7 Bold Predictions for the Philadelphia Eagles' 2014 Season
The start of organized team activities means the Philadelphia Eagles’ 2014 season is less than three months away. Last year’s surprise 10-6 performance earned the Birds an NFC East title and a home playoff game against the New Orleans Saints.
This year, expectations are high that the Eagles will be even better. Nick Foles is in his first offseason as the official starting quarterback for the franchise. The offensive line is stacked, and even after losing DeSean Jackson, All-Pro running back LeSean McCoy is as talented a player as there is in this league.
The defense will be the make-or-break unit of the season, and coordinator Billy Davis will have to coax another strong season out of a group that overachieved a year ago. The key will be whether up-and-coming players like Fletcher Cox, Mychal Kendricks and Brandon Boykin can continue maturing.
Season expectations will undoubtedly change as the offseason progresses. A key injury here or there could alter the entire outlook for the team, as it did last year when Jeremy Maclin went down or two summers ago when Jason Peters tore his Achilles tendon. For now, here are seven bold predictions for the Eagles’ season.
Jordan Matthews Leads All Eagles in Receiving Yards
Jeremy Maclin is being counted on to be the team’s No. 1 receiver, which is a little risky considering he’s coming off a torn ACL and will have to put up production similar to what the franchise got from Pro Bowl player DeSean Jackson.
Maclin already had a scare this spring, and the team can’t afford for him to get hurt unless rookie Jordan Matthews or veteran Riley Cooper is ready to produce. Cooper doesn’t project to have the biggest ceiling, considering he never broke out until a two-game span in the middle of 2013.
Matthews looks like a player, though. He comes into the league as an NFL-ready wide receiver. Matthews is 6’3”, 210 pounds, ran a 4.46 40-yard dash and showed the strength (23 bench press reps) to think he can get off the line with ease. Matthews has football in his bloodlines, as he’s Jerry Rice’s cousin.
Look for Matthews to take snaps from Cooper on the outside and ultimately finish the year as the team’s leading receiver, notching just over 1,000 yards and seven touchdowns.
Alex Henery Leads the NFL in Field-Goal Percentage
The camp competition between Carey “Murderleg” Spear and veteran Alex Henery may seem interesting, but it’s highly doubtful Spear wins the job.
Henery still has one year remaining on his deal, and while he seems to have limited leg strength, he’s very accurate. Henery doesn’t have enough field goals to qualify, but his 86.0 percent puts him fourth on the career list. And he did set a single-season rookie record with an 88.9 percent success rate in 2011.
Henery won’t win over Philadelphia Eagles fans based on the distance of his kickoffs, but logically he should have no problem beating out Spear for the starting job. What makes me think he has a chance to lead the league in field-goal percentage is simply that kickers’ numbers tend to fluctuate heavily on a yearly basis, and Henery typically kicks shorter field goals.
Consistently getting attempts from under 40 yards will help Henery rank as the league leader in accuracy; that and the fact that he’s playing for his future in the city.
Nick Foles Throws for 4,500 Yards and Accounts for 40 Touchdowns
What Nick Foles will do in 2014 is the great unknown, and it will have a huge impact on how the Philadelphia Eagles perform.
If Foles can come close to duplicating his numbers from last year, he will cash in heavily with a new contract. If he drops off, the team will likely let him play out his final season before they decide.
But there’s reason to believe Foles will again be a Pro Bowl player. He’s surrounded by playmakers, even after losing DeSean Jackson. To compensate for the loss of his best downfield threat, Chip Kelly added multidimensional back Darren Sproles. He will also rely heavily on tight ends Brent Celek and Zach Ertz and running back LeSean McCoy.
If Matthews breaks out, as I think is likely, Foles will put up banner statistics. No Eagles quarterback has ever passed for 4,000 yards in a season. Foles should do that easily. He’s a talented enough decision-maker that he can pick up yards with his legs, too. Look for 35 passing touchdowns, 4,500 yards and five rushing scores from Foles.
Darren Sproles Makes an Underwhelming Impact
The addition of Darren Sproles in Philadelphia may be getting overblown. Sproles is over 30 years old and his numbers really trailed off a year ago.
Sproles went from 2,696 all-purpose yards in 2011 to 1,577 in 2012 to just 1,273 last year. He posted career-worst return numbers (6.7 yards per punt return and 21.3 yards per kick return in ‘13). And he dropped to just 4.2 yards per carry, his lowest total in four seasons.
Sproles won’t have too many opportunities as a runner, especially playing behind McCoy. Bryce Brown is no longer in the picture, but Chris Polk is a promising backup, and Sproles doesn’t have the frame to hold up as a regular back should McCoy get injured.
It doesn’t seem likely that Sproles returns punts or kicks this year, given the decline he displayed in 2013. That will likely limit his impact to being a slot receiver. He could still catch 50-60 passes easily, but don’t be surprised if he doesn’t even break 1,000 all-purpose yards.
Marcus Smith Plays Just 25 Percent of Snaps
The Philadelphia Eagles made an extremely questionable first-round choice when they selected Louisville pass-rusher Marcus Smith, a player that most analysts saw as a likely third-round pick.
Smith is a project who won’t start right away, given the presence of veterans Trent Cole and Connor Barwin. He’s very raw and has been practicing with the third-teamers in OTAs. That in no way means he’s destined to be a bust, but looking at the depth chart suggests he won’t make much of an impact as a rookie.
Cole and Barwin are the experienced veterans, and former first-round pick Brandon Graham is penciled in as the top backup. He’s played well when called upon.
Smith wouldn’t be the first pass-rusher selected high to struggle early on. Nick Perry made a minimal impact. So did Jarvis Jones, Bjoern Werner, Shea McClellin and Dion Jordan. It’s difficult to transition from using purely a speed rush at the collegiate level. And the Eagles knew what they were getting into when they selected Smith.
Philadelphia Sweeps Final Three Division Games
The Philadelphia Eagles play a difficult December, much like they did in 2006 when they faced three consecutive NFC East opponents on the road in the final month (becoming the first team ever to do so). The Eagles won all of those games, and they expect the same this year.
Chip Kelly got the best football out of his group in the second half last year. The 3-5 Birds won seven of their final eight contests, riding the outstanding play of Foles. A quick glance at the schedule looks like the Eagles will start the 2014 season at 3-0, split their next 10 games, and win their final three en route to an 11-5 record and a division title.
This year, the Eagles play a tough December schedule. That Seattle game won’t be easy, and three straight division games is never easy. By this point, Philadelphia will be cruising, and they will ride Foles’ precision passing, McCoy and a passable defense to win in cold weather games.
Philadelphia Eagles Advance to NFC Championship Game
The 2014 Philadelphia Eagles aren’t built to win a Super Bowl. At least not quite. The offense is loaded and will push the Green Bay Packers, New Orleans Saints and Denver Broncos to lead the league in scoring.
The defense will likely hold the team back. It’s completely unreasonable to expect Philadelphia to match what the Seattle Seahawks or San Francisco 49ers have done on the defensive side of the ball. The only way the Eagles could make the Super Bowl would be by outscoring their opponents in repeated shootouts.
Look for an NFC Championship Game appearance and a loss to either the Packers or Saints. By 2015, though, this team could be the consensus favorite.