Mailbag: Dawn of Eagles era? Rams-49ers rivalry back?

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Dan Hanzus takes questions from you, the readers, in his latest mailbag. Thanks to everyone who sent in questions. That was nice.

The New England Patriots were the last team to go back-to-back, in 2003 and '04. Since then, just two defending champs have made a return to February football. Only three teams advanced past the Divisional Round. Five missed the playoffs entirely.

2017 Patriots: 13-3, first AFC East, lost Super Bowl LII
2016 Broncos: 9-7, third AFC West, missed playoffs
2015 Patriots: 12-4, first AFC East, lost AFC Championship Game
2014 Seahawks: 12-4, first NFC West, lost Super Bowl XLIX
2013 Ravens: 8-8, third AFC North, missed playoffs
2012 Giants: 9-7, second NFC East, missed playoffs
2011 Packers: 15-1, first NFC North, lost Divisional Round
2010 Saints: 11-5, second NFC South, lost Wild Card Weekend
2009 Steelers: 9-7, third AFC North, missed playoffs
2008 Giants: 12-4, first NFC East, lost Divisional Round
2007 Colts: 13-3, first AFC South, lost Divisional Round
2006 Steelers: 8-8, third AFC North, missed playoffs
2005 Patriots: 10-6, first AFC East, lost Divisional Round

So, yes, history is instructive. But, no, a recent history of the NFL does not provide us with clues into the fate of the 2018 Philadelphia Eagles.

What we do know is that they have impact playmakers everywhere and Carson Wentz appears to be on track for a Week 1 return. They also lost some key coaches, but Eagles fans should be in a place where they fully trust Howie Roseman and Doug Pederson. The Eagles have all the pieces in place to be an evergreen contender -- they have the potential to be in the back half of this decade what the Seahawks were in the front half. You couldn't ask to be in a better place as a football fan.

I'd say yes, and 49ers fans can thank the increasingly miraculous-in-retrospect trade for Jimmy Garoppolo for bringing football relevance back to San Francisco after a few lost years. The only caution flag I'll throw up: It's much easier to reel off five straight wins when you're already out of contention than it is to thrive in September and October when expectations are through the roof.

What say you, Niners icon and the greatest backup-turned-starter in NFL history, Steve Young?

"Now the expectations are huge, and that's good," Young told SFGate.com. "[Garoppolo] knows how good you have to be. He's watched it -- so that's nice. It's not going to be, 'Oh, Jimmy, the expectations are too high.' He's like, 'No, I know how good you have to be. You can expect me to do whatever you want, but I know how good I have to be. I've witnessed it.' It just makes a huge difference. A lot of players don't have any idea how hard the job is; what really good looks like. And Jimmy's watched it for four years."

Young refers, of course, to Jimmy G's four years behind Tom Brady in New England. Anyway, the Rams are going to be real good this season and the 49ers might be the NFC West team best equipped to chase L.A. for the division crown. Times, they are a-changin'.

Peter, I hope you're not putting too much stock in Mr. Austin being your favorite team's X-factor in 2018. My honest prediction: 60 carries for 264 yards, 14 receptions for 65 yards, one total touchdown. And I'm sticking with that prediction even though Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones said this:

C'mon, man. Elsewhere, the Cowboys weren't necessarily wrong to cut ties with Dez Bryant, and Jason Witten's game had regressed to the point where he should be replaceable. But it will be interesting to see how offensive coordinator Scott Linehan plans to move the ball when it's not in the hands of Ezekiel Elliott ... and ... I guess ... Tavon Austin.

As things stand, Dallas will open the 2018 season with a wide receiving group that includes returning veterans Terrance Williams and Cole Beasley paired with free-agent acquisitions Deonte Thompson and Allen Hurns and third-round pick Michael Gallup.

"I think Jerry said it a week ago: We have come to grips that we are not going to have a quote un-quote No. 1 wide receiver, a la Julio (Jones), a la A.J. Green, a la Antonio Brown," Stephen Jones said, per ESPN.com. "We're just not going to get it done that way."

