Storylines to Follow for All 16 Philadelphia Eagles Matchups in 2014
Predicting wins and losses before we’ve even reached the draft is a fool’s errand, but that doesn’t make it any less fun to dissect the NFL schedule release. If nothing else, you can always start breaking down the Philadelphia Eagles’ slate by storyline.
Every NFL game has a background story of sorts to it. Players going against their former teams. Head coaches resuming their rivalries. Revenge games. Dream quarterback matchups. Interdivisional battles.
The Eagles’ schedule has a little bit of everything. We took a hard look at this year’s arrangement and tried to break down the biggest storylines to follow for all 16 matchups. If the schedule release didn’t get you excited for football, this should.
Week 1 vs. Jacksonville Jaguars
How close did Gus Bradley come to landing the Eagles head coaching job last year? At one point, he was visiting team owner Jeffrey Lurie’s mansion.
The very next day, the Eagles shocked the world by hiring Chip Kelly away from the University of Oregon instead. Kelly rewarded Lurie with a 10-6 record and division championship in his first year, so Week 1 in 2014 will be Bradley’s first real opportunity as head coach of the Jaguars to make the chairman regret his decision.
Bradley guided the Jags to a 4-12 record in his first year on the sidelines. The product on the field was beginning to show signs of improvement, finishing .500 over the final eight games.
Jacksonville holds the No. 3 pick in this year’s draft, and there’s a chance it could go quarterback. Could the Eagles catch a rookie signal-caller playing in his first NFL game to kick off the season?
Philadelphia opens the regular season at home for the first time since 2010 and should be heavily favored in this matchup.
Week 2 at Indianapolis Colts
Two members of the quarterback draft class of 2012 go head-to-head for the first time. It will be the 2013 passer-rating champion, Nick Foles, versus former No. 1 overall pick Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts on Monday Night Football.
Eighty-seven selections separated Foles from Luck on draft weekend. Yet coming off the heels of a history-making season, the Birds signal-caller is out to prove he belongs in the conversation for best passer in his class. Matching or besting Luck in his own building on a national stage would send a message to nonbelievers.
Colts general manager Ryan Grigson was hired from the Eagles organization in 2012, so expect there to be a number of front office ties and no doubt a few familiar faces on the opposite sideline as well.
Week 3 vs. Washington
This is easily one of the most anticipated games on the Eagles’ schedule, and we don’t have to wait long. DeSean Jackson makes his return to Lincoln Financial Field just three weeks into the season.
Coming off one of the best seasons for a wide receiver in franchise history, Jackson was unceremoniously released in March. There were reports of failed attempts to trade the 27-year-old and three-time Pro Bowler, but he was dumped abruptly minutes after Eliot Shorr-Parks and A.J. Perez for The Star-Ledger published a story about the wideout’s alleged ties to gang members.
NFC East rival Washington was willing to look past Jackson’s behavior and high price tag. Now he’s out to make the Eagles pay.
Despite finishing with a lowly 3-13 record in 2013, Washington played Philly tight in both encounters. The Eagles escaped in Week 1 by a final of 33-27 after recovering a late onside kick attempt. Then in Week 11, Brandon Boykin intercepted Robert Griffin III in the final two minutes to seal a 24-16 victory.
This will be new Washington head coach Jay Gruden’s first meeting with the Eagles.
Week 4 at San Francisco 49ers
Chip Kelly and San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh will rekindle an old, if short-lived, rivalry from their Pac-12 days. The two went head-to-head twice when Kelly was at Oregon and Harbaugh was in charge at Stanford.
Harbaugh got the better of a rookie Kelly in ’09 in a wild 51-42 shootout at Stanford. A year later, Kelly’s Ducks got their revenge, rolling the Cardinal by a final of 52-31.
Of course, there’s far more on the line now. Coming off a season in which it played in the conference title game, San Francisco should represent the Eagles’ first major test of 2014. Does Philadelphia belong in the same class as the NFC elites?
The 49ers are opening a brand-new stadium in Santa Clara, California, this year, so this meeting will mark the first time the Eagles will be in the building.
Week 5 vs. St. Louis Rams
Are the St. Louis Rams the new “it” team? That’s what football fans could be asking by the time the Eagles are getting set to host another quality NFC West opponent in Week 5.
