The Philadelphia Eagles are defending Super Bowl champions entering the 2018 NFL season, but a championship repeat hasn’t been done since after the 2004 campaign.
However, it was Philadelphia who prevented the New England Patriots from going back-to-back again this past postseason with a 41-33 triumph in Super Bowl LII.
As the days wind down before the Eagles embark on their Lombardi Trophy defense, here are 10 bold predictions for their season.
Carson Wentz wins NFL MVP award
The star quarterback was well on his way to this accolade last season before tearing his ACL in his 13th start. Wentz threw for 3,296 yards and 33 touchdowns to only seven interceptions as a second-year pro.
That major knee injury is no small deal, yet Wentz seems on track to return in Week 1. He is an aggressive, big-armed, mobile thrower who strikes for big plays with precise downfield throws. The 25-year-old is only scratching the surface of his NFL potential, and should more fully realize that this year.
Remember, Tom Brady was MVP runner-up in 2016 despite playing only 12 games, so there’s wiggle room to allow for Wentz missing the start of the season. Even if he has to sit out the first game or two behind Nick Foles, there’s still plenty of time for Wentz to put up MVP-caliber numbers.
Jay Ajayi runs for over 1,300 yards
Darren Sproles is still getting it done at age 35, coming off a broken arm and torn ACL that cost him all but three games of the 2017 season. Even in April he was exploding off his repaired left knee.
But Sproles is still only an occasional runner and contributes more as a pass-catcher, opening the door for Ajayi to take over as the primary ball-carrier. The Eagles did a committee backfield approach last season, but Ajayi is the only downhill runner left now that LeGarrette Blount is gone.
Even though the trade Philadelphia made to land him was just before the in-season deadline, Ajayi picked up the system quickly and averaged a ridiculous 5.8 yards per carry on 70 attempts in seven games. At least reaching the 1,300-yard mark, which would be a new career-high, seems realistic for someone as gifted as Ajayi.
Jordan Mailata makes final 53-man roster
For a team that just won the Super Bowl, Philadelphia can afford to keep a project seventh-round pick like Mailata and get him valuable practice reps throughout the season.
Mailata is only 21 years old, a former Australian rugby player trying to make his mark on the gridiron. At 6’8″ and 346 pounds, he has unbelievable athleticism and speed for that size, and the the Eagles aren’t exactly easing him in by putting him at offensive tackle.
Given how inventive coach and play-caller Doug Pederson is, it wouldn’t be a shock to see Mailata in the backfield in short-yardage and goal-line situations. Jason Peters and Lane Johnson are the bookend tackles with Philly’s first-string unit, and are ideal mentors as Mailata continues to adjust to the NFL game.
Josh Sweat is the team’s only impact rookie
Although Mailata may have spot duty, that’s only speculation at this point. Among the 2018 draft class, it seems Sweat is most destined to be the most consistent contributor this season.
Sweat is a tantalizing talent who ran a 4.53-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine and was listed at 6’5″, 251 pounds. That type of size-speed combination is rare, and he logged 29 tackles for loss and 12.5 sacks in his final two years at Florida State.
The Eagles’ depth at tight end will prevent rookie Dallas Goedert from shining right away. Sweat will be deployed as a situational pass-rusher who should be constantly fresh and flying in off the edge to pressure the quarterback.
Defense rises to top five in sacks
To piggyback off the end of the Sweat section, Philadelphia ranked tied for 15th with 38 sacks last season, but look for the Eagles to ascend to elite status in that area this year.
In addition to Sweat, the team acquired former Seattle Seahawks standout Michael Bennett in a trade to add depth to the trenches. More important, last year’s first-round pick, defensive end Derek Barnett, had five sacks as a rookie and is only bound to improve in his second season.
Combining that trio with incumbents Chris Long, Brandon Graham and of course, three-time, second-team All-Pro selection Fletcher Cox makes it appear Philadelphia has the makings of a scary-good pass-rushing outfit.
Eagles finish in bottom third of NFL in pass defense
Teams can finish among the league leaders in sacks and still surrender a lot of yards, though. Given that Wentz and the offense are bound to light up the scoreboard, opponents will be throwing often to get back into games.
That will lead to Philadelphia conceding excess yards in garbage time. However, the secondary isn’t all that impressive either, with no clear replacement for departed nickel cornerback Patrick Robinson, suspect depth at the outside corner spots behind Ronald Darby and no clear star other than Malcolm Jenkins.
This is one area where the Eagles roster is vulnerable to really dropping off if any of their starters go down. More pressure will be put on Wentz and Co. to score, but they should be up to the task.
Mike Wallace underwhelms as potential free-agent steal
His contract is mostly incentive-based, yet Wallace is still a projected starter opposite Alshon Jeffery on the outside, with Nelson Agholor in the slot.
Wallace flopped as a landmark free-agent signing in Miami, lasted one year in Minnesota, rebounded with Baltimore in 2016 but wasn’t as productive last season. Now he’s facing competition for targets Jeffery, Agholor, Sproles, tight end Zach Ertz and rising second-year players in Mack Hollins and Shelton Gibson.
Despite having only two catches for 11 yards in his maiden pro campaign, Gibson has emerged as a surprise standout in training camp, getting reps with the first-team offense. Meanwhile, Hollins had 16 receptions last year and has great size at 6’4″, 221 pounds.
There’s a real chance Wallace is dangled as trade bait at the deadline once he doesn’t see the field often, a development that could cause a locker room rift.
Michael Bennett is cut before December
Whereas injuries and the inconsistency of young players could create a substantial role for Wallace in the passing game by default, Bennett is more expendable.
Philadelphia has among the deepest defensive lines in all of football. Bennett’s arrival seemed to be yet another asset gained. However, he left a Seahawks organization where he was at the forefront of outspoken personalities, which could be toxic for his new team.
Bennett is a fiery player and has shown leadership qualities throughout his career. Given the late stage of his career he’s in, though, the Eagles can count on other veterans like Long and Graham to fill those type of intangibles while disposing of Bennett before he becomes a problem.
Post-bye record will be .500 or lower
Pederson will have to get his team fired up coming off the idle week, because Philadelphia’s schedule down the stretch figures to be a severe challenge. After getting Week 9 off, the Eagles face Dallas at home, followed by a road game against the New Orleans Saints.
The next three contests are in the division against the New York Giants, Washington and the Cowboys respectively, with the first two being at home. However, the latter matchup with Dallas is the first of three road trips in the last four games.
Week 15 is a prime-time tilt with the Los Angeles Rams, followed by a home game versus Deshaun Watson and the Houston Texans before a Week 17 finale in Washington. It’s hard to envision even a team as good as the Eagles getting through there 4-4.
Fearless forecast: 10-6, 1st in NFC East
Three fewer wins than the prior season won’t stop the Eagles from winning their division on the strength of a tiebreaker. As the prior bold prediction implies, the NFC East should be much improved this season, which will make the second half of the season in particular tough.
Washington has a new quarterback in Alex Smith to reinvigorate the team, while the Cowboys went 9-7 in 2017 while missing Ezekiel Elliott in the backfield for six games. The Giants could be among the most improved teams in football with running back Saquon Barkley’s arrival and a new coach in Pat Shurmur.
The Eagles’ projected record nets them one home playoff game and little guaranteed beyond that. Recent history suggests they won’t repeat as Super Bowl champions, but Philadelphia should manage to at least advance to the divisional playoff round.