A lot can change — and quickly — in an NFL season.
Injuries happen. Standings shift. Players exceed expectations. Others underwhelm. And if the league’s recent history of showcasing worst-to-first division contenders isn’t proof enough, teams themselves are as unpredictable as anything.
The Philadelphia Eagles are no exception to the foggy forecast.
So with an eye for optimism and an equally keen one for the perfectly predictable unpredictable, here’s a look at the best- and worst-case scenarios for every Eagles position in 2017:
Best-case scenario: Aided by a big-play supporting cast, multidimensional ground game and improved fundamentals, Carson Wentz sets a franchise record with more than 4,000 yards through the air, doubles his rookie touchdown total (16) and warrants a Pro Bowl nod, all while guiding the Eagles to their first playoff victory in nearly a decade.
Worst-case scenario: Overworked to compensate for a shoddy rushing attack, Wentz’s mechanics slowly revert to late-2016 form, passes start sailing high and the interception total rises before an injury sidelines him for weeks. Nick Foles is serviceable in relief, but Wentz’s leap to elite status is indefinitely postponed.
Best-case scenario: Wendell Smallwood makes a name for himself as the underrated lead back, LeGarrette Blount hits a double-digit TD mark as a short-yardage ram and Darren Sproles racks up 700 yards from scrimmage as a screen-play specialist. In all, the Eagles’ top trio combines for roughly 1,800 yards and 15 scores on the ground.
Worst-case scenario: Sproles fights through every carry but gets little help as he churns his way to retirement. Blount proves ineffective and, ultimately, unmotivated behind inconsistent blocking, ending the year with his lowest yardage total in three years. And Smallwood fails to top an early-season surge, fumbling his way out of opportunities.
Best-case scenario: Alshon Jeffery returns to the Pro Bowl thanks to a 1,200-yard, 10-TD season as Wentz’s go-to guy, Torrey Smith averages 17 yards a catch as a deep-ball complement and Nelson Agholor finally couples confidence with his talent to gallop his way to 600 yards out of the slot. Rookie Mack Hollins threatens for playing time as the season progresses, sparking rumors of a 2018 battle for the second outside spot.
Worst-case scenario: Jeffery is hampered by an on-again, off-again ankle injury, missing three straight weeks and coming up gimpy in a few others. He’s still a red-zone threat, but his ailments put added pressure on Smith, who gets to 500 yards only because of a few deep-ball scores. Hollins shines on special teams but, like Jordan Matthews before him, is asked to do a little too much in the wake of more Agholor mishaps.
Best-case scenario: Zach Ertz closes in on 1,000 yards as Wentz’s safety valve and finally quiets those still awaiting a “breakout.” Trey Burton proves worthy of a long-term deal with a surprise red-zone role and another solid special teams outing. In his unofficial Philadelphia sendoff, Brent Celek helps pave the way for a three-headed rushing attack and hauls in a tie-breaking touchdown in the postseason.
Worst-case scenario: A hamstring injury keeps alive Ertz’s streak of slow early-season starts, and while Burton has no problem getting Wentz targets, he isn’t quite dynamic enough to control the middle. Celek is tackled by Father Time and lands on Injured Reserve for the first time in his career, forcing a mid-season practice-squad call-up.
Best-case scenario: Jason Peters punches his way into the Hall of Fame with another Pro Bowl season, 65 percent of it earned from a solid performance rather than name recognition. Lane Johnson stays out of the medicine cabinet and accompanies Peters on the all-star ballot — 100 percent earned. Not a single one of the five starters miss a full game, and Wentz is given all the time he needs to play with his new toys.
Worst-case scenario: Peters limps through his final Eagles season, more nostalgic relic than healthy left tackle thanks to lingering ankle problems. Johnson goes down with his own injury, and Kelce’s high snaps prompt an Isaac Seumalo shuffle earlier than expected. Chance Warmack is thrust into a starting job and falters in dramatic fashion. By season’s end, an already-banged-up Wentz is scrambling for his life, and no RB, especially Blount, can get going.
