They can be unstoppable on offense. Their defensive line is loaded. Their coach got to a Super Bowl in his second year. Since a 3-6 start in 2021, they’re 20-5 and 19-2 under Jalen Hurts.
The Eagles are everybody’s pick to represent the NFC in Super Bowl LVIII at Allegiant Stadium on Feb. 11 in Paradise, Nev. The Las Vegas oddsmakers set their over-under at 11 ½ games, highest in the NFC and tied with the Chiefs and Bengals for highest in the NFL. Just about every national NFL analyst has them going to another Super Bowl.
They had eight Pro Bowlers last year and seven return – all but Miles Sanders, who they sure seem to have replaced adequately.
There’s a lot to be excited about five days before the Eagles' regular season begins, but there’s a reason no team has repeated in the NFC East in 19 years, a reason only one NFC team has gone to consecutive Super Bowls in the last 25 years, a reason the Eagles haven’t reached back-to-back championship games in 74 years.
Things can go wrong. And usually do. The teams that can navigate adversity are the ones who have success.
Here’s a look at 10 areas of concern for the 2023 Eagles:
Linebacker: Five days before opening day, the off-ball linebackers on the 53-man roster are Nakobe Dean, who’s looked good this summer but has played 34 lifetime snaps on defense; veteran Zach Cunningham, who wasn’t even on a roster the first two weeks of training camp; and Christian Ellis, who’s played 29 career snaps on defense. If Dean can be the player he started to show in camp and Cunningham can be the type of player he was a couple years ago with the Texans, the Eagles will be OK, but there’s no depth, very little experience and more questions than answers.
Schedule: The Eagles could very well have a better team than last year and lose two or three more games. They went into last year facing the 2nd-easiest schedule in the NFL and they go into this year facing the 10th-hardest and toughest in the NFC East, including that murderous stretch where they play the Chiefs, Bills, 49ers, Cowboys and Seahawks – with a combined 2022 record of 61-23 – in the span of 28 days. Last year, the Eagles had only four games against 2021 playoff teams. This year they have 11 against 2022 playoff teams.
Injuries: We haven’t even gotten to opening day yet and the Eagles have already suffered more serious injuries than all last year. The 2022 Eagles got to the Super Bowl with everybody healthy, and that’s incredibly rare. The only key guys who missed more than four games were Avonte Maddox (eight games) and Dallas Goedert (five). Doing everything possible to keep guys healthy has become a hallmark of the franchise, but it’s football, it’s a brutal sport, and you can’t control everything. The Eagles don’t have a ton of depth at a few spots, and you get the sense this team really needs to stay healthy to make another deep postseason run.
Safety: Here we are a few days before the opener and we still don’t know for sure who will be starting at safety next to Reed Blankenship. It could be Terrell Edmunds, it could be Sydney Brown, it could be Justin Evans. It can’t be K’Von Wallace, who’s now with the Cards. Evans took 1st-team reps the last few days practice was open to the media, so he’s probably most likely to get the nod, but remember he’s started four games over the last three years and hasn’t been a full-time starter since 2018. He’s had a good summer, but the second safety spot remains one of the biggest questions on the team.
Aging corners: Corners in their 30s are rare. There were 52 corners who started at least 10 games last year, and only five were in their 30s, including Darius Slay. Only two teams have reached a Super Bowl with two corners in their 30s – the 1968 Colts with Bobby Boyd and Lenny Lyles and the 1971 Cowboys with Northeast High’s Herb Adderly and Mel Renfro. No NFC East team has won the division with two corners in their 30s since those 1971 Cowboys. In the last 30 years, only 15 teams have even reached the playoffs with two corners in their 30s. The last NFC team to do it was the 2012 Falcons with Donta Robinson and Asante Samuel. That said, James Bradberry and Slay were both very good this summer. But the 32-year-old Slay in particular did struggle down the stretch last year and especially with question marks at linebacker and safety the Eagles need both their 30-ish corners to buck the trend and excel this year.
Offensive line depth: We’ve all learned to always trust Jeff Stoutland, but it does look like the Eagles’ o-line depth isn’t what it was last year. Isaac Seumalo’s departure via free agency eliminates Cam Jurgens as a depth interior guy, Andre Dillard’s departure via free agency eliminates a solid left tackle backup and even Jack Driscoll, who’s been a solid backup for three years, didn’t have a great training camp. If the o-line stays healthy, it’s one of the best in the league. If one of the key guys gets hurt, the backups this year are Driscoll, Sua Opeta, rookie Tyler Steen and Fred Johnson.
Cowboys: Like it or not, the Cowboys are going to be really good again, and the Eagles have had their issues with the Cowboys lately. They’re 3-8 in their last 11 games against Dallas, with two of those wins coming against Ben DiNucci and Cooper Rush (two were games the Eagles didn’t play their starters) and 8-14 in their last 22. They’ve lost five straight games in North Texas and allowed an average of 37 points in those five losses. The last Eagles quarterback to win in Dallas was Carson Wentz in 2017. Dak Prescott is 7-1 in his last eight starts against the Eagles with 17 TDs and four INTs. The Cowboys might not be a threat when the postseason rolls around, but they are during the regular season. The Eagles haven’t swept the Cowboys since 2011, and the Cowboys are coming off back-to-back 12-win seasons. The Cowboys return eight 2022 Pro Bowlers – the only team that returns more than the Eagles. The Giants will be OK, but the two games against the Cowboys – Nov. 5 at the Linc, Dec. 10 at AT&T Stadium – will go a long way toward determining what kind of season this is.
New coordinators: Brian Johnson and Sean Desai are both impressive guys and have done and said all the right things this summer. But they are both new and replacing coordinators who had a lot of success here. This is the first time the Eagles have changed both coordinators without firing the head coach since 1976 and 1977, Dick Vermeil’s first and second seasons. So far so good, but it’s still a big transition. Especially for Johnson, who will call plays on the NFL level for the same time.
Marcus Mariota: What if he has to play? Jalen Hurts has missed two games in each of the last two seasons, and his style of play makes it a challenge to start 17 games. Mariota was terrible this preseason. He was terrible at practice and terrible in the preseason games. Hopefully, Hurts stays healthy and we don’t have to see Mariota, but if he does have to play meaningful snaps at some point and things don’t go any better, he’s got to have a short leash. He gets a game and a half and if he’s still stinking it up Nick Sirianni has to go with Tanner McKee.
Special Teams: The Eagles ranked 31st in special teams last year according to Rick Gosselin’s annual special teams rankings. After ranking No. 1 in 2016, they’ve dropped every year - 13th in 2017, 14th in 2018, 15th in 2019, 17th in 2020 and then 21st in 2021 and second-to-last the last two years under Michael Clay. Only one of the top five guys on last year’s cover teams will be back this year. McPhearson and Bradley are out for the year with Achilles injuries and Wallace is in Arizona and Dean is now a starter and presumably won’t be on special teams or in a very limited role. That leaves Patrick Johnson as the only guy in the top five who’s back. Factor in the Eagles’ punting issues and there are a ton of questions on special teams. We saw the impact a complete special teams breakdown had on one key play in the Super Bowl. The Eagles are going to have to improve dramatically for special teams to not be a problem this year.