WELCOME BACK: CARSON WENTZ. There is zero debate about who should be the starting quarterback once Wentz is healthy, after injuring his left ACL and LCL in Week 14. Yes, NICK FOLES was spectacular in the playoffs—he even made the difficult deep throws late in the down from muddy pockets, as Wentz does. But Wentz, 25, is on track to become the NFL's best quarterback, and soon. He can make plays within structure and outside of structure. He's lethal from within the pocket and on the move. He's smart enough to call a game at the line of scrimmage. He can make anticipatory far-sideline throws and accurate deep heaves while in a defensive lineman's grasp. He does it all.
Is DOUG PEDERSON the NFL's best coach? In Super Bowl LII he outclassed the man who has long held that title, New England's Bill Belichick. Pederson's offense is as well-honed as anyone's. Even with limited receivers Philly still produces aerially with complex formations and intertwined route combinations. The ground game, schematically, is the NFL's most rich—by far. And Pederson has shown the ability to keep harmony in a locker room populated by players with diverse, strongly held religious and political views. That's not easy.
The Eagles replaced reliable backups Brent Celek and Trey Burton with second-round rookie DALLAS GOEDERT and journeyman RICHARD RODGERS, and they will still run a lot of multi-tight-end sets. Pederson employed those often in '16, when the receiving corps was a shambles. It's now better, but still so-so. ALSHON JEFFERY is a bit plodding, MIKE WALLACE is fast but stiff and NELSON AGHOLOR is strictly a slot weapon.
In passing situations, defensive coordinator JIM SCHWARTZ is brilliant at scheming one-on-one matchups for his bevy of talented D-linemen, particularly Pro Bowl tackle FLETCHER COX. One tactic Schwartz uses is to align Cox directly over the center. Then Schwartz either overloads one side or goes with a diamond look, flanking Cox with two defenders on each side. Both strategies isolate Cox against the center, whom he can always overpower.
2017 RECORD 13W 3L
SI'S 2018 PREDICTION 11W 5L
6th FALCONS [Thursday]
11th @GIANTS [Thursday]
28th @JAGUARS [In London]
3rd REDSKINS [Monday]
THIS RANKING moves up three or four spots if Carson Wentz effectively comes back from his left-knee injury. His rare ability to extend plays from within the pocket gives Philadelphia one of the league's best third-down offenses.