Last year, nobody knew quite what to expect from the Philadelphia Eagles. Chip Kelly’s methods were new and hip, but nobody could say for sure whether any of it was going to work, or what it was even going to look like on the football field. Predicting how the team would fare in Kelly’s first season as head coach was a challenge.*
Despite the fact that 20 of 22 starters are returning and that Kelly clearly can coach in the NFL, I was surprised to find feel this year actually might be more difficult to project. From top to bottom, the roster is improved, but significantly? That depends on your perspective. It’s kind of the same team—a lot deeper, some young players still developing, some older players exiting their primes, and a lot tougher schedule ahead.
The Eagles could do better or worse than the following breakdown, but ultimately this fell right in the middle of what I think of the squad—an almost certain playoff team, capable of beating anyone, but not yet a finished product. As always, you’re encouraged to share your own predictions in the comments.
(*Not surprisingly, I pretty much nailed it in 2013, forecasting a 9-7 season—off by one win—with a division championship and first-round playoff exit.)
Week 1 vs. Jacksonville Jaguars: 34-17 WIN
NFL fans are conditioned to think the Jaguars are terrible, so when the Eagles don’t have this game put away until midway through the third quarter, Negadelphians comes out in full force. Maybe they have a point? Would-be Birds head coach Gus Bradley seems to have Jacksonville on the right track, but the club’s four wins in 2013 did come at the hands of opponents with a combined 15-49 record (.234).
Week 2 at Indianapolis Colts: 34-31 WIN
The obvious storyline here is Eagles kicker Cody Parkey going up against the team that traded him away for a camp body. Little bit of background on the undrafted rookie: Parkey played in a National Championship game for Auburn, so I’m pretty sure Week 2 at Indianapolis is gonna be no sweat. The kid drills two field goals, including the game-winner, while the Colts are left to wonder why they stuck with 41-year-old Adam Vinatieri.
Week 3 vs. Washington: 27-14 WIN
DeSean Jackson’s wish comes true. A miscommunication in Philadelphia’s secondary leaves No. 11 unattended for a 76-yard touchdown catch in the fourth quarter at Lincoln Financial Field. Backup dancers run out of the tunnel to join Jackson for his choreographed celebration in the end zone. Back on the sideline, he mugs for the camera after drawing penalty flags and a hefty fine. Meanwhile, Washington is still down by two possessions.
Week 4 at San Francisco 49ers: 27-17 LOSS
Now seems like a good time to point out the Eagles were 1-4 against playoff teams in 2013, their lone win coming against the Seneca Wallace/Scott Tolzien-led Packers. Despite a pair of noteworthy absences—All-Pro linebackers NaVorro Bowman (injury) and Aldon Smith (suspension)—the Niners are still as tough and deep of an opponent there is, having appeared in three consecutive conference title games.
Week 5 vs. St. Louis Rams: 42-24 LOSS
Ironically, this is the game Chip Kelly is always droning on about when he says it pays to have two good quarterbacks. Mark Sanchez gets the start for the Eagles in place of an inactive Nick Foles, and wouldn’t you know it, carving up the Rams defense is a lot more difficult than some team’s second or third units. Sanchez coughs up the football a few times, while the Birds’ D makes career backup Shaun Hill look like Kurt Warner in his prime.
Week 6 vs. New York Giants: 31-13 WIN
On paper, the 2014 New York Giants look like a bad football team. This is both factual and amusing.
Week 7 BYE
Week 8 at Arizona Cardinals: 24-21 LOSS
The Cardinals were not pleased at all over how their last meeting with the Eagles ended. Officials won’t bail Foles out of a fourth-quarter pick with a phantom defensive holding penalty for a second year in a row, not in front of 60,000-plus rowdies from the mean streets of Glendale. After the game, Arizona head coach Bruce Arians is absolutely beaming while taking thinly-veiled shots at Chip Kelly’s “college” offense.
Week 9 at Houston Texans: 28-16 WIN
A handful of Eagles are filled with a sense of nostalgia when they return to Reliant Stadium. Jeff Maehl and James Casey each haul in a touchdown pass. Connor Barwin sacks Texans quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick three times. Donnie Jones pins Houston’s offense deep on a continuous basis, and Bryan Braman forces a fumble on a kickoff return to cap off the most contrived series of events of the season.
