As the 2017 NFL regular season begins this week, anticipation and expectations surround fan bases across the league that are leading to predictions of success and/or failure. Arguably no fan base is more polarizing in their outlook for this upcoming season than those of the Philadelphia Eagles.
For every fan that thinks the Eagles will win the NFC East, there is a fan that thinks they will finish last in the division. For every fan that thinks Nelson Agholor will finally have a breakout season, there is a fan that thinks he will lose his playing time to rookie wide receiver Mack Hollins. In honor of those contradictory expectations, below are some bold predictions for the 2017 Philadelphia Eagles.
Bold Predictions for the 2017 Philadelphia Eagles
Doug Pederson Gives Up Play Calling Prior to Their Bye Week
Pressure may never be greater for Doug Pederson to prove himself as a head coach than it is following the controversy that surrounds the criticism of his qualifications by former general manager Mike Lombardi. That being said, he has brought a lot of the criticism upon himself.
As a first time head coach, Pederson may have bitten off more than he can chew with keeping the responsibility of calling the offensive plays while also attempting to learn on the job. His ineffective play calling has been magnified due to the fact that it normally reared its ugly head in key situations of the game with showing poor judgment on when to take a chance and when to play it safe.
The first step to solving a problem is admitting that there is one and leading into training camp, he was still pretty adamant on keeping the duty of play calling. The choice not to delegate the play calling to offensive coordinator Frank Reich, whether it is due to pride or stubbornness, could end up being his eventual downfall. Eventually, Pederson will have to admit defeat in order to save his job by handing over the offensive play calling to Reich at some point prior to their bye week, which is in week 10.
Sidney Jones is Activated and Plays by the End of the Year
Other than keeping five running backs and six wide receivers, the most interesting decision the Eagles made, when reducing their active roster down to 53 players, was placing rookie cornerback Sidney Jones on the reserve/non-football injury list with a torn Achilles. By being placed on this list, Jones will be eligible to practice with the team in six weeks and to play as early as week 7. Injuring himself at his pro day workout, his draft stock dropped from being arguably a top two cornerback in the draft to a complete unknown.
By selecting Jones in the second round, the Eagles took a chance that he would return to form as a potential shutdown corner and that he would recover sooner than expected. Although it was widely presumed that Jones would not play this season due to the injury, the Eagles organization has been discreet about their plans up until this point.
Despite the discretion, former Washington Huskies cornerback Kevin King, a close friend of Jones, would be surprised if he did not play this season. Barring any setbacks in rehab, Jones will not only be activated but will also play a pivotal role for the Eagles during their stretch run for the playoffs.
All Eight of the Offensive Lineman Will Start a Game This Season
One year after keeping 11 offensive linemen, mostly due to the impending suspension of right tackle Lane Johnson, the Eagles chose to only carry eight on the roster this season. This is unusual due to the fact that most teams will at the very least keep nine offensive linemen, and that is normally with versatile linemen who can play both guard and tackle. Their decision was accompanied by a positive spin that they view all eight to be starters in the NFL. Keeping that in mind, questions surround some of the projected starters.
The inexperience of left guard Isaac Seumalo could lead to mistakes and get him replaced by reserve guard Chance Warmack. The injury bug may, once again, bite aging left tackle Jason Peters and force reserve tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai into a starting role. And reserve center Stefen Wisniewski can take over if the declining play continues for undersized center Jason Kelce.
Even if they play well and stay healthy, a trade could materialize from this depth to fill a team need. Taking all of these possibilities into consideration, all eight offensive linemen from the initial 53 man roster will start at least one game, whether it’s for the Eagles or another team, this season.
Fletcher Cox Reaches Double Digit Sacks for the First Time
Expectations for Fletcher Cox were to have a dominant season after signing a six-year extension worth $103 million. Statistically, he had what most would consider a good season, albeit down from the year before But the new contract warranted him to have a great one. After such a disappointing season, the lofty expectations that came with his new contract have tempered a bit from the fans standpoint.
With the decrease in production, the Eagles provided the defensive line with more firepower by drafting defensive end Derek Barnett in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft. An impressive preseason has Barnett’s name in the conversation already for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year and fans are expecting huge numbers, particularly in sacks, from a rookie who is not even expected to start initially.
With the hype surrounding Barnett, teams will definitely game plan to stop him which will inevitably free up space for Cox to do his job. His production should bounce back to where he was in 2015 and hopefully surpass those numbers. With the spotlight, and expectations, now shared with Barnett, this will help Cox as he reaches double digit sacks for the first time in his career.
Wendell Smallwood Has More Rushing Touchdowns Than LeGarrette Blount
The Eagles running back position is the biggest question mark this season with Pederson claiming that the carries will be split depending on the match-up and who has the hot hand. The top three most likely running backs to be active from week to week are LeGarrette Blount, Darren Sproles and Wendell Smallwood.
Blount, who is expected to be the primary and goal line back, had been so disappointing this preseason that fans wondered if he would even make the team. Sproles, who is more of a jack of all trades, has never needed many carries to be effective and now that he is getting up there in age, that will be truer now more than ever. And then there’s Smallwood, who suffered a hamstring injury that held him out of the first two preseason games.
Despite the injury, Smallwood had displayed enough, to Reich at least, to show that he can be a true three-down back. With youth and versatility on his side, he will be presented with multiple chances to prove he can handle the load. If he can stay healthy, Smallwood will become the primary back, leading to the bulk of the carries and increased goal line opportunities, ending the season with more rushing touchdowns than Blount.