As if defending a Super Bowl title weren’t difficult enough, the Philadelphia Eagles will play seven teams that made the playoffs last year, and four of those they’ll face on the road.
The NFL officially released the 2018 schedule on Thursday, putting to rest speculation about how the season might take shape and fueling new speculation about which teams are set to dominate, and which ones are more likely to flounder.
Fresh off the franchise’s first Super Bowl championship season, the Eagles won’t have a cakewalk back to the NFL’s title game. But they should, at the very least, be well positioned to repeat as NFC East champions, a division that appears to be softer than Kevin Love.
No other team in the division is being taken seriously by Vegas oddsmakers. Philadelphia will head into next week’s NFL Draft at 10/1 odds to win the Super Bowl, second only to New England (6/1). Dallas (28/1), New York (33/1), and Washington (66/1), three teams that failed to make the playoffs in 2017, aren’t likely to dethrone the Eagles in the NFC East.
That projection could change if quarterback Carson Wentz, who is expected to be ready to go for the season opener against Atlanta on Sept. 6, is unable to stay healthy.
Eagles Backup Nick Foles replaced the injured Wentz in Week 14 and was marvelous in the Super Bowl, passing for 373 yards and three touchdowns in an upset victory over the Patriots, but he’s been an inconsistent quarterback throughout his six-year NFL career.
If Wentz, one of the bright young stars in the NFL, either can’t stay healthy or isn’t fully recovered from his ACL injury, a team like Dallas could sneak up snatch the NFC East.
Moderately Difficult Schedule
Even assuming Wentz stays healthy, repeating as Super Bowl champions isn’t going to be easy. The Eagles will have a more difficult time securing a bye in the first round of the playoffs than in 2017.
The schedule includes seven games against teams that made the postseason last year (Atlanta, Tennessee, Minnesota, Carolina, Jacksonville, New Orleans, Los Angeles Rams), and four of those games are on the road.
The remainder of the schedule is relatively light. With six of 16 games against fairly weak in-division rivals, that’s six games the Eagles will likely be heavily favored. Tampa Bay, Indianapolis, and Houston, are the three remaining 2018 opponents. Vegas expects only the Texans (16/1) from that group to contend for a Super Bowl title.
If Philadelphia can go 5-1 in the division and 7-3 against their remaining opponents, a reasonable but difficult goal, the Eagles could secure that important first round bye.
(Nearly) Everyone is Back
Schedule aside, the 2018 version of the Philadelphia Eagles should be every bit as talented as the squad that won the Super Bowl this past season. With 19 of 22 starters returning, the defending champs clearly have the experience and talent in place for another title run.
But until the team hits the field in September, there’s no way of knowing if the Eagles will suffer from a Super Bowl hangover. It’s happened many times in the past, including a few recent winners. The Denver Broncos (Super Bowl 50) and Baltimore Ravens (XLVII) failed to make the playoffs the following season after winning it all.
Philadelphia flew under the radar heading into the 2017 season. They were 50-1 longshots to win the Super Bowl entering training camp.
This year will be different. They’re expected to win, meaning they now have a target on their backs. Teams tend to get extra motivated to compete against the defending champions, making it that much more difficult to repeat.