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The Eagles are back and perhaps better than they were when they won the Super Bowl

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NFL: Washington Redskins at Philadelphia Eagles Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Analysts and writers who feel the need to make predictions with total conviction — that their opinions are in fact not opinions but infallible peeks into the future — are not football experts at all, but carnival barkers. Over a century of evidence in American sports alone tells us that as of yet nobody can predict what will happen in the next season or even the next game with any level of consistency that would make a reasonable person look twice. So there are no predictions in these previews of opponents of the 2019 Seattle Seahawks — only my thoughts and within those thoughts, an opinion of what I believe they will most likely look like in the coming year and straightforward updates on changes to the roster and coaching staff. But any team could be turning over 30% of their entire roster or 100% of their coaches and in some cases, a complete changeover in ownership and/or how they plan to run their franchise. That makes things even more volatile when looking ahead, but it’s worth a look ahead anyhow. These are my thoughts, some of which will be wrong, but if I didn’t believe my experience in evaluating football things was at least a little bit valuable, I wouldn’t be writing these. Hopefully that experience gives you a clearer picture of what to expect, while also expecting that these pictures could be erased at any moment.

Previous previews:

Bengals / Steelers / Ravens / Browns / Saints / Buccaneers / Falcons / Panthers

2019 Philadelphia Eagles

What would we be saying about the 2018 Eagles if the 2017 Eagles hadn’t won the Super Bowl? It’s funny because I remember believing at the time that Philadelphia had won their championship “a year earlier” than expected, meaning that I thought they could repeat and with style. Instead they slipped to 9-7, needing to win five of their last six games to make the playoffs, where they beat the Bears in Chicago and blew a 14-0 lead in the divisional round to the Saints.

So it wasn’t just that they won their championship a year early, but they had their upstart season a year late. It really would seem to make more sense if you flipped their 2017 and 2018 results — but maybe that just means that the Eagles are poised to win another one and start some dynasty talk.

Offensively, I think that Doug Pederson has as good a chance as any head coach in the NFL to finish first in points. Despite finishing 18th in scoring last season, this is as talented of an offense as I can think of in the league: Carson Wentz throwing to Alshon Jeffery, DeSean Jackson, Zach Ertz, Nelson Agholor, Darren Sproles, Dallas Geodert, while being blocked for by Jason Peters, Lane Johnson, Jason Kelce, Brandon Brooks, and Isaac Seumalo, handing it off to Jordan Howard, Corey Clement, Wendell Smallwood, and Josh Adams.

But that’s not all as the Eagles also spent second round picks on running back Miles Sanders and receiver J.J. Arcega-Whiteside plus a first round pick on tackle Andre Dillard so we may not even have a really good grip on how high this team’s upside really flies.

Lets recap how good this list of names really is.

The concerns with Wentz are much more about availability than ability. He’s missed eight games over the last two seasons, and despite Philly making the playoffs in both of those years he has yet to play in a postseason game. His numbers continue to be great however:

2017-2018: 64.7% completions, 54 touchdowns, 14 interceptions, 7.6 yards per attempt, 102 passer rating

There are probably some valid criticisms of Wentz’s game but his consistency has been impressive: other than a three-interception game against New Orleans last season, Wentz has had a rating of at least 83 or better in 24 of his last 25 starts. He avoids interceptions, he finds the end zone, and he’s got a great supporting cast. I don’t know that Wentz is the “most talented” quarterback in the NFL but I think he’s gotta be a top-five MVP candidate.

One thing that is a little surprising — and concerning — is how many times Wentz has been sacked in his career, an issue exacerbated by Wentz’s knee and back injuries.

Despite playing behind such a well-regarded offensive line, Wentz has been sacked 92 times in 40 career games. The only QBs who’ve been sacked more times in that many games or less are Aaron Rodgers and Tyrod Taylor. We know that Russell Wilson gets sacked a lot too (an NFL-high 135 sacks in the last three seasons) but we don’t regard that offensive line to be good. Either the line is making Wentz look bad or vice versa but it’s still an issue and there is no more Nick Foles waiting in the wings.

That line features a combined 15 Pro Bowls (9 for Peters and two each for Johnson, Brooks, and Kelce) plus unrealistic depth in Dillard, Halapoulivaati Vaitai, and Stefen Wisniewski. Philly has stressed value in the offensive line in a way that is completely foreign to Pete Carroll and John Schneider and it seems to be working out pretty well for them. At the very least, we can agree that the Eagles’ spending on o-line hasn’t hurt them.

Ertz made his second Pro Bowl in 2018, catching a career-high 116 passes for 1,163 yards, a significant jump over his already-great receiving numbers from the previous three years. You wouldn’t expect a team to also feature prominent receivers with a tight end like that but Philly seems to have high-quality balance at the position in Jeffery (843 yards), Jackson (774 yards, NFL-best 18.9 yards per catch with the Bucs), and Agholor (736 yards).

