August 01, 2017
Just as they did in Chip Kelly's final season at the helm, the Philadelphia Eagles finished 7-9 in Doug Pederson's first season as head coach. And unlike in 2015 when that was good enough for the second-best record in the NFC East, the Pederson Era began with a last-place finish.
The Eagles were also the only team in their division that failed to post a winning record last year, so it would be crazy to expect them to make the jump to the postseason, let alone a division title. It's crazy to expect it.
But to think it's possible? Totally reasonable.
The glass-half-full types will tell you about Alshon Jeffery, Torrey Smith, LeGarrette Blount and the other weapons added to Carson Wentz's arsenal this offseason. In rebuttal, the half-empties will immediately point to the lack of an upgrade at cornerback.
They're an imperfect team, and that's fine. Hell, they could even be a total dumpster fire this year. But the NFC East isn't played in a vacuum – so there's no guarantee their division rivals are going to be as good as they were a year ago.
And according to one ESPN football analyst, the reigning champion Cowboys could take a step back in 2017, potentially opening the door for the Eagles:
ESPN's Sal Paolantonio is bullish on the Eagles' chances of winning the NFC East in 2017. In an interview with Dave Spadaro, Paolantonio thinks that the Eagles will compete for the division title, and it'll come down to either the Birds or the New York Giants.
Not the Dallas Cowboys?
"I think you'll see a little bit of a drop-off in the run game because Ezekiel Elliott's had some off-the-field problems this offseason," Paolantonio said of the Cowboys. "I think their defense has been decimated through losses of different players and they won't be the same." [philadelphiaeagles.com]
Sal Pal isn't alone in his feelings about the Cowboys, who finished 13-3 last season. Paolantonio's colleague Bill Barnwell recently listed five NFL teams he believed most likely to decline in 2017. And Dallas was one of two NFC East teams he mentioned.
History tells us the sort of leap the Cowboys made [last year] almost always gives way to some decline the following season. Teams that improved by 20 or more turnovers in a given season saw their margin decline by more than 11 turnovers the following year. They declined as a group by an average of more than one win. Prescott probably won't post a sub-1 percent interception rate next year. That's reality.
Dallas' defense could help counter that offensive decline by forcing more turnovers, but after jumping from 32nd in takeaways on a per-drive basis to 20th last season, they might be stretched to improve any further. The Cowboys will also have to rebuild their secondary after losing four regulars this offseason. Dallas lost three of their four projected starters from last season, with cornerbacks Morris Claiborne and Brandon Carr joining safety Barry Church in heading out the door. J.J. Wilcox, who started in 2014 and 2015 before giving way to Byron Jones, also left for Tampa Bay. [espn.com]
However, unlike Sal Pal, who sees the NFC East as a two-team race between the Birds and Giants, Barnwell doesn't believe last year's runner up will be as good this time around:
The New York defense improved from 30th to second in both points allowed and DVOA, which is unprecedented in the case of the latter... but teams who suddenly improve like the Giants did often give back some of their gains. Sixteen teams preceding the Giants improved their DVOA rank on defense by 20 spots or more between 1987 and 2015. Those teams declined the next year by an average of just over eight spots in the rankings...
More distressing is the offensive line, which was hardly addressed this offseason and continues to be a major concern. Justin Pugh and Weston Richburg are due to hit unrestricted free agency next offseason, and they're the line's two above-average contributors. Ereck Flowers continues to struggle on the left side, and Jerry Reese's only additions this offseason to help out on the right side were Chargers castoff D.J. Fluker and sixth-round pick Adam Bisnowaty. If the line continues to struggle, the additions at receiver might not matter. [espn.com]
So while the Birds have a long way to go reach the 13 wins the Cowboys posted last year, the 2017 division title may not take that many if the teams around them take a step back this season.
Of course, if you're a fan of the glass-half-empty view, the oddsmakers at Bovada have you covered:
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