No gimmes on Eagles’ 2014 schedule

No gimmes on Eagles’ 2014 schedule

Last year, I thought Philadelphia Eagles’ fans expectations were too low, with many calling for 4-6 wins “at best.” Based on some of the reactions I’ve seen since the 2014 schedule was released on Wednesday, some of you might be a tad too high on the Birds heading into Chip Kelly’s second season on the sideline.

Assigning wins and losses before we’ve even held the NFL Draft is a fool’s errand to begin with. Anybody who looks at this slate though and thinks it sets up for 11, 12 wins “easy” is taking for granted just how fortunate the Eagles truly were last year, how the tough the rest of the league really is.

Don’t kid yourself. This schedule is very difficult.

Even if the NFC East is as weak as perceived, division rivals almost always play each other tight. The Eagles posted a 4-2 record in their division last season, with three of their wins coming by eight points or less.

Every team in the NFC West is quality, and the Birds face them all—two of whom met in the conference title game in January, the Seattle Seahawks being the reigning Super Bowl champions of course, plus another 10-game winner. All four clubs boasted defenses that ranked no worse than 13th in points allowed in ’13, and the worst of them—the St. Louis Rams, coming off of a 7-9 campaign—own two first-round picks in May, including No. 2 overall.

The AFC South isn’t exactly full of pushovers as it might appear, either. Obviously, the Indianapolis Colts are going to be tough year in, year out as long as Andrew Luck is under center. Too many people are overlooking an improving Jacksonville Jaguars franchise, and especially a Houston Texans team that, despite finishing with the worst record in the league, isn’t anywhere near that bad and could be due for a quick turnaround. And hey, the Tennessee Titans are a pro football team, too.

No last-place schedule this time around for the Eagles, either. Their unique opponents are a pair of fellow reigning division champions, the Green Bay Packers and Carolina Panthers—one led by an MVP quarterback, the other one of the stingiest defenses in the league.

But who can say with any certainty which teams will be the toughest the months of September through December when it’s only April. The landscape often shifts dramatically on a year-to-year basis in the NFL.

That being said, it might be safe to say Philadelphia isn’t likely to wind up with the weakest strength of schedule in the league again, as they did in ’13. That’s right. The Birds managed to cobble together 10 whole wins going up against the easiest slate in the league. They even got a bonus when Aaron Rodgers missed the Packers game.

Not to take anything away from the season the Eagles just had. After all, teams can only play the schedule they’re given. Just saying, it helped.

The Eagles also benefitted from suffering almost zero serious injuries during the season. Other than Jeremy Maclin going down in training camp—which didn’t seem to slow down the league’s No. 2 offense much—who did the club lose for any length of time that was of any importance?

Chip awarded some of the credit for his squad’s good health to sports science. Let’s face it, luck was a huge factor as well, and injuries often play a huge role in which teams make a playoff run and which don’t.

In the Eagles’ case, they have some fairly glaring depth issues, particularly at wide receiver, defensive line and outside linebacker. With only six picks in this year’s draft, it’s going to be a challenge if not impossible to upgrade every area that could use it. And with seven starters or major contributors who are 30 or will turn before the Super Bowl, losing someone or even general decline becomes increasingly inevitable.

Don’t get me wrong, I still believe Philly has the most talented roster in the NFC East and a better than 50/50 shot at winning the division for a second year in a row, regardless of the arbitrary order in which the games are to be played. I’d just be careful not to assume that it’s a foregone conclusion they get there.

However, if I absolutely had to pick a win total today, I’d lean more in the 8-10 range than 11-plus.

The truth is, while the Eagles might be good enough to compete for a Super Bowl right now, they’re still probably a year away from having a complete, balanced roster. That means solid depth at most or all positions, less reliance on veterans that are past their primes.

As long as that’s the case, I can’t look at this schedule and picture many easy games. I’d say the Eagles should have a difficult road ahead.

