Les Bowen: 12-4 and at least one playoff win
YA KNOW, I hate predictions.
I studied English in college, not astrology, or even probability. I like to write; I do this job to tell teams' and people's stories, set the scene of a pivotal moment, maybe give some insight into what happened. I'm not that interested in pretending I know what's GOING to happen. Because I usually don't. Not my talent, not anything I have control over, not something I choose to spend a lot of time worrying about.
All that having been said, I have been asked to predict, so I shall.
I'll be shocked if the Eagles aren't a good team this year. Even if all the changes Chip Kelly has made in his first offseason as imperial supreme overlord don't work out, you can't spend a lot of time around Kelly without coming to the conclusion that he's on to something. The fact that he is 20-12, has had two QB coaches in two years, and they've both been hired away to bring Kelly's offensive concepts to other teams as coordinators, ought to pretty much settle that matter.
I'm going to set the bar high for this team, maybe too high. This is not generally what I do. I was brought up to aspire to underpromise and overdeliver, and I have a hard time freeing myself from that mindset when it comes to teams I cover.
A few weeks ago, when the Eagles romped past the Packers in a preseason game at Lambeau Field, fans and talk-radio hosts started talking about the Super Bowl. On Twitter, I noted that even though I've lived in the Philadelphia area for more than 32 years, one of the ways I know I'm not really from here is that I wince involuntarily when I hear people go flying off the deep end.
What's the upside? If the Eagles have a glittering season that, say, falls a game short of the Super Bowl, are you then disappointed? If they make it, is this merely what you expected all along? Why not set as a goal making the playoffs, or winning a playoff game for the first time in seven years, and then be pleasantly surprised if the team does more than that?
A lot of people understood what I was saying. Quite a few did not.
ARE YOU TELLING US WE CAN'T BE PASSIONATE FANS WE BLEED GREEN HOW DARE YOU SUGGEST WE TURN IT DOWN A NOTCH WHAT DOES THAT EVEN MEAN I ALREADY HAVE A SAM BRADFORD TATTOO AND AM SAVING UP FOR KIKO ALONSO!!!
To which I say, fine, as long as you'll promise me CSI Philly won't need to use Sam or the pending Kiko for identification purposes, after you've jumped off a bridge in January.
I really don't think people with sane expectations for the 2015 Eagles are going to be disappointed, though. You know the risk factors — mostly Bradford and that twice-repaired left knee, and to a lesser extent, the pass rush without Trent Cole, and without anybody of note behind outside linebacking starters Brandon Graham and Connor Barwin. The secondary, as always, especially nickel corner.
Every team has danger areas. Every team does not have Kelly, or this team's overall talent and character. I say 12-4 with a mostly healthy Bradford, and at least one win in the playoffs.
But I'm really terrible at predicting things.
Paul Domowitch: 11-5 and the NFC Championship Game
OPTIMISM IS in full bloom. Sam Bradford has made it to the starting line in one piece, which means anything is possible. Jason Peters has dropped nearly 20 pounds and is moving around like he's 25 instead of 33.
Chip Kelly's offense was an impressive thing to watch in the preseason, averaging nearly 40 points and more than 400 yards per game. Running backs DeMarco Murray and Ryan Mathews have made everyone forget about, uh, what was that guy's name again? Sunny? Cloudy? Overcast?
The defensive front seven held opponents to 3.5 yards per carry over the last eight games last season without DeMeco Ryans. Now, Ryans not only is back, but they have also added another tackling machine at inside linebacker (Kiko Alonso).
They tore down a secondary that gave up 30 touchdown passes and a league-high 72 pass plays of 20-plus yards and have rebuilt it, replacing three of the four starters.
Their special teams, which were the league's top-ranked group a year ago, might be even better this season. I mean, their backup punt returner — their backup — had two touchdown returns in the preseason (Kenjon Barner), and they added two more special-teams hired guns (Seyi Ajirotutu and Brad Jones).
