The NFL season is still months away. Between now and then, literally anything can happen that irrevocably changes the trajectory of the season. That gets amplified once the games actually begin. While we wish injuries on no one, they are an inescapable part of the sport we all very much love. One crucial injury can change everything.
For the Philadelphia Eagles, however, if everything stands as it is now, their 2023 schedule won’t really begin until they come out of their bye week. Everything before then is an appetizer, a warm-up. That’s not to say that those games shouldn’t be taken seriously. They absolutely should, and will. But what will determine how the season ends for them will be the games that make up the back half of their schedule.
Philadelphia Eagles’ 2023 Schedule Is a Tale of 2 Cities
The first half of the Eagles’ 2023 schedule is not exactly murderer’s row. They will play nine games against mostly bottom-half-of-the-league teams. Then they will have a bye week during the week of Nov. 12. After that, they will play eight more games. Seven of them will be against playoff teams. Let’s dig in.
The First Half of the Schedule Is a Gift
The first half of the Eagles’ schedule is a gift for a team that was in the Super Bowl last year. Now, I have said multiple times that with the big changes to the Eagles’ environment scheme-wise, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them take a slight step backward this year. One way to mask that is to play a light schedule while you find your footing.
In the Eagles’ first nine games before their bye week, they will face six teams with a 2022 losing record, five who missed the playoffs (Buccaneers backed in with a losing record), and four who finished in last place in their divisions. What’s more, most of those teams have not undergone significant improvements, and in some cases, have taken a step back (like Tampa Bay).
Philly Open against the Patriots and Vikings. The Patriots are the definition of mediocrity, and the Vikings were considered to have largely overachieved last year, getting bounced in the Wild Card Round at home. Then, the Eagles take on the Buccaneers (already explained their listlessness) and the Commanders. Both of those teams finished below .500, and the Commanders finished in last place in the NFC East, with no signs of that changing soon.
They will then take on 2022’s last-place AFC East team in the New York Jets, followed by the Miami Dolphins. This is admittedly a tough two-game stretch for them. The Jets added Rodgers, who is a notable improvement, and the Dolphins, if healthy, are a Super Bowl contender. If the Eagles get through this stretch relatively unscathed, that’s a success.
Then, the first half finishes with two NFC East matchups, again against the Commanders and then the Cowboys. The Commanders have already been mentioned, but the Cowboys will be a challenge. Philadelphia split with Dallas last year, although they didn’t have Jalen Hurts for the game they lost.
All told, the Eagles could be looking at anywhere from a 6-3 to 9-0 record heading into their bye week. That’s a great position to be in. For a defense that was largely overrated last year and is now undergoing an environmental change with the departure of Jonathan Gannon, this is the stretch they needed to find their new identity.
If you remove the Cowboys, Dolphins, and Vikings, the remaining six teams averaged a combined .62 points per minute of possession time in 2022. If that were one team, it would be good enough for 24th in the NFL. Those are the teams that the defense thrived against last year.
The Second Half Is Where It Gets Serious
Everything we just said about the first half of the Eagles’ schedule is null and void from Nov. 20 forward. They come out of the bye week and immediately have to go and face the bully who stole their lunch money in Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs. It doesn’t get much easier from there.
From Mahomes, they then face Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills at home. Kansas City will be the first 2022 first-place team they face all season, and Buffalo will be the second in consecutive weeks. Then they have a third when the 49ers come to town. The 49ers have made it clear this game is circled for them.
They believe, and so do I, that had they not been forced to use their fourth-string quarterback, it would have been the 49ers playing the Chiefs in the Super Bowl, not the Eagles.
Then they get the Cowboys for a second time. Depending on how they come out of the preceding three games, the Cowboys could take advantage of an Eagles team that is spent emotionally and physically.
The Eagles don’t get much of a break as they’ll take on a fifth consecutive 2022 playoff team in the Seattle Seahawks. Then it is the Giants twice, with the Cardinals sandwiched in between.
Those eight games are, in fact, murderer’s row. Seven 2022 playoff teams in eight games. Six consecutively. Multiple games with emotional ties and ego measuring sticks. How the Eagles come out of this stretch will be what determines their season. Even just coming out .500 could be enough to doom things like home-field advantage or a top seed.
The Eagles Must Make Their Free Throws
Due to the insane difficulty of the Eagles’ second-half schedule, they must make their free throws in the first half. Dropping a game to teams like the Buccaneers or Commanders could prove costly as their margin for error in the second half would close considerably.
Last year, entering the postseason, I pointed out that when the Eagles faced teams who were top 12 in scoring behavior rate, they struggled mightily and were prone to giving up 27+ points and/or losing outright. Look no further than the Super Bowl.
In the second half of the season, this Eagles team will face four of the top seven 2022 SBR teams and five of the top 10. They’ll be doing it with a new system and a new coordinator. It cannot be overstated just how important it is for this team to meet expectations in the first half of the season. Failure to do so could give them no room for error in the second half and could lead to a Super Bowl swoon.