Chip Kelly’s Eagles handled life in hostile territory just fine, thank you, in 2013. The Eagles went 6-2, opening the season with a rout at Washington and then clinching the NFC East Division with a nail-biting victory at Dallas on the final Sunday night of the regular season. The mental mettle developed and hardened paved the way for the Eagles to return to the postseason for the first time since 2010, and it’s going to be especially difficult in the season ahead against a road schedule that includes games against three playoff teams (San Francisco, Indianapolis, Green Bay) and another team that won 10 games (Arizona) a year ago.
That sub-.500 record compiled by the road teams is a mirage when put into context: The Houston Texans were 2-14 and the other three teams in the NFC East – Dallas, New York and Washington – combined to go 18-30 last year.
The rest of the road schedule? One knockout punch after another. San Francisco was 12-4 and a final playoff stop away from reaching the Super Bowl. Indianapolis won 11 games playing much of the season without star receiver Reggie Wayne. The Colts are a team to watch with third-year quarterback Andrew Luck at the helm. Green Bay’s 8-7-1 record in 2013 wasn’t impressive on the surface, but considering that superstar quarterback Aaron Rodgers was limited by injuries to 9 games and 17 touchdown passes, it’s understandable. Arizona is a team on the rise after narrowly missing the postseason in 2013.
You look at this schedule and notice some of the particulars: An opening game at home against Jacksonville is a chance for the Eagles to get off to a strong start against a rebuilding team that has been aggressive in free agency and that should have immediate impact from the draft. It’s a very tough slate – on paper – but we know how things change during the course of a season and how the perspective changes from April to September to November and December.
Here we go with the Fabulous Four on the road: Monday Night Football in Week 2 at Indianapolis. At the 49ers on September 28. We'll know pretty early on how the Eagles stand against the biggest boys in the league.
The Eagles make another long trip out to Arizona for an October 26 game and then return to Lambeau Field to play the Packers on November 16. To make the road-warrior mentality even more prominant, the Eagles have a road test in Houston on November 2.
Want a theme? To win the East again, the Eagles need to take care of business on the road to end the regular season at Washington and at the Giants. Oh, and enjoy your Thanksgiving dinner in front of the television -- or make a road trip! -- when the Eagles play at Dallas that afternoon.
To get back to the playoffs, the Eagles need to have the upper hand in the division, and that’s a given. They went 4-2 in the East last season, and that slim win at Dallas launched the team into the postseason. More of the same, and then some, is a huge priority in 2014.
So is winning at Lincoln Financial Field, which is going to be absolutely rocking this year. The Eagles gained their mojo back after ending a 10-game losing streak in South Philadelphia and reeling off four victories down the stretch, and with a home schedule that includes the Super Bowl champs when Seattle comes to town on Sunday, December 7, hey, it’s not going to be a cakewalk by any means.
The road is the proving grounds, though. Going toe-to-toe with some of the NFL’s best teams in some extremely tough places to win – Indianapolis, Green Bay and Arizona – and going out to California in front of a rabid 49ers crowd will be telling.