The Eagles take their longest road trip of the season in Week 9, traveling to Oakland to take on the Raiders. It's the first of back-to-back away games for the Eagles, who will be coming off consecutive home contests against division opponents.
The Raiders enter the season with question marks galore. By the end of the 2013 NFL Draft, Oakland could have anywhere from eight to 10 new starters on defense and will definitely have a new quarterback. Last season, the Raiders' problems started on defense. Oakland ranked 20th in the league against the pass last season, giving up an average of 235.9 yards per game. Meanwhile, they gave up 118.6 yards per game on the ground, good for 18th in the league.
Offensively, things are a bit brighter. Veteran quarterback Carson Palmer is gone, and the Raiders will enter Training Camp with an open competition between the newly-acquired Matt Flynn, the promising Terrelle Pryor and any rookie the team may bring in. Last season, Palmer helped the Raiders become the league's eighth-ranked passing attack, throwing for more than 255 yards per game. However, injuries to the Raiders' stable of running backs prevented the ground game from doing much to help out, and Oakland finished with 1,420 yards on the ground last season, good for 28th in the league.
While the Eagles should have an opportunity to take advantage of a rebuilding opponent, history has shown that it's best not to sleep on those teams. The Eagles will need to be at their best to put away an underrated offense and a team that is looking to rebound after a lackluster showing in 2012.
How divergent the paths of the Eagles and Packers have gone since Michael Vick's fourth-down pass for Riley Cooper was broken up by Tramon Williams in the 2010 playoffs. The Packers would go on to win the Super Bowl that season, followed by back-to-back division championships. The Eagles, of course, suffered two straight disappointing seasons following the loss.
But with Chip Kelly and the rest of his new coaching staff at the helm, along with a crop of new players, the ghosts of that playoff loss are left in the past as the team forges into the future. And although the Packers have been among the most successful teams in the league over the past two seasons, there is an air of disappointment surrounding the team following consecutive playoff letdowns. In fact, the Packers' undoing against the San Francisco 49ers in last year's playoffs was an abject inability to defend Colin Kaepernick and the "read-option." In that game, Kaepernick rushed for an astounding 181 yards on 16 carries in a sort-of coming out party.
That vulnerability is something that surely won't be lost on Kelly as he brings his own up-tempo offense to the NFL. Of course, the Packers are fully aware of those shortcomings and, rest assured, they've spent the offseason focused on addressing the defense, even though the team rarely strays into the free agent market. Rather, the improvement will have to come from within. B.J. Raji ranks among the league's top nose tackles, Clay Matthews is armed with a well-deserved new contract and the aforementioned Williams is a top cornerback. But for the Packers defense to take a step forward under defensive coordinator Dom Capers, players like 2012 first-round linebacker Nick Perry will be counted upon to step up.
Of course, the strength of the Packers remains on offense where the team if fortunate to employ the current holder of the belt for best quarterback in the league. Aaron Rodgers has had the best passer rating in the NFL each of the last two seasons, including an all-time mark in 2011. But occasional offensive line breakdowns have threatened Rodgers and the offense's productivity at inopportune times in recent years, so the Eagles will no doubt focus on creating pressure with the pass rush. That the game-time for this mid-November showdown is high noon local time portends that we might just be in for a shootout.
How much will quarterback Robert Griffin III's health have improved for this matchup at Lincoln Financial Field?
The No. 2 overall pick who led the Redskins to the NFC East title in 2012 suffered a torn ACL in the Wild Card loss to the Seattle Seahawks and is on track to return for the start of the 2013 season, which is on Monday Night Football against the Eagles. In the rematch, this will be the last game for the Eagles before their late bye week.
With a limited, at best, chance to work this offseason, how much will Washington deviate from what made them so good a year ago? Will the Redskins expose RG III to punishment running the read option, especially with so many teams using the offseason to brush up on how to defend it? Remember, Griffin III also missed the Week 15 game this past season due to a concussion.
