Improvement and Development are the Eagles' Watchwords in 2021

Expectations with a new head coach and a first-year starting QB are low, but if those two goals are met and with the schedule the way it is, there could be a surprise by season's end
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It’s pretty simple when things such as prognostications and rankings are boiled away.

This Eagles season will come down to development and improvement, to them being a better team in November and December than they are in September and October.

Injuries could make that a difficult feat to achieve, as could a roster that, with so many younger players expected to play a role, may not be as good as GM Howie Roseman had hoped it would be when he drafted many of them.

If the Eagles stay relatively healthy and they do show improvement, well, their final five games are within the NFC East. So, if no team is running away with the division and the Eagles are able to stay within squinting distance of the top, perhaps they can contend or, at worst, play spoiler like they did last year in the regular-season finale when their loss left the Giants out of the playoffs and put the Football Team in.

Eagles 2021 schedule

Eagles 2021 schedule

“I want to see gradual, steady improvement,” said NFL analyst Brian Baldinger. “That’s what I want to see. I saw at times with Matt Rhule a year ago in Carolina, you’re growing with a young new coach. Here, people don’t really know much about him, so I have to see improvement, I have to see payers develop.

“That’s the whole key. Draft these young guys and develop these guys. Everybody’s telling me Nick Sirianni brought in a staff of teachers. OK, great, that’s a great term, it can be a cliché, but let’s see it. Let’s see it.”

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The most popular number for over/under wins for the season by the bookmakers is 6.5.

The under would not represent much of an improvement since the Eagles were 4-11-1 in 2020.

“The Eagles have to own 4-11-1,” said Baldinger. “It’s hard. It’s hard. They were in the Super Bowl three years ago. They won it. And to see this team just fall apart like they did, it was disappointing for any Eagles fan.

“It’s probably a good thing there weren’t any fans in the stands because they would have heard about it, but they have to own 4-11-1, and so I think when you look at expectations, certainly better than 4-11-1.”

So much of what constitutes improvement will be the development of a roster in transition.

The veterans will carry this team to where it ultimately ends up.

Players such as offensive linemen Jason Kelce, Brandon Brooks, and Lane Johnson. Such as Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham, Derek Barnett, and Rodney McLeod on defense.

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It will be up to the younger players, such as this year’s rookie class as well as the rookie class from 2020, such as K’Von Wallace, Shaun Bradley, third-rounder Davion Taylor, and, of course, Jalen Hurts.

Even players who came in the 2018 and 2019 classes need to improve or, in some cases, show they belong.

“Let’s see DeVonta Smith, let’s see Zech McPhearson, let’s see Avonte Maddox, I mean, let’s see some of these young guys develop, let’s see them get better,” Baldinger said. “That’s my expectation. I don’t expect them to win the division this year, although I think it’s up for grabs, but I think the Washington Football Team is further along, with a proven coach. They showed that last season in the postseason (in a close loss) against Tampa.

“I’m predicting (the WFT) in the preseason here to win (the division). They’re going to get a lot of competition. If I’m an Eagles fan looking at this regime, it’s, ‘Lets’ see an improved team, let’s see a better team in December than we’re going to see in September.'”

If that happens, and with the final five games against division opponents, then perhaps there is a surprise in store.

Ed Kracz is the publisher of SI.com’s Eagle Maven and co-host of the Eagles Unfiltered Podcast. Check out the latest Eagles news at www.SI.com/NFL/Eagles and please follow him on Twitter: @kracze.