No, the Philadelphia Eagles Aren’t the NFC East Favorites


Dallas Cowboys’ legend and NFL Network analyst Michael Irvin is never one to shy away from his roots or take a swipe at the Philadelphia Eagles or their fanbase. Yet, Irvin joined 97.5 the Fanatic’s Ron Jaworski show on Wednesday, and seemed to think that DeMarco Murray bolting to the Cowboys to join their divisional rival changed the balance of power in the NFC East.

"“Philly is the favorite in the NFC East,” he said. “I have to be able to separate my head from my heart. You can’t convince me that you can just stick anybody back there. And if they had drafted a Melvin Gordon or a Todd Gurley, then wait a minute, this team may be something.“But right now, I see Philly and then Dallas in the NFC East.”"

I cover the Eagles (for a reason), but I don’t agree with Irvin’s thoughts.

First of all, “the favorite” or “the team to beat” are terms thrown around way too frequently. When a team goes 12-4 and finishes one controversial play away from going to the NFC Championship game, it’s hard to think that anything the Eagles did this off-season was enough to sway that.

Irvin is perfectly within his rights to think the Eagles can win the division, but that doesn’t make them “the favorite”. General public opinion, which still tends to lean towards the Cowboys being the best team in the division, makes a team “the favorite”.

The Cowboys did lose Murray, but their offensive line is still loaded, especially having added La’El Collins into the mix. Also, Lance Dunbar and Joseph Randle are much better players than they are being given credit for. Darren McFadden, given less carries, also may be very effective behind that line.

The team still does have one of the best Quarterbacks in the league in Tony Romo to pair with a strong receiving corps led by Dez Bryant.

Defensively, the Cowboys were a better overall unit than the Eagles in 2014, and are expected to get Sean Lee back. They drafted freakish athlete Byron Jones out of UConn as well, which should improve their secondary. And while it’s been fun to hear people mock both the Greg Hardy signing and Randy Gregory pick, both are immense talents, and will be on the field at different points this season for the team.

In Philadelphia, we’ve tried to convince ourselves of something we didn’t even believe two months ago. I can’t tell you if Sam Bradford is going to stay healthy or not, but if he does, I believe he may have a career year in this offense. That said, I’m not under the belief that a career year from Bradford would mean winning more than eight or nine games. Nick Foles had a career year in Philadelphia and the team won 10 games and lost in the first round of the playoffs. That came with a better offensive line, receiving corps and offensive-line than what Bradford will be playing with next year. Mark Sanchez had a career year in Kelly’s offense in 2014 and was still part of one of the biggest collapses in franchise history.

DeMarco Murray and Ryan Matthews both are talented running-backs and the duo, mixed with Darren Sproles, may prove to be better than LeSean McCoy and company were last year. They do have a history of injury issues, but one would assume they will be running behind a healthier offensive-line than McCoy did a year ago.

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I am high on the pick of Nelson Agholor, but he’s probably going to be a drop-off in comparison to Jeremy Maclin. Josh Huff may very well become an effective weapon, but I’m not as sure as other people that will happen. Huff has a ton of upside, but until I can see him consistently hold onto the ball, I’ll be a skeptic. Jordan Matthews is a tremendous slot receiver, and may get some looks on the outside this year, but I tend to think that what we saw out of him last year may be close to his ceiling. He’ll be a consistent 700-900 yard a season guy, but probably not much more than that.

I’m not trying to be a pessimist, but I’m also trying to keep things in perspective. The Eagles front seven is going to be very good this year, and I realize that. The secondary obviously will improve, but there are still questions at the second safety spot and about who will start across from Byron Maxwell.

And what went most well for the Eagles last year? Their special teams. Darren Sproles will still be an effective returner and the unit overall will still be one of the best in the league, but the chances that the unit blocks as many punts and is able to be as disruptive as they were last year seem slim.

All this said, the Eagles are right in the mix in the NFC East. They aren’t the favorite, but they are in the mix. I’d be shocked if the Eagles took a drastic fall-off this year, but only winning eight games wouldn’t shock me either. Maybe Sam Bradford will stay healthy and have a career year in Philadelphia, but even in that case I struggle to think he’s going to lead a better team than the one that Dallas has assembled.

[Quotes transcribed courtesy of Birds 24/7]