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June 29, 2023

Eytan Shander: The three biggest NFC threats to the Eagles

Eytan Shander says these three teams have the best chance of challenging the Eagles for an NFC title in 2023.

It ain’t easy being at the top.

The Philadelphia Eagles are charged with doing something the NFL doesn’t usually allow; something that may buck a major trend and shift how we see this team moving forward. Yes, the Philadelphia Eagles are built to repeat as NFC champions and have a shot at actually winning a Super Bowl. 

This isn’t easy. Nothing in this league is. 

There will be plenty of challengers with most falling flat on their own faces. Most teams will outthink themselves in trying to outsmart Nick Sirianni or outplay Jalen Hurts. The Eagles and Kansas City Chiefs are the league’s best at playing chess. Some coaches have no clue what the game is, others think checkers is best, and a few will offer a legit challenge, even forcing a check here and there. 

There is positively zero reason not to be excited for the Eagles, Hurts, and an incredible group of talent around him. Their schedule is tough, they will have the biggest bullseye on their backs, plus bad teams will look at beating the Eagles in the regular season as some sort of bizarre trophy. All of that aside, there will be battles. Let’s prepare for the three biggest fights of the year, the three biggest threats facing the Philadelphia Eagles:

1. Dallas Cowboys

Not every game will be won in the teens, especially in this revamped (outside of Washington) NFC East. There is a primary focus on throwing and scoring, even as potent as the rush game is in Philadelphia. All three teams that matter can rush the ball, and the expected increased workload for Tony Pollard should be a concern for every team. Teams that outrush their opponents stand an incredibly better chance of winning the game, it’s either a product of holding a lead or simply punishing a team on the ground. It also allows a team to hold on to the football, the best defense against Hurts. 

The good news for Dak Prescott is the addition of Brandin Cooks to an already potent offense. While they lose a target at the TE position, the Cowboys are fueled to throw and put up numbers, while balancing their offense with Prescott. Their offensive line will be tested by Philadelphia’s front, but will be tough to outmatch in two separate games. 

The obvious bad news is the exclusive play-calling by Mike McCarthy. This has some true boom/bust potential. The safe assessment would be a regression – especially in red zone TDs – but if he can channel the talent of this offense and watch his players make plays, suddenly McCarthy is a passenger.

Prescott and the Cowboys are taking in some serious (sharp) money ahead of the season for MVP and winning the Super Bowl, respectively. As hard as it is to win the NFC East back-to-back, the task is much more daunting for the Eagles in returning to the Super Bowl. History would say a Super Bowl loser would struggle, especially earlier in the year, and be lucky to make a wild card. 

VERDICT: Joe Burrow already opened the door for repeat success, granted falling short in the playoffs, but if Hurts is healthy, the Eagles are still the best team in the division… and conference.

Minnesota Vikings


The same Vikings with Kirk Cousins? The same Vikings team that was destroyed by Saquon Barkley, along with like every other offense in the NFL? 


Cousins isn’t going anywhere so let’s table him for a minute. There’s a way more important development with this team that’s already dropped from 50-1 to 35/30-1 to win the Super Bowl – expect it to drop significantly more. Brian Flores did wonders with the Miami Dolphins defense and is in control of that side in Minnesota. To say it’s much needed is the biggest understatement of the year. The Vikings were able to win the NFC North, make the playoffs, and finished with 13 wins despite a -3 overall scoring differential. That’s not just pretty difficult to do, it’s like shooting off your foot every time you want to start jogging. 

Flores brings blitzes and intelligence to a position that lacked both last year. They addressed their defense in both free agency and the draft, on top of the Flores addition. They lose a playmaker up front, but add key areas around, especially in the secondary. 

In case you forgot, this team boasts an absurd passing offense that won’t even flinch with the departure of Dalvin Cook. Justin Jefferson is unstoppable, outside of outplaying his own defense, and they moved on from Adam Thielen to replace him with first rounder Jordan Addison. The offense put up insane numbers aside from only the Eagles and was able to man one of the greatest comebacks in the regular season. 

Yes, Kirk Cousins still needs to outplay the cloud of prime-time results that seems to follow him right into the postseason. But back to Flores, he’s the key here. His 2020 Fins were first in the NFL in turnovers, mainly by disguising coverages at the snap. Get the ball in Jefferson’s hands as much as possible, create turnovers, and this team is dangerous. 

VERDICT: Congratulations if you saw the 50-1 ticket on the Vikings before people started to seriously bet it. With that said, so much is predicated on Flores getting the most from some new faces on defense and Cousins not having one of those moments. If anything, Hurts showed in the Super Bowl he too can have a “Cousins” moment and still be the most productive player on the field. I’m just not so sure that’s the case with Cousins. 

San Francisco 49ers

I really just brought this team up to highlight the new children’s book from Jimmy Kempski. I’d rather put the Eagles themselves – meaning time and the human element of complacency catching up. But honestly, I just don’t see that as the case. The Eagles are simply more likely to be beat by a team that pours everything into the right preparation, and executes a perfect gameplan rather than become rotten from the inside. 

There’s nothing at all, even remotely close, that would point to internal neglect inside the locker room. You don’t need to be inside that building to see the results of whatever has been preached. People are talking, and people are listening. It’s a great combination, especially when the right people are talking. It’s disingenuous for me or anyone else to take what’s happened with other teams and pin that on the Eagles. It’s also ignorant of how this team managed itself through adversity last year, only to win the conference and nearly the Super Bowl.

So, it’s the Niners. Mainly because I don’t think many of these guys have slept much since they were bounced in the NFC Championship game. They talked for months, probably still are to their local outlets. The Philadelphia Eagles trigger more people inside the Niners organization than any mention of Joe Biden or Donald Trump on Twitter. This is beyond outrage, it’s an unhealthy infatuation. 

There’s a small chance they figure out their QB situation, get healthy, and see the rest of their team take care of business against Philadelphia. But they need to get there first. It’s not going to be as easy at times as it was with Brock Purdy last year. Much like how coordinators are trying to catch up to Hurts — they will have an easier time doing it against lesser talent like Purdy. San Francisco is a playoff team, contender to win their division, but that’s about it. 

VERDICT: Shut up, San Fran.

Follow Eytan on Twitter: @shandershow

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