How the times have changed in Philadelphia.
Once the good, but cursed team that just couldn't get itself over the Super Bowl hump, the Eagles have finally emerged as more than a mere good playoff-caliber team. Not only did they capture their first Super Bowl in the history of their franchise two seasons ago, but they've suddenly become a team that actually gets the breaks -- from Cody Parkey's in last season's playoffs to Julio Jones allowing two playoffs ago, which allowed them to embark upon their championship run.
The Eagles' recent wave of success is obviously about more than just luck. They've also been one of the league's smartest teams from both a front office and coaching perspective, with Doug Pederson showing a tendency to be aggressive in moments most coaches approach far too conservatively. There was nothing lucky about the Philly Special or the Eagles' win over the Patriots in the Super Bowl. It was just great coaching and execution.
The Eagles deserve what they've gotten the past couple of seasons. And there's plenty of reasons to believe they'll see even more success in the years to come.
With all that in mind, the five bold predictions for the Eagles' upcoming season that you'll find below are all on the optimistic side of the spectrum. Included in those bold predictions: Carson Wentz throwing for 40 touchdowns and the Eagles' defense making a drastic improvement -- and, oh yeah, the Eagles journeying back to the Super Bowl.
But first, we begin with the Eagles running away with the NFC East.
1. The Eagles win the NFC East by multiple games
A season after making the playoffs as a wild-card team, but allowing the Cowboys to surpass them in the NFC East, the Eagles will reclaim their spot atop the division. And it won't be particularly close, because they're the best team in the division by a significant margin.
The Redskins will b -- most likely, all three quarterbacks will make at least one start during the upcoming season. While Washington's future remains bright due to the presence of Haskins -- for that, they can thank Dave Gettleman -- nobody should expect Washington to challenge for a playoff spot in 2019. The Giants find themselves in a similar situation in that they likely won't get good play out of their quarterbacks (washed up veteran Eli Manning and rookie Daniel Jones) this season and like the Redskins, the Giants don't have a strong enough supporting cast surrounding the quarterback to overcome their shortcomings at the position.
Really, the Cowboys are the only team that will challenge the Eagles for the division crown. They're coming off a 10-win season. They have a young, durable franchise quarterback in Dak Prescott. Assuming they sign Ezekiel Elliott to an extension to end his holdout, they have arguably the best running back in football. They have a very good receiver in Amari Cooper. Their offensive line remains strong. And they have a defense that should continue to blossom.
The thing is, all of those things can be true and the 21st. All of those are strong regression indicators.. While they won 10 games last season, their expected win total was 8.4. Their point differential? Plus-15. Their record in games decided by seven points or fewer? 8-2. Their DVOA ranking?
As for the Eagles, they finished above (only just barely, but still) the Cowboys in DVOA (16th), point differential (plus-19), and expected wins (8.5). They went 6-6 in games decided by seven points or fewer. And keep in mind, the Eagles started Nick Foles -- not Wentz -- at quarterback for five games.
This offseason, the Eagles have made more upgrades. DeSean Jackson, the best deep threat in football, His 17.4 yards per catch since he entered the league in 2008 ranks second among receivers with at least 100 receptions in that span. They added Jordan Howard and Miles Sanders to bolster a backfield that might not feature a star, but can attack defenses in a variety of ways with a number of different players. They got Andre Dillard, a pass-blocking specialist, in the first round to provide them with awesome depth up front. And this was already They to one of the in the league.
From a talent, coaching, and front office perspective, the Eagles are the best team in the division. Assuming Wentz stays healthy for the majority of the season, they won't just win the NFC East. They'll run away with it.
2. Carson Wentz throws for 4,000 yards and 40 touchdowns
So, about Wentz.
It's a widely held belief that Wentz's best season came back in 2017, when he emerged as viable MVP candidate in his second NFL season before a torn-up knee ended his year prematurely. But there's an argument to be made that last season was actually Wentz's best year before it too was ruined by injury. At the very least, his 2018 was equal to his 2017 MVP-caliber season.
The biggest discrepancy? The touchdowns.
In 2017, Wentz threw 33 touchdowns in 13 games. He averaged a touchdown on 7.5 percent of his passes, which led the league by a significant margin. Touchdown percentage is a statistic that tends to fluctuate, because there's a lot of luck involved. From a quarterbacking perspective, there's not much of a difference between a completion that ends at the 2-yard line and a completion that winds up in the end zone. Often times, the difference between a touchdown and a first-and-goal just outside the stripe has nothing to do with the quarterback and everything to do with a receiver's ability to break a tackle. So, it wasn't much of a surprise to see Wentz's touchdown percentage come back down to earth in 2018. It was never going to stay at 7.5 percent. For the sake of comparison, Tom Brady's career touchdown percentage rests at 5.5.
