Predicting how a football season will go is never an easy thing to do. You never really know in advance how much a second-year quarterback might improve from his rookie season, how newly acquired free-agent wide receivers will adjust to their new home, how much of a contribution a first-round draft pick will make, or how good or bad all of the teams on the schedule may end up being. Of course, no one can anticipate what role injuries will play in a team’s season either!
All of that being said, let’s dust off the crystal ball and give it a shot!
Aside from a high degree of good health involving the core players, the key to a successful 2017 Philadelphia Eagles season is the quarterback. As you’ll recall, Carson Wentz wasn’t handed the starter’s job until eight days before the regular-season opener a year ago (when Sam Bradford was traded away), and – all things considered – he had a pretty decent rookie season. Despite some turmoil on the offensive line, mainly that 10-game suspension of right tackle Lane Johnson, Wentz managed to start all 16 games last year, throwing for nearly 3,800 yards with 16 touchdowns (and 14 interceptions) – resulting in a passer rating of 79.3. Thanks to some new weapons (particularly wideouts Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith), an improved O-line (no more supplements, Lane!), and an offseason to study what went right and what went wrong last year, Wentz should be primed for a nice season in Year 2.
Getting back to the offensive line, in addition to Johnson staying clean, it’s also important that center Jason Kelce be more consistent than he was a year ago and that 35-year-old left tackle Jason Peters squeeze one more solid season out of that banged-up body.
The running-back situation is a concern heading into the season. Neither of the top new additions, LaGarrette Blount (who helped the Patriots win another Super Bowl last season) and rookie Donnell Pumphrey, showed much in the preseason. Darren Sproles is another year older. And Wendell Smallwood is still something of a mystery man; just how good is he, and can he stay healthy? (Rookie Corey Clement also could end up contributing.) For me, the keys are for Smallwood to stay healthy, Sproles to take a few more swigs from the fountain of youth, and Blount to be the short-yardage guy that he was a year ago in New England. (Is that asking too much? Sorry.)
The defensive line just might be among the best in the NFL. There’s certainly a lot of depth, thanks to new additions Tim Jernigan, Chris Long and first-round pick Derek Barnett joining holdovers including Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham and Vinny Curry. There’s nowhere
near that much in the way of talent or depth among the linebackers, but Jordan Hicks is a beast and Mychal Kendricks showed in the preseason that he really can be a big contributor.
That brings us to the secondary, and that’s another key to the upcoming season. We had the long-time Voice of the Eagles, Merrill Reese, on our Philly Pressbox Radio show this week, and he feels that the concerns about the defensive backfield – particularly the cornerbacks – might be overblown. Merrill really likes the newly acquired Ronald Darby, and also says that the pressure the front seven should be able to get on opposing quarterbacks will be a big help to the secondary. Hey, we shall see, but let’s hope Merrill is right about that!
Oh yeah, the coach. Doug Pederson. The guy that one analyst called perhaps the least-qualified head coach in the last 30-plus years will certainly be on the hot seat. He might not be Vince Lombardi, Bill Cowher or Bill Belichick, but let’s give Pederson the benefit of the doubt that he knows what’s necessary to improve on last season’s 7-9 record. For at least the next half-season or so!
THE CHET PREDICTION: The schedule isn’t an easy one and there are still several question marks, obviously, but I think this team is headed in the right direction. If Wentz stays healthy and continues his development and the new additions contribute as they’re expected to, I think this is a 10-6 team that will either win the NFC East or make the postseason as a Wild Card. There, I’ve said it. My radio partner Bill Furman also expects a 10-win campaign and a trip to the playoffs. (Winning the opener Sunday in Washington would be a nice start! We shall see.) –-Jim “Chet” Chesko