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10 more bold predictions for the 2021 Eagles

Dreams and nightmares

New England Patriots v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

Yesterday we asked you on socials medium to give us some bold predictions. Even in an infinite multiverse I’m not sure there’s a world where Drew Lock is MVP. Today let’s take off the shackles of a character limit, but stick to the Eagles. [Also, click here for 10 more bold predictions!]

The Eagles trade for Deshaun Watson

Until he’s on another team or not allowed to play, I will assume the Eagles are trying to trade for Deshaun Watson. We know they previous had interest.

Boldness: High. A month ago I would have made this an easy bet, but circumstances have turned against the chances of the Eagles making the trade.

Watson has a no trade clause and reportedly does not want to be traded to the Eagles. the same day that news broke, the Eagles traded for Gardner Minshew. That would indicate the Eagles have moved on, but at the same time if you were trading Jalen Hurts in a deal for DeShaun Watson, you’d want to make sure you have another QB on the roster if Watson is suspended. And this front office has a history of revisiting ideas. So we can’t rule out a Watson trade until he’s traded elsewhere.

The Eagles win a game due to COVID protocols

Earlier in the year this seemed an easier bet, several teams had a large portion of unvaccinated players, and the Eagles played one of them twice in Washington Football Team. But now WFT has heard Ron Rivera’s pleas and has gotten their vaccination rate up to a good (though not great) level. The least vaccinated teams are the Vikings and Colts, who the Eagles do not play.

Boldness: High. By and large players have gotten the message and are getting vaccinated. That’s fantastic. But the delta variant is over twice as contagious and able to break through and have vaccinated people test positive, though thankfully with little to no symptoms. As we’ve seen already, even vaccinated players and coaches are having to miss a little bit of time from testing positive. In early August the Vikings had three of their four QBs on the COVID list, and the QB who didn’t isn’t on the roster. It only takes one QB room to test positive to decimate a team for game day, a situation we saw last year when the Broncos had to play without any QBs. The regular season hasn’t started yet and already a player, Adam Shaheen, will miss time due to COVID protocols. There will be more. With the NFL refusing to reschedule a game, a forfeit could very well happen. More likely is a situation like the Broncos last year. I’d wager that would happen to *a* team, but to the Eagles specifically is what makes this a high risk bet.

The Eagles win the division

You can sell me on the Eagles defense and an improved offense carrying the team to a respectable record. You can sell me on the Giants being an underwater oil rig fire. You can sell me on WASTEAM, a team that wasn’t good last year, not being good this year. You can sell me on the Cowboys, a team that was 2-3 with Dak Prescott in 2020 being bad in 2021. You can’t sell me on all of those happening at the same time.

Boldness: Low. Come to think of it, yes you can sell me on all of those happening. The NFC East should be trash again, it could be anyone’s to take. Why not the Eagles?

Jalen Hurts is benched

Hurts missing time due to injury and his replacement keeping the starting job when Hurts is cleared to play would count as a benching.

There’s a scenario where the Eagles defense and ground game keeps the team in the chase for the division title, but Jalen Hurts’ turnovers (he had 3 INTs and 6 fumbles in his 4 starts) bog down the team. Could Nick Sirianni make a change to try to spark the offense? He’s got options with Joe Flacco and Gardner Minshew.

There’s also a scenario where Hurts shows he isn’t a long term solution and the team isn’t in contention for the playoffs, so Sirianni/Roseman decide to give Gardner Minshew a chance late in the season.

Boldness: Medium. That the Eagles waited until the final roster cut down to officially announce Hurts as the starter wasn’t a good sign, because they never made it a real competition. And with a Deshaun Watson trade lurking in the background and trading for Gardner Minshew, the Eagles seem like they aren’t overly interested in moving beyond the dating phase with Hurts.

The Eagles sweep the Cowboys

The Eagles haven’t swept the Cowboys since 2011. Since then the Cowboys have swept the Eagles just once. So they’ve been on the cusp a lot.

Two factors play into this. One, the Eagles outcoach the Cowboys. The first Eagles-Cowboys game is in Week 3, which gives the Eagles an opportunity for this advantage. The Cowboys will only have two games of tape to evaluate the Eagles playcallers, while the Cowboys playcallers don’t have any unknowns: we know that Dan Quinn stinks, and the Cowboys offense is running it back from last year. There’s no better time to drop some new material than on Monday Night Football at Dallas.

