15 Bold Predictions for the 2012 Philadelphia Eagles’ Second Half of the Season
To say that there are a lot of questions surrounding the 2012 Philadelphia Eagles is quite the understatement. This is a franchise that openly spoke about Super Bowl aspirations following a 2011 offseason in which six former Pro Bowl players arrived to the City of Brotherly Love, plus two pro Bowl-caliber position coaches. We all know what happened last year. The Eagles were the laughingstock of the league, losing four of their first five games and eight of their first 12 before hitting their stride in the season’s final quarter. Five of the leads were the result of blown fourth quarter leads, no doubt due to the inability of rookie defensive coordinator Juan Castillo to adjust for opposing offenses when the game hit its most important moment. But owner Jeffrey Lurie extended an opportunity for Reid to remain the head coach for 2012, although he did say that another 8-8 finish would be unacceptable.
So the Eagles did everything right during the 2012 offseason, drafting the best player available when it was their turn to select, instead of reaching for players who clearly weren’t ready (I’m looking at you, Jaiquawn Jarrett and Curtis Marsh). The Eagles’ draft appeared to be one of the best in the league, and they definitely haven’t disappointed through seven games. The Eagles also stayed away from overrated big name free agents who were past their prime (I’m looking at you, Nnamdi Asomugha) and signed their own, homegrown players to contract extensions. This included running back LeSean McCoy, wide receiver DeSean Jackson, offensive tackle Todd Herremans, and defensive end Trent Cole. Entering the season, the Eagles had a happy and confident team poised to make a run at a Super Bowl title. In fact, the Eagles were so confident that Michael Vick made the ridiculous statement that the Eagles have the potential to turn into a dynasty, a comment that could not be more ironic considering Vick’s performance this season. He has a much higher probability of getting cut from the Eagles this offseason than even leading the Eagles into the postseason.
That’s because the Eagles are 3-4, and once again, one of the laughingstocks in the league. Their offensive is completely ineffective without starting tackle Jason Peters and center Jason Kelce, and their defense is soft and unable to make big plays. The rest of the season for the Eagles could go in many different directions. Here are 15 of my own predictions for the 2012 Eagles in the season’s second half (and a little bit past the end of the season).
1. Michael Vick will not finish the season as the starting quarterback.
There is no quarterback in the league with a leash shorter than Michael Vick, who many expected to be benched following an embarrassing loss to the Atlanta Falcons at home in week eight. I think Vick will play well in a relatively high-scoring loss to the Saints in week nine, which will earn him at least one more chance to keep his job. But the Eagles host the Dallas Cowboys in week 10, a team the Eagles have owned in recent years. That changes, as Vick turns the ball over four times in an ugly 24-6 loss. Foles replaces Vick midway through the fourth quarter, essentially ending the Vick era after three seasons, a 18-15 record, no postseason wins, and an endless supply of heart attacks, both good and bad.
2. Nick Foles has his usual ups and downs over the final seven games.
Nick Foles is not going to lead the Eagles into the playoffs, especially if he replaces a 3-6 team, as I predicted. He’s not the newest version of Jeff Garcia, from 2006, or AJ Feeley, from 2002. But he will play a lot like AJ Feeley in 2002. That means he’ll have low passing totals, both touchdowns and interceptions, and a heavy reliance on the running game. He’ll likely win a game late in the fourth quarter, but he’ll also put the Eagles out of games early with some rookie mistakes. Since I’m a big stats guy, I’ll do my best here. Seven games, plus mop-up duty at the end of the Cowboys’ game? Let’s go with 114 for 183 for 1346 yards, 8 touchdowns, and 7 interceptions. And no, I don’t think he will get hurt, making 2012 the first season in which an Eagles quarterback was not injured since 2008.
3. Jason Peters will not play a single down in 2012.
Any hope of left tackle Jason Peters playing this season will be dashed when the Eagles lose their next two games and management makes the (correct) decision to allow the 29-year old to fully recover before the 2013 season. Remember, Peters suffered not one but two tears of his Achilles tendon this spring. The first occurred in March, and likely would have ended his season anyway, but the second came in May and knocked his recovery time back by several months. I wrote an article a few weeks ago, predicting that Peters would play if the Eagles reached the Super Bowl. I stand by that. But this team is not going to the playoffs, let alone the Super Bowl. The Eagles’ best player will return healthy and (almost as) productive in 2013. Oh, and I have King Dunlap finishing the season at left tackle. Demetress Bell will be nowhere near the Eagles in 2013.