Best-case scenario: Derek Barnett sneaks into the starting lineup by midseason, finishing with eight sacks on the year opposite Brandon Graham, who finally hits double digits with 11 sacks of his own. Chris Long and Vinny Curry, on his way to a restructured deal, complement as third-down rushers, and both the starting tackles, Fletcher Cox and Tim Jernigan, warrant Pro Bowl consideration as tackle-for-loss monsters. Jim Schwartz loses his headset out of pure joy in at least two different games.
Worst-case scenario: Graham’s motor never stops, but his sack totals stay so-so, and neither a slow Long, a still-invisible Curry nor a green Barnett can help pick up the slack, putting added pressure on a patchwork cornerback group. Cox has another OK season and feels the heat of his own $100-million contract, while Jernigan’s summer promise becomes a distant memory. Schwartz loses his headset out of pure rage in at least two different games.
Best-case scenario: Jordan Hicks comes close to replicating his 2016 numbers with 90 tackles and three picks en route to an overdue Pro Bowl nod. Nigel Bradham avoids suspension and earns a new deal with another underrated 100-tackle campaign. Mychal Kendricks, resigned to his role, gets more nickel playing time and picks off two passes to elevate his 2018 trade value, while Joe Walker flashes in relief.
Worst-case scenario: Another elite start by Hicks is quickly forgotten when the young leader goes down with a season-ending injury and forces Walker into MLB duties. Bradham can’t stay disciplined and ultimately epitomizes a lost season for the middle of the defense, which welcomes back Steven Daniels and tries to get away with spot starters for much of the year.
Best-case scenario: Finger-wagging Jalen Mills wags his finger as a solid, if unspectacular, season-long starter opposite Ronald Darby, whose speed alone gets him in position for five picks and injects confidence into a CB spot far earlier than anticipated. Rasul Douglas showcases his knack for aggressiveness in relief of Mills, Ron Brooks and/or Patrick Robinson do enough in the slot and Sidney Jones intercepts a pass in his late-season return from rehabilitation.
Worst-case scenario: Darby’s recovery speed gets him out of trouble, but he drops far too many potential INTs and can’t make up for a lack of deep speed on the other side of the field. Douglas, Mills, Robinson and even Corey Graham take turns starting, but no combination stops opponents from lighting up the scoreboard through the air. Jones has a hiccup in rehab and, with no day-two draft picks in 2018, the Eagles are still on the lookout for corner help.
Best-case scenario: Another 70-tackle, three-pick season for Malcolm Jenkins sets the tone at the back end of the secondary, and Rodney McLeod dishes out enough big hits to stop anyone from questioning his effort. With or without CB competence, the starting duo stays strong until season’s end, contending as one of the league’s top safety pairs. Both Terrence Brooks and Corey Graham chip in with a turnover apiece.
Worst-case scenario: For the first time in his Eagles career, Jenkins is forced to miss time, putting more pressure on McLeod and the backups. Chris Maragos is taken out of his comfort zone and pressed into defensive snaps, often on the wrong end of opponents’ deep-ball touchdowns. And an utter lack of consistency from the cornerbacks demands that Jenkins, when back from an injury, man the slot.
Best-case scenario: Building on his record 35 field goals in 2016, Caleb Sturgis earns another contract extension with an 85-percent conversion rate.
Worst-case scenario: The Sturgis of early-2015 returns, complete with missed extra points and 30-yard shanks. Mid-season waiver-wire scouring goes into full effect.
Best-case scenario: Ageless wonder Donnie Jones ups his game and draws Pro Bowl consideration. A touchdown pass on a fake field goal makes it a career year.
Worst-case scenario: Old Punter Syndrome starts to set in. Cameron Johnston returns from the cut-down pile in January along with more competition for Donnie.
Best-case scenario: Jon Dorenbos returns to “America’s Got Talent,” wins it, and, you know, keeps doing his job as well as he’s done it for years.
Worst-case scenario: An injury sidelines the Magic Man once again, and this time, Trey Burton isn’t available for the emergency long snap. Neither is Kendricks, who is out with a hamstring injury.