Zach Berman and Bo Wulf go on the record with how they expect the Philadelphia Eagles’ 2023 season to play out. Welcome to Week 1.
Most likely to get first Pro Bowl nod
Berman: Dallas Goedert. This is not a bold answer because Goedert should have been a Pro Bowler last season if not for a technicality that kept him off the ballot while on injured reserve. Goedert had a 17-game pace of 78 catches for 994 yards but was limited to 55 receptions for 702 yards because of his five-game absence. He must remain healthy, and the targets will be split with A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith, but it’s hard to see a scenario in which Goedert is not a top-of-the-league tight end. One factor to watch: The competition in the NFC includes George Kittle, T.J. Hockenson, Darren Waller and Kyle Pitts, so Goedert won’t get in based on reputation. It must be with production.
Wulf: Goedert is a good answer, but let’s avoid the double dip. There’s probably an opportunity for D’Andre Swift to grab hold of the role Miles Sanders had last season and earn himself an all-star nod. Reed Blankenship could ride an Eagles wave to the Pro Bowl if the team is as dominant in the conference as it was last season, and Jalen Carter will have name recognition if he makes the kind of early impression some teammates expect him to. But I’m going with Smith, who could establish himself as a bona fide superstar in his third season. Smith finished fourth in the NFC in receiving yards a season ago (with a team-record 95 catches for 1,196 yards), and everyone in the organization expects him to be better this year. Smith’s ability to manipulate space and control his body are recipes for the kind of highlight catches that would only bolster his chances. His time is now.
Starter we’re not paying enough attention to
Berman: I’m probably supposed to say Josh Sweat for old time’s sake, right? Let’s stay in that draft class. Avonte Maddox was limited to nine games last season because of injuries and was not himself upon returning, so it can be easy to forget how productive he can be in the slot. The Eagles need him healthy and playing at a high level because it’s a position where they lack depth. That was apparent last season in Maddox’s absence, and Mario Goodrich appears to be the top option entering the season. James Bradberry received work in the slot during training camp, but Philadelphia needs Maddox on the field looking like the player it signed to a contract extension two seasons ago.
Wulf: I’ll take this question a different way and just wonder if we’re not making enough of Haason Reddick’s absence for much of the summer, first with groin soreness then with thumb surgery. The team’s party line has been very much “nothing to see here,” and the expectations are that Reddick will be ready to go for Week 1. After a dominant 16-sack season, he is probably the caliber of player who does not need the full array of training camp practices to hit the ground running. But if that’s not the case, or if his injury hampers his effectiveness for the early part of the season, the shape of things on defense changes a bit. If Reddick is less than dominant, all of a sudden opposing offenses can spend a little more time accounting for the worrisome likes of Sweat, Carter, Milton Williams, Brandon Graham, Fletcher Cox and more.
Backup most likely to make an impact
Berman: Josh Jobe. The Eagles are relying on two 30-and-over cornerbacks on the outside: Bradberry and Darius Slay. They’ve both remained durable, so age does not necessarily mean injury. But if that happens — or if Maddox goes down and Bradberry moves inside — Jobe is the next man up as an outside cornerback. The second-year pro beat out Greedy Williams early in training camp and became the clear top reserve. He was buried on the depth chart last season. Look for him to take on a bigger role in 2023 if Philadelphia is undermanned.
Wulf: Williams is a player who could break out, but the defensive line rotation is such that he’s hardly a backup. I think Christian Elliss could end up being the Eagles’ best linebacker this season, but he figures to be part of the rotation early on, so that’s not quite what we’re looking for either. Jobe is probably the right answer given the age of the cornerbacks, but since Zach already pegged him, I’ll turn the attention to Sydney Brown. Presumably, one of Terrell Edmunds or Justin Evans will start alongside Blankenship in Week 1, but the safety pairing will feel like a waiting game for Sydney Brown until defensive coordinator Sean Desai calls for the rookie. Could this go the way it did with Nakobe Dean a season ago, when the third-round pick everybody loved remained a backup because the team was rolling? Maybe. But for a defense that figures to take a step back, that level of consistency feels unlikely. Sydney Brown’s ball-to-the-wall style might invite big plays for the opposition in equal measure, but he offers the most difference-making potential at the position.
Player most likely to take a step back
Berman: Graham. It’s nothing short of remarkable that he returned from a ruptured Achilles tendon in his 13th season and reached double-digit sacks for the first time in his career. Graham will remain a contributor, but it would be unrealistic to expect that type of production from him again this season. He played 43 percent of the defensive snaps in 2022, and that might even take a step back, especially if Derek Barnett earns playing time and Nolan Smith’s role grows throughout the season.
