It was tough sledding in the Big Easy in 2014. They certainly missed all-purpose back/return specialist Darren Sproles and safety Malcolm Jenkins as the last line of defense. What's in store for the New Orleans Saints this year when they visit Lincoln Financial Field in Week 5?
The Saints still have one of the most prolific offenses in the league led by All-Pro quarterback Drew Brees. However, the Saints were undone, much like the Eagles, by turnovers last season. The Saints led the league in total yards, but were one of just five teams that gave the ball away 30 times or more.
Brees has passed for at least 4,300 yards in each of his nine seasons in New Orleans. He led the league with 4,952 last year after three straight 5,000-yard campaigns. However, Brees will have to survive without his top two pass catchers from last season - tight end Jimmy Graham, who was traded to Seattle, and wide receiver Kenny Stills, who was shipped to Miami.
To balance out the offense, the Saints re-signed former first-round pick Mark Ingram and signed the dynamic C.J. Spiller at running back. The Saints have not been known as a volume running team, but ranked tied for sixth in the league in yards per carry with 4.5 last season.
With Brees getting older, the Saints can take some pressure off with the run game, but the Eagles have been stout against the run over the past two years ranking fifth in yards per carry allowed.
The Saints' defense had its fair share of struggles as well. In fact, the Saints ranked next-to-last in yards allowed last season and created the fifth-fewest turnovers.
The team's big free agent prize, safety Jairus Byrd, played just four games before missing the rest of the year due to a torn meniscus in his knee. Kenny Vaccaro was one of the best rookie defensive players in 2013, but he was demoted last season. Linebacker Curtis Lofton struggled at middle linebacker and is no longer with the team.
As much as the Saints struggled last season to finish 7-9, they missed the division title by a half-game. What's more perplexing is that this team was once virtually unbeatable at home, but lost its last five at the Superdome.
Good thing this one is in Philly, as the Eagles will try to exact revenge for the Wild Card loss that ended the 2013 campaign. Jenkins and Sproles will also look to show their former team what they're missing. It's an interesting spot for the Eagles, who get the Saints in between two NFC East matchups.
The Eagles' rivalry with Big Blue has produced its fair share of spectacular moments. From any of the three Miracles at the Meadowlands to The Hit to Black Sunday, the Eagles and Giants have created fireworks whenever they meet. What will this NFC East matchup have in store this time?
Well, we'll find out in front of a national audience as the stage is set for Monday Night Football at the Eagles Nest. Of course, the last time the Giants came to Philadelphia for a primetime game, the Eagles shut out the Giants 27-0 on Black Sunday.
The Giants are coming off of back-to-back losing seasons for the first time since Eli Manning was drafted in 2004. Their 2014 record of 6-10 was salvaged by a three-game winning streak in the last quarter of the season. After starting 3-2, the Giants dropped seven games in a row, and while outsiders may be quick to point the finger of blame at the quarterback position, that wasn't the case. In fact, Manning had one of his best seasons in 2014, completing a career-high 63.1 percent of his passes for 4,410 yards and 30 touchdowns (compared to just 14 interceptions).
Manning played most of 2014 without Victor Cruz, who suffered a season-ending knee injury against the Eagles in Week 6, but luckily for Eli, he had a new receiver at his disposal that had one of the best rookie seasons in recent memory.
Earlier this offseason, Chip Kelly explained that he thought Odell Beckham Jr. was the best overall player in the 2014 Draft, and he may have been right. The 12th overall pick, Beckham played in just 12 games due to an early injury, but once he got on the field, he was almost unstoppable. The LSU product caught 91 passes for 1,305 yards and 12 touchdowns. His one-handed grab against the Cowboys in late November has been immortalized, and his 12-catch, 185-yard game against the Eagles in the regular season finale proved to be his best game to date. How do the Eagles slow down Beckham in 2015? We'll have to wait and see, but the speedy receiver will most likely see a lot of Byron Maxwell.
The Giants have lost a couple of defensive pieces. Safety Antrel Rolle has been a fixture in the Giants secondary, playing all 16 games in each of his five seasons in New York. Free agency has moved Rolle to Chicago, leaving a hole in the Giants defensive backfield. The Giants have also lost cornerback Walter Thurmond III to free agency and are likely to see him line up against them when they play the Eagles this season. Thurmond missed most of 2014 with an injury, but his versatility gives him tremendous upside in Bill Davis' defensive scheme.
The Eagles will head into their Week 8 bye with a second-straight primetime game, this one a Sunday night trip to Carolina to play Cam Newton and the Panthers. The Panthers and Eagles should be used to seeing each under the lights by now – this will be the third meeting between the two teams over the last four seasons, with each of the last two coming on Monday Night Football.
The Panthers, of course, are coming off an NFC South division championship and a playoff win. But, said another way, they're also coming off a losing season in which they lost to the Eagles 45-21 in Week 10. That game featured a standout performance by quarterback Mark Sanchez, who threw for 332 yards and two touchdowns, while Jordan Matthews and Brent Celek both topped 100 yards receiving. Of course, whether Sanchez will face the Panthers again this time around is impossible to say.
The loss to the Eagles dropped the Panthers to 3-6-1 last year and they would lose two more games to fall to 3-8-1. But then all of a sudden things turned around for Newton and Carolina, as they won their way into the playoffs by closing the season on a four-game winning streak before dispatching Ryan Lindley and the Arizona Cardinals in the playoffs.
What changed most for Carolina in that last quarter of the season was a defense that had failed to click on all cylinders prior. Though Newton is the face of the franchise, middle linebacker Luke Kuechly is the team's best player. Having backed up his AP Defensive Rookie of the Year award with back-to-back first-team All-Pro seasons, Kuechly joined an incredibly exclusive club with Lawrence Taylor, Derrick Thomas, Brian Urlacher and Lem Barney.
There are few changes to the Panthers roster from the team that faced the Eagles in 2014. Perhaps the most noteworthy are the departure of Greg Hardy, who only played one game for the team in 2014, and the franchise's all-time leading rusher, DeAngelo Williams. Williams, though, will be replaced by his long-time running mate, and the second-leading rusher in franchise history, Jonathan Stewart.
Newton, meanwhile, cannot be excited about once again facing a defense that intercepted him three times and sacked him nine times. Connor Barwin, in particular, will be a scary sight for Newton after Barwin brought the quarterback down 3.5 times last year.
Chip Kelly, meanwhile, will hope to continue a short-lived streak in his NFL coaching career. He is undefeated in the game before the bye.
The Eagles will play on Thanksgiving again this year, but it won't be against the Dallas Cowboys.
What a shame.
The highlight of the Eagles' 2014 season came with the dismantling of their archrivals.
The Eagles scored on touchdown drives of 80 and 88 yards in the first quarter to take a 14-0 lead and never looked back in the 33-10 rout. Mark Sanchez was 20 of 29 passing and accounted for three total touchdowns. Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo's streak of 38 games with at least one touchdown pass ended.
The subplot to watch for this Sunday night extravaganza will be running back DeMarco Murray and Miles Austin's return to Dallas. Murray, of course, was the league's rushing champ last season, while Austin was a former rookie free agent who earned back-to-back Pro Bowl honors.
It's disappointing that the final Eagles-Cowboys game of the 2015 season (barring playoffs) comes in Week 9 when these were the two best teams in the division in 2014. Last year, the Thanksgiving showdown was the first meeting.