Our 2018 Regular Season Preview travels down I-95 to the City of Brotherly Love, where we find the Philadelphia Eagles, for the first time in Franchise History, gearing up in defense of a Super Bowl Championship. Indeed, it was a special season for the Eagles, who steamrolled through the majority of the campaign before a stunning injury to Sophomore Quarterback Carson Wentz ended the MVP Candidate’s run, and threatened to end the team’s as well. However, Doug Pederson’s charges proved unfazed behind a revitalized Nick Foles who led arguably the most balanced group in the NFL to their first Lombardi Trophy on the strength of a memorable performance in Super Bowl LII. Coming into 2018 and it appears that the reigning Champs are a walking embarrassment of riches, with a balanced Offense and ridiculously deep Defense to boot. Oh, and did we mention that the aforementioned Wentz is reportedly well ahead of schedule in returning to action? Indeed, the hottest story out of Eagles’ Camp is the return of the former No. Two Overall Pick, and his competition with Foles, who is more than capable (and willing) to wrest the Starting Job from him. So with that said, let’s take a look at three key storylines that will decide whether the Eagles will once again soar to championship heights, or experience a let-down after what was quite a lengthy celebration.
Wentz & Foles: BFFs
Don’t let that headline fool you, folks, for this isn’t really a Quarterback Competition in any way. In fact, their roles couldn’t be defined more simply: Carson Wentz is the undisputed Starter and Nick Foles is the Backup. And better yet, for the first time in the history of western civilization, these two teammates are good with that, and the Eagles for all intents and purposes will be much better for it. Wentz improved by leaps and bounds in his second season as the full-time Starter, completing 60.2% of his Passes for 3,296 Yards on 6.70 Net Yards per Attempt, tossing Thirty-Three Touchdowns in comparison to Eleven Interceptions, all the while posting the highest Quarterback Rating in the league at 74.4 before tearing both his ACL and LCL in Week 14. The second-year Signal-Caller was every bit the MVP Candidate that he was being touted as, making the most of his rare physical gifts, most prominently his mobility, which helped immensely on Third Down, in which he connected on a whopping 65.32% of his Attempts for 1,178 Yards, Fourteen Touchdowns and Three Interceptions. Though he is reportedly ahead of schedule and is turning heads in Training Camp, Pederson and his Staff will be extremely cautious in ushering their Franchise Quarterback back to the field. Of course, this whole situation has been made far easier due to the presence of Foles, whose performance in Super Bowl LII will be remembered for years to come. While initially struggling over the final Two Starts of the Regular Season, the Seventh-Year Veteran ascended to another level in the Postseason, completing 72.6% of his Passes for an average of 323.7 Yards on a staggering 8.86 Net Yards per Attempt, with Six Touchdowns opposed to one lone Interception in three Playoff Games. Super Bowl LII though, was a revelation. In many cases, what the journeyman did on that Sunday (particularly against a certain opposing Quarterback) would be a career-altering performance; Foles eviscerated the New England Patriots’ Defense on 28-of-43 Passing for 373 Yards, Three Touchdowns and an Interception, while finding himself on the receiving end of what has been dubbed the “Philly Special” in which the Quarterback actually caught a Touchdown Pass on the game’s grandest stage. Needless to say, it was a bonafide coup getting this guy to resist going elsewhere in search of a Starting Role, and remaining in a city where despite being truly beloved by the Fan Base, is guaranteed a spot back on the Sidelines once the younger incumbent is given a clean bill of health. Though it’s long been proclaimed otherwise, this might be the one case in which having two Quarterbacks is a good thing…
The Rich get Richer
Despite winning Thirteen Games a year ago and hoisting their first Lombardi Trophy in Franchise History, the Philadelphia Eagles very well may be even better this season, at least if a number of players return healthy from season-ending injuries and a few of the new faces perform up to expectations. We’ve covered Wentz’s long rehab from tearing multiple ligaments in his Knee last December, but he’s far from the only Eagles’ star making his return from a malady that ended their campaign prematurely. Veteran Left Tackle Jason Peters tore both the ACL and MCL in his Right Knee in Week 7, with some wondering if the Nine-Time Pro Bowler’s illustrious career had come to an end. At 37-Years of Age, it’s a legitimate question if the decorated, blindside protector will once again be able to perform at the high level that we’ve come to expect from the All-Pro, though he’ll have plenty of support from what has become arguably the deepest Offensive Line in the league. And speaking of Depth, the rest of the Offense isn’t too shabby either, with Tailback Jay Ajayi (70 CAR, 408 YDS, 1 TD in 7 Games with Eagles in 2017) looking to make an impact in his first full season with the team after being acquired via trade midway through the 2017 term, while veteran Receiver Mike Wallace (52 REC, 748 YDS, 4 TD in 2017), who was signed in Free Agency will be counted upon to replace the departed Torrey Smith (36 REC, 430 YDS, 2 TD in 2017) as Pederson’s primary vertical threat on the perimeter. Furthermore, as if the Defense needed a boost, the Line welcomes the additions of veterans Michael Bennett (40 TKL, 8.5 SK, 1 PD) and Haloti Ngata (7 TKL, 2.0 SK, 1 PD in 5 Games in 2017), who bring depth, experience, and a championship swagger to a group that is now oozing it. Finally, the Secondary should be even better with a healthy Sidney Jones, last year’s Second-Round Pick who missed virtually the entire term with a torn Achilles. While it’s a testament to their resilience and resolve that Philadelphia was able to achieve such success without so many prominent figures, it will be intriguing to see how they follow that up now with a full hand to play with.
