Lofty expectations after an unexpectedly successful season make the perfect setup for a Philadelphia Eagles’ letdown season. The Birds’ 2013 season under head coach Chip Kelly ended with an NFC East title and a one-and-done playoff appearance, a marked improvement from the year prior. This season, expectations and the bar in Philadelphia has risen past a give-it-a-few-years-to-work mentality. The city is starved for an Eagles championship. The players want to win now. Kelly would like nothing more than to make a second-year mark on the NFL. But what happens if the Birds crash and things go south this season? A doomsday-type scenario that has befallen other teams in past seasons could creep up and strike the Eagles.
What if Eagles starting quarterback Nick Foles gets injured or has a sophomore-style slump? With the loss of quarterback Michael Vick, all eyes will turn to recovering quarterback Mark Sanchez, a former New York Jets starter that has seen his confidence and durability challenged.
What if the loss of former wide receiver DeSean Jackson, now with the rival Washington Redskins, creates a bigger hole in the defense? Can wide receivers Jeremy Maclin, Riley Cooper, Josh Huff, and Jordan Matthews pick up the slack and compensate for the loss of a vertical threat?
What if All Pro running back LeSean McCoy gets injured early on, and backup running back Darren Sproles has to carry the load? While Sproles has shown an ability to hold his own with both the New Orleans Saints and San Diego Chargers, he is on the wrong side of 30, an unfortunate milestone for a drop in running back production.
What if the Eagles defense, bolstered by draft pickups, just can’t get thing together this year? Will linebacker DeMeco Ryans and cornerback Cary Williams be able to help the defense grow? Will the transition to a 3-4 continue to take shape as the defensive players buy in to the scheme and formations? Can the unit as a whole be counted on to make the key stop?
What happens if Kelly and his coaching staff, with all their creative ideas, hit a wall this season? In a copycat league, and with a season of the “Kelly offense” on tape, opposing defenses should be better prepared to handle what the Eagles throw at them.
These scenarios are enough to make any Eagles fan cringe. They are the worst case scenarios in a season of high expectations. Unfortunately, it’s a hard reality that the NFL has a lot of unexpected twists and turns. One injury to a key player can be enough to tilt one or two games, and the ripple effect could be the difference from playing in January or sitting home watching. The Eagles must tune out all the “what ifs” and focus on the task at hand, getting better at Kelly’s system, refining their execution in all phases of football, and continuing to build a team around trust. It also wouldn’t hurt to have a bit of reliable depth for major positions.