The larger point I'm making -- or at least trying to make -- is that Wentz played very well in 2018. He did not regress after an MVP-caliber season, except in the one category that tends to fluctuate for most quarterbacks. In a number of categories, he actually improved. Despite his regression in touchdowns last season, he still ranks third in touchdown percentage since 2017 among quarterbacks with at least 10 games started in that span.
Wentz should experience a career-best season. He's never had this good of a supporting cast. The additions of Dillard, Howard, Sanders, and Jackson will undoubtedly benefit him. Second-year tight end Dallas Goedert should make the leap after a promising rookie season. He still has Alshon Jeffery and Zach Ertz. He'll be well-protected behind a strong offensive line. And he has one of the league's best play-callers in his ear.
Forty touchdowns and 4,000 yards should be within reach if he can stay healthy for most of the season. Over the last two seasons, he's averaged 265.4 yards per game. Over a 16-game season, that would come to 4,246 yards. Over a 15-game season, that would come out to 3,981 yards. It might be tight, but Wentz has a chance to eclipse the 4,000-yard mark. As for the touchdowns, a lot of it will come down to luck, but Wentz is certainly talented enough to get there. With two capable pass-catching tight ends and big receivers to help dominate smaller defensive backs, Wentz could do a ton of damage in the red zone.
3. Nate Sudfeld starts and wins one game
On that note, given Wentz's injury history, it's probably not a bold prediction to say he'll miss one start in 2018. Wentz has missed eight games over the past two seasons after completing a full 16-game season as a rookie. But it is a bold prediction to say that when Wentz does miss a game, the Eagles will win that game with Sudfeld as their starter.
With Foles gone, Sudfeld has become the Eagles' new backup quarterback. The 2016 sixth-round pick of the Redskins has fared well when he's gotten rare regular-season reps (20 of 25 for 156 yards, a touchdown, and a 106.0 passer rating), but he's yet to start a game.
He should, at least, get plenty of reps in the preseason.
Doug on Sudfeld: "The goal is to get him as much playing time as possible in the four preseason games."— Reuben Frank (@RoobNBCS) August 6, 2019
Nobody should expect him to look like Wentz or even Foles. But the Eagles are built to overcome a brief absence from Wentz. Their defense should be improved, the players around the quarterback are good, and the coaching staff is accustomed to working with backup quarterbacks.
The Eagles have gone 10-3 without Wentz over the past two seasons, including the postseason. Expect Pederson to get the most out of Sudfeld in the event Wentz goes down. Assuming Wentz doesn't miss a significant portion of the season, expect the Eagles to survive without him if they need to.
If this prediction and the previous one both come true, it'll mean Wentz will have thrown for 40 touchdowns and 4,000 yards in a 15-game season, which would make that accomplishment that much more impressive.
4. The Eagles have a top-five defense
Last season, the Eagles' defense finished 15th in DVOA, so they would need to make substantial improvements to finish in the top five of that metric. But the Eagles have the coaching and the talent level to get there.
They already had one of the deepest defensive lines in the league with Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham, and Derek Barnett, and then they went out and added Malik Jackson and Vinny Curry. That gives the Eagles the deepest and best defensive front in football.
It's behind the defensive front where things get a bit dicey, but the Eagles have enough good pieces in the secondary to make up for their problems at linebacker. But for this group to join the other elite defenses, they'll need their defensive linemen to drag them there. They'll need defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz to coach up the linebackers. They'll need young cornerbacks Sidney Jones, Ronald Darby, and Jalen Mills to play up to their potential.
5. The Eagles make it back to the Super Bowl
The NFC is crowded with contenders. It's possible to make an argument for a number of teams. And the Eagles are one of those teams.
Unlike contenders in the other three NFC divisions, the Eagles won't be forced to navigate a difficult divisional schedule. They should pick up four wins against the Redskins and Giants. Meanwhile, contenders like the Saints, Bears, and Rams will be forced to take on teams within their own divisions that are also eyeing the Super Bowl, like the Falcons, Packers, Vikings, and Seahawks. That gives the Eagles a good shot at securing home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. If that were to happen, the Eagles would be rightfully favored to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. The Eagles have lost just four games at home over the past two seasons.
What makes the Eagles a tempting Super Bowl pick is their strength and depth up front on both sides of the ball, their coaching staff, their quarterback, and the state of the NFC East. What makes them a dangerous Super Bowl pick is Wentz's injury history.
That's also what makes this a bold prediction. If Wentz can stay mostly healthy, the Eagles should contend for the Super Bowl -- albeit, that's one big if.