By far and away, the greatest challenge that any Champion must face is finding a way to avoid complacency in the pursuit of winning another championship, plain and simple. We have a feeling that this may ring truer for the Eagles than most recent Champs, but just hear us out for a moment. The city of Philadelphia has a unique relationship with their Sports Teams, and their Eagles had long-been one of the most tormented teams in the NFL, particularly in a division littered with Lombardi Trophies. After all, the Cowboys have five, while the Giants have four, and the Redskins have three, while the Eagles had just two disappointing appearances in the Super Bowl, with a long line of failure and heartbreak in the Playoffs staining their ledger. However, with their 41-33 triumph over the Patriots last February, all of that negativity has been washed away. The burden has been lifted. It’s truly a brand-new day in the City of Brotherly Love. So what exactly does that mean for Doug Pederson and his charges? Well, if we’re talking strictly in terms of repeating as Super Bowl Champions, then the proverbial deck is stacked against them; there hasn’t been a Repeat Champion in the NFL since the Patriots did it back in 2004 (which ironically came against the Eagles’ expense), and since the Free Agency Era began in the early 90’s there have only been two other cases, being the 1993 Dallas Cowboys and the 1998 Denver Broncos. Hell, the only teams to even return to the Super Bowl after winning in the previous year since 2004 have been the 2014 Seattle Seahawks and (you guessed it) the Pats, who did so in Super Bowl LII. So with the exception of the league’s Evil Empire, there hasn’t been a Super Bowl Champion to return to that stage since 1998. A large reason for that is complacency, folks, for most Champions have a surprisingly difficult time of replicating that same hunger, drive, and desire to do it all over again after reaching the mountain top. While it sounds callous, it’s old news. Given the manner in which Philadelphia achieved their success, there is a great chance that they’ll be able to avoid this issue altogether, particularly since their young, Franchise Quarterback will motivated like crazy to win his own Lombardi after watching his team to do it without him. However, there is also a chance that Wentz is also slow to return to his pre-injury form, and the more Foles starts, the more he resembles the guy who washed out of Philadelphia the first time after being benched back in 2014. The bottom line is that Pederson and Co. have quite a task on their hands, but then again, this is a pretty good problem to have…
2018 Outlook: 10-6 (Playoffs)
2017 was indeed a magical ride for the Philadelphia Eagles, who overcame outrageous adversity in route to earning their first Super Bowl Championship in Franchise History. As they return to health and continue to add pieces to arguably the deepest roster in the league, Doug Pederson’s troops should absolutely be branded as one of the favorites to hoist the Lombardi Trophy come next February. However, there is just enough uncertainty, particularly surrounding the health of Carson Wentz, to give us pause in proclaiming this team as the odds-on favorite to win it all once again. There are a number of questions that need to be answered regarding the Quarterback position. How long will Wentz be out? How healthy will he be once he returns? How effective will Foles be if he has start for a prolonged period of time? These are legitimate concerns no matter how talented their roster may be. We’re also taking into account what is setting up to be a rather difficult schedule featuring very few easy matchups, including the always-hellish NFC East. So while this team absolutely has the potential of becoming the first to repeat as Super Bowl Champion in fourteen years, they’re also likely going to have a hard time going 13-3 once again. But hey, at least the city is still celebrating, right?