Expert Picks (Consensus: second)
|DIVISION FINISH: 2 On paper, they look like a strong contender to win the division and the conference. But after last year, there remain too many questions on defense and at quarterback to put the Eagles ahead of the defending champs.|
|DIVISION FINISH: 1 Face it, Michael Vick won't stay healthy for 16 games. He's too competitive with his body. That said, if the Eagles can get nine wins out of him in 13 games, they should win the division.
|DIVISION FINISH: 1 If Michael Vick stays healthy, they will believe in themselves and fate.|
|DIVISION FINISH: 2 They were the NFL's most disappointing team in 2011. They'll be better with a full offseason for all those high-profile acquisitions from last year to jell.|
|DIVISION FINISH: 2 This is a huge year for Michael Vick and Andy Reid. The Eagles have weapons on offense, but they've still got issues on defense, particularly at safety.|
Five things you need to know about the Eagles:
1. They're angry: The Eagles had high hopes for their 2011 season. Coming off of Michael Vick's career season and having added a slew of high-profile free agents, they believed in themselves as a Super Bowl contender. But losing three of their first four and eight of their first 12 showed them and everyone else that it's not so easy. The Eagles didn't like being embarrassed or held up as last season's biggest flop, and they go into 2012 determined to show that they really are as good as they believed themselves to be this time a year ago.
2. It's all on the quarterback: Vick will play this season under more pressure than any other player in the NFL. Much of the Eagles' early-season issues last year were turnovers, and Vick was a central part of that problem. Their late-season issue was an injury that knocked him out of three games, and with the backup situation unsettled, it's more important than ever for Vick to make the kinds of in-game decisions that prioritize his own health and safety. The Eagles don't need the 2010 version of Vick, but they need a more reliable version than the one they got in 2011, or else the rest of the plan can't possibly work.
3. Is the defense fixed? A new scheme and a new coordinator made for an awkward mix last year, and the decision to ignore the linebacker position was one Andy Reid has since admitted was a "goof." The addition of veteran middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans should help the communication and cohesiveness on defense. The trade of Asante Samuel should help the Eagles plan the man-coverage schemes they want to play with Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie as starters. We know the Eagles will get a ton of sacks, but they need to perform better on the plays that get beyond the line of scrimmage.
4. What's with the wideouts? DeSean Jackson says he's more content and focused now that he has his new contract. Jeremy Maclin says he's in better shape after an offseason that didn't include a health scare and all sorts of medical tests. If they're both at full strength, they give Vick two lethal weapons on the outside -- wide receivers as speedy as any in the league. That should help bring back the Eagles' deep passing game that seemed so strangely absent for so much of 2011.
5. Lining it up: The Eagles' offensive line looked as though it was going to be a team strength in 2012, but its best player, Jason Peters, blew out his Achilles tendon twice this offseason and will miss the year. The Eagles are counting on veteran line coach Howard Mudd to turn Peters' former Buffalo teammate, Demetress Bell, into an adequate replacement who will help protect Vick and help star running back LeSean McCoy offer an encore to his brilliant 2011 season.
-- Dan Graziano, ESPN.com
Inside The Numbers
LeSean McCoy was the best running back in the NFL last season on runs outside the tackles. McCoy rushed for a league-high 547 yards and seven touchdowns on rushes outside the tackles in 2011, after gaining 295 yards and scoring two touchdowns in his first two years in the NFL on such runs.
McCoy's 217 yards after contact and eight rushes of at least 20 yards on plays outside the numbers were also first in the NFL in 2011.
Michael Vick's effectiveness as a running threat diminished last season, partly because of his red zone productivity. Vick had only 11 rushes for 46 yards in the red zone last season, and scored just one touchdown. In 2010, Vick rushed for 87 red zone yards on 20 rushes, while scoring all nine of his regular-season rushing touchdowns in the red zone.
• The Eagles had 38 sacks with four or fewer pass-rushers last season, the most in the NFL. Philadelphia sent five or more pass-rushers on just 19.3 percent of its defensive plays last season, the third-lowest rate in the league.
• Jason Babin, who finished third in the NFL with 18 sacks last season, recorded 14 of them when the Eagles rushed four or fewer pass-rushers. Only the Vikings' Jared Allen (15.5) had more sacks when his team sent four or fewer pass-rushers in 2011.
-- ESPN Stats & Information
ESPN The Mag: Insider's View
Jason Babin: Leads deep group.
Best Unit: Defensive line
Upgrades will have the Eagles challenging the Giants for the most dominant defensive line in the NFL. Already boasting a dangerous unit, Philadelphia drafted DT Fletcher Cox and DE Vinny Curry. Cox will join Cullen Jenkins, Trent Cole and Jason Babin to form an elite group of pass-rushers. The Eagles' depth is amazing too; I'm particularly high on DT Antonio Dixon as a run stuffer.
Worst Unit: Defensive backs
It's tough to find a soft spot on a team with so much talent. Corners remain set with Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Nnamdi Asomugha. But safety and slot corner are a worry. FS Nate Allen shows promise when healthy, but second-year SS Jaiquawn Jarrett needs to improve in coverage.
-- Gary Horton