Predictions for the 2017 Eagles: Blount won't lead the league in TDs, Foles will play meaningful minutes, and more
The win-loss predictions have been done ad nauseum, so I'm not entering into that territory. Suffice it to say that the Eagles won't match the 1972 Miami Dolphins (16-0), and they won't be nearly as bad as the 2008 Detroit Lions (0-16).
I have a few other predictions to make, however, with the season less than a week away. They will fall into three categories: 1. Won't happen again. 2. Improvements. 3. Pleasant surprises. From a distance they look pretty positive, but rest assured, there are a number of dark nuggets to follow for the sadistic types.
Won't happen again
-Carson Wentz won’t be the worst QB in the NFC East again
Thanks in large part to an abysmal wide receiver corps (more on that later), Carson Wentz had the worst numbers amongst NFC East signal callers last season. Alshon Jeffery, Torrey Smith, and 16 games of Lane Johnson should help Wentz expand the Eagles' downfield passing game. I also doubt that Kirk Cousins, fresh off a shaky preseason, will throw for nearly 5,000 yards again. And I have a feeling that a 36-year-old Eli Manning is going to chuck up a lot of interceptions.
-The Eagles won't start the season 3-0 again
Kansas City, Washington, and New York went a combined 31-16-1 last year. With two of those first three games on the road, I don't expect another undefeated first three contests; 2-1 would be a solid start.
-LeGarette Blount isn’t going to run for 1,000 yards or lead the league in rushing TDs again
Blount, Darren Sproles, and Wendell Smallwood are likely going to split most of the touches. Therefore, I would be shocked if Blount manages another 1,000 yard season. I don't think he'll get very close to 18 touchdowns, either. Even if Doug Pederson gives Blount the ball every time near the end zone, the Eagles simply will not be there nearly as much as the 14-2 Patriots were last year. I don't believe Blount will have an atrocious season, but it would be absurd to expect anywhere close to his 2016 production.
-Doug Pederson is going to get better at challenges
While Pederson's success with the red flag is obviously less important than how he calls plays, I'm confident the second-year head coach will kill it with the challenges this season. Pederson was 6 for 10 in 2016, and he was perfect on his last four challenges. As he grows more assured in all aspects of coaching, Pederson should become a more astute challenger. I will even go out on a limb and say he will win the Eagles a game with a challenge of absolute genius.
-The wide receivers will not be terrible
In a stunning turn of events, the Eagles' receivers will not be atrocious this season! Okay, so maybe it's not that surprising that Alshon Jeffery, Torrey Smith, and Mack Hollins will be an improvement on Jordan Matthews, Dorial Green-Beckham, and Carson Wentz's imaginary friend. Wentz should not have to rely as often on tight ends Zach Ertz, Trey Burton, and Brent Celek in the passing game, though Burton and Ertz should still feature prominently in Pederson's offense.
-Fletcher Cox will earn his money this year
To be worthy of a six-year, $103 million contract extension (with $63 million guaranteed) sounds like an impossible task. Despite making his second Pro Bowl last season, Fletcher Cox's 43 tackle, 6.5 sack year was a disappointment. He will earn his cash this year, or at least get closer. New signing Tim Jernigan will prevent offensive lines from constantly double-teaming Cox, and big number 91 should reap the benefits.
-Donnel Pumphrey will have a punt return touchdown
-Yes, Pumphrey was very bad this preseason. That said, the Eagles liked him enough to trade up in the fourth round, and are probably going to give him a shot in the return game. The special teams unit has been one of the best in the NFL for the last couple years, so Pumphrey will have chances for some big returns. At least one of those will be for a touchdown.
-Lane Johnson and Caleb Sturgis will make their first Pro Bowls
-The Eagles' right tackle is determined to play the full schedule after his ten-game suspension. At 27 years old, the former number four overall pick is primed for the best year of his career, and he will show that he's one of the best offensive tackles in football. Kicker Caleb Sturgis will join Johnson as a first-time Pro Bowler. Sturgis' 35 field goals made was second in the NFL in 2016, and with the team's offensive improvements, he should have more opportunities this season.
-Nick Foles will play meaningful minutes, and play well
-For better and for worse, Carson Wentz plays hard every single play. Even though he knows his team doesn't want him taking unnecessary big hits, he is going to keep scrambling and fighting for extra yards. It is going to cost him this year, hopefully for just a couple games. Still, Nick Foles will be called upon, and Nick Foles will deliver. Foles' arm will be fine by the time he is forced to play, and he will prove that he is one of the best backup quarterbacks in football. It will feel like 2013 all over again, just without Chip Kelly, Riley Cooper, and DeSean Jackson.