MAYBE I HAVE become that negative, pessimistic curmudgeon more than a few

Eagles fans have accused me of becoming.

Perhaps after a decade of watching the ups and downs of this franchise, I can no longer see the forest behind the decaying leaves.

Or I could just be a realist, one who is making objective observations without the pangs of Super Bowl deprivation coursing through my

being.

As the Eagles start another season under coach Andy Reid with the first practice of training camp this morning at Lehigh, I just can't see how the 2008 campaign will end up being a successful one - at least not if challenging for and possibly winning Super Bowl XLIII is the ultimate goal, which it should be.

I know that with the signing of free-agent cornerback Asante Samuel, with quarterback Donovan McNabb as healthy as he has been since 2004, the Birds should be better than the 8-8 team that walked off the field on Dec. 30.

I just don't think that being

better than missing the playoffs

is good enough, given the circumstances in which this organization finds itself.

If McNabb, running back Brian Westbrook, safety Brian Dawkins, offensive tackles Jon Runyan and Tra Thomas were all 5 years younger, I would be OK with the Eagles simply taking a step toward an anticipated string of playoff runs.

If Reid were in Year 3 or 4 of a 5-year Lombardi Trophy plan instead of starting Year 10, it would be encouraging to look at the

Eagles and say this is a team that's on the cusp of being a

serious contender.

But that isn't the case.

Given the Eagles' current

construction, the only acceptable expectation for this team in 2008 should be Super Bowl XLIII.

That is the only thing that should be acceptable when you have a veteran coach, veteran quarterback, veteran running back and veteran players in key positions of leadership.

It is an expectation based on

circumstance.

If you were to change something - like having Kevin Kolb as the starting quarterback instead of McNabb or transitioning other youngsters in for older players like Thomas, Runyan and Dawkins - the expectations might be dramatically different.

Maybe under those circumstances, simply making the playoffs would be good enough. That, however, is not the case.

Too many things about the makeup of this 2008 squad say this is about making one last hurrah, taking one last run at that

elusive Super Bowl trophy before fully moving on to the next era.

Don't get me wrong, because I believe the Eagles already have begun the process of moving on to the next phase.

The linebacker corps and the defensive line have completely made the transition to younger talent.

Still, too many things, most of them already mentioned, are geared toward winning right now.

It all revolves around McNabb and what the expectations are for a team with a 31-year-old quarterback who has missed 15 games over the last three seasons and has a contract that can be easily removed from the ledger.

If you are going with a 10th-year quarterback who has been to five Pro Bowls and a Super Bowl, it's not about building for the future around him.

It is about winning now.

The Eagles' championship

aspirations for 2008 lie almost

exclusively on McNabb returning to the form he had in 2004 when the Birds went 13-3 and advanced to the Super Bowl.

The problems are that after

his serious injuries, McNabb is not individually capable of being that player, and in lieu of that, the

Eagles have not upgraded enough things around him to make up the difference.

The debate about whether it is McNabb or the receivers is moot.

What is clear is that at a time

in his career when McNabb needs great receivers, he only has good ones.

At a point when McNabb needs a strong offensive line more than ever, the Eagles are reliant on

Runyan and Thomas, who are

in their mid-30s and play with a string of nagging injuries.

Even when you say, "What about Westbrook?" the fact

remains that despite what he did last season, the Birds still finished just 8-8.

And considering Westbrook, 28, already has doubled the career

expectancy of an NFL running back, it is hard to count on him

being even better in 2008.

At a time when McNabb needs more help to be successful, his

arsenal was not upgraded.

I tried to be optimistic, but when I look at these Eagles I don't see them challenging for

Super Bowl XLIII.

Maybe that expectation was

too high, but considering the

circumstances of this team, it should not have been. *

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