The Schein Nine  

 

Chip Kelly's Philadelphia Eagles will win NFC East after 1-3 start

When I predicted the playoff teams during the preseason, one particular pick caused folks to mock and scoff, to attack me on Twitter for prognosticating without a clue.

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I held steady then, and I hold steady now.

Yes, as the 3-3 Eagles prepare to take on the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday in a huge NFC East showdown, I'll write it again: Philadelphia will win the division.

Here is why, "Schein Nine" style:

1) The offense is flying high

Chip Kelly's offense is legit. Consider that the Eagles are the first team since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger to collect 1,600 net passing yards and 1,050 rushing yards over the first six games of a season.

Sure, they'll have moments of frustration, like they did in their Week 2 loss to the San Diego Chargers. Obviously, Philly's defense is hardly dominant or consistent. But Kelly's system, which has the Eagles moving the ball and scoring in bunches (27.7 points per game, fourth-best in the NFL), can make up for that.

Confidence practically oozes from the offensive players. LeSean McCoy, who leads the NFL with 630 rushing yards and 871 yards from scrimmage, is the perfect fit for Kelly's offense. Receiver DeSean Jackson, who ranks second in the NFL with 589 receiving yards, appears to be playing with much more fire than he had been in recent years; he and McCoy have been unstoppable. Even Riley Cooper is starting to come on, fresh off a 120-yard game.

2) Nick Foles can play

One concern naysayers had about the Eagles this season: Could Michael Vick stay healthy? The hamstring injury that will keep the veteran quarterback off the field for a second consecutive week proved they were right to worry.

But perhaps lost in all the talk about Vick was the fact that Kelly had a reliable backup in Foles. Though the younger signal-caller's skill set is different than Vick's, Foles can drive this offense.

In four appearances this season -- including his start against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last week -- Foles has six touchdown passes and zero picks, posting a passer rating of 127.9. I expect Foles to light up the Cowboys, who are ranked 30th against the pass.

3) The schedule is favorable

When Philly slumped to a 1-3 record, the haters came out in full force. But there's no shame in losing to the Kansas City Chiefs and Denver Broncos, who still are undefeated. Since then, the Eagles have improved to 3-3 -- and things look as if they'll become a bit easier in the near future.

After hosting the injury-riddled Cowboys on Sunday, the Eagles will face the winless New York Giants at home, then visit the Oakland Raiders and Green Bay Packers before returning to Philadelphia to face the Redskins. It's realistic to believe the Eagles will be 7-4 heading into their Week 12 bye, though even a 6-5 mark would put them on track to win the NFC East.

4) Did I mention Dallas is banged up?

The Cowboys are the Eagles' main competition in the division, and they're hurting. Defensive stalwart DeMarcus Ware is out with a strained quadriceps. Running back DeMarco Murray is out with a sprained MCL. Of course, even with those key players, Dallas is flawed, thanks to a suspect defense (ranked 30th overall), shaky coaching and constant chaos. (Paying Jay Ratliff, by the way, worked out well.)

Yes, Tony Romo is a top-10 quarterback who can keep this Dallas squad afloat. Even so, I believe the Cowboys' inconsistency will limit them to an 8-8 finish.

5) Washington won't be able to catch up

Technically, the Washington Redskins are just 1½ games out of first place in the division. But in reality, this 1-4 team has too many holes -- like a defense that is ranked 24th against the pass and 27th overall -- to hang on.

Robert Griffin III, meanwhile, still does not appear to be fully healthy; right now, he's just not the player he was in 2012. I don't believe he'll be able to make up for his team's weaknesses like he did last season, when he lifted the Redskins to a division title.

6) The Giants are awful

The New York Giants' linebackers are barely NFL-caliber. Their pass rush is non-existent; Justin Tuck hasn't made a play in two years, and Jason Pierre-Paul does not seem like himself after undergoing offseason back surgery. (Not surprisingly, the Giants have a league-worst five sacks through six games.) The defensive backs don't match up. The offensive line is leaky. The running game has done nothing, averaging 67.8 yards per contest. Eli Manning has given up 15 picks.

Other than that, the 0-6 Giants look good.

I wrote during the preseason that the NFC East would be laughably bad, and it appears to be every bit as awful as I believed.

7) First to reach nine victories takes the crown

I picked the Eagles to win the NFC East at 9-7. Yes, that's just a little above average -- but I believe a little above average will be enough in this sorry division. In fact, I don't think more than one team in this group will finish over .500.

8) Chip Kelly can coach

Yes, he botched the game management against the Chargers. And randomly attempting two-point conversions, like he's still at Oregon, is foolish. But Kelly gets his players ready to play, week in and week out.

After all, they stayed together after their 1-3 start. That showed me something. Eagles players appear to love playing for Kelly.

9) The defense doesn't have to be great -- just opportunistic

Is it crazy to think Trent Cole will play his best ball of the season over the next 10 games? The Eagles need him to put more pressure on the opposing quarterback -- and I believe he will. Connor Barwin, meanwhile, is a true Energizer Bunny. DeMeco Ryans, though not an ideal fit for Philly's new 3-4 scheme, is a strong player and leader. Cary Williams is a Super Bowl champion.

The Eagles simply must make plays in big spots, and I believe this defense is capable of doing just that.

See you in the playoffs, Philly.

Follow Adam Schein on Twitter @AdamSchein.

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