GREEN BAY – Always good for a chuckle, a wince or a bit of trash talk on his Twitter feed – even when he promises to scale back on his posts in order to focus, as he did at the start of training camp – Jermichael Finley couldn’t help himself Tuesday.
@JermichaelF88: Man I wish we had the damn Eagles on the schedule. All this "Dream Team" talk is killin’ me.
No, Jermichael, all the “Dream Team” talk is helping you and the rest of the Green Bay Packers.
In case you missed the chatter coming out of Philadelphia over the weekend – easy to do given all the comings and goings in Green Bay as training camp began – the Eagles were the NFL’s busiest and splashiest team, signing cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, defensive end Jason Babin and ex-Packers defensive end Cullen Jenkins in free agency while also picking up cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie as part of the Kevin Kolb trade.
Then they added ex-Tennessee Titans quarterback Vince Young, Finley’s friend and college teammate (Finley redshirted during Young’s final year at Texas), to be Michael Vick’s backup. And it was Young who gave the Eagles a new nickname.
"Dream team," Young told reporters. "From Nnamdi to Cromartie, to Jason to myself, (plus) I know they are going to do some more things. … It's just beautiful to see where we're trying to go."
In a later interview with NFL network, Young compared the Eagles, who kept going Tuesday by adding former Miami Dolphins running back Ronnie Brown, to "the Miami Heat of the NBA."
Finley is no stranger to talking big. Following the annual preseason Family Night Scrimmage last year, Finley famously declared during an on-field post-practice interview: “I’ve got one word: Dallas, Texas Super Bowl baby,” in reference to the site of Super Bowl XLV. A few weeks ago, he guaranteed that the Packers would be in Indianapolis for Super Bowl XLVI.
But while those comments are easily brushed aside as, as quarterback Aaron Rodgers has said in the past, “Jermichael being Jermichael,” Young’s comparison to the Heat hits on a theme that is so much greater than just the bravado of a now-backup quarterback who was a bust as the No. 3 overall pick in the 2006 NFL Draft.
When the Heat brought together LeBron James and Chris Bosh in free agency to join holdover superstar Dwyane Wade, then celebrated the union by strutting along a runway at a pep rally at the team’s arena the next day, the backlash was unprecedented. Miami instantly became the team not only with the highest expectations in the league, but with the greatest number of fans rooting against them. Their 58-24 regular-season record was considered an underachievement, and when they reached the NBA Finals, finding casual fans cheering for the Heat against the Dallas Mavericks proved challenging.
The Eagles began their 2010 season with a loss to the Packers on opening day at Lincoln Financial Field, and they ended it with a loss to the Packers there in the NFC Wild Card playoffs. Their moves smack of a team that knew it had a sizeable gap to close with the defending champs.
While the Eagles were adding pieces, the Packers were saying goodbye to players on an almost hourly basis, as Jenkins, Daryn Colledge, Brandon Jackson, Korey Hall and Jason Spitz departed as free agents and Mark Tauscher, Nick Barnett, Brandon Chillar, Brady Poppinga and Justin Harrell were released. Although the team did re-sign kicker Mason Crosby, wide receiver James Jones and fullback John Kuhn, its personnel moves did nothing to raise expectations.
While Packers coach Mike McCarthy was doing his best to convince his players that the new season wasn’t about defending their Super Bowl XLV title but starting from scratch in pursuit of Super Bowl XLVI – in the Super Bowl era, eight teams have successfully defended their titles – he did so knowing that the Packers will still be the hunted, no matter how he may try to flip the script.
“You look at this locker room now, and there’s a lot of guys in here who are going to play important roles for us who weren’t with us last year or had a diminished role at the beginning of the season last year. So, a lot of stuff changes, a lot of stuff happens,” Rodgers said. “You just learn from it and realize the challenges that come with it.
“Like Mike always says, you’ve got to be good at handling success and understand that we’re viewed differently now because we have won the championship. We need to be the hunter in this situation because we’re going to be hunted. Everybody tries to play their best game every week (against you). I don’t think it changes when you’re playing a Super Bowl champion or you’re playing a team that’s in the bottom of the pack. We realize that it’s going to be important for us to do things better than we did last year. We went 10-6, and we can start faster and hopefully get things jelling a little quicker than we did last year.”
McCarthy isn’t blind to the challenges created by winning the Super Bowl. And he’s trying to be proactive with the pitfalls of success and high expectations.
"I fully expected to win a world championship here," McCarthy said. "It's no different this year. ... We're not a let's-get-to-the-playoffs type of organization. We're about winning championships. I just know that as you move through this league and have different levels of success, you have new devils."
So does Philadelphia. While teams aren't suddenly going to slack off when they play Packers, they’re no longer perceived as the team to beat in the NFC, either. That honor goes to the Eagles.
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today,” and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.