Just one year ago, the Philadelphia Eagles were fresh off a 4-12 season and undergoing an entire organizational transition. The Andy Reid era ended with the team in a mess; there was uncertainty at the quarterback position, and the defense lacked playmakers.
Enter Chip Kelly.
Kelly took the team to a six-win improvement, capturing the NFC East title in his first season as head coach. He molded Nick Foles into a franchise quarterback and a near-MVP candidate. Kelly’s health regime led to a tremendously healthy squad. Perhaps the unsung hero was defensive coordinator Billy Davis, whose bend-but-don’t-break scheme helped the Eagles at one point go nine straight games without allowing more than 21 points.
Expectations are predictably high for the team heading into 2014. The division opponents aren’t threatening. Even after the release of DeSean Jackson, there are still weapons everywhere on the Philly offense.
If all goes according to plan, the Eagles should be able to make a deep postseason run. That would involve the starters staying healthy, the team being able to maintain a fast-paced offense and the defense continuing its improvement.
But a devastating injury to a key player could really impact this team, as could a decline from Foles, who plays far and above the most important position on the field. Here’s a look at the best and worst Eagles fans can expect next season.
The Best-Case Scenario
Foles proves to be a legitimate franchise quarterback. He doesn’t put up another season of 27 touchdowns to just two interceptions; he actually improves upon those numbers. Foles starts all 16 games, accounting for over 40 total touchdowns. He becomes the first quarterback in Philadelphia Eagles franchise history to pass for 4,000 yards; in fact, he eclipses the 4,500-yard mark.
Foles’ 41 touchdowns to 10 interceptions prove he’s an elite signal-caller. He compensates for the loss of Jackson with high-percentage passes to Darren Sproles, LeSean McCoy, Brent Celek and Zach Ertz. Jeremy Maclin stays healthy and puts up a 1,000-yard campaign, Riley Cooper catches six touchdowns and proves to be a red-zone threat and Jordan Matthews shows flashes of absolute brilliance.
Another 1,500-yard season from McCoy gives the Eagles the NFL’s No. 1 offense in terms of both points and total yards. The offensive line doesn’t pull off another unprecedented run of health, but newly extended backup Allen Barbre fills in when needed at both guard and tackle.
The defense again overachieves, ranking in the top half of the league in scoring and total defense. Fletcher Cox makes his first Pro Bowl. Bennie Logan and Cedric Thornton turn in solid seasons as 3-4 linemen—which, in turn, makes life easier for the pass-rushers at the linebacker position.
Marcus Smith plays minimal snaps, mainly seeing action on third downs. Trent Cole and Connor Barwin build on fine ’13 seasons, and Mychal Kendricks continues his knack for making big plays. The big breakthrough on the defense is nickel cornerback Brandon Boykin, who repeats his playmaking 2013 campaign, but from the outside.
The Eagles coast to 13 wins and an NFC East title, securing home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. An NFC divisional win over the Green Bay Packers sends Chip Kelly to the conference championship game, where he gets a rematch with Drew Brees and the high-scoring New Orleans Saints.
A back-and-forth game goes into overtime before free-agent-to-be kicker Alex Henery nails a 48-yarder to send Philly to the Super Bowl. In the end, Foles and Kelly can’t match points with Peyton Manning, but it certainly constitutes progress in the Kelly regime.
The Worst-Case Scenario
Remember that first Dallas game last year when Foles threw for 80 yards on 29 passing attempts? Yeah, that’s the quarterback who plays for the 2014 Philadelphia Eagles.
Granted, Foles can’t be that bad every game, but he’s shaky enough that Kelly eventually benches him in Week 15 for Mark Sanchez. Foles finishes with 16 touchdowns to 13 interceptions, and his propensity to hold on to the football makes the offensive line look like one of the worst units in the game.
The loss of Jackson can’t be overstated, and Cooper plays like a plodder for 16 games. McCoy is still on track to be a top-five rusher, but a midseason foot injury lingers on and forces Sproles and Chris Polk into action. Sproles shows his age, and Polk plays like the undrafted rookie he once was.
The real problem, though, is the defense. Any magic that Davis mustered up a year ago is gone.
First-round pick Smith can’t even get on the field. Cary Williams and Nate Allen are benched for Nolan Carroll and Earl Wolff. DeMeco Ryans plays like that slow inside linebacker who can’t make game-changing plays. And the secondary repeats as the 32nd-rated passing defense in the league.
The Eagles begin the season with a resounding win over the Jacksonville Jaguars but drop three straight, falling to the Andrew Luck-led Indianapolis Colts, Jackson and the Washington Redskins and the San Francisco 49ers.
Kelly gets the 1-3 Eagles back up to 6-6, but a brutal December stretch against the NFC East foes spells the end. A 7-9 record puts serious doubts into whether or not Kelly’s offense can succeed in this league on a consistent basis and whether Foles should be given another shot as the starting quarterback in 2015.
The Realistic Scenario
Both of those first two examples are extreme; a more realistic scenario, though, should see the Philadelphia Eagles winning the NFC East with relative ease.
After all, the Washington Redskins look to be the biggest competition after adding Jackson and getting a healthy Robert Griffin III back. But the Redskins gave up 478 points last year, allowing at least 20 in 15 of their 16 contests. The New York Giants have a 33-year-old quarterback coming off a 27-interception season, and no one knows who will play running back for them.
And the Dallas Cowboys have an even older quarterback coming off offseason back surgery, a head coach who has been mired in mediocrity for three straight years and a defensive line full of backups from around the league.
The key to the season will be Foles’ ability to stay healthy, since there’s a definite drop-off from Foles to Sanchez. Foles won’t likely duplicate his numbers from 2013, but if he can play at a high level once again, the Eagles are in really good shape. There’s talent on the offensive line, an All-Pro running back and plenty of weapons on the offense.
If defensive coordinator Billy Davis can continue the growth of young players like Cox, Kendricks and Boykin, the Eagles should have a defense talented enough to get this team to at least 11 wins.