NFL Preview 2014: Philadelphia Eagles

Sportsnet is breaking down everything you need to know about each of the 32 teams—including why you should or shouldn’t be rooting for them this season—in the month leading up to NFL kickoff on Sept. 4. Today, the Philadelphia Eagles.

Last year’s record: 10-6

Coach: Chip Kelly

2014 is about… Proving last season’s success was no fluke. After finishing 4-12 in 2012, Kelly led the Eagles to an NFC East title and a post-season appearance in his first go-around as coach. Philadelphia’s new-look offence was fun to watch and finished in the top five in both points and yards behind arguably the league’s top running back in LeSean McCoy and a breakout season from quarterback Nick Foles. But can Kelly and company build off that momentum?

Core players: LeSean McCoy (RB), Nick Foles (QB), Jason Peters (OT), Mychal Kendricks (LB).

But they lost… DeSean Jackson (WR), and to a division rival no less! A key to building on 2013 will be the Eagles’ success replacing their former No. 1 pass catcher’s production—and shutting him down twice.

Yeah, but they got… Darren Sproles (RB), acquired from the Saints for pennies, the dynamic running back should thrive in Kelly’s lively offence and take some of the sting out of losing the explosive Jackson; Nolan Carroll (CB) and Malcolm Jenkins (S) will help improve a pass defence that ranked dead-last in 2013 simply by stepping on the field.

Growing from within: Zach Ertz (TE) showed flashes of brilliance as his rookie season began to wind down. Working in a prolific offence stripped of its top receiver, 2014 could be Ertz’s coming out party as one of the NFL’s next great tight ends. Another young pass catcher who could make a hefty impact is second-round pick Jordan Matthews (WR). Coaches have raved about the Vanderbilt product since his first practice with the team and, with impressive size (six-foot-three) and speed (4.46), Matthews could chip in on as early as week one. Finally, look out for Mychal Kendricks. Despite some inconsistencies, Kendricks was all over the place last season with 137 tackles, four sacks and three interceptions; making plays and taking names. Now entering the second season under the same coaching staff and system, the future is bright for Kendricks, who turns just 24 in September.

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Why this team? Because they’re fun as hell to watch. After breaking out with a riveting performance against Washington in week one last season, Kelly’s offence slowed down a bit but still finished the year as one of the best in the NFL. Because “Shady” McCoy plays for them. The running back put the league on notice in his fifth season, leading the NFL in rushing yards and burning many a defender in the process (see: Snow Bowl vs. Lions). And because they’re one of the league’s up-and-coming teams. After missing the playoffs for two straight years, the Eagles got back in the swing of things in 2013 and, with one of the NFL’s most exciting young rosters, look primed to dominate the NFC East for the foreseeable future.

Why not? Because the NFC East is probably the most unpredictable division in all of sports. Not long ago this grouping of teams was considered one of the best in the NFL—so much for that. One thing, however, is for sure. These teams will beat up on each other and more often than not the division winner is a team no one predicted.

Perfect for fans of… The Colorado Avalanche. Led by player’s coaches who have fresh ideas about how to play the game, both of these teams sport a young, exciting core with the brightest of futures. If you get a kick out of watching Matt Duchene and Nathan MacKinnon tear it up on the ice, I’d recommend taking in a full game of Chip Kelly’s offence; you won’t be disappointed. He’s one of the most progressive thinkers in sports.

How much hope? 7/10. If the Eagles can build on a relatively successful 2013 season and win the NFC East, that’s just the beginning of Philly’s battle. Last season’s other NFC playoff teams—Seattle, San Francisco, New Orleans, Carolina and Green Bay—all present extremely tough challenges for the Eagles. Philadelphia’s defence will have to be much better this season to make an impact on that level.

Will you be mocked for front-running? Not if you jump on the wagon soon. Should the Eagles continue to climb in the NFC, you might be happy for years to come.

A Meme To Remember: If you’re going to become an Eagles fan, don’t try to decipher Chip Kelly’s play cards; you’re not going to figure them out.

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