The Eagles’ 2020 schedule features, on paper, a relatively docile three-game start, but how they navigate difficult stretches in October and December could decide whether the team is headed back to the playoffs or left out of the postseason for the first time in four years.
The slate begins at the Washington Redskins on Sept. 13, followed by the home opener against the Los Angeles Rams on Sept. 20, and then another date at Lincoln Financial Field with the lowly Cincinnati Bengals on Sept. 27. The combined record of their three opening opponents in 2019 was 14-34 (.292 winning percentage).
But the Eagles face a likely challenge in Week 4, when they head to San Francisco to take on the defending NFC champion 49ers on Oct. 4 for their first of four prime-time matchups. A cross-state trip to Pittsburgh versus the Steelers is next on Oct. 11. And they complete a tough three-game stretch by hosting the Baltimore Ravens and reigning MVP Lamar Jackson on Oct. 18.
The 49ers, Steelers, and Ravens had a combined record of 35-13 (.729 percentage) last season.
Back-to-back contests against NFC East rivals New York on a Thursday (Oct. 22) and Dallas 10 days later (Nov. 1) — both at night — end the first half of the season, with the bye conveniently coming in Week 9.
The Eagles have a rematch with the Giants on Nov. 15 and meet the Browns in Cleveland on Nov. 22.
Nothing is certain in the NFL.
Each season, there are teams that unexpectedly rise and fall. But it’s hard to imagine the Eagles’ next three foes not being in the playoff conversation come late November.
The Seattle Seahawks are up first, on Monday, Nov. 30, in Philly. The Eagles then fly to Green Bay on Dec. 6 to play the Packers at Lambeau Field. And they return home on Dec. 13 to host the New Orleans Saints. Those three teams had a combined 37-11 (.771 percentage) mark a year ago.
All three opposing quarterbacks -- Russell Wilson, Aaron Rodgers, and Drew Brees -- will likely be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame someday.
Depending on how Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray fares in his second season, the Eagles’ trip to Arizona on Dec. 20 might not be a walk in the park. A matchup with the Cowboys in Texas is never an easy feat, especially just two days after Christmas. And the Eagles end the season at the Linc against Week 1 opponent, the Redskins, on Jan. 3.
Whether they can defend their division title will be the subject of debate over the next several months. So, too, will the question of whether the Eagles even play this season, or at least follow the schedule released Thursday.
With the coronavirus still spreading throughout the United States, the sports world remains in flux. The NFL went ahead with free agency and the draft amid the world crisis, but it has all but canceled offseason workouts and has conceded that much needs to happen for games to be played, especially with fans in the stands.
While the league has said it is planning to go ahead as scheduled, it has contingency plans in place should training camps or the season be delayed. Those details have yet to be ironed out and will need approval from both owners and players.
Still, with all U.S. professional sports leagues grounded, and no vaccine for COVID-19 within sight, few can say with any certainty that the NFL season will go off as planned, with thousands watching in stadiums across the country.