That's the good news. The bad news? Well, that rebuilt secondary might or might not be better than last year's back four. Byron Maxwell is being paid like a top-tier corner, but only time will tell whether he actually is one. Right now, he's just a guy with 17 career starts and a very, very big paycheck.
Second-round pick Eric Rowe struggled badly enough in the preseason to force defensive coordinator Bill Davis to abort his plan to use the kid at nickel, and raised questions about the wisdom of getting rid of Brandon Boykin.
Then there's the outside-linebacker situation. Their two starters are fine. Better than fine. Connor Barwin is coming off a 14-sack season and is one of the league's most underrated players. Brandon Graham looks ready to fill the shoes of Trent Cole on the other side.
But there isn't any depth behind those two. There is little reason to believe they are going to get anything from their 2014 first-round pick, Marcus Smith. He played just 79 snaps as a rookie and has missed most of the preseason with a hamstring injury.
Their other two options are ex-Packer Jones and Bryan Braman. Both are much better special-teams players than they are edge rushers. Bottom line: Keep your fingers crossed that both Barwin and Graham can stay healthy and each play 1,000-plus snaps.
Really, though, more than anything else, this season rests in the hands — and left knee — of one man: Bradford. It was a ballsy move by Kelly to trade for a quarterback coming off two ACLs. Beyond ballsy.
If Bradford can stay healthy, he's going to make Kelly look like a freaking genius. He's that good. Those jaw-dropping three series against the Packers two weeks ago weren't a mirage.
If he can't, well, then we're back to Mark Sanchez and his 103 turnovers in 71 career games, and you can toss Kelly and Jeff Lurie's whole good-to-great dream out the window.
I've never been a glass-half-full guy. Hard to believe, isn't it? But right here, right now, I'm going to bet on Bradford staying in one piece and completing 67 percent of his passes and the Eagles winning 11 games and making it to the NFC Championship Game.
John Smallwood: 11-5 and tons of offense
MANY TIMES in the NFL, a team's final record comes down to who it played where, and when.
It can also be a lot about matchups.
Eagles coach Chip Kelly has been as advertised during his first two seasons — an innovative offensive mind with a penchant for putting points on the scoreboard.
If new quarterback Sam Bradford can stay healthy and regain the form that made him the No.1 overall draft pick in 2010, this could be Kelly's most explosive offensive team yet, which bodes well for the Eagles' season.
The Birds play just four teams — Arizona, Buffalo, Detroit and New England — that ranked in the top 10 in scoring defense in 2014.
They have 10 games against teams that ranked 20th or lower in scoring defense — Atlanta, Carolina, Miami, New Orleans, New York Jets, New York Giants, Tampa Bay, Washington.
The Eagles ranked third in the NFL in scoring. No team on their schedule scored more than them and only New England, Dallas and New Orleans ranked in the top 10 in points per game.
Besides those teams, no other opponent came within five points of the Eagles' points-per-game average.
Arizona is the only team on the 2015 schedule that limited the Eagles to fewer than 21 points in 2014.
Teams have had to score points to beat Kelly's Eagles. In the last 24 games, his teams have failed to score 21 points just three times.
Obviously, Bradford is the question mark because he has missed the last season-and-a-half with injuries to his left knee.
f he cannot make at least 13 starts, everything is up in the air. But a healthy Bradford along with the addition of 2014 NFL leading rusher DeMarco Murray, who tied with Seattle's Marshawn Lynch for the league lead with 13 touchdown rushes, should mean many points.
If you judge by the Eagles' ability to score points against their 2015 opponents' ability to stop teams from scoring, you have to like the Birds' chances of having a third consecutive double-digit win season under Kelly.
The Eagles made some big moves in the offseason to upgrade their defense.
However, even with the 2014 version tied with the Giants for 22nd in points per game; that was still better than the Jets, Tampa Bay, Atlanta, New Orleans and Washington.
That is eight games against teams that gave up the same amount or more points than the Eagles, while not scoring more.
Because four of those games are against NFC East rivals and New Orleans is still capable of winning a shootout — the Eagles get six wins from that grouping.
