AS THE EAGLES begin Year 2 of the Chip Kelly era, they are scheduled for four prime-time games, three of them at Lincoln Financial Field, with more night work possible, since the league has moved up flex scheduling as early as Week 5. The Eagles play twice on "Monday Night Football."
Kelly's defending NFC East champions open at home, Sept. 7 against Jacksonville, the first time that has happened since 2010, vs. Green Bay. (Maybe the Birds will bring back the popular kelly green uniforms they wore that day?) This will be the first "real" game following the Linc renovations, though fans will get two unofficial glimpses during the preseason.
Since we knew the opponents, but not the dates, before last night's official NFL schedule announcement, there weren't a lot of surprises. Probably the biggest news was the Thanksgiving date at Dallas, Nov. 27. The Birds haven't played on Thanksgiving since 2008, when they hosted the Cardinals, who lost that evening but went on to beat them in the NFC Championship Game. They haven't gone on the road for Turkey Day since 2001, when they won at Kansas City.
The first Monday night game comes in the second week, at Indianapolis. That sets up a short week before the Eagles welcome DeSean Jackson and the Redskins, Sept. 21.
A week later comes the Birds' first trip to the 49ers' new Levi's Stadium, in Santa Clara.
They come home for games against the Rams and the Giants, the latter being the first of two scheduled Sunday night games, Oct. 12. St. Louis is the only Eagles opponent coming off its bye week, which was something the Birds struggled with a year ago.
"We are all looking forward to this season and getting the schedule finalized today makes it all the more exciting for all of us and the fans," Eagles chairman Jeffrey Lurie said in a statement. "We have six scheduled nationally televised games this season and of those, two are on Sunday night and two are on Monday night. And for the sixth time in franchise history the Eagles will be playing on Thanksgiving - this time in Dallas. We even finish the season with three NFC East rivals in a row. I can't wait."
The Eagles' bye week is Oct. 19, six games in. They return from the week of Oct. 26 at Arizona, the first installment of a formidable tour through the demanding NFC West. The Eagles haven't won in Arizona since 2001.
The Birds fly to Houston Nov. 2, then come home for a Monday night date with the Panthers, setting up a short-week trip to Green Bay. A year ago, the schedule contained that same trip, and many fans penciled it in as a loss, but it turned out the Packers were without Aaron Rodgers and struggling defensively. The Eagles won, 27-13.
That's one of the problems with trying to figure out how strong or weak a schedule is before you play the season - calculations based on last year are about as good in the NFL as they are in the stock market. But this schedule just about has to be tougher than the one the Eagles went 10-6 against in 2013; they seemed to get break after break as they won seven of their final eight games.
After Green Bay, Tennessee visits. The teams don't play very often, but the Eagles haven't beaten the Titans since they were the Oilers, in 1994.
The key, as always, is the division. Win that and you make the playoffs, whether you're 7-9 or 13-3. As Lurie mentioned in his statement, the three divisional games to close out the schedule seem pivotal. And they follow a visit from the defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks, Dec. 7. The Dec. 14 home game with the Cowboys is an 8:30 start. You have to think if the Eagles can manage a winning record in the month of December, they'll be in pretty good shape.
They play a Saturday afternoon game at Washington - yeah, those are back, this one Dec. 20 - giving them an extra day to prepare for the Dec. 28 finale at the Giants.