Griffin III's speed to the edge made him so tough to defend last season. And when Griffin III wasn't using his lightning speed to elude defenders, another rookie in Alfred Morris punished teams with his thunder in between the tackles.
Now, there is more to Griffin III's game than just his legs. Griffin III displayed a strong arm and tremendous touch last season as he completed nearly 66 percent of his passes for 20 touchdowns against a mere five interceptions.
The Redskins have been extremely quiet this offseason. They retained tight end Fred Davis, who ruptured his Achilles last season. The signed Jeremy Trueblood to compete for the starting right tackle position. The rest of the starting lineup on offense returns from last season including receivers Pierre Garcon, Josh Morgan and Santana Moss.
The Redskins defense will be strengthened by the return of defensive end Adam Carriker and outside linebacker Brian Orakpo. Both players ended last season on injured reserve. Orakpo and fellow outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan provide plenty of pass rush, while the ageless one - London Fletcher - continues to man the middle of the field at 38 years old.
The secondary is a target for some improvements in the NFL Draft. The Redskins ranked fifth in run defense last season, but 30th against the pass. Cornerback DeAngelo Hall was released, but re-signed to a much more team-friendly one-year deal. Safety Brandon Meriweather appeared in one game last season where tore his ACL against the Eagles. He agreed to a pay cut and hasn't been a playmaker for years.
The Redskins paid a heck of a bounty to acquire the rights to the No. 2 pick last season and select Griffin III. The move certainly paid off in Year 1. The question is whether Griffin III will be healthy enough to provide the Redskins a return in Year 2.
The Eagles will open the final month of the season at home fully rested coming off the late-season bye in Week 12. Amid a three-game stretch of games, the Eagles will welcome the Arizona Cardinals to town for what will hopefully be a test of the elements.
Eight teams in the NFL made head coaching changes this offseason, including the Eagles of course. Of the seven other teams, four are on the Eagles' 2013 schedule. Bruce Arians was hired by the Cardinals after an impressive and noteworthy season spent mostly as the interim head coach for the Indianapolis Colts. In fact, after helping to lead to Colts to a 9-3 record (and the playoffs) during his time at the helm, Arians was named the AP Coach of the Year.
Now in Arizona, Arians brings his preferred style of vertical passing game to a team that has struggled mightily at protecting the quarterback in recent seasons. In fact, the Cardinals have ranked in the top two in sacks allowed in each of the last three seasons. The offensive line actually remains mostly the same at present time (though the Cardinals are expected to address that area of need through the Draft), but there has been a series of changes at the quarterback position.
Gone are Kevin Kolb and John Skelton, replaced by Drew Stanton and presumptive starter Carson Palmer. Palmer, acquired from the Raiders for a relatively meager price, comes to Arizona after two so-so seasons in Oakland. But even at 33,Palmer has the arm strength to succeed under Arians – as long as he's protected. The onus, then, will be on a new-look Eagles pass rush to create pressure. Meanwhile, as leaky as the pass protection has been for the Cardinals, the running game was so better in 2012 as the team ranked dead last in rushing yards per game and yards per rush. Former first-rounder Beanie Wells is no longer around, replaced by former Steelers first-round Rashard Mendenhall. Injury-riddled holdover Ryan Williams, himself a second-round pick, joins Mendenhall in the backfield.
On defense, the Cardinals are led by a familiar face in Todd Bowles, the Eagles midseason replacement at defensive coordinator last season. Bowles, who played collegiately at Temple under Arians, has some pieces in place to work with. Calais Campbell and Darnell Dockett form an intimidating pair of 3-4 defensive ends while emerging linebackers Daryl Washington and Sam Acho patrol the second level. 2011 first-round pick Patrick Peterson is on the verge of joining the ranks of the elite cover cornerbacks and he's expected to be joined at the position by former San Diego Charger Antoine Cason. Longtime Cardinals stalwart Adrian Wilson departed in free agency, replaced at safety by veteran Yeremiah Bell.