It’s barely a week from the start of the NFL regular season when the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens take on the Denver Broncos. Four days after that, the Philadelphia Eagles travel to the nation’s capital to play Robert Griffin III and the Washington Redskins in what should be a high-flying shootout.
Chip Kelly has given glimpses of what the Eagles will look like through the preseason games and training camp, but the official NFL season is a whole new test. Can Michael Vick duplicate the success he had back in 2010? If LeSean McCoy gets hurt again, are the backup running backs really good enough to contribute? And what can be done about that defense?
Look here for answers to all those questions and more.
That’s the plan, as Chip Kelly is electing to go with the veteran Michael Vick as his quarterback. Vick has been near-flawless this preseason, and expectations are high that he can duplicate his 2010 season when he was unofficially the league’s runner-up MVP.
Vick is three years older though, and he’s never been able to stay healthy. He has fumbled the ball 21 times in the past two seasons, and he’s thrown 24 interceptions in just 23 games. That’s a rate of over one per game, which won’t make a coach very happy.
Vick is still an electrifying runner, and he could still push for 700-800 yards. His peripheral numbers as a passer have slipped in recent years, but Kelly has an excellent track record of working with his quarterbacks at Oregon. Simply put, as Vick goes, the Eagles will go.
It’s very likely that Michael Vick will get hurt at some point this year, which means the Philadelphia Eagles will probably turn to Nick Foles. Vick has averaged just 11.5 games started over the past two seasons, and he’s played all 16 games only one time since being drafted in 2001.
That means Chip Kelly has to choose between Foles and Matt Barkley, although it would be a surprise if Barkley passes Foles on the depth chart at all this season. Either way, the offense will have to change drastically when Vick isn't in the game. He possesses that incredible breakaway speed that the other two don’t.
What Foles does offer is the ability to handle the offense with quick, precision passing. He’s extremely efficient and a better decision-maker, and he executed the two-minute offense very well when called upon in preseason. Foles’ numbers last year are tough to judge due to the lack of talent on his supporting cast, but more time in 2013 will show if he can be the future.
LeSean McCoy is an All-Pro runner, and he’s a three-down back who can carry the football and catch passes out of the backfield. But should he get hurt or just get some plays off, that will leave Bryce Brown and Chris Polk to fill the void.
Brown was a roller coaster of a player in 2012, seeing extreme highs and extreme lows. At his best, he’s a top-10 running back in the league, a supreme blend of power and speed, and he’s dangerous when he has the ball in his hands. At his worst, the Eagles would be foolish to give him the ball because he can’t stop fumbling or trying to bounce to the outside.
Polk is more of an unknown, but he’s looked good in preseason. He beat out Felix Jones for the third spot (Jones was eventually traded to the Pittsburgh Steelers), and there’s a chance Brown and Polk could be the best backup duo in the league.
Losing Jeremy Maclin at wide receiver is an absolutely devastating blow. That makes DeSean Jackson the lone receiver with proven production on the outside. Jackson is a two-time Pro Bowler, but he hasn't been the same player over the past two seasons, and the team will need him to step up.
After Jackson, there is a logjam of players fighting for spots. Jason Avant is likely going to be a reliable possession receiver who will get the tough third-down catches. That means either Riley Cooper or Damaris Johnson (or Russell Shepard) has a golden opportunity to step up as a legitimate threat opposite Jackson.
Johnson lacks size, but he possesses speed that makes him comparable to Jackson. Cooper is much bigger, and he was second among Eagles receivers in touchdown catches a year ago. If one of those two can put up a solid 800 yards, Chip Kelly will definitely take it.
The Philadelphia Eagles have the potential to be a top-five offensive line in the league. Currently, the New England Patriots, San Francisco 49ers and Tennessee Titans probably represent the three most complete units.
After that, the Eagles are right in the mix.
Getting a healthy and productive Jason Peters back will be key, as the five-time Pro Bowler was the NFL’s best tackle in 2011 before his injury. Evan Mathis is an elite guard, whether he gets the credit or not. Jason Kelce is a future Pro Bowler on the verge of a breakout season. Todd Herremans should fare much better in his natural guard position.
And if rookie Lane Johnson can assimilate to the NFL level as quickly as the Eagles hope, this is a top offensive line.
The 3-4 defense should greatly benefit second-year player Mychal Kendricks. Kendricks played 3-4 inside linebacker in college, and he has 4.47 speed in the 40-yard dash, which should make him able to track down runners from sideline to sideline.
Kendricks has been playing superb football thus far in preseason after a disappointing rookie campaign. He could be one of the leaders on the defense by the season’s end if all goes according to plan.
The 2012 Philadelphia Eagles allowed 33 touchdowns through the air, a franchise-worst since the team was founded.
This year’s unit could push that record. Veteran cornerbacks Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie are gone, which means the job goes to new free-agent acquisitions Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher. Second-year player Brandon Boykin is fighting for a spot as a starter, and he may have the edge on Fletcher.
It’s the safety corps that houses the real problem. Former first-round pick Kenny Phillips has already been released. Nate Allen has had his chances as the starter, but he hasn't made the most of those opportunities.
The key will be fifth-round rookie Earl Wolff, but expecting a big performance from a player chosen so low may be asking too much. The Eagles look to enter 2013 still trying to replace the void left by departure of icon Brian Dawkins.
Some of the best teams often flourish because of their special teams. The New England Patriots frequently excelled in special teams under Bill Belichick during the world championship titles, and last year’s Baltimore Ravens were one of the league’s best in all special teams facets.
The Philadelphia Eagles have the chance to be an elite special teams bunch. New coordinator Dave Fipp has an impressive resume of turning around the teams he takes over. Alex Henery is a reliable kicker and free-agent punter Donnie Jones is an All-Pro.
Punt returner Damaris Johnson has looked explosive in preseason, but Chip Kelly may elect to go with proven return man DeSean Jackson. Either way, that should be a dangerous return game, especially if Brandon Boykin on kick returns can provide a little spark.
It’s tough to tell for this one. The preseason didn't show too much in terms of what the Philadelphia Eagles will actually run during the regular season.
What the Eagles are trying to do will be difficult to pull off. The offensive line will have to be in elite physical condition to be able to execute plays without a huddle. Kelly may have to change his offense in midseason when Michael Vick gets hurt. And his offense will have to score points in bunches to keep up with what could be an awful defense.
Fortunately, the NFC East has no clear-cut favorite. Nine or 10 wins could potentially win this division. In fact, it’s likely that will win the division title. If the offense clicks like Kelly hopes, that will be the Eagles playing in January.