I Don't Know How to be a Philadelphia Eagles Fan Anymore
I can honestly say I never thought the Philadelphia Eagles would win a Super Bowl during my lifetime. It's not that I thought the team was cursed or anything, but it just seemed to be inevitable that long-suffering Eagles fans would never get rewarded. When Carson Wentz got injured last year, while running away with the NFL MVP award, I told my son, "See, that's why Eagles fans can't have anything nice."
But now, the Eagles are the defending Super Bowl Champions and I just don't know how to react to that.
The night the Eagles won the Super Bowl was one of the best nights of my entire life (obligatory shout outs to the birth of my two kids here in case somebody tells my wife about this). As soon as they won the game and confetti was falling on their heads, I went outside the house where I was watching the game to make two calls. The first was to my father to thank him for making me an Eagles fan. He had tickets all the way back to Franklin Field and I have been attending games since the early 80s. The second call was to my son, who is basically my mini-me when it comes to crazed sports fandom.
Those were special moments, but now we're about to embark on a new season. A season where I will witness the unfurling of the Super Bowl Championship banner at Lincoln Financial Field on Thursday night, as a season ticket holder. A season where the Eagles actually have a better team than the one that won the Super Bowl. A season, where I'm struggling to find something to complain about or even be worried about. Those of you who have read anything I have ever written know that I normally don't struggle to find something to complain about. That's why I say I don't know how to be an Eagles fan anymore. All this positivity is just plain weird.
Let's start right at the top with the biggest story of the Eagles offseason. Carson Wentz's knee injury will now officially prevent him from being the starting QB in Week 1. Normally that is a death knell to a team's season. But here in Eagleland, we have the reigning Super Bowl MVP waiting in the wings to take over until Wentz is ready. Even better, Nick Foles is perfectly happy to go back to being the backup this year, whenever Wentz is ready to play. I don't have to tell you how strange that is, but it's all part of the new reality for the Eagles. The only possible negative I can come up with is that if Foles is great and Wentz comes in and stinks up the joint in future weeks, there could become a quarterback controversy among the fanbase. Honestly, if that's the worst thing that can happen, it's good to be an Eagles fan.
What Has You Worried About the 2018 Philadelphia Eagles
I want to worry about how much depth the Eagles lost this offseason, with players like Trey Burton, Brent Celek, Beau Allen, LaGarrette Blount and Vinny Curry leaving, but they filled in nicely with trades, free agent signings and the draft. New players like Mike Wallace, Michael Bennett, Haloti Ngata and Dallas Goedert might be better than then guys they are replacing. And then there is the fact that the Eagles won the Super Bowl without their starting QB (Wentz), future first-ballot Hall of Fame LT (Jason Peters), MLB (Jordan Hicks) and RB Darren Sproles, among other players. All of those players are back, although we'll have to wait a little while longer for Wentz. When does a Super Bowl Champion actually have a better roster the next season? It just doesn't happen. Yet, that's the case with these Eagles.
Normally teams worry about injuries, but this Eagles team showed that they can just do just fine with the "next-man-up" philosophy. And the Eagles lost star players last year, not just your average starters. Not to jinx them or anything, but they couldn't possibly have a worse injury situation than they endured last year. OK. OK. If Nate Sudfield takes a meaningful snap this season, the Eagles might be in trouble. But anything short of that isn't the doom and gloom scenario I was painting last year after Wentz went down. And I think that was more of a reflex of being a tortured Eagles fan more than anything else. I was one of Nick Foles's biggest supporters and hated Chip Kelly for trading him. I always thought the Eagles could win with Foles. I just didn't think it would be off the bench after stops in St. Louis and KC.
Am I supposed to worry about whether or not Wentz can ever be the same QB he was after his knee injury? Recent history says QBs come back better than ever after season-ending injuries. Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers all missed a season and came back and put up their normal great stats. Yes, I am comparing Wentz to three of the greatest QBs in the history of the NFL. (What is going on around here?) The only QB to never recover from a season-ending injury in recent memory is Robert Griffin III. But truth be told, RGIII was never that great of an actual QB anyway.
I loved the drafting of CB Sidney Jones last year because I figured it was a rebuilding year anyway. Now the Eagles seemingly have more depth at that position than they know what to do with. When a player like Jones is only your slot CB, you know you have some talent at the position.
The weakside LB spot without the soon-to-be-imprisoned Mychal Kendricks? I'm sure either Nate Gerry or Kamu Grugier-Hill can pick up the maybe 20% of defensive snaps the Eagles aren't in their nickel package and actually use a weakside LB. Nigel Bradham missing the first game? Yeah, this one does actually worry me. The Falcons have dynamic receivers and pass-catching RBs. See, I knew I'd find something to worry about. Although, even if the Eagles lose that first game, the early season schedule is pretty easy.
