Real football is mere days away, with the Philadelphia Eagles seeking to make their third straight trip to the playoffs. It won’t be easy. It never is. However, this year feels different.
For starters, the Eagles boast a cake schedule — sixth-easiest in the NFL, according to strength of schedule at .477. These things are non-scientific. Teams are never as bad (or as good) as they were the previous season. Still, it’s a good sign and something they can rally behind.
The Eagles get it started Sunday with what should be a two-score win against the Redskins. They are a team in rebuild mode with a porous offensive line and journeyman quarterback. Never count any team out, but this one has all the makings of a blowout.
Head coach Doug Pederson said all the right things and tried to temper expectations.
“There’s enough guys to keep your eye on. This is a good football team,” Pederson told reporters. “It’s just going to take a good week of preparation to be ready.
Six-Pack: Toughest Games on the Schedule
Let’s take a look at the real games to watch this season. These six match-ups are downright scary.
- Week 2 at Atlanta: Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley are a lethal combo, with Philly native Matt Ryan throwing them the ball. It’ll be a great early test. Plus, these two teams always play tight games. Anyone remember Keanu Neal? They were one would-be pick away from crushing the Eagles’ Super Bowl dreams in 2017. Prediction: Win.
- Week 4 at Green Bay: Aaron Rodgers didn’t retire (the last we checked) and the Packers hired offensive-minded coach Matt LaFleur, a wayward apple from the Sean McVay tree. Green Bay will look to get Marquez Valdes Scantling and Geronimo Allison going early. The bigger problem: the short week, on four days’ rest. Prediction: Loss.
- Week 7 at Dallas: Ezekiel Elliott is ready to eat after inking that ridiculous $90 million contract. Now Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper are waiting for their own mega-paydays. Meanwhile, the Eagles have quite the quandary at linebacker. Something’s got to give in this one. Prediction: Win.
- Week 9 vs. Chicago: Surely the Bears will be looking for major revenge after falling victim to the fabled “Double Doink” playoff game. It’s all up to Mitchell Trubisky. How good is he? No one really knows. What we do know is that the Bears return one of the most intimidating defenses in the NFL. Khalil Mack is “ready to hit somebody.” Prediction: Win.
- Week 11 vs. New England: The Super Bowl LII rematch — the greatest game in NFL history — takes center stage at the Linc. This is a very different Patriots team. No Rob Gronkowski. No Brandin Cooks. No Danny Amendola. Tom Brady is still there, but these Patriots rely on Sony Michel and their running game. Prediction: Loss.
- Week 12 vs. Seattle: Russell Wilson is an elite quarterback, one who can carry Seattle to a Super Bowl with his legs and arm. Plus, the team recently acquired the Lawrence Taylor-esque pass-rushing abilities of Jadeveon Clowney. Everyone might be picking the Rams in the NFC West, but don’t sleep on Seattle. They are deadly on both sides of the ball. Prediction: Win.
Six-Pack: Breakout Players on the Eagles
1. Carson Wentz, Quarterback
It starts and ends with No. 11. His long offseason has been well-documented from the grueling rehab to the healthy diet to working with his pastor to fix the mental side of things. Wentz had a solid training camp, but saw no game action in the preseason. He’ll be thrown right into the fire. No better way to earn that $128 million contract extension.
Luckily, the fourth-year quarterback has the best weapons he’s ever had — and that dates back to his days at North Dakota State. DeSean Jackson gives him the deep threat he’s been begging for, while his trio of tall receivers — Alshon Jeffery, J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, Dallas Goedert — are going to make the Eagles incredibly hard to stop in the red zone.
2. Miles Sanders, Running Back
Yes, Jordan Howard is the starter and he’s been one of the most productive backs in the league during his first four seasons. Howard will lead the backfield in touchdowns. Mark it down. But it’s going to be what Sanders does in between the 25s that makes the difference. His ability to bounce outside and break free in open space will be electric. Look for at least one 50-yard run.
3. Derek Barnett, Defensive End
The Eagles chose not to trade for Jadeveon Clowney, meaning they have very high expectations for Barnett. Despite an injury-riddled 2018 campaign, the speedy edge rusher still collected 2.5 sacks in six games. If he can shake off the rust — and a nagging shoulder injury — Barnett should zero in on double-digit sacks. This defense needs him to.
4. Sidney Jones, Cornerback
He’s getting the Week 1 start at the outside cornerback position as Jalen Mills heals up from his foot injury. Jones is finally recovered from the Achilles tear that ruined his rookie season and appears back from last year’s hamstring issues. The 23-year-old had top 15 talent coming out of college and now it’s time to prove it. Jones has all the tools to be a shutdown corner.
5. Dallas Goedert, Tight End
The second-year tight end is stuck behind Zach Ertz on the depth chart. That’s not ideal. However, the Eagles confirmed they will be employing a bunch of 12 personnel where they line up two wide receivers, two tight ends and one running back. The 6-foot-5 Goedert is too big — and too good — to sit on the bench. Don’t be surprised if he has upwards of 50 catches and six touchdowns.
6. T.J. Edwards, Linebacker
With so much uncertainty around the linebacker spot, someone is going to have to stand out. Why not Edwards? His 22 combined tackles were third-best in the preseason. More importantly, the way he ran around clogging running lanes and tracking down speedy receivers makes him too valuable to sit. He’s also impactful in coverage. Edwards may end up being the X factor the Eagles never knew they had.
Season Prediction: Eagles Win NFC East
The Philadelphia Eagles go 11-5 and win the NFC East. The rest of the division just isn’t that good (sorry, Cowboys fans). This team has Super Bowl talent, loads and loads of it. But ultimately they fall short to Drew Brees and the Saints in the NFC Championship Game. It’s the second straight year they get bounced by New Orleans. Call it fate. Meanwhile, Brees rides off into the sunset with a title and gets fitted for his Hall-of-Fame jacket.
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