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1. Are the Eagles legitimate Super Bowl contenders with a healthy Sam Bradford?
Yes, I write, after Jordy Nelson tore his ACL and with the Seahawks offensive line looking like Russell Okung and four guys pulled away from a barbecue stand. The NFC field is pretty open, and the Eagles have a lot to offer.
2. The Eagles led the NFL in turnovers in 2014. To what extent can that figure be expected to progress back to the mean in 2015? And what kind of impact will that have?
There should be some regression toward fewer turnovers at quarterback. Bradford's interception rates have generally been low, though he had pretty high fumble rates in the seasons when he was healthy. DeMarco Murray is a bit of a fumbler, of course, and you have to anticipate some interceptions if Sanchez plays. There was nothing particularly unusual about the Eagles "fumble luck" last year: they lost 15 of 25 fumbles. Pass protection may be the biggest variable at play here, so turnovers may be lumped in the same category as sacks and Bradford's injury risk. If one of these elements is a problem, chances are all three are the same problem.
3. Philadelphia finished 10th overall in defensive DVOA last season. Is there any hope the team can crack the top 5 after adding a playmaker like Kiko Alonso and making improvements in the secondary? How good can this Eagles defense be?
Byron Maxwell is the biggest impact player. The Eagles are also stronger at safety with Walter Thurmond out there: he's a better fit with what they want to do defensively. Alonso has been limited for most of camp but should be a factor. Fletcher Cox and the defensive line are the not-so-secret weapons. But I think going from a C-minus to maybe a B-plus at the top cornerback slot is going to be critical in this division. The Eagles now have a decent answer for DeSean, Dez and ODB.
4. The Eagles weren't as good at running the ball efficiently in 2014 as they were in 2013. Philadelphia addressed this issue by trading LeSean McCoy and replacing him with the combination of DeMarco Murray and Ryan Mathews. To what extent can we expect Philadelphia's run game to be improved in 2015?
Shady has become a habitual bounce-it-outside guy. Before he got hurt in Buffalo this preseason, I watched him ignore holes on the interior line to bounce everything outside, with one big run and a couple of stuffs (which is what you get when you bounce everything outside but are as talented as Shady). Murray isn't as likely to make that mistake, though we can all find some examples of any running back looking for the edge. The interior Eagles offensive line will also be better now than it was for much of last season, when Kelce and one or another guard was always hurt.
I have not forgotten about Murray and the Curse of 370, but I will say this: Chip Kelly's sports science has a better chance of keeping Murray healthy than anything the NFL tried with overused runners in the past. Kelly is monitoring every darn thing Murray does and holding him out of practice every time some reading comes up iffy. It has driven my friends in the local press corps crazy trying to figure out why Murray practices Tuesday, skips Wednesday, and only does individual work on Thursday, but it's a better plan for injury prevention than crossing your fingers.
5. What, if anything, separates the Eagles from being one of the NFL's elite teams and how can that issue be fixed?
Writing after the Boykin trade and seeing Steve Smith treat Eric Rowe like a freeway onramp in joint practices, I would say cornerback spots 2 through 4 are worrisome. The guards will be okay but are not going to elevate the team. Safety is not a position of strength, though it is better now than it has been for most of the post-Dawkins era. And let's face it, we are working with an unknown at quarterback.
Kelly's scheme covers for a lot of these problems. Really, what we saw last year was Kelly's scheme compensating for all sorts of things to get the team to 10-6. I think this overall system is worth a win or two in the standings. It's a matter of getting ten win talent to go 12-4, instead of eight-win talent to go 10-6. I think the Eagles have done that, but it's hard to say that with certainty when I haven't seen the quarterback throw a meaningful pass since October of 2013.