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Five Things To Watch: Games 1-4

Posted Jul 2, 2014

As we continue to preview each and every game of the Eagles 2014 season, we have reached the end of the first quarter of the season. The first four games for the Eagles are pretty evenly split: two games against the AFC (one home, one away), and the same goes for the NFC. Here’s a look of five things to keep an eye out for during the Eagles' first four-game stretch of the regular season…

Don’t Sleep On The Jaguars

When the 2014 NFL schedule was released in April, many Eagles fans were excited to see the Jaguars as the first opponent to come to Lincoln Financial Field, feeling like it would be a great opportunity for the Eagles to get things started on the right foot. It’s hard to fault fans for thinking that way, as Jacksonville hasn’t finished a season with a winning record since 2007. Head coach Gus Bradley’s team won just four games in 2013, but all four wins came in the second half of the season, which included a three-game winning streak.

Despite Jacksonville’s recent losing ways, the energetic Bradley appears to have the team on the rise. The Jaguars selected quarterback Blake Bortles with the third-overall pick in May’s NFL Draft and then added a pair of playmaking wide receivers in Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson. Maurice Jones-Drew has moved on to Oakland, but bruising back Toby Gerhart has been brought in to help shoulder the load in the Jacksonville backfield. Throw in the defensive signings of Chris Clemons and Red Bryant, and the Jaguars appear to have added talent on both sides of the football. It would be wise for Eagles fans to not think of Week 1 as an automatic win.

A Battle of 2012 Draft Class Quarterbacks

In just two NFL seasons, Andrew Luck has developed into the star quarterback that the Colts believed he could be when they selected him first overall out of Stanford two seasons ago. Luck has won 22 games since entering the league, and in 2013 he led the Colts in one of the greatest comebacks in NFL playoff history, storming back from a 38-10 deficit to defeat Kansas City 45-44. Luck has surely earned the national attention that he has garnered, finding himself as the most accomplished passer from a strong 2012 draft class that includes Robert Griffin III, Russell Wilson and Ryan Tannehill.

Of course, five games into the 2013 season, another member of that same draft class burst into the spotlight, displaying the same leadership and intelligence possessed by Luck. Third-round pick Nick Foles took hold of the reins of the Eagles offense in Week 5 after Michael Vick was sidelined with an injury, and from there it was a meteoric rise for the second-year quarterback. Eagles fans know Foles’ story very well by now: The seven-touchdown performance against Oakland, the 27:2 touchdown to interception ratio, and a division title to wrap up one of the most prolific passing seasons in NFL history. Now, the stage is set for these two young signal-callers to compete against one another for the first time on the professional level.

The National Stage

In 2013, the Eagles performed very well in games played in front of a national audience. They introduced the entire NFL world to the new style of Eagles football in the opener against Washington, hung up 54 points on the playoff-bound Bears, and clinched the NFC East crown on the road against the Dallas Cowboys.

All in all, the Eagles went 3-1 in primetime games in 2013, and they’ll get their first taste of the National spotlight against the Colts in Week 2 on Monday Night Football. The Eagles currently have five national games on the schedule this season, including a Thanksgiving Day battle with the Cowboys, and with the way that flex scheduling in the NFL works, there could be more national games for the Eagles. The Week 2 test against a strong Colts team will be an early measuring stick of the Eagles ability to play on the big stage.

Can RGIII Return To Form?

Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III was dynamic in 2012, leading Washington to a playoff appearance while taking home Offensive Rookie of the Year honors. But the athletic signal-caller injured his knee towards the end of the regular season and then re-injured it in the 2012 playoffs, causing him to miss the entire 2013 preseason. The former Baylor Bear made his return against the Eagles in last season’s opener, but it was clear from the get-go that he was not the same player. His mobility, the thing that made him such a threat, was limited by a knee brace, and it also appeared that he couldn’t generate much on his throws from his lower body.

As the season went on, Griffin appeared to improve every week, showing flashes of his 2012 self. Now, the quarterback is equipped with a new head coach in Jay Gruden and a new wide receiver in DeSean Jackson. In a way, 2014 is a fresh start for Griffin, and Week 3 presents the Eagles defense with an early look at the quarterback. The Eagles swept Washington in 2013, but now they’ll have to account for a recharged and refocused RGIII.

The Class of the NFC

The San Francisco 49ers have won 36 games over the last three seasons, making it to the NFC Championship Game all three years as well. They played in Super Bowl XLVII against Baltimore, and were a few yards away from winning another ring. Without a doubt, San Francisco has been among the elite teams in the NFL. What makes the 49ers especially tough is that they’re so strong on both sides of the ball. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick has jump-started the offense since taking over as the full-time starter in 2012 and the defense remains one of the top units in the league, allowing just 17.0 points per game last season, the third-lowest average in the NFL.

The Eagles rebounded from a four-win season in 2012 with a 10-6 record last year. After the team's first-round playoff loss to New Orleans, Eagles fans are hoping the team can take another leap forward in 2014, and this Week 4 meeting with the 49ers should be a great barometer to see how much improvement has been made.

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