The other factor is Dak Prescott’s shoulder. The Cowboys aren’t good enough to overcome a dip in play if Prescott’s shoulder gives him problems, they were 2-3 last year when he was playing well and they made no major additions to the roster. The second Eagles-Cowboys game is Week 17, if Prescott’s shoulder is a problem all year and the Cowboys are out of it, they’d be fools to play him. Additionally, Dak Prescott is not vaccinated. (Is saying that a HIPAA violation?)

Boldness: Medium. On one hand, the Cowboys aren’t good. On the other hand, neither are the Eagles.

The Eagles are one of the healthiest teams in the league

The Eagles under Doug Pederson and Chip Kelly spent a lot of time in the injury tent. Nick Sirianni is trying to change that by having shorter practices and more old guy maintenance days. Will it work? Only time will tell, but the Eagles exiting training camp with no major injury issues is encouraging. What the Eagles were doing wasn’t working, a logical change is worth a shot. So far, so good.

Boldness: Low. Perhaps foolishly I am feeling good about this one. The coaching staff is incredibly young, but young coaches understand better than older ones the impact of player rest. Resting players was once controversial in the NBA but is now an accepted practice, as we get more and more Millennial coaches that will work its way into the NFL. We won’t see guys sit out games for load maintenance, but we will see practice usage change, it shouldn’t be a surprise to see players over 30 getting more Wednesday practices off, especially for a rebuilding team that would benefit from getting young players more reps. We’ll probably see coaches pull starters from uncompetitive games sooner. And the league is already trending towards key starters being kept out of preseason games entirely.

The Eagles lead the league in rushing yards

The Eagles finished 2020 9th in rushing, and were only 347 yards from 3rd place. If Jalen Hurts starts every game, the offense should easily finish in the top 3 in rushing. In his four starts Hurts ran for 272 yards, which would have been 1088 prorated over a 16 game season. Carson Wentz ran for 276 yards in his eleven and a half games. So top three should be a breeze. But lead the league? That’s where it gets tough. The Eagles were over 1000 yards off from the 1st place Ravens. Even if Hurts had run for 1000 yards in 2020 as a full time starter, the Eagles would still be a couple of hundred yards off from the top. And for 2021, improvement by Hurts as a passer will replace some of his scrambles with pass attempts. Over 17 games Hurts probably clears 800 yards, that’s less than 50 yards a game. 1000 yards is possible, but shouldn’t be expected.

To close the gap the Eagles will need two things: Nick Sirianni goes with a heavy ground game, and Lamar Jackson doesn’t run as much. Both could happen. In 2020 the Colts were 20th in pass attempts and 10th rushing attempts; in 2019 they were 24th in pass attempts and 5th in rushing attempts. Sirianni is no stranger to having a run heavy offense, or to adapting his offense to his players. Meanwhile in Baltimore Lamar Jackson ran less often in 2020 than he did in 2019, a continued decline in running the ball could easily be in store. Every little bit helps. And as morbid as it may sound, we can not discount that Lamar Jackson is not vaccinated and has tested positive for COVID twice. Hopefully he doesn’t miss any time, but no one should be surprised if he does.

Boldness: Medium. The best chance the Eagles have to lead the league in rushing is Lamar Jackson misses several games due to injury. But a podium finish ain’t bad.

DeVonta Smith wins Offensive Rookie of the Year

The last 10 OROYs have been 5 QBs, 4 RBs, and 1 WR. Clearly voters favor the backfield. Rookie of the Year voters love counting stats, and are swayed by team performance. This year, despite so many rookie QBs, that works in Smith’s favor.

Let’s take the QBs first. The last time a QB won Rookie of the Year who wasn’t an immediate starter was 1970. That was also the last time a QB won Rookie of the Year on a team that won fewer than 5 games.

Trey Lance and Justin Fields aren’t day one starters, which really hurts their chances. They need to start by the end of September to have a shot. Lamar Jackson went 6-1 to take the formerly 4-5 Ravens to the playoffs in 2018, he didn’t even get a single vote while Quenton Nelson got two. Team success puts a handicap on Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson, who were on 1 and 2 win teams last year. Are the Jaguars and Jets significantly better this year? A 4+ win jump with a rookie QB is hard, and it doesn’t guarantee anything: Baker Mayfield won 6 games in 13 starts the year after the Browns went winless, he finished second in voting to Saquon Barkley, whose Giants improved by just 2 wins. Of the three rookie Week 1 starters, Mac Jones is on the best team, but he’s also QBing a team that went 7-9 last year. He’d have to be hugely impressive.

