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Jan 4, 2014; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Eagles tight end Zach Ertz (86) celebrates a touchdown against the New Orleans Saints during the second half of the 2013 NFC wild card playoff football game at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

2014 NFL Playoff Predictions

2014 NFL Playoff Predictions

Before the NFL season starts, before the preseason games are played, and even before the rosters of each NFL team are set, it’s a golden opportunity to let the imagination go wild and try to guess which teams will make the NFL playoffs.

The reason you find this “global NFL” project undertaken by a Philadelphia Eagles sports blogger is simple:  I expect the Philadelphia Eagles to be among those teams at the end of the 2014 season.  With our appearance, I expect that the second year of head coach Chip Kelly will end the playoff drought since January 11, 2009, when the Eagles won with a resounding 23-11 beating of their rival  the New York Giants.

Before we get started, I want to set up some ground rules for my predictions.    Every year, the NFL’s system of penalizing success in the draft, the salary cap and by cannabalizing the coaching staff of successful teams has a tremendous hurdle for most teams to overcome.  As a result, teams who end up in the playoffs one year, find it difficult to play well the following year.   Typically, five teams do NOT return to the NFL playoffs the following year, so that was my guide as to how many teams will not return in 2014.

Secondly, some teams that did poorly in 2013 have typically played well, but for the blind chance of injuries or unexpected circumstances, run into a streak of bad luck and struggle to win games.     So those situations are likely to happen in 2014 as well, but the trick is to guess which teams will fall victim.

Lets look at the teams who will make the playoffs:

AFC Division Winners:

New England Patriots (AFC East)
Denver Broncos (AFC West)
Indianapolis Colts (AFC South)
Baltimore Ravens (AFC North)

Wildcard teams
Pittsburgh Steelers (AFC North)
San Diego Chargers (AFC West)

NFC Division Winners:
Seattle Seahawks (NFC West)
Philadelphia Eagles (NFC East)
Green Bay Packers (NFC North)
Atlanta Falcons (NFC South)

Wildcard Teams
Arizona Cardinals (NFC West)
New York Giants (NFC East)

Now that I’ve laid out the playoff teams, Let’s focus on Eagles likely opponents:

Playoff weekend 1 : Bye Week.   That’s right.  I expect the Philadelphia Eagles to win the NFC East and enjoy a very worthwhile bye week before engaging in the playoffs.  The key to the season will be how the Eagles take care of business in their division.  With two head coaches on the ropes of their respective teams (Dallas Cowboy’s Jason Garrett and New York Giants’ Tom Coughlin) and one team with a rookie coaching staff (Washington Redskins’ Jay Gruden), I look for the Eagles to do no worse than 5-1 in the division.  The lone division loss could happen at the hands of the Giant’s in week 16, if the Eagles are sewed up and the Giants are fighting for post season, then they could lose this game.

Playoff weekend 2:   Arizona Cardinals  This will be the rubber match.  By this time, the 2013 loss to the Eagles may have been avenged in the week 8 trip to Arizona, particularly since the Eagles travel to Arizona this year.  In either case, the Eagles do not lost this game.   Behind Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald, the Cardinals are looking a lot like a team depending on their defense to win games.   In the regular season, they do.  But after a hard fought playoff win the prior week, they will be due for a let down and the Eagles will be running a special on “visiting team loses” that weekend.

In the game, the Eagles defense confuses Palmer with a number of stunts and a great deal of pressure from the defensive line (I expect at least 2 sacks from the starting 3 defensive linemen in the game).  And in a curious role reversal from last year’s loss, the Eagles use McCoy, Sproles, and Polk to run for over 200 yards in the game.   Casey catches a TD pass to seal the victory 38-13.

Playoff weekend 3:  Seattle Seahawks

This is the game news media are calling for from week 14, where the Philadelphia Eagles use home field advantage to upset the defending Superbowl Champs in a defensive match 17-14 where both offenses are particularly quiet until late in the game.     But in this game, it’s the 12th man who is left silenced as the Eagles devise an excellent game plan of screens and overloads that simply overpower the physical Seahawk defenders.   Chip Kelly and the Philadelphia Eagles, using hand signals and placards from the sideline, neutralize the home field advantage caused by crowd noise.   Meanwhile, the swarming defense of the Seahawks hold the Eagles running game in check, but have no answer to the Eagles three tight end sets that send Ertz, Celek, and Casey all at or near the 100 yard passing yard receiving mark.

The defending champs are stymied on offense as well, as the Eagles unleash the power of their line-backing corps and swarm all day.   Cole, Graham, Kendricks and Smith all record sacks, and the Eagles play nearly a perfect game against one of the NFL’s toughest teams.

The final scored does not reflect just how well the Eagles play on that day, as they end up 28-17 and in Chip Kelly’s second year earn the rights to represent the NFC in the Superbowl.

Super bowl weekend:  New England Patriots

The hype for this game will set records for the NFL.  The Mentor vs. the Student.  The teams that practiced together now face one another.   The media will go at this game on a myriad of differing levels.

But this year will be different folks.   There will be a business like tone to these Eagles.   There will be the recollections of close but denied.   There will be stories in the locker room of how other teams laughed at the 3-13 Eagles.

So by the time the teams line up, it will be the crafty veteran versus the mad scientist.   It will be the bully of the block versus the new kid on the block.

It will not be easy.   The Eagles will need to scrap claw and fight for every yard, every first down.   The team will need to dig down deep.
In the closing minutes, with the Eagles down by one or two points, the team needs someone to step up.  Someone will need to take charge.

The team will have an exhausted LeSean McCoy giving his all.  The offense will have moments of moving the ball, and have some 3 and out series as well.

In the fourth quarter, the New England Patriots will test the resolve of the Philadelphia Eagles defense by running the ball at them.   Unfortunately for the Patriots, the Eagles have had a year to prepare for a playoff team running the ball, and force the Patriots to punt.

From a great return by rookie Josh Huff, the offense goes to work.  Key receptions by Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper set up the Eagles for 1st down and goal to go for the game winning touchdown.
In the end, the Eagles go with a three tight end set and win the game by passing to one of the tight ends as time runs out.

At the end of the day, the streak of deny New England a superbowl victory remains intact, while the Philadelphia Eagles emerge from one of the NFL’s less honored franchises to become the hottest team in the NFL.    Excitement, drama, suspense yes.  But something more fundamentally sound happens this year.   The team realizes the power of working together as one towards a singular goal.

And the NFL may never be the same again.

Sure, other scenarios could happen.  But nobody saw the Eagles at 3-5 winning the NFC East in 2013.   If the Eagles win a superbowl, I want to get my “I told you so” leverage on record.

UPDATE:   At the time of the Eagles bye week (some thirteen weeks later), the team is indeed in the mix.  Two teams that everyone chided me for excluding:  New Orleans Saints and San Francisco 49ers, are both having sub-expectation type of seasons. 

 “You know the team that I think will have a chance this year, is the Philadelphia Eagles,” Collinsworth said during the broadcast. “I just feel like Chip Kelly and what they did in that first year with that offense, I know they didn’t get it all in.”

Chris Collinsworth has gone public with the belief that the Philadelphia Eagles could go all the way.   Others are now beginning to join him.   This Eagles team is the type of team that nobody expects to be as good as it is.   After the bye, the Eagles face a tremendous test in the road game to Arizona.  But having seen the Eagles play while injured in the first leg of the season, the team would not surprise me if they win that game.  At some point, you may want to bookmark this story.  If the impossible happens, you’ll want to be able to return to the story where you heard it first.

It makes a great scrap book opener.

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