By Reuben Frank
Over the next couple months, you’re going to hear virtually every NFL expert explain why the Eagles can’t win Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta in February.
You’ll hear how nobody has won back-to-backs since the Patriots in 2003 and 2004. How no NFC team has won consecutive championships since the Cowboys in 1992 and 1993. How no NFC East team has even won consecutive division titles since the 2003 and 2004 Eagles.
You’ll hear about the short offseason. You’ll hear how Super Bowl champions grow complacent and lazy after a few months on the banquet circuit. You’ll hear how the Eagles’ quarterback situation will be a distraction.
You’ll hear every reason on Earth why they can’t. But I think they can. I think they will.
Here are 10 reasons why:
1. The roster is better
The Eagles should be better at wide receiver (Mike Wallace for Torrey Smith), defensive line (add Haloti Ngata and Michael Bennett), offensive line (presumably Jason Peters for the entire season) and tight end (Dallas Goedert for Brent Celek). Linebacker may be weaker, but with Jay Ajayi for a full season running back is a push even without LeGarrette Blount, adding Sidney Jones and losing Patrick Robinson is a push and safety and quarterback are pushes. Better roster. The Eagles have 17 starters back from a championship team, and they seem to have the pieces in place to fill those spots seamlessly.
2. They are clearly the class of the NFC East
The Giants were 3-13 last year and have a 37-year-old quarterback who hasn’t won a playoff game in six years. The Redskins were 7-9 last year and have a 34-year-old quarterback who’s 2-5 in the playoffs in his 13-year career. The Cowboys lost Dez Bryant and Jason Witten, and Dak Prescott has to prove to me he’s elite without them. The most recent NFL.com league rankings have the Eagles No. 1, the Cowboys No. 14, the Redskins No. 18 and the Giants No. 26. Sounds about right. Dominate your division and you have a terrific shot at a first-round bye.
3. Doug Pederson is by far the best coach in the division
Pederson is 3-0 as a playoff head coach. Jay Gruden, Jason Garrett and Pat Shurmur are a combined 1-3 as playoff head coaches.
4. Peerless skill players
This may be the most talented group of skill players the Eagles have ever had. How do you stop an offense with Zach Ertz, Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor, Wallace, Goedert, Darren Sproles, Ajayi and Corey Clement?
5. Staying hungry
Pederson won’t let them get complacent. As early as two days after the Eagles won Super Bowl LII in Minneapolis, Pederson had already addressed the team about staying hungry, about continuing to work as hard as it did in 2017, about moving on quickly from the Super Bowl and preparing for 2018. We saw last year that Pederson has a remarkable kinship with his players and a unique understanding of when to be tough on them and when to go easy, and that will serve him well as they make a run at another title.
6. Carson Wentz
Before he got hurt, Wentz was playing some of the best football in NFL history. In his last nine games, he had 27 touchdown passes and five interceptions, went 8-1 and fashioned a 107.6 passer rating. Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady are the only other NFL quarterbacks who’ve ever had 27 TDs and five or fewer INTs in any nine-game stretch in NFL history. He might be the best quarterback in football this year.
7. Home-field advantage
They’re the best home team in the NFL at 13-3 over the last two regular seasons, with one of those losses coming against Dallas last year in a game they weren’t trying to win. Including the playoffs and not including that Dallas game, they’re 15-2 at the Linc under Doug Pederson. The last time they went into a fourth quarter at the Linc trailing by more than four points was Chip Kelly’s final game as head coach. They’re capable of going 7-1 or even 8-0 at the Linc. Do that and go 5-3 on the road and you’re home for the playoffs. And that means the road to Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta has to go through South Philly. And that means see ya in Atlanta.
8. Doug has done it before
Only two NFC teams in the last 25 years have reached back-to-back Super Bowls, and Pederson was a backup quarterback on one of them — the 1996 and 1997 Packers. He knows what it takes.
9. The Injured Guy Factor
If you can win a Super Bowl without Wentz, Jordan Hicks, Sproles, Peters and Chris Maragos, you can sure win one with them. You never know how these things will go, but the Eagles are optimistic all those guys will be ready either for the start of the season or soon after. And that’s a Hall of Famer, two Pro Bowlers, a borderline Pro Bowler and a special teams ace.
10. Because everybody is going to say they can’t.