How the Daily News staffers see the upcoming Eagles season
Here is an outlook on the Eagles' season from Daily News sports writers:
The Eagles were 4-12 a year ago, so no matter what Chip Kelly devises, they almost surely will not go 12-4. Vegas has the over/under for Eagles wins this year at 7 1/2. If they get the over, Jeff Lurie should get credit for another good hire and Kelly should get coach-of-the-year consideration.
The three consecutive road games at Denver, the Giants and Tampa Bay in Weeks 4-6 present a terrific early challenge for the Fightin' Kellys. The Birds play at Dallas in the final weekend of the season. If they could spoil some of the Cowboys' anticipated playoff fun, they'd get a boost for 2014.
It's good to see the newfound energy around the Eagles, but changing coaching staffs was just the first step of the process. The offense should be better. Not so sure about the defense.
The call here is 6-10, which doesn't cover the over, but would be one game better than Andy Reid's first season.
I'm a little cautious, because I don't think I've seen Chip Kelly's actual offense yet, and I don't know what to expect from it - whether it will really catch the NFL flatfooted, and if it does, how quickly teams will adjust. I think Kelly is pretty darned sharp, though. The people who are expecting some sort of Steve Spurrier bad-fit implosion will be disappointed.
I do know a couple of things that dampen my Eagles expectations: It is really, really unlikely that Michael Vick can stay healthy all season (as unlikely as the Phils' spring-training projections of a healthy Roy Halladay, Ryan Howard, etc.) And this defensive secondary is still incredibly vulnerable. In fact, the defense overall is a long way from coming together well enough to avoid being embarrassed by a good quarterback. That will come into play pretty quickly for a team that faces Robert Griffin III, Philip Rivers, Alex Smith, Peyton Manning and Eli Manning in a 4-week season-opening span. (Not a misprint. Twenty-eight days, five games, Sept. 9 to Oct. 6.)
I don't like that opening scenario even a little bit. So although I expect to be entertained, and maybe even expect to witness LeSean McCoy's career season, I don't expect any kind of worst-to-first miracle. The Eagles dug themselves a really big personnel hole, starting around 2007, until the 2012 draft, regardless of who ultimately was responsible for the decisions. The defense needs at least one more draft-and-free-agency cycle, and the offense can't afford even one more key injury, after losing wide receiver Jeremy Maclin. If Kelly gets this group to the playoffs, he is a genius.
I started the preseason thinking we were looking at a 6-10 team. After watching the exhibitions, I'm going to elevate that to 7-9, just for fun.
I know that Chip Kelly will have fewer delay-of-game penalties than Andy Reid. I know he definitely will run the ball more and have fewer exasperating Monday news conferences and be less forthcoming about injuries than Big Red.
Will he eventually give Philadelphia the victory parade that Reid couldn't? Too early to make that call.
Will he be able to take a team that won only four games in 2012 to the playoffs this season? Unlikely, but I think .500 is a realistic goal.
I think his uptempo spread offense will pile up a lot of yards, but not enough points, because I foresee the same issue with turnovers that the Eagles had last year.
The defense gave up a franchise-record 33 touchdown passes last season. They sent Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie packing and brought in a lot of new bodies. But I still see a secondary that will regularly get roughed up by opposing quarterbacks this season.
Maybe it's just the hangover from watching all four professional franchises in this town finish their respective seasons playing with names you couldn't have imagined when they started, but I think we're looking at this as Chip Kelly's mulligan year. He gets a chance to figure out what does and doesn't work in the NFL, how much he will have to taper his system to the decreased roster sizes, and figure out whether he has any true keepers on that makeshift defense of his.
Oddsmakers have the Eagles over/under at 7 1/2 wins this season, and even that seems optimistic. This is not a slam against Chip's brilliant offensive mind. It's just that Andy Reid, for all his faults, has one, too. But there is not even a hint that this defense will stop drives, and that means that Kelly, unlike his stints in Oregon and New Hampshire, will be coaching from behind a lot this year, and probably coaching from a lot behind.
As Andy will tell ya, that makes it pretty hard to run the ball as much as Kelly would like to.
I'm saying 6-10, with Matt Barkley finishing the season at the helm. Think of the positive, though: Did you really want the Eagles first-ever Super Bowl victory to happen in the Meadowlands?
Then again, that would be some miracle.
Considering the excellent state of the offensive line, the presence of two threatening tight ends, the existence of playmakers LeSean McCoy and DeSean Jackson and the revitalization of Michael Vick, this iteration of Chip Kelly's offense has every chance to succeed.
Considering the spotty track record of coordinator Bill Davis, the difficulty in tailoring his defense to flawed existing personnel and the apparent failure to improve the secondary, this iteration of Davis' defense has every chance to be worse than it has been in years.
Defensive end Trent Cole has converted to outside linebacker, minimizing his strengths. No. 1 receiver Jeremy Maclin is gone for the year with a knee injury. Vick will face pressure and he will make mistakes.
A poor division and the offense's potential make what should be a four-win team 6-10.
You want to know how many games the Eagles will win this year? Fine. But first you have to tell me how healthy their offensive line will be.
This is not a great revelation, and I don't have any great insights into what is about to happen. I think the offense can be ridiculous. I think special teams will be improved over last season's disaster. I think the defense aspires to mediocre - there just isn't enough talent on the back end, and there are just too many odd fits of 4-3 players into 3-4 roles. This is all pretty much what everybody thinks.
But I come back to the offensive line. This is a group that can dominate. This also is a group that is essential for quarterback Michael Vick, who still wants to hold the ball and ignore the easy throws and make huge plays down the field. He will be quicker this year under Chip Kelly - we have seen that so far, at least occasionally - but his heart is still in the big strikes, not in methodical carving.
If the line is reasonably healthy, Vick will be successful enough to offset at least some of the defense's deficiencies.
And bet the over.
The Eagles have changed coaches and their philosophies on offense and defense.
The thing they could not change in one fell swoop was the talent on the roster. The Birds still don't have enough.
Start at quarterback, where anything beyond a .500 season depends on 33-year-old Michael Vick recapturing moments of glory that have never been consistent in his career. Then if he does, he has to stay healthy enough to stay on the field.
Odds are, for one reason or another, backups Nick Foles and Matt Barkley will end up starting half of the games this season.
Running back LeSean McCoy has All-Pro potential, but it will be hard to realize that if the Eagles can't give opposing defenses something else to worry about. The receivers are suspect as a whole.
Despite so many questions on offense, there are more on defense.
If the Eagles get lucky, the secondary might be adequate, at best. There are still issues at linebacker and on the defensive line.
When the best playoff hope is that the other teams in the division aren't great, the playoffs aren't likely. This is why it is called rebuilding.