It doesn't seem very Cowboy-like to not have a bona fide No. 1 receiver, especially in the Jerry Jones era. Don't be surprised if this is a one-year blip.

Let's take a moment to decide whether your home fits inside Von Miller's walk-in closet:

You, too? Awesome! Let's move on.

This feels like a trap. It's the type of exercise that inevitably leads to hate tweets and an SB Nation team site blasting out the headline: "Slow-witted NFL.com 'analyst' thinks Chiefs will go first to worst". So let me preface by saying I have no agenda, nor a deep-seated belief any of the below teams will crater spectacularly this fall. But it's May, I write for a football website, and we're here to go nuts. Here's how I'd rank the first-to-worst contenders, from most to least likely:

1) Chiefs
2) Jaguars
3) Vikings
4) Saints
5) Rams
6) Eagles
7) Steelers
8) Patriots

The Chiefs have a suspect defense, play in what should be a very competitive division and have tossed the keys to a neophyte quarterback. S--- can happen. The Jags are all in on Blake Bortles, with the immortal Cody Kessler waiting in the wings as the backup plan. (Seriously, no one in Khan Universe sees this as an issue?) The Vikings have to contend with a presumably healthy Aaron Rodgers, an improved Bears team, a Super Bowl-or-bust expectation level and, of course, the Keenum Kurse.

I can't even come up with half-baked reasons why the other teams could unravel other than catastrophic injuries or sudden age-related decline, neither of which are possible to predict. I will say that if the Patriots finish in last place, I'll shovel the driveways of every resident in New England next winter.

I'm feeling pretty good about Mitch Trubisky right now, and it goes back to the Bears' sound decision to copy the Rams' playbook -- word for word -- this offseason. A quick recap: The Rams fired Jeff Fisher, their stodgy, defensive-minded coach. The Bears fired John Fox, their stodgy, defensive-minded coach. The Rams hired Sean McVay, a promising young offensive coordinator with no prior head-coaching experience. The Bears hired Matt Nagy, a promising young offensive coordinator with no prior head-coaching experience. The Rams took out the checkbook and imported new pieces to surround their highly touted second-year quarterback. The Bears took out the checkbook and imported new pieces to surround their highly touted second-year quarterback.

Now comes the hard part. The Rams went from a total mess to the highest-scoring team in football. The Bears don't need to produce a turnaround at that level, but how about a scenario where the NFL team in Chicago is fun to watch? When's the last time you could say that?

Aren't you beyond thrilled we don't have to hear or see the m-word for the next nine months? Mike Mayock is sleeping upside-down in a cave somewhere.

I'm buying ... but then again, I'm always buying the team with Aaron Rodgers. This feels like a very important year for the Packers, who have to start doing right by their superstar quarterback. If someone told you immediately after Super Bowl XLV that Rodgers would go the next seven seasons without returning to the big game, would you have believed them? It's pretty messed up. Rodgers obviously isn't the problem here -- and you can understand why he had issues with the Packers not consulting him about personnel moves this offseason. Green Bay management has not put him in the best position to succeed for several years now. Rodgers will turn 35 during the upcoming season; the Packers will kick themselves forever if they squander the back half of his prime.

Such a tough situation, and I continue to feel for you and others like you, Richard. There's a reason why I had Bolts fans at the top of my most recent Pain Rankings.

I also wonder if an ex-Chargers fan ever sees Philip Rivers doing fun Philip Rivers stuff on a Monday night and thinks about picking up the proverbial phone to give it another shot. Can you really take a lifetime of fandom and turn it off like a faucet? The mind-set legitimately fascinates me.

Anyway, to answer your question: I don't think there are any ground rules for this type of situation. You can jump to a new team whenever it feels right. Even better, date around. You just went through a bitter divorce, there's no need to immediately commit to another serious relationship. Good luck, and don't forget to hang a tie on the doorknob.

Follow Dan Hanzus on Twitter @danhanzus. Send in your questions for the next mailbag

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