That’s the critical question as the Eagles enter the 2014 season. Are they better than they were last season, when they went 10-6 and won the NFC East?
The difference, as Gordon Glantz explains in his Eagles preview, is that last season’s 10-6 record and NFC title were surprising. This year, double-digit wins and a division title are the bare minimum that is expected.
But a repeat of last season won’t be considered progress. That would be treading water.
If the Eagles win 11 or 12 games, that could be a sign that they are better this season. But 11 or 12 victories will be relegated to a consolation prize if the Eagles don’t win a playoff game.
You remember playoff victories, don’t you?
Six seasons ago, the Eagles defeated the Vikings and Giants during the playoffs before losing to the Cardinals in the NFC Championship Game. They haven’t won a playoff game since losing to the Cardinals.
The Eagles have been to the playoffs three times since the NFC Championship Game loss to Arizona. They lost to the Cowboys in the wild card round the next year, and then lost in the wild card round the following year to the Packers, who went on to win the Super Bowl. The Eagles didn’t return to the playoffs until last season, when, in head coach Chip Kelly’s inaugural year, they lost to the Saints in the wild card round.
Three trips to the playoffs since the 2008 season. Three times the Eagles were one-and-done.
The only way the Eagles are going to prove that they’re getting better is to win at least one playoff game.
We won’t know for certain if the Eagles are better until the calendar turns to 2015, but they certainly look better entering this season.
The defense appears to be much-improved. Simply having another season learning defensive coordinator Billy Davis’ system should improve the defense. Malcolm Jenkins is a definite upgrade at safety. Signing Nolan Carroll means the Eagles have four quality cornerbacks. An injury to Bradley Fletcher, Cary Williams or Brandon Boykin is no longer a disaster. In addition, young players such as linebacker Mychal Kendricks and defensive end Fletcher Cox should get better.
Special teams should also be better than last season. Let’s put the kicking situation aside. Final judgment on whether Cody Parkey is better than Alex Henery should be put on hold for at least half a season. But acquiring Chris Maragos and Bryan Braman should improve coverage teams. Having Darren Sproles and Josh Huff should at least keep the return game at the same level as last season.
It’s difficult to improve upon last season’s performances by Nick Foles and LeSean McCoy. As has been said repeatedly, it’s unlikely Foles will match last season’s ratio of 27 touchdown passes to just two interceptions. But that doesn’t mean he won’t be a better quarterback. It’s easy to forget that this will be Foles’ first full season as a starter.
With DeSean Jackson kicked out of the nest, it’s uncertain whether the Eagles offense will be as explosive as it was last season. But with running back Darren Sproles and rookie receiver Jordan Matthews added to the mix, along with the development of second-year tight end Zach Ertz, the dropoff – if there is any – from last season should be minimal.
Another factor pointing to improvement is this is Kelly’s second-year at the helm. He should be a better coach this season that last year. At the least, he shouldn’t be any worse.
The Eagles appear to be a better team than last year. But that won’t matter if they don’t win at least 10 games, an NFC East title and at least one playoff game.
If the Eagles win a playoff game, they will be considered better than last season.
If they don’t win a playoff game, the season will be considered a disappointment.
High expectations come with a price.
But that’s a better “problem” to have than entering a season with low expectations.
Are the Eagles better than last season?
We’re about to find out.