4. Dennis Kelly takes over as the permanent starter at right guard.
The majority of Eagles fans have come to the slow realization that 2011 first round draft pick Danny Watkins is not going to be the answer at right guard. And if he is, he’s taking too long in his progress. He’s struggling both on the field and with learning the playbook. He missed last week’s game with an ankle injury, although I have no doubt that Watkins was healthy and the Eagles used a nagging injury as an excuse to give a rookie a chance. Kelly played well, and although the Eagles listed Watkins as their current starter at right guard, I expect Kelly to work his way back into the starting lineup pretty quickly. I predicted this before the season too, saying Kelly would play eight games at left tackle and would perform well. I’m off on the position, but I expect him to end the season as a starter. If he plays well, the Eagles could use him at right guard heading into 2013. If he plays adequately, he can become a key depth member at any of the four guard or tackle positions in 2013.
5. LeSean McCoy misses the final month of the season with a broken ankle.
I hate predicting injuries, but I think this one is justified. LeSean McCoy has been playing his heart out every game, even though the numbers aren’t there. I think he’s due to suffer an injury playing behind such a weak offensive line. Last year, he missed the season’s final game with an ankle sprain. This year, I think he’ll miss the final four games with a broken ankle. With 2012 as a lost season, this may be a blessing in disguise. McCoy will still return fully healthy in 2013 and the Eagles will have an opportunity to test out their three-headed running back over the final four games. Dion Lewis (last year’s third running back) and Bryce Brown (this year’s backup) have had about 20 carries each, but Polk hasn’t been on the field yet. The Eagles think highly enough of him to keep him on the roster though. I would be a fan of the Eagles splitting carries equally over the final three games. It would be a stretch to see all three backups return in 2013, but I’d be in full support of the Eagles bringing back the two who show the most. Now, remember, this is just a projection, and if McCoy doesn’t get hurt, the Eagles should still try to work their backups, specifically Polk, into the running game.
6. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie signs a five-year, $50 million deal before the end of the year.
It’s no secret that cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is playing for a new contract this season. He’s having a terrific year, although he did struggle against the Atlanta Falcons (understandably, considering their elite wide receiving duo). He’s the best cornerback on the team, but I don’t expect him to make quite as much money as 30-year old Nnamdi Asomugha did when he signed a five-year, $60 million deal before 2011. His deal will keep him signed with Philly through the end of the 2017 season, when he’ll be almost 32 years old. The NFL is a passing league and locking up a promising cornerback like DRC is absolutely vital.
7. Brandon Graham, Cedric Thornton, and Casey Matthews end the season as starters.
All of the signs are there for 2010 first round draft pick Brandon Graham to supplement veteran Pro Bowler Jason Babin as a starting defensive end, permanently. Graham is 24 and playing like the player the Eagles hoped when they traded up for him in 2010. Babin is 32 and playing like he’s 52. I expect Graham to play more snaps than Babin beginning Monday night in New Orleans. At defensive tackle, rookie Fletcher Cox has been everything the Eagles hoped for when they selected him in the first round. But veteran Cullen Jenkins and last year’s breakout player Derek Landri have struggled. I expect rookie Cedric Thornton, one of the few bright spots on the underachieving defensive line, to take over for Jenkins, unofficially, in a few games. And at weakside linebacker, Akeem Jordan is not the long-term solution. He’s one of the longest-tenured Eagles, but he’s better suited as a backup or special teams player. I expect Casey Matthews to begin playing like the Eagles expected when they drafted him in the fourth round in 2011. I don’t think Matthews has a bright future in this league, but I think he’ll end 2012 as a starter.