Next, the RBs The last time a RB that wasn’t a 1st or 2nd round pick won OROY was in 2000 when Mike Anderson won it before fading back into obscurity. OROY RBs put up big numbers: recent winners Saquon Barkley led the league in yards from scrimmage; Alvin Kamara was 6th in scrimmage yards and 2nd in TDs despite not starting; Todd Gurley was 3rd in rushing; and Eddie Lacy was 3rd in rushing TDs.

Najee Harris plays for the team that led the league in pass attempts and was 28th in rushing attempts. Those marks led the Steelers to draft him in the first, but with the passing talent they have, they’re not suddenly becoming a run first team, and they won 12 games last year. He’ll get his touches, but will he get the big numbers that wow voters? The second RB taken, Travis Etienne, is already out for the year. The only other RB taken in the top two rounds was Javonte Williams, who will share playing time on the Broncos.

So this season has as good a chance as any for a non backfield player to win Offensive Rookie of the Year. Why not DeVonta Smith? He’s going to get plenty of targets, giving him the counting stats; and if he has the kind of production that voters like, then the Eagles should be an improved team, which the voters also likey.

Boldness: High. One reason WRs rarely win OROY is that someone has to get them the ball. At the end of the season Smith might have a really good season on tape but lack the numbers because his QB(s) struggle. And with so many rookie QBs, one of them is probably going to win it. But Smith has a chance.

Nick Sirianni wins Coach of the Year

Coach of the Year is a worthless award, because it’s an award for the team that exceeded low expectations, not for the best coach. Jason Garrett won it, it is not a mark of excellence. 3 of the previous 4 and 5 of the previous 10 Coach of the Year winners were first year head coaches. It is ludicrous to make the argument that a first year head coach is the best coach in the league. But voters give it to them. Coach a team that previous had a losing record to the playoffs and you stand a strong chance of winning it. Of the previous 10 winners, three coached a team that went from worst to first: Bruce Arians (in Indianapolis), Jason Garrett, and Matt Nagy, and five coached a team that went from a losing record to the playoffs: Jim Harbaugh, Ron Rivera twice, Kevin Stefanski and Sean McVay.

If the Eagles win the NFC East, Nick Sirianni will be on the short list for Coach of the Year. His biggest competition in the worst to first category is Kyle Shanahan.

Boldness: Medium. If the Eagles win the division, the case for Sirianni will be strong. He’d be the coach on a team that went from a mess to a division title, and to do so he’ll have to coax a good season out of an offense that was an embarrassment last year and that is relying on first and second year players to make plays. The low expectations for the Eagles this year helps his case tremendously.

Nick Sirianni lasts one year as head coach

I like this one.

Occasionally a coach is so inept that he gets fired less than 365 days on the job. The 49ers did it in back to back seasons prior to hiring Kyle Shanahan.

In recent years Steve Wilks (3-13 for the Cardinals in 2018), Chip Kelly (2-14 for the 49ers in 2016), Jim Tomsula (5-11 for the 49ers in 2015), Rob Chudzinski (4-12 for the Browns in 2013), Mike Mularkey (2-14 for the Jaguars in 2012), and Hue Jackson (8-8 for the Raiders in 2011) got the axe after one season. It happens, and more often than not it happens to first year head coaches.

Boldness: Extremely high. Before training camp began, I would have given this some odds. The Eagles didn’t go into the offseason intending to part ways with Doug Pederson, so they were behind in their coaching search. The process that resulted in hiring Nick Sirianni was uninspiring. One could be forgiven for feeling that they settled on Sirianni and hired him because someone has to coach the team until someone they want comes available (Lincoln Riley?).

But then the coach got to, well, coach. Training camp had far more positives than negatives, players appear to have bought into Sirianni’s culture of competition, and Sirianni avoided any dumb guy mistakes. And there haven’t been any behind the scenes rumblings that the Eagles realized they made a mistake. But of course the games still have to be played, maybe Sirianni will show himself as a terrible gameday coach. Eagles brass knows this season is likely to be a struggle, but 1 or 2 win season might be embarrassing enough to change course. It seems unlikely though that this season will go so horribly wrong that Sirianni pays the price with his job.