As the Eagles were coming off a dismal 4-11-1 season in 2020, the franchise was littered with questions, mostly about the futures of the quarterback and head coach and just when the Eagles would return to the postseason.
It didn’t seem like it was going to be last year. With a rookie head coach, rookie defensive coordinator and a quarterback in his first full season, the 2021 Eagles didn’t seem like a candidate to make the playoffs. But thanks to a continually weak NFC East, a cookie schedule and some sold on-the-fly coaching, the Birds went 9-8 and secured the third wild card spot in the NFC.
So, while a year ago we were wondering how in the heck the Eagles could make the playoffs, it’s reasonable to ask, what would have to happen for the Eagles not to make the postseason this year?
For people who think I’m tempting fate or jinxing their chances, I hear you. I just don’t believe in any of that stuff, and give the improvements they made this off-season and one of the easiest schedules in the NFL, it’s hard to imagine a scenario where they don’t at least snag a wild card.
Nevertheless, I’ve come up with five different things that could prevent the Eagles from repeating their success from a year ago.
Everybody Gets Hurt
Injuries are always the biggest culprit when a “good” team fails to reach their potential, and in seasons past, the Eagles have been decimated by injuries. Last year, they had better luck, and, as the Inquirer’s Jeff McLane notes, Nick Sirianni credits their reduced practices and shorter off-season activities.
The Eagles had 76 adjusted games lost to injury, according to Football Outsiders’ annual analysis of weekly injury reports, an improvement of 52.1 games over the previous season. They finished only 12th in the NFL, but considering they ranked 30th, 21st, and 32nd from 2018-20 and only the 49ers and New York Jets lost more games to injury over that span, it was a welcome development.
Was that just a one-year blip or have the Eagles hit on something here? Obviously, injuries to any key players, specifically guys like Jason Kelce, Lane Johnson, Haason Reddick, Darius Slay and others, would throw a monkey wrench into things. But maybe the lighter work load really will continue to have a positive impact.
Injuries are the most likely way the Eagles fail to get to nine wins in 2022.
The Commanders and Giants Improve
Washington and New York should continue to be subpar, but there is a realistic scenario in which both teams are better than we think.
For the Commanders, it starts and ends with Carson Wentz. Prior to the final two weeks last season, Wentz was having a pretty good season for the Colts. There is a solid chance Wentz plays well enough to make Washington a decent team, especially if Montez Sweat and Chase Young return healthy and hungry.
In New York, the talent level is still rather low, but with new general manager Joe Schoen and new head coach Brian Daboll both in place, it’s unlikely the Giants will continue to be a laughing stock. They won’t be able to turn things around in a single season, but bringing some of that Buffalo ingenuity and brains into the organization will make them a tougher team to deal with.
Jalen Hurts Doesn’t Progress
The Eagles had to abandon the passing game last year because they simply didn’t have enough talent at wide receiver and because their quarterback was not at all comfortable playing in a pass-heavy offense. So, they went to the running game and relied mostly on his legs to move the football.
And hey, that worked, but I’m not sure you can go to that well again.
With A.J. Brown no heading a wide receiver room that features DeVonta Smith, Quez Watkins and Zach Pascal, and Dallas Goedert emerging as a stud receiving tight end, Hurts has no excuses. He has to be able to put up 3,500 yards passing in a league that has gone out of their way to make sure quarterbacks had an easier time throwing the football.
But if Hurts struggles, it could mean some inexplicable losses.
The Seemingly Weak Schedule Isn’t So Weak
There are a number of teams on the Eagles’ schedule that I think will be better than last year and better than many people expect.
The Lions, on the road, in Week 1, could be very tough. That’s a team that played much better than the record indicated and I think could be a playoff team.
Kirk Cousins always beats the Eagles, and the Birds host the Vikings in Week 2.
Do you know what to make of the Cardinals? I sure don’t.
The Colts in Indianapolis won’t be fun, neither will hosting the Packers or traveling to Tennessee. And there is always another team or two that is better than anyone thinks they’ll be.
Even as I write this, I still don’t see how the Eagles don’t pile up nine wins against this schedule, but let’s just remind everyone that schedules are nebulous blobs, capable of changing shape week by week.
The Defense Stinks
Gannon’s defense was not overly impressive last season and no one is sure exactly what his unit is going to look like in ‘22.
Sure, he’s got more weapons at his disposal now. Reddick should provide immediate pass-rush help to a unit that finished with the second-fewest in the NFL last year. Everyone loves Jordan Davis as a run-stuffing defensive tackle and the hope is he has pass-rushing skills that weren’t utilized at Georgia. What does Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham have left? Will Kyzir White fit in at linebacker? Is there enough talent at safety? Will quality opposing QBs continue to scorch earth against Gannon’s defenses?
The talent level has definitely improved, so they should be better than last year based on that alone, but it’s no guarantee he maximizes what he’s been given to work with. Especially after already failing to do so in 2021.
So even after writing all that, I don’t believe there’s any way the Eagles finish with less than nine wins, and I feel like anything less than 10 would be a disappointment. The Birds have so much more going for them than they did at this time last year.