Eight days from now, the Eagles will begin their quest for the Super Bowl, and as the season opener nears, Philadelphia will be awash with football frenzy and optimism. For the 2017 version of the Birds, the Super Bowl is simply out of reach, but the key question is, can this team make the playoffs? If so, I believe it will be a giant step forward for the franchise at such an early stage of the Carson Wentz era.
Before I get into my prediction for this season, let's take a quick look back at my previous prognostications. In 2014, I predicted the Eagles would go 11-5 and I fell short by one game as the Birds finished 10-6. The next year I got caught up in the Eagles mania that caused Sports Illustrated to say they would play in the Super Bowl. I picked them to go 13-3, but alas the team declined after a good start and finished 7-9. Last year, I believed the Birds, led by Sam Bradford, would finish 9-7 and have a shot at making the playoffs. But of course, Sam Bradford never played a down for the Eagles, and despite rookie Wentz's heroics, the Birds finished 7-9.
So here is my take on this year's team. We have improved from last year but that improvement may be offset by the fact that this year's schedule is much tougher. The Eagles offense will be better with Lane Johnson for all 16 games (hopefully), and in Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith, we have added two quality receivers. The potential Achilles' heel for our offense could be the running game. LeGarrette Blount may be helpful in short yardage situations, but he doesn't appear to have enough in the tank to be an every down back. Wendell Smallwood has the best upside of any back in my opinion but he also seems to be very injury prone. Corey Clement had a great preseason, and while I have hope that he will make a meaningful contribution, I don't believe he can carry the load either.
The Eagles defense will be better with the additions of Ronald Darby at cornerback and Chris Long and Timmy Jernigan providing terrific depth on the defensive line. I also believe that this is the year we see Vinny Curry reach his potential. Considering that the D line rotation will also include all-pro Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham and his endless motor, and promising rookie Derek Barnett, I expect this group to be a constant nuisance for opposing quarterbacks.
So, with these improvements on both sides of the ball in mind, here is how I think the season will play out.
It is imperative for the Eagles to get off to a fast start, which is highly plausible given that in the first eight games we play only two teams that made the playoffs last year (Chiefs and Giants). If the Birds are going to have a real shot at the playoffs, they need to be 6-2 by the time the 49ers leave town after Game 8. The last eight games are brutal, with five of the eight coming against playoff teams and one other against the Broncos (9-7 last season). If the Eagles were to split those eight games and go 4-4 after a 6-2 start, the would be 10 wins and almost guarantee a playoff spot. I believe we can do it by beating the Broncos, Bears and Rams, and then winning a climactic struggle at home against the Cowboys in the last game of the season. Here's how I think the season will unfold, week-by-week:
Sept. 10: Eagles start strong winning an important game in Washington against the Redskins, 27-14. Kurt Cousins doesn't have DeSean Jackson to torment us anymore.
Sept. 17: The Kansas City Chiefs are too strong at Arrowhead Stadium and they prevail in a close one, 24-21.
Sept. 24: Eagles score a must-win against division rival, New York Giants, urged on by frenzied fans at the Linc and a newly minted pass rush, 28-17.
Oct. 1: Eagles play their third road game in the first four. An improved secondary controls Philip Rivers and the Birds win, 31-21.
Oct. 8: In another early must win game, the Birds defeat the Arizona Cardinals at the Linc. Wentz outduels Carson Palmer, 23-20.
Oct. 12: Eagles play at Carolina for a Thursday night national TV game and fall to the bounce-back Panthers as Cam Newton finds Christian McCaffrey for the winning touchdown. Birds lose, 27-23.
Oct. 23: With 10 days of rest leading up to this Monday night home game against the Redskins, the improved rush harasses Cousins leading to an easy 30-14 victory.
Oct. 29: Woeful 49ers visit the Linc. They're less woeful without Chip Kelly but still woeful enough for the Eagles to dominate, 27-6.
Nov. 5: Birds start off the second half of the season with a hard-fought win over the Broncos, 24-20. Wentz leads his offense down the field for the winning touchdown in the closing seconds. Eagles now 7-2 and the city goes berserk with Super Bowl fever.
Nov. 19: Despite coming off a bye week, Eagles are brought down to earth in Dallas. Ezekiel Elliot leads the way and the Cowboys shred the Birds, 31-21.
Nov. 26: Three days after Thanksgiving, we are all grateful that the NFL scheduled the Bears to come to the Linc. Birds win a laugher, 34-16.
Dec. 10: Eagles make their second trip in a row to the West Coast but have a much easier time as, if there was any doubt. Wentz outplays Jared Goff in an easy Eagles win, 38-17. Eagles are now 9-4 and need only one win in the last three games to clinch a spot in the playoffs.
Dec. 17: Eagles travel to the Meadowlands and lose to the desperate Giants, 20-17. Philly starts to get nervous but the last two games are at home.
Dec. 25: A not-so Merry Christmas in Philadelphia as Derek Carr and the Raiders clinch a playoff berth by outscoring the Eagles 26-24.