Week 10 vs. Carolina Panthers: 30-10 WIN
Everybody loves Jason Avant, although he’s been critical of Eagles “bandwagon fans” in the past, and over the summer aired a little dirty laundry about clashing with Chip Kelly. Which candid Avant will we hear from in the lead-up to his return to Philly? The humble role player, or the bitter exile? Either way, his three receptions for 25 yards probably isn’t helping the Panthers all that much.
Week 11 at Green Bay Packers: 41-24 LOSS
The Packers actually managed to keep this tilt close last year, and that was with an undrafted rookie seeing his first ever NFL action at quarterback. That team is a whole different animal with Aaron Rodgers under center, and the defense should be better, too. The game isn’t as close as the final score would indicate, as Green Bay is cruising all the way to the playoffs.
Week 12 vs. Tennessee Titans: 49-6 WIN
It seems as though the Eagles are going to have one or two games every year where Chip’s offense is firing on all cylinders and looks completely unstoppable. In 2013, they stomped the Oakland Raiders 49-20 and rolled the Chicago Bears 54-11. The Titans seem like a prime candidate to receive similar treatment, being that they have no quarterback, or much high-end talent anywhere on the roster at all. A fun romp for Birds fans.
Week 13 at Dallas Cowboys: 37-21 LOSS
Chip Kelly has sports science and sound roster construction. Dallas has bulletin board material. Over the long haul, the Eagles are going to get a lot farther with an actual plan than the Cowboys will with a meddling owner, but that locker room is seething over LeSean McCoy’s comment that he owns Dallas. Oops. Shady is held to 150 yards—pretty good considering the defense—while Tony Romo piles up the points, as back home in Philly, fans are put to sleep by both the turkey and this wretched game.
Week 14 vs. Seattle Seahawks: 20-10 LOSS
The proverbial measuring-stick game at home against the reigning Super Bowl champions does not go well. Richard Sherman and Jeremy Maclin develop a blood feud mid-game, and both wind up ejected for getting into after a whistle. That doesn’t do the Eagles any favors, as the only player on the roster who can seem to get open is Jordan Matthews. Just ask the Denver Broncos how that works out.
Week 15 vs. Dallas Cowboys: 52-10 WIN
This is essentially for the division championship, as New York and Washington are already out of the running, and Dallas would need a lot of help to make up ground at this late stage. The Eagles jump all over the Cowboys early, pushing Romo into full gunslinger mode by the second quarter. His four turnovers are converted into four touchdowns, and the Birds are pulling starters by the third quarter.
Week 16 at Washington: 24-7 WIN
Not surprisingly, the DeSean Jackson era is already coming to a close in Washington, as the disgruntled wide receiver has been benched for lack of effort on a losing team. So too has Robert Griffin III been demoted, as Mike Shanahan’s stench still wafts over the franchise quarterback. Kirk Cousins is no answer under center, either, as desperate Washington fans will eventually discover.
Week 17 at New York Giants: 38-10 WIN
Could this be Eli Manning’s final game as a Giant? That might sound like blasphemy, but he’ll be on the verge of turning 34, and the G-men desperately need a new direction. If this is Elijah’s last gasp for Big Blue, he’ll be able to ride the wave of turnovers from this game right out of town. With a 10-6 record, Philadelphia wins the NFC East for the second season in a row—comfortably, I might add.
Wild Card Round vs. Arizona Cardinals: 31-17 WIN
Bruce Arians isn’t so smug anymore after his team is bounced from the playoffs. Attrition has taken its toll on the Cardinals’ roster, and they can’t blame the refs this time, either, as Philly wins in convincing fashion. During his post-game press conference, Kelly invites Arians to join the next meeting of the minds between himself, Bill Belichick, Nick Saban and Urban Meyer. That only intensifies this little rivalry.
Divisional Round vs. San Francisco 49ers: 23-20 LOSS
By this point, the 49ers back at full strength with Bowman and Smith in the lineup, and they’re as much a powerhouse as ever. The Birds cut the margin of defeat, and even hold a lead at one point in the second half, but San Francisco is still ahead in terms of overall talent. The loss stings, but the Eagles’ season lasted a week longer than the previous year, so it’s progress.