Mike Sielski: They stack up quite well. Consider the Eagles and those other four teams, and ask yourself this question: Among those five, whose head coach would you pick first? The Saints’ Sean Payton might be the consensus pick, based on the length of his career. The Rams’ Sean McVay might be the most popular pick. But neither of them is a clear-cut upgrade over Doug Pederson, and in fact, for all the ballyhoo that has accompanied McVay’s ascendance, Pederson should be considered a better coach. He and the Eagles are 2-0 against the Rams, and Pederson didn’t turtle up in the Super Bowl against Bill Belichick, Tom Brady, and the Patriots the way McVay admittedly did.
Now, ask yourself this question: Among those five teams, whose quarterback would you pick first? It wouldn’t be the Cowboys’ Dak Prescott (who relies so much on the presence of Ezekiel Elliott) or the Bears’ Mitch Trubisky (a still-developing player). Would it be the Rams’ Jared Goff? He doesn’t have Carson Wentz’s physical gifts — the size, the arm strength, the mobility. Would it be the Saints’ Drew Brees? Probably, but he’s 40. If Wentz remains healthy, he is at least the equal of any of them. Which is why the Eagles should be the favorites in the NFC this season … and why they will win Super Bowl LIV.
Marcus Hayes: They are the second-best team in the NFC. If Fletcher Cox and Jason Peters aren’t 100 percent, they’re third.
They’re not even particularly close to the Saints. Sean Payton is a better coach than Doug Pederson, and Pederson is very good — a much better coach than I ever thought he’d be. (Rams coach Sean McVay is superb, too. It’s a fun time to watch NFC football.)
Payton’s perennial defensive sidekick, coordinator Dennis Allen, signed a lucrative, three-year extension in February that will bring continuity to a defense that ranked 14th in yards and points allowed and was second against the run last season. Drew Brees, a Hall of Fame lock, is better than Carson Wentz; maybe better today than Wentz will ever be, and that’s no criticism of Wentz. Brees returns weapons Michael Thomas, who signed a five-year, $100 million contract this summer, and charismatic Alvin Kamara, who should flourish as a featured back after Mark Ingram’s departure; his 81 catches each of his first two seasons would tie for second among Eagles backs, and his 826 receiving yards would rank first.
As for the Rams: If Cox and Peters are healthy then the Eagles are the better team. If not, they’re not. Cox, the second-best defensive tackle in the NFL, had foot surgery that cost him training camp. Peters, the best offensive lineman in Eagles history, is 37, and he has played fewer than 80 percent of the offensive snaps in three of the last four seasons. Both are Hall of Fame-caliber players around whom the offense and defense have been built. They are crucial.
Finally: With quarterbacks like Dak Prescott and Mitch Trubisky, why are the Cowboys and Bears in this conversation at all?
Bob Ford: We might be getting a touch ahead of ourselves here. The Eagles had the sixth-best record in the NFC last season (don’t forget the 10-6 Seahawks), and while this is the time of year for optimism, let’s temper it a bit.
The Saints and Rams were both 13-3 and they didn’t do it with mirrors. It takes deep, talented, and well-coached teams to put up records like that. It would be disrespectful to assume the Eagles, despite a currently healthy Carson Wentz and some good offseason additions, have leapfrogged those two. Maybe so, but as the season begins, the Eagles are behind them.
I don’t believe a little bit in the Cowboys or the Bears, but what has taken place in Seattle is impressive, and the Rams could have their hands full in the NFC West. The Seahawks are incredibly young, but they have rebuilt while still remaining competitive. Seattle led the Cowboys entering the fourth quarter of their wild-card playoff last season, but they couldn’t get a stop when they needed one, eventually losing 24-22, and that near-miss is overlooked.
Back to the Eagles, as much as I like a lot of what they have done, I still see a mixed bag at cornerback, a weakness at linebacker, and an offensive line that is getting pretty creaky. Every team has deficiencies, but theirs prevent them from earning a top-of-conference prediction just yet.
Paul Domowitch: On paper, the Eagles are as talented as any team in the NFC, any team in the NFL. If Carson Wentz can stay healthy, which, granted, is a big if given his injury history, the Eagles are certainly capable of making it to the Super Bowl for the second time in three seasons.
The NFC East will be a two-team fight between the Eagles and Cowboys. The Eagles’ run defense needs to be better than it was last season when Ezekiel Elliott rushed for 264 yards in two games against them. Quarterback Dak Prescott wants to be paid like Wentz, but had a 50.7 completion percentage in the red zone and was sacked eight times inside the 20. Even with Amari Cooper catching 10 passes for 217 yards and three touchdowns in Week 14, the Eagles still took them to overtime.
The Saints beat the Eagles twice last season, including a six-point win in the divisional playoffs. Their offense, led by 40-year-old quarterback Drew Brees, is potent, but their defense gave up 30 touchdown passes and allowed 8.1 yards per attempt last season. The Saints are why it’s going to be important for the Eagles to win home-field advantage in the playoffs.
The Rams also have a potent, multifaceted offense. Jared Goff put up gaudy numbers last season — 32 touchdown passes and 8.4 yards per attempt. But he didn’t have any TD passes in the Eagles’ 30-23 Week 15 win.
They’ll be getting slot receiver Cooper Kupp back from a knee injury and added another dangerous running back in the draft, Darrell Henderson, who will team with Todd Gurley. But they lost two key members of their offensive line — left guard Rodger Saffold and center John Sullivan. I think last year was their best shot at winning it all.
The Bears lost their defensive coordinator, Vic Fangio, who got a long-overdue head job in Denver. He was replaced by Chuck Pagano, who will blitz a lot more than Fangio, which is just fine with Wentz and the Eagles’ offensive line. Quarterback Mitch Trubisky is a Wentz wannabe who finished 16th in passing and 17th in third-down passing. Much like the Cowboys’ Prescott, he’s more dangerous out of the pocket than he is in it. And the Eagles have a defensive line capable of sealing him in the pocket.
Bottom line, if Wentz stays healthy, the Eagles are capable of beating anybody in the NFC.