Are the Eagles a Dark Horse Contender?

Flashback to before the 2017 NFL season. Think of the favorites in the NFC. The Falcons were the defending NFC champions with no major roster losses. The Packers were considered a favorite because of Aaron Rodgers. The Cowboys were coming off a blistering 13-3 and had a load of excellent youngsters. The Seahawks still figured to be in the equation with how things were run with Russell Wilson. Heck, even the Lions had some talk heading into the 2017 season. Not many considered the Philadelphia Eagles to be a major player (though many thought they would be competitive).

As we ventured through that year, the Falcons offense was inconsistent and the defensive magic that propelled them through the playoffs wasn’t there. Seattle was missing a running game. The Packers lost Rodgers to injury and Dallas struggled with Zeke Elliott out the first four games. And the Lions…well…the Lions. But then there was the Eagles. Philadelphia steamrolled for most of the season starting at 10-1. Young second year QB Carson Wentz was looking like an MVP candidate (and if voting was in early December I would have said Wentz was the MVP of the league). A running game that was strong thanks to Jay Ajayi and LeGarrette Blount to go along with a solid receiving corps of Nelson Agholor, Alshon Jeffery, and the durable Torrey Smith as well as three excellent tight ends in Zach Ertz, Trey Burton, and Brent Celek. The defense was equally as dangerous especially up front with Derek Barnett, Fletcher Cox, and Timmy Jernigan as well as having a secondary led by Malcolm Jenkins and a hidden gem in Jalen Mills. Things looked sour as Philadelphia lost Wentz to a knee injury and Nick Foles became the starter. After squeaking by Atlanta in the Divisional Playoff, the Eagles trounced the Vikings in the NFC Championship and then the Eagles took down the mighty Patriots with Foles.

The good news? Eagles won a Super Bowl for the first time. The bad news? All that good play by Wentz was forgotten and some questioned about who should take the Eagles moving forward.

The Eagles, much like the Falcons in the prior year, were the NFC favorites. However, Philadelphia couldn’t match up to their 2017 season. Wentz came back but was shaky at times and fans were really clamoring for Foles to be in especially after the team went 5-6. Wentz was injured again and Foles took over, winning 4 of their last 5 and getting a Wild Card. The Eagles won in Chicago but fell in New Orleans in a tight game. In 2019 similar stories occurred but without Foles as he went to Jacksonville. Wentz played well but fans didn’t trust his durability and despite going 9-7 and a division title in a weak NFC East. Wentz got injured in the Wild Card game to Seattle as the offense flat-out sputtered.

Now we are heading into 2020. The Eagles have questions. Can Wentz return to that 2017 form? Can the receivers step up? Can the defense take over games? And honestly, to me the answer is “yes!” Wentz for all the ridicule he got last year played pretty well. 64% completion rate, 4,000 yards, 27 TD’s and only 7 INT while starting all 16 games. Was it an MVP year? No, but he was making good decisions with the football. But what about the rest? Miles Sanders is developing into a solid running back who could net over 1,000 if they trust him with the workload and can be that every-back. Jeffery, if he can stay healthy could have another solid season. Adding Marquise Goodwin could be a sleeper to go along with Jeffery and the tight ends of Ertz & Goedert (who is really coming into his own as a strong tight end). The Eagles offensive line should still be a solid bunch while the defense still has Barnett and Cox and when healthy can still dominate. But Philadelphia’s big move was adding Darius Slay at corner to really shore up the secondary. Slay is one of the most underrated corners in the NFL to me and putting him against the likes of Amari Cooper was a must for the Eagles.

Does Philadelphia have holes? Yes, but one thing to note is they have a coach who is often forgotten as being one of the better coaches, one of the more innovative coaches, and one of the best prepared coaches in the game in Doug Pederson. He doesn’t get the love like McVay or Shanahan does (yet he’s the only guy of that bunch to win a Super Bowl) and one hole is at receiver where it’s Jeffery and….? Philadelphia drafted two former quarterbacks this year in Jalen Hurts (which talk spread like wildfire if the Eagles drafted him to replace Wentz) and Khalil Tate from Arizona. Hurts is going to be considered a backup to Wentz but while at Alabama found himself with his friend Tua Tagovailoa in plays creating some interesting situations as well. Tate while undrafted may end up being a gem as he will be used at receiver. It it a push? Absolutely but one thing I have learned about Philadelphia under Pederson is never ever doubt him or his decisions.

The Eagles will contend in 2020. I don’t doubt that. The schedule is one that can be managed with 10-11 wins on it. They face the AFC North and get the Ravens at home. But perhaps their biggest challenge will be late November/early December in consecutive weeks of Seattle (home), Green Bay (road), and New Orleans (home). If they can take two of three and finish up with beating Dallas and Washington, it’s hard to imagine the Eagles not being considered a favorite for the Super Bowl.

-Fan in the Obstructed Seat




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