Philadelphia Eagles: Why Carson Wentz will decide the NFC East

Carson Wentz has his new contract and is fully healthy heading into 2019. He'll now be a key factor in deciding the NFC East.

Carson Wentz has his new contract and is fully healthy heading into the 2019 season. Now is his chance to get back to his MVP form and lead the Eagles back to the promised land. He’ll also be a key factor in deciding the NFC East.

“If Carson Wentz stays healthy…”

Let’s talk about the elephant in the room right away. This is the phrase everyone has been associating with the Philadelphia Eagles for 2019. No matter what you talk about with the team, everything circles back to “if Wentz is healthy.” And to be fair, it’s a valid argument.

Wentz tore his ACL in Week 14 of the 2017 championship season, missing the final three games of the regular season and the Super Bowl run. He also missed the first two games of 2018 as he was finishing up his recovery from the ACL tear. Then later in the season, Wentz was diagnosed with a fractured vertebra and missed the final three games of the season and the two playoff games. In both cases, Nick Foles stepped in and led the Eagles to four playoff wins and a Super Bowl championship.

Wentz has looked entirely healthy during training camp, although he did not take a single preseason snap as the team prepares him for the regular season. He has played in all 16 regular-season games just once in his career, and that was his rookie season of 2016. Wentz looks poised to reach that goal again in 2019. And it’s pretty imperative he does so because speaking of that backup quarterback spot…

Nick Foles can’t save the team this time

For the last two seasons, Nick Foles has stepped in and kept the Eagles afloat after Wentz went down with an injury. That won’t happen anymore as the Jacksonville Jaguars handed Foles a four-year contract worth $88 million that can grow to $102 million through incentives.

That left Nate Sudfeld as the direct backup to Wentz heading into 2019. Those plans, at least for the early part of the season, changed very quickly, as Sudfeld suffered a broken wrist in the Eagles’ first preseason game against the Tennessee Titans. Fortunately, Sudfeld is only expected to miss a small portion, possibly as little as three weeks, of the season before he returns.

When Sudfeld went down, Cody Kessler became the backup, and Clayton Thorson was the number three quarterback. But sure enough, that also changed very quickly.

Very early during the Eagles’ second preseason game against the Jaguars, Kessler suffered a concussion. That gave the team a long look at Thorson, who played the rest of the game. It did also lead to the Eagles bringing Josh McCown out of retirement, who played very well in the Eagles’ third preseason game against the Baltimore Ravens, going 17-for-24 for 192 yards and two touchdowns. He is now the backup for the time being while Sudfeld is also still on the roster. Kessler and Thorson were both let go, and Thorson signed with the Cowboys’ practice squad (the Eagles effectively replaced Thorson with former Giants’ quarterback Kyle Lauletta).

With all that being said, the Eagles are not in as enviable of a position if something happens, again, to Wentz. McCown is fine, but would he have the magic that Foles created to keep the Eagles relevant in the division race?

The offensive line will be a significant factor

Now for some positive notes, starting with the offensive line.

If Wentz does stay healthy, a major reason is going to be because he has one of the best offensive lines in the NFL protecting him. From left to right, Wentz will have Jason Peters, Issac Seumalo, Jason Kelce, Brandon Brooks and Lane Johnson in front of him. The Eagles also want to get Andre Dillard on the field as much as they can, which was a factor in them keeping just two tight ends on the 53-man roster.

Dillard would be a starter on just about any other team, and he’ll eventually become the Eagles’ starter at left tackle after Peters rides off into the sunset. But to have a player the caliber of Dillard as your sixth offensive lineman is a luxury other teams can only dream of having.

Don’t forget all those weapons

In addition to having a strong offensive line in front of him, Wentz will have so many good receivers to throw to. And there’s even room for improvement for the returning receivers.

No wide receiver reached 1,000 yards for the Eagles in 2018. Alshon Jeffery led the way with 843 yards and six touchdowns. Wide receiver is stressed because the leader in receiving yards in 2018 was tight end Zach Ertz. Ertz set a single-season NFL record with 116 catches for 1,163 yards and eight touchdowns.

Ertz and Jeffery are still around, along with the returning Nelson Agholor (64 catches, 736 yards, four touchdowns) and tight end Dallas Goedert, who has major breakout potential this season after catching 33 passes for 334 yards and four touchdowns.

The Eagles also brought back DeSean Jackson, acquired in a trade with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In 2018, Jackson caught 41 passes for 774 yards and four touchdowns. That worked out to 18.9 yards per catch. That’s his third-highest per-catch average in his career and highest since 2014. The player with the highest per-catch average in 2018 for the Eagles, not counting Shelton Gibson‘s one catch for 48 yards, was Jordan Matthews, who averaged 15 yards per reception. The returning Eagle with the highest average from 2018 was Jeffery at 13.4 yards per reception.

Jackson gives Wentz the deep threat he hasn’t had much in his career. Add Jackson to an already respectable receiving group, and now Wentz can stretch the field horizontally and vertically.

Wentz is a quarterback that can make his receivers around him better. It also doesn’t hurt that he’ll have receivers that make him look better, as well.

And don’t forget about the running backs. The Eagles traded for Jordan Howard from the Chicago Bears. Howard has rushed for 3,370 yards and 24 touchdowns in three seasons in the league and has 72 receptions in that time. They also drafted Miles Sanders, who rushed for almost 1,300 yards in 2018 after Saquon Barkley was drafted by the Giants. Not only are those two good backs to throw the ball to, especially Howard, but they’ll help take some pressure off of Wentz and keep him fresher as the season progresses.

Carson Wentz is undoubtedly in a very strong position heading into 2019. He has no injury issues entering Week 1, he has a high-powered offense to operate, and he is a strong MVP candidate, or at least for Comeback Player of the Year, which we happened to award him with here at PFN. We also project the Eagles to reach the NFC Championship Game.

In the end, all the success the Eagles have will circle back to Wentz and if he can successfully play most, if not all, of the season. But ideally, Wentz plays all 16 games and wins the MVP award.

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