Speaking of the schedule, it includes 6 games against the other teams in the NFC East. I'm not sure if you have taken a good look around the division, but the term, "average-at-best" applies to each team. The Redskins have some talent, but Adrian Peterson is now their starting RB at the age of, what, 58? They replaced Kirk Cousins with Alex Smith and his #1 receiver is Jamison Crowder? I'm not concerned. The Giants drafted Saquan Barkley #2 overall and he is going to do great things in the NFL. The problem is that the Giants offensive line might be the worst in the entire NFL and Eli Manning absolutely sucks when his protection breaks down. And I can just see Odell Beckham Jr being weighed down by his newly fattened wallet and giving less than full effort when things go south in North Jersey this season. The Cowboys get Ezekiel Elliott back (until that scumbag beats up another woman), but their once-great offensive line is in shambles. Travis Frederick is the best center in the NFL, but his career is now in jeopardy with a rare auto-immune disease. Guard Zack Martin is out and LT Tyron Smith is limping. Elliott won't be finding huge holes to run through and we all saw how pedestrian Dak Prescott looks without a dominating running game to keep the pressure off him. The Dallas D is also terrible.
No team has repeated as NFC East Champions since the Eagles did it four times in a row from 2001 to 2004, but that is about to change this year. I'd be surprised if any team in this division other than the Eagles finishes above .500. Of course, some of the best teams outside of New England reside in the NFC. The Falcons, Rams, Vikings, Saints and Packers are all popular Super Bowl picks in the NFC. It won't be easy to advance to the Super Bowl again, but the Eagles are nearly unbeatable at home. Did you know they didn't allow a rushing TD at home all last season, including the playoffs? That's simply amazing.
The Eagles players can't use the whole "Underdog" thing that they used so well last season and Jason Kelce expressed so vividly during his Super Bowl Championship parade speech (I was there). They went from underdogs to tops dogs by winning. Now they have to deal with having a target on their backs all season. Will they respond? We'll see, but they certainly are saying all the right things.
There is also the little matter of the Super Bowl hangover. It's widely documented that the Super Bowl loser has trouble the next season, and even Super Bowl winners have trouble sometimes. It makes sense, since a team that plays in the Super Bowl has much less time in the offseason. The Eagles are still nursing a few players back from offseason surgeries that had to wait until after the Super Bowl. WRs Alshon Jeffery and Mack Hollins won't play in Week 1 after their surgeries. And there is no definitive timetable as to when they will be back. I already discussed Wentz not being cleared for contact yet and we don't know exactly when he'll be back. But we do know that Peters and Sproles were just rested during the preseason and they are ready to go. I am not concerned about this, outside of the fact that I think the Eagles lose to Atlanta Week 1 without a couple of key players. Over the long haul, all of these players will be back.
GM (or whatever his title is) Howie Roseman was in charge of jock straps and tape a few years ago. Now he's the NFL Executive of the Year. Nobody saw that one coming. Let's hope Joe Douglas sticks around a while, since he seems to have just a little something to do with that success.
The Eagles also lost their offensive coordinator (Frank Reich) and QB coach (John DeFilippo). This actually does worry me. Sure, head coach Doug Pederson calls the plays, but Reich worked with him to install the game plan and DeFilippo worked more closely with the QBs than anyone else. I'm not exactly worried that the Eagles offense looked hideous during the preseason, since they were running a pretty vanilla offense, but you can't just subtract two good coaches and not have it have some sort of negative effect on the players. For proof, just look at how bad the coaching staffs were during the second half of Andy Reid's tenure as Eagles coach. Assistant coaches really do matter in the NFL. That's why it's good that Jim Schwartz is still in charge of the defense. This is a concern, but not a big one. Not just yet, anyway.
Speaking of coaching, Doug Pederson is just a little better that I thought, huh? Honestly, I thought he was the worst coach in the NFL after he turned into Andy Reid during a horrific loss to the Chiefs last season. But then an amazing thing happened. Pederson listened to his players, who told him that it might not be a good idea to throw the ball 99.9% of the time. It also appears that, being an ex-player, he knows how to handle the personalities in the locker room. But any of you who ripped me, after the fact, for criticizing Pederson should take a good look in the mirror. You're probably the same people who love Reid up until the end and thought Chip Kelly was going to revolutionize the NFL, right up until the point where he got fired for being a fraud. Anyway, Pederson seems to know what he's doing on an NFL sideline after all.
All this positivity is just so foreign to me, as an Eagles fan. I know everything isn't perfect with this Eagles team, by any stretch of the imagination, but I still think they have a better team now than the one that won the Super Bowl last season. That makes me think there isn't any reason they can't be the first repeat Champs since those cheaters in New England back in 2004-2005.
Like I said, I just don't know how to be an Eagles fan anymore. Or maybe this is just the new normal in Philly (thanks to Philly Philly). Maybe this is the start of the next great dynasty in the NFL? Maybe I better stop now before I start talking crazy? Too late? Oh well. Sorry, this is all new to me.