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2014 Schedule Preview: Games 1-4

Posted Apr 23, 2014

The Eagles' 2014 season will begin on what promises to be a beautiful fall afternoon in South Philadelphia. Set your calendars for September 7, 1 PM EST, at Lincoln Financial Field.

Coming to town to pop the cork on Chip Kelly's second NFL season will be the Jacksonville Jaguars and the man who could have been the Eagles' head coach if not for Kelly.

The task before head coach Gus Bradley and general manager David Caldwell was not easy when they took over reins of the Jaguars organization last offseason. After years of poor drafting, the Jaguars were left bereft of talent on both sides of the ball. Beyond overturning the roster, Bradley was charged with reinvigorating an organization that needed new hope.

It appears Bradley has been largely successful with the latter goal, while the process of molding a top-level roster pushes forward. This offseason, the Jaguars continued to import a few former Seahawks with whom Bradley was already familiar, bringing in defensive linemen Chris Clemons and Red Bryant to aid a pass rush that was anemic in 2013.

But while the defense looks on the upswing under Bradley's stewardship, the offense remains a pressing issue. Gone is running back Maurice Jones-Drew, one of the greatest players in franchise history, while Toby Gerhart, Adrian Peterson's former backup with the Vikings, signed in Jacksonville to take the lion's share of the carries. An offensive line that has been porous over the last few years was addressed during last year's NFL Draft with the second-overall selection of Texas A&M offensive tackle Luke Joeckel and was boosted again this offseason with the signing of former Denver Broncos starting guard Zane Beadles.

The Jaguars, though, still lack a franchise quarterback. Former first-round pick Blaine Gabbert was traded away this offseason while Chad Henne was re-signed to remain the projected starter. But the 28-year-old Henne has never finished a season with more touchdowns than interceptions and has a 75.3 quarterback rating for his career. He remains nothing more than a stopgap.

Now, the Jaguars have the third-overall pick in this year's NFL Draft with which they can address a variety of holes. But the biggest reason for optimism in Jacksonville remains Bradley, who has energized the roster and seems to have the team developing an identity.

When the Jaguars travel to Lincoln Financial Field, their improving defense will no doubt be tested by the Eagles' high-flying offense. Linebacker Paul Posluszny is the captain of the Jaguars defense and he'll be one of the players to watch as the Jaguars try to corral LeSean McCoy.

Meanwhile, the comparison between Joeckel and Lane Johnson is likely to be a storyline, as Johnson outperformed Joeckel, who was picked two spots earlier than Johnson, in their respective rookie seasons.

It all starts with the Jaguars' trip to Lincoln Financial Field and we, for one, can't wait.

The Eagles' first road game of the 2014 season will take place in front of the eyes of the football universe on Monday Night Football as a pair of 2013 playoff teams square off.

When the Colts drafted Andrew Luck with the first-overall pick in the 2012 draft, they hoped that he would be the proverbial “franchise quarterback” that could lead the team back to the promised land where Peyton Manning had once taken them.

Two seasons and two playoff appearances later, it looks like the Colts have found their man. The Colts won two games in 2011, and in two seasons since, they've won 22. I guess you can say that all it took was a little bit of Luck.

Luck has accounted for 55 total touchdowns in his first two NFL seasons, and perhaps more importantly, he has become the leader that every team wants their quarterback to be. The Stanford alum's never-say-die mentality has come in handy for Indy, with perhaps no better example than the Colts' stunning 45-44 victory over Kansas City in the 2013 Wild Card round. The Colts trailed 38-10 in the third quarter, but Luck led the comeback charge, completing the second-largest comeback in NFL playoff history.

In 2013, Luck was able to have success despite an almost non-existent running game and a season-ending injury for one of his biggest weapons. When Indianapolis acquired running back Trent Richardson just two games into the season, Colts fans were obviously excited. The former third-overall pick ran for 950 yards in his rookie season of 2012, but the Cleveland Browns traded him just two games into 2013. The move did not pan out, as Richardson never ran for more than 64 yards in a game and averaged just 2.9 yards per carry. Not helping matters was the fact that future Hall-of-Famer Reggie Wayne tore his ACL in late October, leaving T.Y.Hilton with the lion's share of playmaking duties for the Colts receiving corps.

Defensively, the Colts were a middle of the road team in 2013. They finished 20th in the league in total defense, allowing 357.1 total yards per game, but they were similar to the Eagles in that they played with a “bend but don't break” mentality. Indianapolis allowed just 21.0 points per game in 2013, ninth-best in the NFL. Their run defense was their biggest liability, as they allowed 125.1 rushing yards per game, the seventh-most of any team. The addition of linebacker D'Qwell Jackson from the Browns should improve the unit, but the run-heavy Eagles could be in for a big day on the ground.

