While it’s not technically the halfway point of the season for NFL teams, the Philadelphia Eagles are coming of off the week 10 bye. How did they play the first nine games? Pretty good. The Birds lead the NFC East by three games, have a perennial quarterback or the future and MVP candidate in Carson Wentz, and own the best record in the NFL at 8-1. In a year that many projected as another rebuild year for Philadelphia, they now sit in great company. All teams in NFL history that started 8-1 made the playoffs.
Some things will remain constant in the second half, but many things won’t. Hopefully, the record is the only thing that changes and the Eagles will cruise into the playoffs as the best team in the NFC. Here are the second half predictions for the Eagles season.
Philadelphia Eagles Second Half Predictions
Who Steps Forward
The player who should take a big step forward this second half is running back Jay Ajayi. Ajayi was acquired at the trade deadline and played in the Eagles last game before the bye. While no one was completely sure how head coach Doug Pederson would distribute snaps between Ajayi, LeGarrette Blount and the reset of the backs, it seemed likely it would start as a running back by committee. 37 rushes were distributed between four backs and even though Ajayi started his Eagles career with eight carries, he racked up the most rushing yards that game with 77. He broke off a 46-yard scamper for his first touchdown of the season, going back to his time with the Miami Dolphins this season.
Blount was doing a good job before Ajayi arrived, finishing downs and punishing defenders to get extra yards like he was brought in to do. He had been lacking finishing ability at the goal line, though, and wouldn’t be able to run down the sideline for a 46-yard score. Ajayi is almost the same player as Blount, but Ajayi can catch better out of the backfield, is quicker and has better speed. As the season goes on, expect Ajayi’s snap count to slowly increase until he has the lion share of the backfield. The Eagles are second in rushing yards per game so the opportunities will be there.
Who Steps Back
Rasul Douglas has had a fabulous rookie season so far, but the rookie wall should hit him at some point very soon. He has tough matchups coming up against All-Pro quarterbacks in Dak Prescott, Derek Carr, Russell Wilson and a potential All-Pro this year in Jared Goff.
While Jalen Mills is the number one corner at the moment and should shadow the top receivers most of the time (Dez Bryant, Doug Baldwin, Sammy Watkins and Amari Cooper), all those teams boast elite pass attacks and receiving corps.
Douglas had far exceeded expectations so far this season, registering 18 tackles, two interceptions and nine passes defended. Ronald Darby should be back very soon from injury and that will push Douglas’ playing time down. Because of the competition upcoming and players returning from injuries, Douglas’ production and numbers won’t be that high going forward.
This is not the MVP of each position and will be non-quarterback players but almost equally and vital to the success of the final seven games.
On offense, tackle Lane Johnson is the underrated player who gets the offense going. He has quickly established himself as one of the best, if not the best, right tackles in the NFL. He is a rock and an unstoppable force on the right side of the line and it’s been shown that when he goes out of the game, the offense suffers.
The offensive line is already banged up with All-Pro left tackle Jason Peters out for the season with a torn ACL. That has thrusted Halapoulivaati Vaitai, or “Big V”, to the left tackle spot, who has had his ups and downs so far. It was a big risk to leave Johnson at right tackle and not shift him to protect Wentz’s blind side on the left side, but Pederson knows what he’s doing. With that being said, Johnson’s health and consistency are unbelievably important because without him and Peters, the offense could fall apart in a flash.
Defense is a tougher side of the ball to pick, but it has to be the current number one cornerback Jalen Mills. Mills had done a stellar job sliding is as the number one corner when Darby got hurt week one. When Darby returns in the next week or two, Mills should slide back to the number two spot.
Either way, Darby’s health should not be counted on the rest of the season and since he missed eight games, he could be somewhat rusty to start out. Mills may be more depended on that most people think and because of his first half performances it certainly isn’t out of the questions he is the real number one for a little bit.
This one SHOULD be easy. Who doesn’t think Carson Wentz isn’t the MVP of this team right now. Heck, he’s right on the doorstep of the league wide MVP award 10 weeks in. He still leads the league in touchdown passes with 23 (the only quarterback over 20) and has thrown a mere five interceptions. He has the third highest passer rating among starters at 104.1, has already thrown for just under 5,000 yards.
Wentz has shown no signs of stopping his torrid pace and his offense is clicking on all cylinders. His key offensive players in safety valve tight end Zach Ertz and Johnson are healthy and playing well. If Wentz was supposed to take a step forward in his quarterback progression this season, he has easily taken five to 10 steps forward. He is rivaling some of the league’s best in stats, wins and respect. Expect this man to continue to wreak havoc on defenses and put the Eagles in prime spots to win.
The best-case scenario for this team is they finish 14-2 and only loss one of the next seven games. Worst-case scenario is a little tougher to predict but hopefully only will bring this team to 12-4.
In the end, the realistic, not crazy expectation is this is a legitimate 13-3 team (yup, right in the middle of the best/worst case scenarios). Going to the west coast to take on the 6-3 Seattle Seahawks in week 13 will be hard to overcome. It should be a closer game than last year’s in Seattle, but winning at CenturyLink Field is…well…difficult. There are two games after that where the Eagles will probably lose one but not two. The following week, Week 14, they travel to Los Angeles to take on the 7-2 Los Angeles Rams who boast the top offense in the NFL. The Eagles also host Derek Carr and the Oakland Raiders on Christmas Day Week 16.
13-3 looks very possible by the end of the season and hopefully it would be enough to lock up home field advantage through the playoffs. In the end, who would have thought at the start of the season that the Philadelphia Eagles would be anywhere near reaching those kinds of records.