With Eagles training camp set to begin in two weeks, let's look ahead to the upcoming season. I'm going to spend the next couple of days breaking down Philadelphia's 2016 schedule into four quarters. As a reminder, click here for the entire 2016 Eagles schedule. Today we'll focus on the first four games.
1) Cleveland Browns (Sept. 11, 1:00 PM)
The Eagles are already favored to win this game as 7.5 points. It's no secret that the Browns are, yet again, expected to be one of the worst teams in the NFL. Cleveland finished with the No. 2 overall pick last season. They didn't do much to improve their roster through free agency. In fact, just the opposite happened. The Browns let a number of players leave to sign elsewhere.
The Browns simply lack talent, especially when it comes to the most important position: quarterback. It appears Robert Griffin III is the favorite to start. Griffin was obviously tremendous as a rookie in 2012 but he's never come close to replicating that level of success. Four years later, Hue Jackson is attempting to get the most out of Griffin's ability.
I think the Eagles open the Doug Pederson era with a win here. Cleveland might provide a tougher challenge than expected, but the Birds have home field advantage. Vintage Sam Bradford will start slow before finishing strong in the second half.
2) at Chicago Bears (Sept. 19, 8:30 PM)
Philadelphia's Week 2 game is set to take place on Monday Night Football. Neither the Bears are incredibly compelling on a national level, but here they are. It'll be interesting to see how the Bears fare in John Fox's second year on the job. A lot of Chicago's offensive success last year came under offensive coordinator Adam Gase, who did a good job of working with Jay Cutler. Gase is now gone.
This is a winnable game for the Birds. The Bears aren't that imposing. With that said, I never trust that surface at Soldier Field. It's terrible. Maybe it'll be less bad since this game is taking place early in the year. Still, I can't help but feel like it gives the Bears some kind of advantage. I think Chicago takes this one after Philadelphia fails to get their offense going on such a bad surface.
3) Pittsburgh Steelers (Sept. 25, 4:25 PM)
After playing in Chicago, the Eagles will travel home to face Pittsburgh on a short week. The Birds are 8-0 all-time when playing against the Steelers in Philadelphia. That streak will certainly be put to the test this season. The Steelers have a lot of talent on offense. Offensive coordinator Todd Haley has gotten great production out of Ben Roethlisberger recently. The Stillers have a lot of talent on offense with Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell are the main weapons. Newly acquired tight end Ladarius Green could prove to be a more dynamic threat than the aging Heath Miller, who retired this offseason.
Jim Schwartz's defense will really be put to the test in this one. His unit is going to need to turn in a big day because the Birds can't match the kind of offensive firepower the Steelers possess. It's hard for me to predict an Eagles win here.
The Eagles have a very early bye week this year, which is weird.
5) at Detroit Lions (Oct. 9, 1:00 PM)
The Lions were a tale (pun intended) of two teams last season. Detroit got off to a bad start. At 1-7, it looked like they were going to be one of the worst teams in the league. Then the Lions made some in-season changes such as firing offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi and promoting a guy by the name of Jim Bob Cooter (for real). Cooter's takeover coincided with a strong finish to the season. The Lions went 6-2 in the second half of the year, which helped head coach Jim Caldwell save his job.
The big question here: was Detroit's second half success a sign of things to come? Or will teams be able to catch up to Cooter after having an offseason to study him? One thing is for sure: the absence of Calvin Johnson, who retired, will hurt Detroit. Johnson had three touchdowns in Detroit's romping of Philadelphia on Thanksgiving last season.
I expect the Eagles to keep this game closer than the last time these two teams met. Coming off the bye should help. You can also bet Schwartz is going to get his guys fired up for this one. He'd love to have his players carry him off in Detroit yet again. I still have the Lions winning for now.
Is 3-1 possible?
The Eagles could very well get off to a 2-0 start. 3-1 could be within reach, which assumes a loss to the Steelers and a win over the Lions. I see 2-2 at best here, though.
Tomorrow I'll preview the second quarter of the Eagles' schedule. For now, what say you about these four games? Where will the Eagles stand after the first quarter?