While the anticipation for the first two games of the season is sure to be sky high heading into the 2014 season, it's safe to say this Week 3 tilt will serve as the early season game of choice for fans looking to circle one on the calendar. The intrigue, of course, centers around new Redskins wide receiver DeSean Jackson, as he travels back to Lincoln Financial Field for the first time as an opponent.

There are, however, many more layers of interest in what is always a heated rivalry between NFC East foes. First of all, the matchup pits the two most recent NFC East champions against each other. What strides will the Eagles defense make in year two under Billy Davis? How will they handle Gruden's new-look Redskins offense with Robert Griffin III and running back Alfred Morris? To wit, what strides will Griffin make after a disappointing sophomore season?

How will the Redskins defense fare in its first season without London Fletcher in what seems like decades? Will they have a better defensive gameplan than the ones on which the Eagles scored a combined 57 points last season?

Meanwhile, the Eagles and Redskins played two memorable games in 2013, the first being the opening Monday Night Football contest of the season in which Chip Kelly unveiled his hyper-speed offense that would take the NFL by storm. After blitzing the Redskins and jumping out to a 33-7 lead, the Eagles held on despite a late rally for the 33-26 victory. In Week 11, the Eagles and Redskins met in Philadelphia, with the former sporting a 5-5 record the latter at 3-6. The Eagles jumped out to a 24-0 lead heading into the fourth quarter but, once again, they had to withstand a furious comeback attempt by a Redskins team that refused to die. Alas, an under-pressure Robert Griffin III sailed an errant pass into the end zone that Brandon Boykin intercepted to ice the 24-16 victory.

Overall, the Redskins offense, even with a hobbled Griffin III, ended up finishing ninth in the NFL in yards per game (369.7). However, the unit just could not convert those yards into enough points (20.9 per game, 23rd in the NFL) – especially when taking into account that the defense and special teams, which was historically bad, combined to allow 29.9 points per game, second-worst in the NFL. Everything that could go wrong, did go wrong, and the Redskins plummeted to a 3-13 record, second-worst in the NFL.

This year, in the third game of the season, emotions will no doubt be running high. Which team will jump out to a quick edge in the NFC East?

Eagles fans would love to forget the last time these two teams met. In Week 4 of the 2011 season, the Eagles looked to be back on the winning track after a 1-2 start to the regular season. Early on in the third quarter, an Alex Henery field goal pushed the Eagles' lead to 23-3. What should have been smooth sailing the rest of the way turned out to be disastrous for the Eagles, as the 49ers stormed back to score 21 unanswered points to win the game. That game was one of the lowest points of a 4-8 start for the Eagles. They went on to win their last four games to salvage an 8-8 record, but there is no doubt that the incredibly deflating loss to San Francisco left its stamp on the Eagles' campaign.

Of course, the teams are very different now as compared to three years ago. Both teams now feature rising stars at the quarterback position in Nick Foles and Colin Kaepernick, as Michael Vick and Alex Smith have each moved on to new teams. The Eagles also have a completely different offensive system under Chip Kelly, something that 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh hasn't yet faced at the professional level. Kelly and Harbaugh did meet four times while coaching at the college level. Kelly, Oregon's offensive coordinator for two of those meetings, won three of the four matchups.

The 49ers are clearly among the class of the NFC. They've played in the last three NFC Championship Games and came just a few yards away from taking home Super Bowl XLVII against the Baltimore Ravens. They have a prolific offense, led by Kaepernick and his playmaking wide receivers Michael Crabtree and Anquan Boldin and dynamic tight end Vernon Davis. Frank Gore remains a staple of San Francisco's backfield, and though the 49ers are still a “ground and pound” type team, Kaepernick's ability to extend plays and stretch the field has given them an added dimension that has become increasingly more difficult to stop.

While the offense has steadily increased over the last few seasons, the defense has not taken a back seat. The 49ers ranked fifth in the NFL in yards per game allowed at 316.9, and they were even better at keeping teams out of the end zone, allowing just 17.0 points per game, the third-lowest average in the league. NaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis are two of the top linebackers in the game, and Aldon Smith is one of the league's top edge rushers, when he is on the field. Bowman, however, is coming off of a torn ACL and MCL that he suffered during the 49ers' loss to Seattle in the NFC Championship Game. There is no definite timetable for when Bowman will return, but it's certain that his presence will be missed in the middle of the 49ers defense.

The Eagles, on the other hand, are a team on the rise. Coming off of a remarkable playoff run under first-year head coach Chip Kelly, many people around the league view the Eagles as contender to join the ranks of San Francisco and Seattle among the NFC's elite. At this point, that's all projection, but when the Eagles and 49ers meet face-to-face, everyone will be able to see exactly how the Eagles stack up to the NFC's top teams.

Schedule Previews:

Games 5-8 (STL, NYG, @ARI, @HOU)

Games 9-12 (CAR, @GB, TEN, @DAL)

Games 13-16 (SEA, DAL, @WAS, @NYG)

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