Despite losing starting quarterback Sam Bradford early in the season, the Rams managed to produce a 7-9 record in the most stacked division in the league. One reason is an underrated defense that ranked 15th overall, 13th in points allowed, 10th in takeaways and third in sacks.
Just think how much better their defense could’ve been with a little support from the offense.
They may get it. Thanks to the RG3 trade with Washington in 2012, St. Louis owns the No. 2 overall pick in this year’s draft, along with its own first-rounder, No. 13.
That could be one formidable team this year.
Week 6 vs. New York Giants
How deep does the Eagles and New York Giants' dominance over the rest of the NFC East run? One of the two has won the division championship in 11 of the last 14 seasons—seven times for Philly, four for New York.
Just in case there was any doubt as to which team is the Birds’ biggest rival right now, throw them in prime time and watch the sparks fly.
We’re reaching the point where any year could conceivably be the last for two of the series' mainstays for Big Blue. Head coach Tom Coughlin (67 years old) and 33-year-old quarterback Eli Manning are entering their 11th season with the Giants, and if more campaigns wind up like last season’s 7-9 debacle, both could be on their way out in the near future.
Week 8 at Arizona Cardinals
Expect the Arizona Cardinals to have a bitter taste in their mouths left over from last season. The Redbirds thought they had Philly on the ropes, but a pair of controversial defensive holding penalties helped sew up a 24-21 victory at the Linc.
One of the calls—a phantom?—wiped away a Nick Foles interception that would’ve given Arizona the ball deep in Philadelphia territory with the chance to pull ahead in the fourth quarter. The second flag, this one definitely legitimate, awarded the Eagles a first down, and Foles was able to take a knee to end the game.
No doubt the Cardinals will be fired up at the chance to taste revenge, in their own building, no less.
Andy Reid amassed a streak of 13 wins a row following the bye as Eagles head coach, only losing in his final season in midnight green. With last year’s victory over the Cards, Chip Kelly is currently 1-0 after the off week.
Week 9 at Houston Texans
Unless there is a trade, the Houston Texans own the No. 1 pick in this year’s draft. Could it be a quarterback? If so, he’ll almost certainly be starting by Week 9. Regardless of his position, this could be many Eagles fans first look at the best young prospect in the NFL.
Houston actually may have quite a bit in common with last year’s Birds in that it might be in line for a quick rebound. The Texans won 12 games—the second in back-to-back playoff seasons—a year before unexpectedly running up a 2-14 record in '13. Get that QB situation fixed, and the Texans could conceivably be a tough opponent this year.
Several Eagles will be returning to Houston after signing free-agent contracts in Philadelphia. Most notably, outside linebacker Connor Barwin and punter Donnie Jones should feel back at home.
Of interest to some in the fanbase at least, this will be the Eagles first meeting against new Texans head coach Bill O’Brien. O’Brien spent the previous two years as the successor to legendary Joe Paterno at Penn State University.
Week 10 vs. Carolina Panthers
Plenty of familiar faces will be in town when the Eagles host the Carolina Panthers for Monday Night Football. Head coach Ron Rivera and defensive coordinator Sean McDermott both served as part of the Andy Reid administration in Philadelphia.
Wide receiver Jason Avant also landed with the Panthers after he was released by the Eagles earlier this offseason.
Of course, the real storyline when going up against Carolina is how to keep the quarterback’s jersey clean. The Panthers led the NFL with 60 sacks in ’13, which equates to almost four per game. As tremendous a season Foles had, one of his weaknesses is he will occasionally hold on to the ball too long.
With 2011 No. 1 overall pick Cam Newton under center, the Panthers pose quite the challenge. Along with the Packers, they are one of the two unique opponents on the Eagles’ schedule this season based on earning a division championship.
Week 11 at Green Bay Packers
The Eagles caught a huge break when they ran into the Green Bay Packers last season. 2011 Most Valuable Player and Pack signal-caller Aaron Rodgers missed the game with a dislocated shoulder, leaving the offense in the hands of a not-so-capable Seneca Wallace-Scott Tolzien tandem.
Rather predictably, this arrangement proved most beneficial for the Birds, who won the game 27-13. Assuming Rodgers is in the lineup and healthy for the reigning NFC North champions, how will Philly fare at Lambeau Field this time around?
Week 12 vs. Tennessee Titans
This is quite possibly, if not undoubtedly, the least compelling matchup on Philadelphia’s slate. There do not seem to be any real connections of import between the Eagles and Tennessee Titans.
