As has become tradition around here, I asked The700Level staff to provide brief summaries on their predictions on the Eagles' upcoming season. As always, everybody went well over their word limits. In light of this travesty, I tried to limit my own thoughts, but admit I failed as well. Anyway, we're on the record with our guesstimates, and we'd like you to join in and do the same in the comments. Thanks to the team for contributing.
Last year, I went with a breakdown of the schedule to arrive at my won-loss prediction, and since I correctly reached 11-5, I'm going back to the well for a second season. The first thing that jumps out at me are fewer gimmes. As our presumptions about the league stand today, only the Lions and Jaguars in Weeks 2 and 3 look like easy pickins. Even with all the changes, the Eagles appear to be more complete right now than either, so two wins.
The middle tier of teams features the 49ers, Falcons, Titans, Bears, and Texans. The Eagles have had Atlanta's number in recent years (granted decimated by injuries in last season's meeting), and Chicago's situation may only get worse with Mike Martz running the offense. The Titans in Tennessee before the bye is tough though, and I have little confidence in their ability to beat darkhorse contender Houston on a short week—particularly with Andy Reid teams historically struggling against AFC teams—or win their cross-country trip to San Fran. Three wins if the defense can keep Chris Johnson in check.
The Eagles face an unfortunate slate of Super Bowl contenders, including the Packers, Colts, and Vikings. Indy has roughed up the Birds twice under Reid, a trend that will continue. The Vikings, on the other hand, I expect to be much worse than anticipated, especially later in the season as injuries catch up with their age. The Packers are a winnable game, but with so much unknown, I'm handing out a loss to open the season. They escape with one win from this bunch.
Which brings us to the NFC East. A lot of people predict splits in these contests, but I just don't have a ton of respect for New York or Washington. The Eagles posted 85 points in two meetings against the Giants in '09, and I don't see a great deal of improvement on that defense. And while Donovan will have extra motivation, especially the first time out, the offense is lacking weapons. Maybe Washington sneaks a win, but I could see a sweep. Three wins to err on the side of caution.
That puts the Eagles at nine wins with two to play against the Cowboys. With much of the off-season spent seemingly focused on defeating Dallas, who own a questionable offensive line of their own, it's hard to imagine another devastating series anything like what we witnessed last season. The Cowboys have the upper-hand in Week 14, but when they return to the Linc for the annual Week 17 showdown, I like the Birds to secure their playoff spot, and perhaps even a Division Championship. 10-6
If NFL Films approached me today, more than a full week before the Eagles open their regular season (Ed note: good hustle), and asked me to give them a title for their Eagles year in review film I'd go with "Out from the Shadows". Kevin Kolb is stepping out from Donovan McNabb's shadow to take the reins of an offense many believe he's better suited to operate. The skill position players (Shady McCoy, DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, and Brent Celek) no longer need to show deference to a guy who was rightfully the face of franchise long before they arrived in town. The offensive line? Well, aside from having question marks at right guard and center (at least until and if Jamaal Jackson is healthy) they'd go a long way towards establishing themselves if Jason Peters could simply line-up correctly and stop false starting every time he sees his own shadow.
On the other side of the ball, defensive coordinator Sean McDermott has another opportunity to step out from Jim Johnson's shadow. To me, one of the most interesting stories of the offseason centered around comments Sheldon Brown made with respect to the defense not buying into what McDermott was preaching last season. With a full offseason of OTA's, training camp, and preseason games under his belt, has McDermott done enough to forge his own identity and gain the trust of his players?
Can Brandon Graham finally be the guy to provide a pass rush threat opposite Trent Cole, which they'll absolutely need if they have any hope of generating a pass rush from their front four? The return of a healthy three down linebacker like Stewart Bradley will also help. The secondary remains a big concern as rookie Nate Allen will be thrust into a starting role next to Quintin Mikell at safety. Asante Samuel's aversion to tackling and willingness to freelance will likely be McDermott's biggest challenge. The defense will be quick, but after seeing them get pushed around in consecutive weeks by Dallas last season I have reservations as to whether they're stout enough to handle physical teams.
With all of that being said the largest shadow being cast on this team is Andy Reid's (both literally and figuratively). He's helped to rebuild this team on the fly. The average age of the projected starting offense is 24-years-old. His fingerprints are all over the roster. By now he's been here long enough that we know he's going to make some curious decisions with play calling and clock management. He's going to infuriate you when he says less than zero at press conferences. Putting all of that aside, and in light of the schedule, how many wins can Reid coax out of this young group? Rev's Prediction: 9-7
Maybe it's just residual bitterness over the Eagles letting go of so many of the players that have come to define the franchise the last few years, seemingly without much of a second thought, but my confidence in the Birds this season is not great. The house-cleaning moves on offense were probably the right decisions for the long term, but a smooth transition to the Kevin Kolb era just doesn't seem particularly likely to me. I'm still not sure DeSean Jackson is gonna be half the weapon with Kolb that he was with McNabb, or that LeSean McCoy can be the multi-dimensional threat that Westbrook was in his prime—at least not just yet. The rocky pre-season offensively just kind of confirms what I've long suspected, that good as the new offensive weapons may be, they're not gonna walk in and replace the missing multiple Pro Bowlers right off the bat without anyone noticing the switch.