The two toughest scoring defenses (Detroit Lions and New England Patriots) the Eagles face are on the road and in consecutive weeks.
The Detroit game is on Thanksgiving, meaning a short week and then it is off to play the Super Bowl champions in Foxborough, Mass., when it could be cold and snowy.
The Lions were ranked No.1 in rush defense and limited Murray to 79 rushing yards in a playoff loss to Dallas. The pass defense ranked a solid 13th.
New England ranked slightly behind the Eagles in scoring and gave up 5 fewer points.
The way the schedule falls makes those back-to-back losses.
That leaves six games — Arizona, Buffalo, Carolina, Miami and two with Dallas. Four of those games are at Lincoln Financial Field.
The Eagles get five wins out of this grouping and finish the season with an 11-5 and the NFC East championship.
Sam Donnellon: 11-5 and a playoff win
THE EAGLES, as constructed right now, should win at least 11 games.
That's not homerism. That's simply an evaluation of their roster and their schedule. They should sweep the Giants and Redskins, win one of two against Dallas, and go .500 against these six teams — three of which they play at home: New Orleans (home), Carolina (away), Miami (home), Detroit (away), New England (away), Arizona (home). You can sub Buffalo for Miami or Carolina if you like, but I think the Dolphins in mid-November are going to be better than a Rex Ryan team in mid-December.
I know. You're afraid to commit to that one more victory than the previous two seasons. Sure, Sam Bradford looks every bit the surgeon Chip Kelly said he was, but there are those two surgeries ever-present in the background.
It's a little like voting for John McCain seven years ago. One nasty spill, and Sarah Palin's your president.
Not that Mark Sanchez is Palin. But he's no John F. Kennedy, either. This year though, he shouldn't need to be. Ask not what he can do for your football team. Ask what your football team can do for him.
Or for Bradford, really. The less risk to him, the greater reward.
And that's why I think it's going to be OK. Because when Jason Kelce spoke about this season's "culture" as the best he's ever been around since he entered the league five seasons ago, he's really referring to how no one facet of this team needs to perform weekly acts of heroism to gain the win.
DeMarco Murray's not feeling it? Give Ryan Mathews a bigger bite.
Darren Sproles feeling a little nicked up? Let's see if Kenjon Barner can convert some of that preseason magic into real-season gold.
Zach Ertz, Jordan Matthews, Nelson Agholor, Brent Celek, Josh Huff. Even if Riley Cooper just has another season of just blocking real well (wink, wink), shouldn't that be plenty?
The offensive line? It's a concern for sure without Evan Mathis and Todd Herremans. But less so for me after the results of this preseason. During those gaudy offensive displays against Indianapolis, Baltimore and Green Bay, only one member of the projected starting five (Lane Johnson) committed a holding penalty.
Yes, there's legitimate concern about their depth. "I think with our immediate backups, we're in great shape," said Kelce, meaning (I assume) David Molk and Matt Tobin, each of whom saw significant action last year. Kelce, while not mentioning his name, also praised another holdover, Dennis Kelly, as having a "really, really good camp."
"If he's still here, I feel very confident with eight guys that we have," Kelce said.
Still, the o-line has to stay much healthier than it was a year ago for this offense to perform the way it was intended to — or for those oft-injured offensive players to remain relatively healthy. But there's also a bigger factor to that, and all you have to do is say "72 passing plays of 20 yards or more" to explain why.
If that Eagles' defense still can't get off the field this season after the upgrades at linebacker (Kiko Alonso) and the secondary (Walter Thurmond, Byron Maxwell, Eric Rowe), it will both hamper the effectiveness and health of that promising offensive attack. But there's no reason — with those better players and a pass rush that should only be better as well — that they won't at least be in the middle of the pack and not near the bottom when the final defensive rankings are issued.
That should be enough to get them into the postseason and win a home playoff game, too. If the defense plays better in the middle of the season, and Bradford and Murray are still standing in January, this could even be one of those really fun — and rare — seasons.
Bob Vetrone Jr….11-5