It’s finally time. After thrilling fans and silencing critics in 2013 with an NFC East title, the expectations are high once again for the Eagles as they prepare to kickoff against the Jaguars Sunday afternoon.
There are seemingly endless stories surrounding this team, and picking the top 10 wasn’t an easy task. But here is a look at our favorite 10 story lines for the Birds as they look for their 10th NFC East crown and 20th playoff berth (second only to the Cowboys in the East).
1. Chip Kelly: Year 2
When the Eagles came off a 4-12 campaign, Andy Reid’s final with the team, there really wasn’t much expected from rookie head coach Chip Kelly. But once the NFL saw his offense tear Washington apart during the 2013 opener, the heat was immediately on.
And Kelly rose to the challenge, anointing (and rightly so) Nick Foles as the Eagles No. 1 quarterback and watching him and the offense shine and earn a playoff berth.
After just one season, it seems like Kelly must win the NFC East or else. And for some fans, anything less than a Super Bowl is unacceptable from this year’s team.
2. Nick Foles: Year 2
Everyone knows the numbers: 27 touchdowns, 2 interceptions, seven touchdowns against the Raiders in Week 9 last year, a 119.2 QB rating. But don’t be fooled, Kelly wants to win, and expects his players to perform. If Foles doesn’t lead the team the way he did in 2013, Mark Sanchez looked pretty good in the preseason and is ready to take the reigns.
3. LeSean McCoy, 2,000?
Only seven players have ever run for 2,000 yards and it’s a prestigious list. But LeSean McCoy, back in July, made it pretty clear he expected to be the eighth member of the 2k club.
If he hopes to improve on his impressive 1,607 yards last season, he will need to get more carries. Even more than the 314 he had in 2013. No running back has ever eclipsed the 2,000 mark with less than 332 carries.
With Darren Sproles expected to get his share of touches, McCoy will really need to make the most of the rushing attempts he gets.
4. Defense reloaded
The Eagles defense boasts a nice combination of seasoned veterans and young, talented players. And there was a good competition during training camp. The secondary now has depth, with newly acquired Nolan Carroll joining the cornerback corps and former Saints safety and locker room leader Malcom Jenkins leading the secondary.
The Birds also have a potent linebacking group, led by the quarterback of the defense DeMeco Ryans and a possible superstar in the making, Mychal Kendricks.
5. DeSean’s return
We still don’t know exactly what happened, or what led to his being cut from the Eagles. But we do know one thing for sure, DeSean Jackson has Week 3 in Philadelphia circled on his calendar.
It will surely be interesting to see how his former teammates matchup against the dynamic receiver when he comes to Lincoln Financial Field with Washington on September 21.
6. Lane Johnson’s suspension
When Lane Johnson is in the lineup, the Eagles have arguable the best offensive line in the NFL protecting Nick Foles and making holes for LeSean McCoy. But for the first four games of the season, the Birds will have to make do with Allen Barbre and Matt Tobin to fill in. If they can hold down the fort for four weeks until Johnson returns, the Eagles should be in good shape — like Johnson hopes to be in against the Rams in Week 5.
“It’s going to be real tough, but I think where I’m going, A.P.I. there in Dallas, A.P.I. is known for training guys for the combine and keeping guys in top shape so I’m confident that they’ll do a great job.”
7. Kicking conundrum
The Eagles’ most glaring weakness could be their field goal kicking. The team parted ways with Alex Henery after Cody Parkey hit two 50+ yard field goals in the final preseason game against the Jets.
“Coach Chip Kelly told me if it was another long one we want to see what you got,” Parkey said after the game last Thursday. “It was another long one so I just went out there. Alex Henery and I were warming up in the net so, but they let me have it.”
8. Staying healthy
The Eagles were the second healthiest team in football last season. This season, they have had a few scares (Jeremy Maclin, Riley Rooper, LeSean McCoy), but everyone appears ready to go. Thanks in part to Kelly’s strict dietary guidelines and his use of sports science to help him train his players, the Eagles look like they could continue to keep their pest players on the field.
9. Strong backups
Of course, the quarterbacks come to mind. No team in the NFL is as loaded as the Eagles, with Mark Sanchez and Matt Barkley ready to go if something happens to Nick Foles. The Eagles are also deep at offensive line, linebacker and in their secondary. And they have a potent special teams core. With such a fast-paced offense and so many substitutions needed to keep it going, the Birds’ backups could be of extra importance this year.
10. New weapons
The Eagles picked up some dynamic offensive threats in free agency and the draft to add to Nick Foles’ arsenal (and to make up for DeSean Jackson’s departure). Running back Darren Sproles is sure to get meaningful touches as back up running back, and rookie wide receivers Josh Huff and Jordan Matthews.