Predictions sure to go wrong

Every year, for no good reason, I use the week before a new football season to project the future. Usually, I confine my forecasts to the Eagles and the NFL. This time, I have tackled the entire fall and winter sports calendar.

Please apply a large grain of salt to what follows. Remember, I predicted last year that Kevin Kolb would make us all forget Donovan McNabb. Who knew he would also make us all forget Kevin Kolb?

But now that the joy of the front-office assault on free agency is over and coach Andy Reid is back prowling the sidelines, reality is setting in. These Eagles have the same problems they have had in Reid’s 13-year run.

The Eagles will finish with nine wins.

What? The Dream Team barely finishing above .500? Say it ain’t so, Joe Banner. The moment of truth for me came in the third preseason game, when Andy Reid challenged a touchdown play that was already being reviewed. He never learns — and never will.

That’s why these Eagles have a glut of amazing cornerbacks and not one standout linebacker, why offensive lineman Todd Herremans is moving from guard to tackle, why Reid keeps telling us he’s got to do a better job while changing nothing.

Analyzing the new season starts with Michael Vick, the newly minted $100-million quarterback. And the only thing that really counts is the answer to this question: Will Vick stay healthy the entire season? Not a chance. Not with that offensive line. And without Vick for some key games, the Birds will be exposed. An unbalanced roster and a stubborn coach do not equal a championship.

If the Eagles fail again with this team — and this payroll — will it finally mark the end of Reid’s tenure? If you can’t wait for my next column of bold predictions, I’ll offer it now. No.

The Phillies will fall short with the best team in their history.

Boston is simply a better team — challenged more rigorously in the regular season and deeper in the bullpen and on the bench. The Phillies have three excellent starters, but how well will they shut down that ominous Red Sox lineup? Not well enough.

As our hopes fade, so will our blind affection for bumbling manager Charlie Manuel. Will anybody still see him as a folk hero after winning one title in seven seasons with the best roster in team history? Let’s hope not.

The Flyers will win the Stanley Cup.

Just when all hope is gone with our two best bets, the Flyers will swoop in and end their 36-year Cup drought behind a hungry team, a brilliant coach and an unflappable captain.

Now clip out this column and place it on your refrigerator. If nothing else, it’ll be good for a few laughs in the crazy months ahead.

Time for Phils fans to get nervous

In the eighth inning of a game in Florida, Charlie Manuel replaced Antonio Bastardo with David Herndon. If you’re looking for a reason to get nervous, you should start with that one laughable decision.

Yes, I know. Bastardo was pitching for the third straight game, and he had walked the only two batters he faced. Replacing him isn’t the problem.

Replacing him with Manuel’s pet bullpen project is. Lefty batters have a .357 average against Herndon. He should not be on the roster of a great team. Enough said.

Of course, the Marlins came back from a 4-3 deficit with three home runs. The next day, Herndon coughed up another when he had to throw 69 pitches over nearly four innings because the manager ran out of pitchers.

Charlie Manuel has a terrific array of talent; no one can argue that point. But will he choose Roy Oswalt over rookie phenom Vance Worley for the No. 4 spot in the playoff rotation? Will Ben Francisco or Kyle Kendrick or — gasp — Herndon get pushed into the spotlight just because they were here all year? Will Brad Lidge get the ball in a big moment just to thank him for 2008?

The manager’s loyalty to players is often cited as one of the biggest reasons for his success. If he pushes it too far this fall, it will also be one of the biggest reasons for his failure.

Is Vick reverting to his old ways?

Am I the only one who got squeamish when Michael Vick popped off about how no team could design a defense to stop him? Was I the first fan to wonder if that new contract was already changing him back into the egotistical, obnoxious jerk he was before prison humbled him?

All I could think about after his comment was that disastrous, snow-delayed game, when the Vikings sacked him six times, forced him to fumble twice and intercepted him once. The Vikings were playing for nothing, on the road, against a team desperate for a win. The design of that defense stopped him with relative ease, didn’t it?

In fact, during his mediocre second half, Vick proved that he was hardly unstoppable —

especially once opponents began to adjust to his new style. The quarterback’s final, underthrown pass to Riley Cooper ended a thrilling comeback against the Packers — and with it, another season. Have all of the zeroes on Vick’s new deal obliterated that memory?

The Eagles made a mistake when they gave Vick all of that money based on half a schedule of elite play and exemplary behavior. There was nothing to lose by waiting until he proved his value in a full season filled with the highest of hopes.

– Angelo Cataldi is host of 610 WIP’s Morning Show, which airs weekdays 5:30 a.m. to 10 a.m.

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