As Puxatawney Phil runs from his shadow, thirty NFL teams have likewise fallen into a long winter while two remain, eager for their sunny season to conclude in emphatic fashion. The two teams in the tango this year are surely the ones who many expected around midseason to be in the mix given their dominance up to that point. The Kansas City Chiefs have become the perennial favorite to come out of the AFC since Patrick Mahomes took the helm as quarterback, but the Eagles have just recently come into the national spotlight.
Of course it was only five years ago when the Eagles made this trip last. The head coach was a second year Doug Pederson and the quarterback for the game was Nick Foles. A far different team took the field in Minnesota that day than will take the field in Arizona on February 12. This time around, the roster feels much more sustainable with the young core that has been constructed by a redeemed Howie Roseman.
Just how redeemed is Mr. Roseman? One only has to take a gander at this roster which may very well place among the greatest to don the Eagles green. They surely have the accolades to claim a stake at that with the all-time record in wins for the franchise, most rushing touchdowns and most sacks all-time among others.
On the offensive side of the ball, Jalen Hurts has proven himself to be the man everyone hoped he could be when he first took the reins from the embattled Carson Wentz in 2020. Hurts has always had the intangibles that one seeks for a leader in his calm, cool and collected demeanor on game days and his humility. His presence commands respect and the camaraderie of his teammates. This did not seem to be a question very early in his career with Philadelphia, rather it was would his talent as a pocket quarterback improve and set him apart from other dual threat quarterbacks who have not been able to get over the playoff “hump” (look no further than Lamar Jackson).
Hurts took that step and so much more and has now stamped his ticket for a sizable pay raise this offseason. As much as he improved in his own abilities, he was very much assisted by the talented roster that was built around him following this offseason and the past few successful drafts by Howie Roseman and company.
The offense is a “pick your poison” situation for defenses. Do you try to stop the running machine trio of home-run speedster Miles Sanders, Darren Sproles clone Boston Scott or powerback Kenneth (Kenny G) Gainwell? Good luck! Not only are they a formidable trio, but they also run behind perhaps the greatest offensive line in football. Left tackle and former rugby behemoth Jordan Mailata stands aside fellow youngsters Landon Dickerson and backup center Cam Jurgens who will take over for legendary center Jason Kelce when he retires. Speaking of Kelce, the all-time center faces one of, if not his, final season in the league alongside fellow veterans Lane Johnson and Isaac Seumalo. Johnson has been particularly impressive in the postseason as he deals with a torn muscle in his abdomen. Even with that ailment, he has not allowed a sack and held the likely defensive player of the year Nick Bosa to an almost non-factor in the NFC Championship game. Hats off to him.
Even if a defense finds a way to stop that rushing attack (which also includes the dynamic running ability of Hurts himself) they have to deal with the likes of AJ Brown, DeVonta Smith and Dallas Goedert ripping secondaries to shreds in their speed and yards after catch abilities. In Brown’s first season as an Eagle, he shattered the all-time receiving record in yardage for the franchise and has been nothing short of a dominant weapon for Hurts to look to downfield, underneath or across the middle. With defenses honed in on Brown, Smith sits on the other side having himself a brilliant season as well, shattering the franchise’s record for receptions by a receiver with ninety five.
Dallas Goedert, the only Dallas from the NFC East to be in the Super Bowl in nearly thirty years, has been nothing short of a dominant playmaker and blocker in the run game. His talent may very well put him in the discussion of top three tight ends behind Travis Kelce. Where he lands in the group of George Kittle and Mark Andrews depends on which fanbase you belong to, but if Goedert stays healthy, he could very well surpass them and give Kelce a run for his money throughout his career.
On the defensive side of the ball, coordinator Jonathan Gannon’s crew has been nothing short of a force to be reckoned with all throughout the year and especially in the playoffs. The defensive line, which employs four players with double digit sacks, wreaked havoc upon the Giants’ Daniel Jones and literally knocked 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy out of the game. The all-time leading line in Eagles history for sacks finds themselves on the league wide sack record list behind only the legendary 1984 Bears. Hasaan Reddick, Josh Sweat, Brandon Graham form an edge that is almost unblockable while Javon Hargrave, Fletcher Cox and Jordan Davis tear up interior lineman to pressure quarterback and stuff the run. In the middle of the year veterans Linval Joseph, Ndamukong Suh and Robert Quinn were added to shore up that line in case of injury.
Darius Slay, James Bradberry, Avonte Maddox, CJ Gardner-Johnson and Marcus Epps make up the ballhawking and shutdown secondary that is first in the league in pass defense. Gardner-Johsnon ended up tied for the most interceptions while only playing twelve regular season games. Bradberry and Slay have formed a dynamic duo that has been exceptional at shutting down receivers while Maddox has really come into his own in the nickel position.
Linebackers Kyzir White and TJ Edwards have been great in the linebacker position while solid in pass defense while third round steal Nakobe Dean waits in the wings for his starting opportunity.
Jake Elliott has been a surefire leg on special teams and, although early in the year there was concern over the return game, Britain Covey and Boston Scott have become solid and even a little dangerous in this phase of the game.
Overall, this roster looks very good not only on paper but over the course of this season and, although they will be facing their toughest test of the year in the Chiefs and Mahomes, they will face it together and, as they do all things, they will put it all on the table.
Joseph Gill is a fourth-year student English major who minors in journalism. Contact Joseph at JG923276@wcupa.edu