8. Evan Mathis and DeMeco Ryans represent the Eagles in the Pro Bowl.
Before the season, I boldly predicted that 18 of the 22 starters have at least a decent chance at earning a Pro Bowl selection (fullback Stanley Havili, left tackle Demetress Bell, weakside linebacker Akeem Jordan, and safety Kurt Coleman were the exceptions). But through seven games, it’s hard to see more than two players earning a Pro Bowl selection. Left guard Evan Mathis has been a consistent force since he joined the Eagles before the 2011 season. I expect him to finally earn his recognition as one of the league’s top guards with his first Pro Bowl selection at the ripe old age of 31. And middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans, a tackling machine and arguably the best player on the Eagles this season, seems like a high probability to earn his third Pro Bowl selection. Other possibilities for the Pro Bowl include running back LeSean McCoy, tight end Brent Celek, and cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, but I don’t think any of the three quite deserve a Pro Bowl nod.
9. The Eagles drop to 3-6.
There is not a lot of hope left in the Philadelphia fan base following back-to-back-to-back losses against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Detroit Lions, and Atlanta Falcons. The Eagles are 3-4 and reeling. I don’t expect it to get better. A likely shootout in New Orleans on Monday Night Football will end in the Saints’ favor, and I’ve already stated that I think the Cowboys crush the Eagles at home in week 10, ending Vick’s tenure in Philly. That would mark two straight seasons that the Eagles were 3-6, and the five-game losing streak would all but seal Reid’s fate in Philadelphia.
10. Three straight wins propel the Eagles right back into the playoff race.
But you know Philadelphia teams. They’re good at getting your hopes up. That’s what rookie Nick Foles comes in. I think he’ll be the talk of the town, leading the Eagles to three straight victories over three not-so-good opponents. A la AJ Feeley in 2002, the defense will play well, and McCoy will take the pressure off Foles, but it’s the quarterback who will get the credit as the Eagles improve to 6-6 and vault right back into the postseason race.
11. Losses in three of their final four games drop the Eagles to 7-9.
Like I said earlier, you know Philadelphia teams. This won’t end well. It’ll start when the Eagles drop a defensive affair to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, all but eliminating them from the postseason race. They'll split with the Cincinnati Bengals and the RGIIIs, and their season will end in a rout on the road against the Giants, who will clinch the second seed in the NFC with the win.
12. Andy Reid and his entire coaching staff are fired two days after the season ends.
The Eagles’ entire coaching staff will leave following the season. I’m talking everybody. Say goodbye to offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, and special teams coach Bobby April Sr. And get used to life without the position coaches, from long-standing veterans like Ted Williams and David Culley to overrated positional coaches Howard Mudd and Jim Washburn (who will both likely retire). That means owner Jeffrey Lurie and general manager Howie Roseman will have a difficult task over the next few months. They’ll need not just a head coach, but coaches at every position as well.
13. Another third round selection at quarterback gives Foles some competition for 2013.
I don't think the Eagles will be comfortable heading into the 2013 season with just Foles as their quarterback. I would love it if they traded for Matt Flynn from the Seattle Seahawks, as I've seen some experts suggest, but realistically, I think the new Eagles' head coach will select a quarterback in the 2013 draft. I think the earlier picks will go to some more pressing needs, like safety and wide receiver, but I wouldn't be surprised to see another third round selection at quarterback.
14. The Eagles are expected to finish last in 2013.
In 2013, the Washington Redskins, led by likely Rookie of the Year winner Robert Griffin III, will be a playoff contender. The Dallas Cowboys are always a question mark, but I think they'll have a new coach, which should raise expectations in Dallas. And the Giants can never be counted out as long as they have Eli Manning throwing to Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks. That leaves the Eagles, with a new head coach and new quarterback, expected to finish last in the division by the majority of experts.
15. With Foles starting at quarterback, they do.
And it will happen. For the first time since 2007, the Eagles will finish in last place in the NFC East (unless they do so this year, which is a definite possibility). I know it's way too early to predict, but I'm doing so anyway, and I see the Eagles going through an awkward and frustrating rebuilding phase. A lot of the veterans on the team are aging, and I worry that McCoy breaks down in a few years with his heavy workload. But we'll see. I'm sure I'll change my opinion five to six times over the next few months.