Furthermore, the Titans have the look of a franchise heading nowhere in particular at the moment. Retread head coach Ken Whisenhunt was hired to lead a band of players lacking in star power. A winning season with Jake Locker under center does not seem likely.
Yet this might have all the makings of a trap game if the Chip Kelly isn’t careful. Players will no doubt be looking ahead to the short week leading up to their date with…
Week 13 at Dallas Cowboys
Be sure to save room for dessert. Oh, and have your dinner plans changed to lunch. The Dallas Cowboys are being served for Thanksgiving dinner at 4:30 p.m.
The Eagles will head to Dallas on Turkey Day for the first time since 1989, when they blanked the Cowboys 27-0. Philadelphia is 4-1 all time on the holiday, last defeating the Arizona Cardinals in 2008.
The meeting with the Cowboys is the first in a run of four games against NFC East opponents in the Eagles’ final five. Talk about a tough road to the playoffs. This stretch of games could very well determine whether or not the Birds get into the tournament.
In terms of hype, playing the Cowboys in their building in their traditional Thanksgiving game is easily the biggest contest on the schedule.
Week 14 vs. Seattle Seahawks
It doesn’t get much bigger than hosting the reigning Super Bowl champions. By Week 14, when postseason races are beginning to take shape, the Seattle Seahawks’ world title will be squarely in past. No doubt they’ll be in the mix again in 2014, though, not to mention give the Eagles one of their toughest tests of the season.
For the second time this year, Foles will go toe-to-toe with a member of the quarterback draft class of 2012. This time, it will be fellow third-round pick Russell Wilson, whom the Eagles were said to have interest in choosing themselves.
Speaking of ghosts of draft days past, anytime Philly runs into the Seahawks there's a chance to remind people the Eagles once passed on All-Pro safety Earl Thomas in 2010.
Seattle head coach Pete Carroll has been out of the college game for a while now. However, he did face Chip Kelly head-to-head once before when each were head coaches, in 2009 while Carroll was at USC. Kelly’s Ducks got the better of the Trojans on that day with a big 47-20 victory.
Week 15 vs. Dallas Cowboys
Two short weeks after breaking bread over the holidays, the Eagles and Cowboys will be back at it for Sunday Night Football at the Linc. Nothing stokes a rivalry like seeing too much of somebody in too short of an amount of time.
Reigning NFL rushing champion LeSean McCoy just happens to do some of his best work against the 'Boys. In eight games against, Shady has racked up 839 total yards from scrimmage, three touchdowns and a solid 5.2 yards per rushing attempt.
No doubt Chip Kelly will be turning to his workhorse back in the December cold in South Philly. McCoy carried the ball 101 times for 598 yards in the final month of 2013.
Week 16 at Washington
It’s probably worth mentioning again that DeSean Jackson is wearing burgundy and gold from here on out, and no doubt will still feel as though he has a score to settle with his ex-employer.
By this stage in the year, we should have a pretty good idea whether or not Gruden was able to salvage Robert Griffin. RG3 clearly wasn’t the same player in his second NFL season, but whether that was due to his ongoing recovery from a torn ACL suffered as a rookie or because a dysfunctional coaching staff broke him remains to be seen.
Washington’s success for the foreseeable future is almost completely dependent upon Griffin’s viability as a franchise quarterback. He needs to have a big season.
This game marks the NFL regular season’s return to Saturdays in December. No complaints about that here.
Week 17 at New York Giants
One key storyline that's always in the back of everybody's minds leading up to Week 17 is whether any team will be in position to rest its starters. This would indicate A) a playoff berth has been clinched, and B) seeding cannot be effected by the outcome of the game.
Seeing as the last three consecutive NFC East championships have been settled in Week 17 on Sunday night, don’t count on that being the case for the Eagles. To take that thought a step further, were the schedule-makers actually predicting the division will be decided in the Meadowlands on the final day of the season?
That would be in typical Coughlin-Eli style. After all, they’ve won a pair of Super Bowls together, the most recent of which only after taking care of business in Week 17.
Then again, it could also be the last hurrah for one or both of the head coach and quarterback if New York's season doesn’t go according to plan. Will this final regular-season encounter represent the end of an era in the storied Eagles-Giants rivalry?