That said, it seems equally likely that the defense, buoyed by rookies, new acquisitions and players returning from injuries, is gonna be miles better than the one that gave up a combined 58 points to the Cowboys the last two games of the season. It'll keep them competitive the whole season, but in the eternally-tough NFC East, I'm not sure it'll be enough to keep 'em ahead of the Cowboys and possibly resurgent Giants, or to get 'em into the playoffs for the third straight year. (On the plus side, though, I think the Redskins are still gonna be worse.) Prediction: 8-8, 3rd Place in Division
Like just about everyone else, I really don't know what to expect from the upcoming Eagles season. They've essentially hit the reset button on the personnel while keeping the system intact, and there's no certainty that they've improved as a result. Not for this season, or beyond. This is the case whenever a new starting quarterback takes over for a team. The good news is that Kevin Kolb was handpicked out of college for this role and has had three seasons to get a handle on a challenging pass-first offense. Aside from a debacle of a half against the Ravens in 2008, the only real time experience Kolb has shown us has been favorable, setting an NFL record for passing yards by a QB in his first two starts. One of those games was against the eventual Super Bowl champs.
A mildly shaky preseason has people dialing back their earlier warm expectations, but I think that's reading too much into live practice. The same people are probably finding ways to discount his two starts last season, which to me are far more telling than what he did with a limited script in August. Beyond the QB position though, there are two great receivers, a confident and capable tight end, and a talented running back who fits the system well. The offensive line is still a major question mark, but fans have a tendency to see that and forget that it's true of most teams in the league, and particularly the current NFC East. Last year the line had very little experience together; at the very least, the majority of the unit has spent more time together within the system and under line guru Juan Castillo.
Defensively, again, it's hard to predict. I thought they looked pretty good in the preseason, and Brandon Graham has only solidified the notion that he'll be an immediate difference maker. When the regular season starts, we'll see just how true that is, but also what it will mean for Trent Cole. A capable pass rush solves a lot of other problems. Meanwhile, the linebackers are looking stronger than last season, which should also help take some pressure off of the secondary, which has its issues. We're not used to seeing our defense be scored on, but we could be more familiar with it as the season wears on.
I'm always excited for the start of an Eagles season. This year, it's a different kind of excitement than it's been in almost a decade, since the Reid Era moved from rebuild to contend. 2010 has the unique feeling that it could include both elements. However, of the two, we can be certain that there will be some rebuilding elements, which include growing pains. Whether they'll be managed enough to also contend remains to be seen. It doesn't appear we'll have to endure the usual pains of rebuilding though. Few teams do so with continuity of front office, coaching and system, and some in Philly wouldn't mind if that were true here too. But I'm not one of them, at least not so far. After seeing several very good and highly touted teams come up short, it's a relief to enter a season unsure of what to expect and not be overly encumbered by a preset set of expectations. That's not to say I don't have expectations though. I expect a winning season. 9-7
I'm ready to embrace this new Eagles team. It's not the same team we grew to love throughout the aughts. Gone are the franchise QB, the amazingly versatile running back out of Villanova, and the beloved safety who made us 100% proud to cheer for our Birds. But it's not just the franchise guys that are no longer with us: Lito, Sheldon, Trot, Freddie, Jim Johnson, etc. etc. The memories of that Super Bowl team, and those personalities, are now long gone.
The memories are irreplaceable, but it's time to create some new ones, with the new guys.
I'm ready to get to know the new guys, with some real game action. To be fair, there are plenty of familiar faces. Andy and the brass certainly haven't changed. Bunk, Patterson, and Trent Cole are still rocks on the D-line, DeSean and Maclin were quick to make fans embrace them with their skill. We know this team a little bit, but not nearly enough.
This is a very young team that has yet to really form a distinct personality.
There's also something to be said about a team you have limited expectations around. There are always questions marks coming into a season, but this group seems to have even more than usual. Will the offensive line hold up? Will the revamped secondary with a pair of rookies be able to improve upon their predecessors, will the number one draft pick make an instant impact, is Stewart Bradley going to step up and lead, and, of course, how will Kevin Kolb perform as the quarterback of the Philadelphia Eagles?
Nobody really knows, but by piecing together anecdotes from the so called experts, we can try and come up with our best educated guesses. I was okay with the decision to give Kevin Kolb the reigns, but by no means am I confident he'll bring the city of Philadelphia a Super Bowl. As has been written on this site many times, he appears to have the pedigree, but does he have it? Only one way to find out.
The Birds went 11-5 in 2009 and this team, on paper, doesn't look a whole lot worse. That said, I think they caught a couple lucky breaks en route to those 11 wins.
My expectations aren't very high. I could see this new team going up or down. 10-6 seems reasonable. I'll go with that. If they find a way to make the playoffs, I'd call it a successful season.
Mostly, I'm just excited to really get to know them for the next 17 Sundays.