Arcega-Whiteside had 1,059 yards and 14 touchdowns at Stanford last season and some view him as the most exciting sleeper in this receiving class. Much like his rookie classmate Dillard, Arcega-Whiteside isn’t even being asked to contribute right now because there are actually-good veterans ahead of them, so the team and the players seem to be in a good position right now.

At running back, Miles Sanders may not have any luxury of waiting around. The team brought back Sproles, signed Jordan Howard, and they already have three “veterans” that they like in Clement, Adams, and Smallwood. That makes them six deep at the position, plus 2017 fourth round pick Donnel Pumphrey (Rashaad Penny’s teammate at San Diego State) and Boston Scott. But running back has arguably the easiest transition to the pros and using a second round pick on one is significant.

If Sanders stands out, and he’s already doing so in camp, Pederson has no reason not to feature him. Most of his offenses have spread the ball around but he also had Jamaal Charles once upon a time as the offensive coordinator for the Chiefs. Again, I’m talking about maybe Philly’s number four running back this season. I think this offense is really, really good and we might be talking about them in the 500-point club this season.

The defense isn’t bad either, but it does seem like the Eagles will need to rely on scoring over stopping.

The star on that side of the ball continues to be the defensive line, which lost Michael Bennett (a move that many have considered more of a “win” in Seattle and now Philly because of a personality that may out-size his immense talent) but looks no worse than it did in 2018. Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham return for their eighth season together. Cox stayed in the argument for “second-best DT” in the NFL last year while Graham saw a bit of a dip in his production from 2017 and is now 31.

Philadelphia is hoping that 2017 first round pick Derek Barnett is now ready to shine after missing 10 games a year ago; in the six games he appeared in, Barnett had 2.5 sacks and 11 QB hits, numbers that pace out to a very respectable 16-game output for an edge rusher on a deep line. And the fourth member of the expected front-four is Malik Jackson, a Pro Bowler with the Jaguars in 2017. That Jacksonville defensive line was arguably as good or better than what we’ve seen with the Eagles, but it’s comparable and Jackson is now very used to playing on great defenses having previously played on the championship Denver Broncos D in 2015.

There’s plenty more after those four.

Vinny Curry had 18 QB hits for Philly in the 2017 championship season, spending one forgettable year in Tampa Bay and returning to the Eagles in the offseason. Defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan missed all but three games and returns, still just 26, looking to establish himself as a starting player again somewhere in the future. He’s maybe as good of a non-starting defensive tackle as you can find.

There’s also Josh Sweat, Hassan Ridgeway, rookie fourth rounder Shareef Miller, and a little more. The story behind the defensive front though is quite a bit different.

Secondary seems to be the second-best area on the defense with Ronald Darby, Sidney Jones, Rasul Douglas, and Jalen Mills headline the corners, plus Rodney McLeod and Malcolm Jenkins at safety. Mills is returning from a Lisfranc injury and is on PUP while Darby is slowly working his way back from a torn ACL. You mostly all know that Jones has a significant injury history, including seven games missed in 2018 with a hamstring issue.

Not even Douglas is safe, playing through a knee injury last year.

Jones and Douglas appear as favorites to start on the outside, while 2018 fourth rounder Avonte Maddox looks to end up in the slot. Maddox was thrust into early action last season because of injuries. The loss of Cre’von LeBlanc to a Lisfranc this year prompted the team to also sign veteran Orlando Scandrick, a potential option in the nickel.

All told the corners have talent and potential but seem to be on thin ice because of injuries and inexperience. High ceiling, low-low floor.

McLeod tore his MCL in Week 3 and went on injured reserve. He returns and is practicing in full. Jenkins doesn’t get the publicity of some other safeties, but has been to the Pro Bowl in three of the last four years. If there’s good pressure upfront, as we expect, and healthy in the secondary, which we don’t, then the Eagles could have one of the best pass defenses in the league. If injuries strike them again like they did in 2018, then 9-7 could be more realistic than 13-3.

Meanwhile the middle of the defense could be perfectly good, it simply doesn’t feature bigger stars like maybe it did in the days of Mychal Kendricks, Kiko Alonso, Conner Barwin, or Jordan Hicks.

Nigel Bradham enters his fourth season in Philadelphia. W Kamau Bell Kamu Grugier-Hill strained his MCL and could miss the beginning of the season, at least. Hill started 10 games last year, recording 45 tackles with a sack and an interception. After time in Tennessee, Buffalo, and Washington, inside linebacker Zach Brown starts his Philadelphia career in 2019. Brown has 250 tackles and seven sacks in the last three years.

Brown and Bradham are likely more than enough to maintain the middle while, again, hoping that the front is as good as it looks and that the back is healthier than it ever has been. If that all happens, then Philadelphia could have the number one offense and a very good defense.

That’s how good the Eagles could be this season. Better than they were when they won the Super Bowl and perhaps instead of just winning a year early, maybe they also “repeat” a year late.

The Seahawks face the Eagles on Sunday Night Football in Week 12. The game is in Philadelphia.