Eagles-Vikings 5 things: Game much bigger than Sam Bradford's return

Eagles-Vikings 5 things: Game much bigger than Sam Bradford's return

Eagles vs. Vikings
1 p.m. on FOX

Eagles +3

A familiar face comes to town on Sunday when the Eagles host the Vikings, the NFL's last unbeaten team at 5-0.

There's more to this matchup than a certain jilted quarterback returning to Lincoln Financial Field though. After an inspired 3-0 start, the Eagles have come out flat in two consecutive games, both losses. If this squad has any hope of getting back on track in Week 7, they can't afford to focus on the high-profile former teammate in purple sleeves.

Grinding it out
How good is the Vikings' defense? Even though they're ranked fourth in the league against the run and eighth in yards per carry allowed, they've faced the second-highest number of rushing attempts. Simply put, between a fierce pass-rush and ball-hawking secondary, offenses are afraid to put the ball in the air against this team.

Opponents have decided the best way to beat the Minnesota defense is by keeping the ball on the ground — shorten the game, try to create manageable third downs and play the field position game. Of course, the best way for the Eagles to beat Washington's 28th-ranked run defense last week, with a fifth-round rookie right tackle making his first career start mind you, also would've been to hand the ball off early and often, which wasn't exactly the game plan that we saw.

As good as Carson Wentz is, the Eagles probably aren't going to beat this team by airing the ball out. It may be inefficient and look ugly, but this time, head coach Doug Pederson needs to lean on the ground attack and take the pressure off of his first-year quarterback and tackle. Otherwise, a Vikings defense that ranks third in the NFL in sacks and fourth in interceptions can take this game over.

Self-inflicted wounds
Ticky-tack calls or not, you can't blame the judgment of the officials for all of the penalties the Eagles have taken the past two weeks. Last week in Washington, they drew 13 flags for 114 yards. The week before, it was 14 flags for 111 yards. Is it really any coincidence in two losses the Eagles have been penalized 27 times for 225 yards? Unlikely.

Were one or two or even a handful of those calls excessive? Have officials missed some potential calls that could have gone the other way? Yes and yes, as is always the case. When it's that many penalties for that many yards though, you can only place so much blame on the refs.

Simply put, the players need to clean up their acts. According to, the Eagles are committing the most penalties per game at 9.8. Only one other team is above 9.0. All excuses aside, the Eagles lack discipline right now, and it's hard to beat anybody when they are continuously shooting themselves in the foot, let alone the only undefeated squad in football.

No gimmes
There is no bigger indicator of winning and losing in the NFL than turnovers. So what happens when the two teams who cough the ball up the least are going head-to-head?

One thing the Eagles did correct in Washington was the little giveaway problem that cost them the game in Detroit. After losing their first fumble and throwing their first interception of the season in the final three minutes of their loss at Detroit, the offense went back to playing turnover-free football on Sunday, one of the positive things that could be said for the performance.

Yet the only team that's committed fewer turnovers than the Eagles is the Vikings, who have just one through five games. The ball security these clubs have displayed is remarkable bordering on unheard of. So what happens when the unstoppable force meets the immovable object? The first one to blink, or in this case make a mistake, might just cost themselves the game in what could be a tightly contested tilt.

Just a pit stop
If it feels like the Eagles' 34-3 romp of the Steelers at the Linc was a long time ago, well, it has been almost a month. Since then, there's been a bye week followed by trips to Detroit and Washington, putting the last home game at exactly four weeks ago.

Don't get used to the feeling either. After their game against the Vikings on Sunday, the Eagles go back on the road for two contests against the division rival Cowboys and Giants.

What does it all mean? Besides a travel-heavy stretch, it suggests this sandwich game with the Vikings is an especially significant spot on the Eagles' schedule, particularly given the slow starts they've jumped out to as the visiting team of late. That can't be blamed entirely on going on the road of course, but it certainly hasn't helped. Vikings or not, the Eagles could use a positive showing on Sunday before they go away again.

