In regard to keeping tabs on the Eagles' rivals, we often peek in on the Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants, and Washington Redskins, because obviously, those teams share space with the Eagles in the NFC East. However, when you look at the landscape of the NFC as a whole, the consensus outlook heading into the 2014 season goes something like this:
The elite teams
The incomplete teams with elite QBs
No matter what your outlook is for the 2014 Eagles, there's no question they have to leapfrog the Seahawks and 49ers to achieve the ultimate goal of winning the Super Bowl. No reasonable fan can confidently say that the Eagles are better than either of those two teams at the present time.
However, the Eagles are a talented enough team to occasionally look beyond the NFC East at what the rest of the conference is up to, and one of the elite teams is facing a lot of adversity. The 49ers have had an absolute mess of distractions this offseason, which we'll detail here:
• February: A possible rift between head coach Jim Harbaugh and the 49ers' organization emerged, with several twists and turns, but there's enough smoke to indicate that Harbaugh and the Niners aren't singing kumbaya after every OTA practice.
• March 11: The Niners traded for Jonathan Martin, the guy at the center of the Dolphins' bullying scandal (he was the bullied party). And yes, traded, as in, they gave up something to get him. Not only does Martin bring significant baggage with him, he has not been a good player at the NFL level. This was a case of the Niners willfully adding a distraction, although they obviously felt like they could handle it.
• March 28: Projected starting CB Chris Culliver was arrested on felony hit-and-run and weapons possession charges.
• April 10: QB Colin Kaepernick was investigated for sexual assault in Miami. He was later cleared of all charges.
• April 13: Aldon Smith was arrested for being an idiot at LAX. (Those weren't the actual charges). It was Smith's third arrest in as many years. Smith has 42 sacks in his first three seasons, and is among the best pass rushers in the game. Smith will be sentenced on July 25th, and he could receive anywhere from zero to four and a half years in jail. He is also likely to be suspended by the NFL. If Smith is suspended, the Eagles could be beneficiaries, as they play the 49ers in San Francisco Week 4. Should they miss Aldon Smith, you can add him to the likes of Sean Lee (twice), Robert Mathis, and Daryl Washington that the Eagles won't have to face this season.
• May 11: The Niners traded for Blaine Gabbert. Yes, again, traded, as in, they gave up something to get him. OK, so that's not really a distraction. It's just funny to me.
• June 16: Star TE Vernon Davis wrote in a column for MMQB that he's holding out. His words:
Why I’m Holding Out
In 2010 I signed a five-year, $37 million contract extension with $23 million guaranteed. It was the biggest contract for a tight end in league history. Four years later, and I’m playing at a higher level than I was then, which brings me to why I’m holding out. It’s all about getting paid what you deserve. It’s not that complicated. I want the 49ers to win the Super Bowl, and I want to be on the field this summer working toward that goal, but I have to worry about my future first. Most of my teammates and many players in the NFL understand that. A few don’t. Behind closed doors, they’ll say they’re all about the team and would run through a brick wall for the organization. But when you look closer, they’re doing things to contradict themselves. I can’t listen to anyone but my family and my advisors, because those are the people who are going to be there when football inevitably dumps me.
That is a laundry list of nonsense for one offseason, with most of the Niners' incidents involving the most important people in their organization. And we're only halfway through June. At a minimum, the Niners will be an interesting case study a team's ability to overcome an abnormal number of offseason distractions. Will the Niners weather the storm and continue to be the force that has participated in each of the last three NFC Conference Championship Games? Or will their offseason distractions carry over to the football field like they did for the 2005 Eagles?
Obviously, the Eagles (and the rest of the NFC for that matter) would benefit from the latter.
Follow Jimmy on Twitter: @JimmyKempski