The Seattle Seahawks will bring their Super Bowl rings to Lincoln Financial Field on December 7 in what the Eagles will surely hope is a picture of their future. To paraphrase the Nature Boy Ric Flair, to be the best, you have to beat the best; such is the challenge that will be stand in front of the Eagles.
Seattle's calling card remains its defense, where they ranked atop the league in 2013 thanks to a ferocious pass rush, ball-hawking linebackers and the league's best secondary, led by cornerback Richard Sherman and safety Earl Thomas. Though important players like Chris Clemons, Red Bryant, Brandon Browner and Walter Thurmond have departed Seattle, the Seahawks defense is still primed to dominate once again.
Of course, the Seahawks defense will have their hands full with one of the league's most powerful offenses. The game plan for this side of the matchup will be interesting, as the Eagles boasted the league's best running game in 2013, with 5.1 yards per rush, while the Seahawks stood atop the league in pass defense, allowing only 4.8 net yards per pass attempt. So will the Eagles pound the run, or is that exactly what the Seahawks will expect? The chess match will be one to follow.
With that in mind, the matchup between Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll and Chip Kelly is sure to draw intrigue. Considering Carroll's history as head coach at USC, you might think the two have faced off several times before. But Carroll's USC and Kelly's Oregon only faced off once with the two as respective head coaches. That game, on Halloween in 2009, featured Carroll's fourth-ranked Trojans traveling to the 10th-ranked Ducks. Kelly had the last laugh on that night with a 47-20 victory.
On the other side of the ball, quarterback Russell Wilson remains one of the league's ascending players, even if he's not asked to do too much. Running back Marshawn Lynch is the focal point of the offense and he carried the ball 301 times in 2013, second only to the league's rushing champion, LeSean McCoy. Lynch's bread and butter remains pounding through the line of scrimmage, though he did also catch 36 passes out of the backfield in 2013, the second-highest total of his career.
On the outside, the Seahawks hope to replace the departed Golden Tate with the return of a healthy Percy Harvin, one of the league's most explosive, if not reliable, playmakers. Doug Baldwin mans the other starting receiver spot, while Zach Miller is a steady target at tight end.
With feathers sure to fly in Philadelphia, the NFL's eyes will be on which avian side squawks last.
Curiously, Week 15 will serve as the regular season finale at Lincoln Financial Field when the Cowboys come to town for the second meeting between these two teams in only three weeks. Of course, there is likely to be much on the line as the Eagles begin a season-ending three-game stretch against division rivals.
The Cowboys have won two straight games at Lincoln Financial Field and four of their last five games in Philadelphia. The Eagles' only victory at home over the Cowboys in the last five seasons came in 2011, when they defeated Dallas 34-7. Prior to that, the Eagles' last win over Dallas at Lincoln Financial Field was the 44-6 thrashing in the 2008 season finale, which propelled the Eagles into the playoffs. Perhaps 2014 will bring more of the same.
Week 16 for the Eagles will serve up a nationally televised Saturday game against the Washington Redskins. There are two slots for the Saturday matchups on December 20, one game at 4:30 PM EST on NFL Network and one at 8:15 PM EST on CBS. Which of those spots the Eagles and Redskins will occupy is to be determined at a later date.
Meanwhile, there is sure to be plenty of importance placed on penultimate game of the Eagles' 2014 season. A season after Chip Kelly opened the veil on his NFL tenure in the season's first week with a blitzing of the Redskins at FedEx Field, the return to the scene of that crime will prove perhaps much more important.
If the NFC East plays out as it has over recent seasons, it will all come down to this. Of course, if the Eagles have been good enough, perhaps there will be little to play for in this trip up I-95 than playoff seeding. But the possibility also stands that the Eagles and Giants will be playing for a division title as the seasons winds down on December 28.
In a way, the last time the Eagles and Giants met at the Meadowlands was a bit of a coming out party for Nick Foles. Back in Week 5 of the 2013 season, Foles entered the game late in the second quarter after Michael Vick injured his hamstring scrambling out of bounds. The Eagles led 19-7 after Foles' first drive under center, but the Giants stormed back to get within one point at 22-21. From there, Foles kicked it into overdrive, finding Brent Celek with a perfectly-placed 25-yard touchdown pass, and then finding DeSean Jackson on a five-yard fade route for the proverbial nail in the coffin. The Eagles picked up their second win of the season, snapping a three-game losing streak, and Foles proved his ability to lead the Eagles fast-paced offense. He finished the afternoon 16-25 passing for 197 yards and two touchdowns.
One of the biggest reasons why the Giants were able to get back in the game after facing an early 12-point deficit was because of how well they slowed down LeSean McCoy. The Eagles back was held to just 46 yards on 20 carries. His 2.3 yards per carry average was the lowest for any game of his 2013 season.
Offensively, the Giants received terrific performances from their wide receiving corps. Entering the game, the Eagles players were asked about how they would slow down Victor Cruz, and they were able to do so, limiting him to just 48 receiving yards. However, Hakeem Nicks (nine catches for 142 yards) and Rueben Randle (96 yards, two touchdowns) each had big days. Eli Manning threw for 334 yards, but he was once again bitten by the turnover bug, something that plagued him all season long. He was intercepted three times, including a spectacular one-handed takeaway by Brandon Boykin.
The key for the Eagles in this year's matchup at MetLife Stadium may just be their ability to shut down the Giants running game. New York added running back Rashad Jennings to a group that already includes David Wilson and Peyton Hillis. If all of those backs can stay healthy, New York could feature a strong running game in 2014. Eagles players like Mychal Kendricks and DeMeco Ryans will need to be all over the field, and young defensive linemen like Fletcher Cox and Cedric Thornton will need to set the edge and win the battle at the line of scrimmage. If that happens, the Eagles could find themselves leaving New Jersey victorious for the second consecutive season.
But there is so much unknown that will unfold over the next seven months. We can't wait to see how it all turns out.