The Bradford Bowl
You didn't really think we were going to completely gloss over Sam Bradford, did you? Not even mention his name?

It's interesting, because right now, the trade that sent Bradford to the Vikings and cleared the way for Wentz to start at quarterback for the Eagles looks like a win-win. Both head coaches agreed with that sentiment as well. Mike Zimmer says Bradford gave the Vikings an energy back after starter Teddy Bridgewater was lost for the season with an improbable injury, while despite coming back down to earth a bit the last two weeks, it's obvious the Eagles' future is bright with Wentz.

That being said, there are some additional bragging rights at stake for both signal-callers this week, whether they acknowledge it or not. If the Eagles win, it shows their gamble on Wentz being prepared to start right away was justified. If the Vikings win, pundits could argue the Eagles never should've traded Bradford in the first place.

These are only narratives of course, and the Eagles' investment in Wentz and the Vikings' desperation trade for Bradford are both left to be judged somewhere down the road, long after this game has been played. Nonetheless, the result on Sunday is sure to spark some interesting debate in the coming days.

Penn State upsets No. 2 Ohio State, 24-21

Penn State upsets No. 2 Ohio State, 24-21


STATE COLLEGE – As his team slogged through back-to-back 7-6 seasons in his first two years as Penn State’s head coach, Langhorne native James Franklin heard time and again that he was in need of a signature victory.

Now he has one, even if he refuses to admit it.

Junior cornerback Grant Haley returned a blocked field goal 60 yards for the go-ahead touchdown with 4:27 left as the Nittany Lions stunned second-ranked Ohio State 24-21 on Saturday night.

“That’s for you (media) guys, all that signature stuff,” Franklin said.

Not exactly.

“It’s just a game that put Penn State back on the map,” Haley said. “We needed that signature win, and we did it tonight.”

The fans stormed the field after the Lions, 5-2 after their third straight victory this season, beat a ranked team for the first time since 2013 (Wisconsin). It was also PSU’s first victory over a team ranked in the top five since 1999 (Arizona) and its first over a team slotted as high as No. 2 since 1990 (Notre Dame).

Ohio State (7-1) saw winning streaks of 20 straight road games and 17 straight Big Ten road games come to an end, despite building a 21-7 lead through three quarters.

The Lions whisked 90 yards in five plays to cut the gap to seven with 13:32 left in the game, with quarterback Trace McSorley running two yards for the TD.

Freshman linebacker Cam Brown then blocked Cameron Johnston’s punt to set up a 34-yard field goal by Tyler Davis with 9:33 remaining, making it 21-17.

Ohio State mounted a drive behind J.T. Barrett, their splendid quarterback, moving from its own 13 to the PSU 28. Barrett’s 34-yard connection with wide receiver Noah Brown was the big play.

But the Buckeyes stalled, and Tyler Durbin came on to attempt a 45-yard field goal. Penn State safety Marcus Allen made a leaping block, however, and Haley scooped up the bouncing ball and beat Durbin and Johnston, the holder, down the left sideline for the go-ahead score.

Ohio State’s final drive of the night ended with a pair of Penn State sacks, the last a combined effort by defensive linemen Kevin Givens and Evan Schwan with 1:02 left.

When the final gun sounded, several Penn State players sprinted toward the south end zone and launched themselves into the front row of the stands, Lambeau Leap-style, among the delirious students. And thousands of fans, all clad in white for PSU’s traditional White Out, flooded the field.

“This is for everybody,” Franklin said later. “This community’s been through so much in the last five years (a reference to the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse scandal and its aftermath), and this is a big step in the right direction, in terms of healing. I said very, very early on that for us to get where we want to be, we need this entire community together, and a win like tonight – I know I’m biased – but I believe that football has the ability to bring a community together like nothing else.”

Moments later, he caught himself and said he “didn’t want to spend a lot of time talking about the big picture.”

Rather, he added, “I just want to enjoy tonight.”