Wulf: The cornerbacks. Starters on the outside over 30 are becoming a rarity in today’s NFL, and Slay (32) and Bradberry (30) were so good last season that it’s only fair to expect some kind of regression. Add on a pass rush that can’t be as sack-proficient as it was a season ago and a much stronger schedule of opposing quarterbacks, and we should probably downgrade our expectations a bit.
Berman: I’m going out on a limb here, I know. But who else could this be? Jalen Hurts might be the NFL’s MVP, so I’m going with him for team MVP. I can mention how Philadelphia struggles without Lane Johnson in the lineup and what a Reddick absence would mean for the pass rush, but the reality is it’s hard to project the Eagles as a Super Bowl team without Hurts on the field. We saw it last year. So I’m willing to be unoriginal.
Wulf: Hurts, obviously, because not only is he capable of being the best player on the field at its most important position, but his force of personality is the dominant one in the organization. Everyone follows his lead. If we’re looking for someone less obvious, Johnson continuing to be the best tackle in the league at 33 would be invaluable given the dropoff behind him.
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Berman: Defense is harder against top quarterbacks. The Eagles feasted on mediocre or substandard quarterbacks for much of last season, and this year’s slate is considerably more difficult. There’s a three-game stretch in which they see Dak Prescott, Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen. So much focus goes to how Desai’s defense will be different than Jonathan Gannon’s, but perhaps more attention should go to the conditions in place that might be difficult for this defense.
Wulf: Are the Eagles getting enough out of the 2022 draft class? Jordan Davis will start and continue to be the plug in the middle on running downs, but the pass-rush upside is yet to be fulfilled. Behind him, Dean will be a spotlight player. He enters with high expectations as the defensive signal caller and has a significant track record of elite college production, but de-emphasizing the linebacker position is an organizational belief. Dean will be put in difficult positions, and it’s hard to expect him to be a difference-maker right away. If last year’s second-round pick Cam Jurgens struggles at all as the starting right guard, a theme figures to emerge.
The Eagles will have a successful season if …
Berman: Their defense finishes as a top-10 unit. The offense, barring injury, should be one of the best in the NFL. With Hurts, the pass catchers and the offensive line, it’s hard to envision a scenario in which Philadelphia doesn’t finish among the league’s top offenses. There are more questions on defense, with the need to replace five starters in the middle of the unit and a new coordinator — plus a much tougher schedule. But if the Eagles remain near the top of the league, this should be another successful season. Carter, Dean and Blankenship all must be productive in their roles.
Wulf: The offense is still the best in the NFC. By expected points added per drive, the Eagles were fourth in the league on offense a season ago, one spot behind the Detroit Lions. Limit the sample to when the game was within two scores, and they trailed only the Kansas City Chiefs and Buffalo Bills, per TruMedia, while ranking second in points per drive. For all the variables about how things might look on defense, the Eagles’ path to Super Bowl relevance is pretty clear. If Hurts is somehow better than he was a season ago while still having three great weapons to catch the ball and a great offensive line to protect him, this will have a chance to be the best offense in the league. And offense is king.
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The Eagles will have a disappointing season if …
Berman: The offensive line is decimated by injuries. In my 11 years covering the Eagles, there were two awful seasons — 2012 and 2020. What did both have in common? Injuries on the offensive line that they could not overcome. There were seasons of underachievement sprinkled in there, of course, and the bar is so high for the Eagles that even nine or 10 wins might not put smiles on many faces. But the quickest way to disaster would be if Johnson, Jason Kelce, Landon Dickerson and Jordan Mailata are all sidelined for parts of the season. I’ve seen it happen like that before.
Wulf: This is the hard truth of living with expectations and standards like Hurts’. Anything less than a championship will feel like a disappointment. Guess it beats being happy with 9-8.
Final record prediction
Berman: 11-6 and a return trip to the Super Bowl. This could be 12-5 if the last game carries meaning for the Eagles. I see them as an 11- or 12-win team, depending upon health. They are the best team in the NFC. Even if San Francisco and Dallas will give them a run for the Super Bowl, the Eagles should be able to advance that far with a healthy enough roster. Once there, it’s one game for a shot of redemption. But I’d take Kansas City — and perhaps even Cincinnati or Buffalo — in one game on a neutral field against Philadelphia at this point. Let’s discuss this again in January, though. The answer might be different then.
Wulf: Injuries, turnovers, red zone performance, etc. All those things are bound to revert a bit after last season’s special year that can’t possibly be replicated. The schedule is tougher. The defense is unpredictable. But there are no serious questions on offense, so barring disaster, the Eagles will be very good. They will finish 11-6, one game behind the division-leading Cowboys. They will win on the road in the wild-card round, then again in Dallas in the divisional round. One win away from returning to the big game, it will feel like destiny. Then it will end cruelly, like most things do, with a loss in the NFC Championship Game and another offseason of longing.
(Top photo: Mitchell Leff / Getty Images)