Prior to March, Eagles fans most likely didn't have the Buffalo Bills game pegged as one of the biggest games of the season. Aside from Randall Cunningham's improbable 85-yard touchdown pass to Fred Barnett back in 1995, the Bills and Eagles haven't had much history, meeting just 12 times since 1973.
Then the trade happened.
The Eagles sent LeSean McCoy, the franchise's all-time leading rusher to Buffalo. In exchange, the Eagles received Kiko Alonso, a young linebacker who took the league by storm in 2013 before an injury robbed him of his 2014 season. Now, a game that didn't look so enticing a few months ago has become one of the most anticipated games of the season and one of the most anticipated Eagles' homecomings. Mark your calendars: December 13th is LeSean McCoy's Lincoln Financial Field return. It will be the first of three straight December home games and will cap off the Eagles' AFC schedule.
McCoy obviously adds a huge spark to Buffalo's backfield, but the real question for the Bills may lie at the quarterback position. Kyle Orton, who threw for over 3,000 yards in 2014, has retired, and former first-round pick E.J. Manuel has not panned out the way the Bills have hoped. Veteran Matt Cassel was acquired from the Vikings to give the position a lift, though he's started just nine games over the past two seasons. The good news for Buffalo is that no matter who is playing quarterback, he'll be able to hand the ball to McCoy or spread it around to targets like Sammy Watkins, Percy Harvin, Charles Clay and Robert Woods.
Buffalo has made a number of changes on offense, but the real mark of the team remains on defense, and the hiring of head coach Rex Ryan only strengthens that claim. Last season, the Bills ranked fourth in yards allowed per game (312.2) and points allowed per game (18.1). Mario Williams has piled up 91.0 sacks in his nine years in the NFL, and 2014 proved to be his best season with 14.5 sacks. Defensive linemen Jerry Hughes and Marcell Dareus also pitched in 10 sacks apiece, giving the Bills one of the best pass-rushing teams in the league.
The Eagles will play the Arizona Cardinals for the fifth straight season in 2015, making Arizona perhaps the Eagles' biggest non-divisional rival. The Eagles will be looking for revenge for a couple of reasons this time around. The Cardinals have taken four of the last five matchups with the Eagles (six if you include the 2009 NFC Championship Game), and last year's meeting was particularly tough to swallow. The Eagles had their fair share of chances to put more points on the board and win the game on the final drive, but they couldn't get it done.
The Cardinals made the playoffs in 2014 and owned one of the best records in the NFL throughout most of the season. In early November, Cason Palmer suffered a knee injury and things quickly began to spiral downwards for the team. They went 3-4 in their final seven games after starting out 8-1, and lost in the first round of the playoffs to Carolina. Drew Stanton and Ryan Lindley did their best to keep the offense afloat, but they ultimately couldn't guide Arizona to a championship. Palmer has said that he'll be ready for Training Camp, but there's no doubt that the Cardinals' chance at success in 2015 is reliant on Palmer's health.
One of the biggest reasons why the Cardinals beat the Eagles in 2014 was their outstanding receiving group. Perennial Eagles-killer Larry Fitzgerald returns with a cap-friendly deal, joining Michael Floyd and the rising John Brown. Eagles fans may well remember Brown's 75-yard touchdown, which proved to be the game winner in last season's meeting. The Cardinals have not been very reliant on the ground game the past few seasons, as evidenced by Beanie Wells being the team's last 1,000-yard rusher (2011), but the Cardinals passing game should once again be one of the best in the league if health issues aren't in the picture.
The Cardinals roster hasn't seen much turnover since last season, but there are a couple of notable additions and subtractions. Coming in to Arizona is Mike Iupati, one of the top guards in the NFL who switched NFC West allegiances in 2015. On the other side of the ball, the Cardinals lost defenders Darnell Dockett and Antonio Cromartie to free agency, but for the most part, the Cardinals should look very similar to the way they did this past season.
The Eagles seem to catch the Cardinals at a good point in the season. It will be the second of three straight home games for the Eagles over the final quarter of the season, and the warm weather Cardinals will have to play in the cold December Philadelphia weather.
What's with the Eagles-Washington games in the unusual primetime slots?
For years, fans could always bank on a Monday night at some point between the two rivals. For the second year in a row, the Eagles and Washington will battle on the Saturday of Week 16.
The difference, and it could be a big one, is that this year the matchup will take place in Philadelphia. With the season on the line last year in Washington, the Eagles stumbled to a 27-24 loss that eliminated them from playoff contention one day later.
Would it have made a difference if that game was in Philadelphia? It doesn't matter now.
These two teams will initially square off to open the month of October. How will they look when the end of December rolls around? Last year, the early-season quarterback battle was between Nick Foles and Kirk Cousins. It was Mark Sanchez and Robert Griffin III in Week 16.
The Eagles will have a short week coming off what looks to be a grudge match the previous week against Arizona, but they do have the benefit of the fact that this will be the third straight home game. The Eagles certainly can't complain about getting three straight home games in the month of December. In fact, it is the first time in franchise history that scheduling quirk has occurred.
Under the guidance of new general manager Scot McCloughan, Washington has fortified a defense that allowed 27.4 points per game (tied for 29th in the NFL) last season with the additions of defensive linemen Ricky Jean-Francois, Terrance Knighton and Stephen Paea and defensive backs Chris Culliver and Dashon Goldson.
For Washington to take the next step in head coach Jay Gruden's second season, it will need better efficiency on offense. Philadelphia might have led the league in turnovers with 36, but Washington was right there with 31, tied for third most in the league.
Kermit the Frog might be sipping on some tea in April, but will Washington be in the mix when this Week 16 showdown takes place?
The Eagles swept the Giants in 2014, winning a pair of memorable games. The first game came on a brisk Sunday night in early October. You may remember it as Black Sunday. For the first time ever, the Eagles wore black jerseys and black pants, and the all black everything look helped add to the already electric atmosphere. Connor Barwin announced the Eagles' uniform plans early in the week, and from there, the Black Sunday train was in motion and there was no stopping it.
All of the hype and anticipation before the game transferred to an unbelievable in-game atmosphere that the Eagles thrived off of. Nick Foles threw a pair of touchdowns, Darren Sproles added a touchdown on the ground and the Eagles defense completely shut down Eli Manning and company. Manning completed just 13 of 23 passes for 151 yards and running back Andre Williams rushed for just 59 yards. After announcing the uniform plans, Barwin announced his presence during the game, collecting three sacks while forcing a fumble. The 27-0 shutout was the Eagles first shutout in 18 seasons.
The Eagles and Giants met again in the regular season finale. With NFC East pride on the line, this game was a much closer contest, but the Eagles were once again victorious. The 34-26 win was highlighted by a 44-yard touchdown reception by Jordan Matthews and a Trey Burton blocked punt return touchdown. Burton's return was the Eagles' league-leading 11th return touchdown of the year.
For the second straight season, the Eagles will head to the Meadowlands to the end the year. Hopefully, there will be a lot more on the line this time around. This will be the third time in the last four seasons that the Eagles have played the regular season finale in MetLife Stadium. !