let that go), trying to create some spin on an NFC Eastern Division rivalry game that actually holds more meaning to the foundering 1-2 Washington Redskins than it does the Eagles.

McNabb will certainly be fired up for this, as will the fans, as will the media horde, and as will the Eagles. Eagles’ coach Andy Reid and his former QB Donny Mac will put on their sham rhetorical spew of how “This is just another game” and “This game doesn’t really mean anything” and blah, blah, blah, expecting people to actually believe it.

Who do they think they’re kidding here? The Eagles and Reid want to beat the living snot out of McNabb, and No. 5 wants to exact some revenge on his former team for trading him. If they didn’t sincerely believe that, they wouldn’t be in the winning-is-everything NFL and have boiling competitive blood coursing through their veins.

When asked Friday at the NovaCare Complex about the players deflecting the hype surrounding the game, Reid replied, “Well, it looks like they have. Listen, who knows? I’m not there every minute with them, but when they’re in this building that’s what I’ve seen. We’re very excited to play the Washington Redskins and that’s a NFC East rival, and those are all exciting games. And so, we know our crowd will just be unbelievably loud and fired up, and that helps us when opponents come in here. So, I think it will be a great atmosphere for a football game.”

But Reid stopped short on whether his players will lose focus of the larger picture, “I haven’t found that before. We have enough guys that have been around here for a while, so they’ve been in games that have had a little hype to them. And so, they understand and the young guys just kind of follow the lead of those players.”

And facing McNabb the first time in an opposing uniform… “Listen, he’s a phenomenal player who is playing phenomenal football, right now,” Reid said. “So, we had some great moments here and he left a phenomenal legacy here, big games and everything else, man. He’s a heck of a player.”

Here’s how this game will shake out: Vick will be close to flawless, throwing his first interception of the year. But he’ll expose Washington’s one glaring weakness through the first three weeks of the season and that’s a porous defense that is giving up an NFL-high 423.7 yards a game. Opposing offenses are converting third downs against the ’Skins at a 42-percent rate.

Last time I looked, Donovan McNabb doesn’t play defense. No. 5 will keep the ‘Skins competitive, but look for another balanced attack by the Eagles in offsetting Washington’s pass rush and look for Vick to make a point here, too: The Eagles made the right choice in trading McNabb and starting him.

We’ll see this week if the Eagles’ defense continues to play well with Stewart Bradley back at middle linebacker. In the six quarters he’s played this season, opposing teams have scored 16 points. In the six quarters he didn’t play, the Eagles have given up 46 points. Bradley’s presence could have something to do with that correlation. Also, let’s see what Trevor Laws does. He’s coming off what was arguably his best game as a pro—providing great push up the middle last Sunday against Jacksonville, something the Eagles haven’t gotten very much of consistently from tackles Mike Patterson and Brodrick Bunkley.

Prediction: Eagles 34, Redskins 20

Record this season: 3-0

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