Twelve wins. How can this be? The Eagles have a new coaching staff. Their best players are 30-somethings returning from injuries. They lack even one proven receiver. Quarterback? TBA. And ... Twelve wins? Really?
I say yes.
I am alone.
Our four-man squad of Eagles writers does not share my view. Three say the Eagles will go 7-10; one, whom we’ll call Mr. Sunshine, has them at 8-9, even though he says they’ll get swept by the Giants and won’t beat the lowly Lions.
Some might call 12-5 foolish. Irresponsible. A transparent attempt at pandering to a franchise whose every move I’ve criticized for months on end.
Not true. (Well, not completely true). The Eagles play the easiest schedule in the NFL. They reside in the worst division in NFL history. They should have the best offensive line in the NFL. With a little health, a little luck, and a little quarterbacking, they could snake 12 wins and take the NFC East title.
This assumes that Jalen Hurts and/or Joe Flacco don’t play as historically poorly as Carson Wentz did in 2020. He was the biggest reason the Eagles finished 4-11-1 instead of 8-8. Even with all of the team’s injuries, and even with the poor coaching, if Wentz had been as good as, say, Gardner Minshew, instead of as bad as, say, Sam Darnold, the Eagles would have been in the playoffs for a fourth straight year. They weren’t, as a whole, quite as bad as their record.
That’s the good news.
Better news: This year they’ll face Darnold.
Game 1, at Atlanta: W
The Falcons are expected to trade Julio Jones soon, having drafted his replacement, Kyle Pitts, with the No. 4 pick. This is excellent news for the Eagles, considering Jones’ 117.2-yards-per-game average is his best among teams he’s faced at least six times. Also, his 17.15-yards-per-reception and his five total touchdown catches are both third-best among teams he’s faced at last three times. Pitts, in his debut, won’t live up to the pressure of replacing a future Hall of Famer, playing at home, in front of a frenzied and packed post-pandemic stadium.
Much more important, the Falcons’ defense still stinks, and their new coaching staff won’t turn that around during training camp.
Game 2, vs. San Francisco: L
George Kittle, the best tight end I’ve ever seen, will catch 12 passes for 200 yards and three touchdowns -- before exiting in the third quarter. Jimmy Garoppolo, the handsomest quarterback I’ve ever seen, will complete 14 of 16 passes for 212 yards and get benched the following week in favor of rookie Trey Lance. The Eagles will score three points off one of Garoppolo’s two interceptions.
Game 3, at Dallas: L
At this point, MVP favorite Dak Prescott will be running the NFL’s No. 1 offense in the Cowboys’ home opener. And talk about timing: The Cowboys get 10 days off between Games 1 and 2, then eight days off between Games 2 and this, Game 3. (Yes, the Eagles will get eight days off, too, but they’ll travel on days seven and eight.) Not even Mike McCarthy can screw this one up.
Game 4, Kansas City: L
After two modest tests to open the season, new Eagles coordinator Jonathan Gannon’s defense gets crushed on consecutive weeks. That’s OK. Builds character. At least all the Andy Reid worshipers in Philly can relish Big Red’s good fortune.
Game 5, at Carolina: W
Sam Darnold. Sam Darnold. Sam Darnold.
Game 6, Tampa Bay: W
Let’s be clear about one thing: The Buccaneers are Super Bowl champions because of defensive coordinator Todd Bowles and, in particular, his run defense, which allowed 80.6 yards per game, which was the best in the league by more than 10 yards, or 11%. Sure, Tom Brady helped, and his 102.2 passer rating was impressive for a 43-year-old (or a 23-year-old), but Brady’s rating was just ninth highest in the NFL. He won the MVP award in Super Bowl LV with 201 passing yards, which was 1 fewer yard than Bart Starr had in Super Bowl II in 1968, when the forward pass was still illegal in most U.S. states and territories.
That said, the Eagles offense should be at its peak in Week 6; as cohesive as it will get, still unpredictable, and geeked to play the Super Bowl champs, on Thursday Night Football, at home. Also, Philly hates Tom Brady.
Game 7, at Las Vegas: W
My favorite stat from 2020: The Raiders were 2-6 in Vegas, baby. The home of hedonism apparently sorely tempted its new football team -- during a pandemic. Imagine the lack of discipline Jon Gruden’s players will display, now unmasked and unleashed. Also, Gruden might get fired this season, possibly after losing this game, when the Raiders could be 2-5 heading into their bye.
Game 8, at Detroit: W
With Jared Goff as his quarterback, Dan Campbell better start aiming higher than his opponents’ kneecaps.
Game 9, Chargers: W
Familiarity with a former team doesn’t often matter much, but Shane Steichen, the Eagles’ offensive coordinator, was the Chargers’ OC in 2020. Steichen helped build the myth of rookie quarterback Justin Herbert last year. He’ll help demolish it in 2021.
Game 10, at Denver: L
The Broncos again will have a very good secondary. This season, however, with Drew Lock no longer impeding their progress, they will either have a pretty good quarterback, Teddy Bridgewater, or, if they make The Trade, they will have the best quarterback ever, Aaron Rodgers. Vic Fangio should have five or six wins at this point, and another could save his job for at least the rest of the season -- to the delight of rest of the AFC West.
Game 11, New Orleans: W
The genius of Drew Brees hid the shortcomings of Sean Payton for 15 years. Brees is gone. Soon, Payton will be, too.
Game 12, at New York Giants: W
At this point, if the Eagles are 7-4, they’ll be more than good enough to dismantle a mediocre Giants team. Believe in quarterback Daniel Jones if you like, but the Giants’ best bet will lie in the rehabilitated legs of Saquon Barkley, and the Eagles almost always stop the run.
Game 13, at New York Jets: W
It takes time to build an elite defense. New coach Robert Saleh eventually will do that. Until then, the Jets will founder at the hands of bust-in-progress, rookie quarterback Zach Wilson.
Game 14, Washington: W
The Birds win this one mainly because they will be coming off their bye. Meanwhile, Washington will be playing its sixth difficult game in a row: Tampa, the defending champions; at Carolina, in coach Ron Rivera’s homecoming; Seattle, always good; at Las Vegas, a desperate club; then the Cowboys. Washington will be hung over after that visit by Dallas, which will have wild-card playoff implications. Because, of course, the Eagles will be 9-4, the division will almost be in their back pocket.
Game 15, New York Giants: W
The Birds clinch the division against a Giants team resigned to being knocked out of the playoffs for a second straight season by the Eagles. Only this time, the Eagles won’t tank a game against another team to do it.
Game 16, at Washington: L
I cannot foresee the Eagles’ offensive line dominating Washington’s defensive line twice in three weeks. Not on the road, with Washington still in the postseason hunt.
Game 17, Dallas: W
The Eagles offense tunes up for the playoffs. Jerry Jones fires Mike McCarthy on the plane ride home. Two weeks later, Jerry hires Todd Bowles as the first Black head coach in Cowboys history. This sends Sen. Ted Cruz back to Cancun for another vacation, preferably of the permanent sort.