It’s only been one week, but the NFC East feels all but wrapped up as far as who will be taking the divisional crown this season. Three teams in the division won on Sunday, but the Philadelphia Eagles, in particular, exceeded expectations to stake their claim as one of the best teams in the conference.
The Dallas Cowboys were favorites to win the division heading into the season but suffered a massive blow against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, losing Dak Prescott in the 19-3 loss. The two-time Pro Bowl quarterback injured his right thumb late in the fourth quarter and is expected to be sidelined until late October or early November.
With Prescott out for the foreseeable future, the betting odds have swung in the Eagles’ favor.
The New York Giants and the Washington Commanders each won their season openers, but both remain longshots to win the division, mostly due to their respective quarterback situations. Daniel Jones hasn’t lived up to expectations, while Carson Wentz is on his third team in three years and is prone to crumble in big moments.
Although the Eagles only defeated the Detroit Lions by three points, the score doesn’t completely tell the story of how the game unfolded. Philadelphia led by as much as 17 points in the fourth quarter and totaled 455 yards, the third-most in the NFL in Week 1. They’re for real and have a legitimate shot at the division title, provided they don’t shoot themselves in the collective foot.
AJ Brown is everything the Eagles wanted and more
AJ Brown put on a clinic in his Eagles debut. He caught 10 passes for a game-high 155 yards, which is tied for the most yards he’s had in a single outing in his career. Brown was a total game-changer, and Philadelphia likely wouldn’t have won the contest without him.
Zach Pascal was the only other receiver to catch a pass in the contest. DeVonta Smith, the Eagles 2021 first-round pick, caught zero passes on four targets.
Brown was a much-needed addition to the Philadelphia offense that has struggled at developing receivers in years past. The Eagles have drafted 10 receivers since 2014, including two infamous selections in Jalen Reagor and JJ Arcega-Whiteside, and only two remain on the current roster – Smith and Quez Watkins.
The Eagles acquired the 25-year-old receiver from the Tennessee Titans during the 2022 NFL Draft for a first- and third-round pick. Upon being traded, Brown immediately signed a 4-year, $100 million contract, making him one of the highest-paid receivers in the NFL.
Brown won’t always be a reliable option. Opposing teams will know to key in on him, forcing others to step up. But his presence and versatility can aid Jalen Hurts a lot in the long run.
The ground game isn’t as reliant on Jalen Hurts
The Eagles have had an above-average rushing attack since Hurts took over as the full-time starter, evident by his leading the team in rushing yards (784) last season. Philadelphia led the league in both rushing yards and touchdowns in 2021 and are slated to be just as dominant this season, as they recorded 216 rushing yards and four touchdowns against the Lions.
Miles Sanders returned as the starting tailback for the fourth-straight year and paved the way on the ground, rushing for 93 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries, including a 24-yard attempt to seal the win. Backups Kenneth Gainwell and Boston Scott each rushed for a touchdown while combining for 30 yards.
Sanders, in particular, has been under much scrutiny since his record-setting rookie year. He’s been injured during each of the past two seasons and ran for a career-low 754 yards in 2021. His score from one yard out against the Lions also marks his first touchdown since Week 16 of 2020.
The 25-year-old has a massive year ahead of him. He becomes an unrestricted free agent in 2023 with no guarantee of returning to Philadelphia. But he’ll likely retain his starting role with the Eagles if he stays healthy and replicates his Week 1 success throughout the season.
The Eagles will only go as far as Jalen Hurts leads them
Brown and the running back committee’s performances were a welcoming surprise in Week 1, but truthfully, the Eagles will only go as far as Jalen Hurts leads them.
The third-year quarterback put up massive numbers against the Lions, accounting for 333 yards of offense. He connected on 18-of-32 pass attempts for 243 yards while carrying the ball 17 times for 90 yards and one touchdown. The highlight of his performance came on a perfectly-placed, 54-yard connection with Brown.
While Hurts is already one of the most elusive quarterbacks in the game, his accuracy and decision-making could be better. He completed just 61.3% of his pass attempts and finished with an 87.2 passer rating in 2021, which ranked 26th and 21st, respectively, among 31 qualified quarterbacks. And he hasn’t exactly improved either metric, as his 56.3% completion rate and 80.3 passer rating against the Lions still ranked in the bottom third after one week.
Hurts still isn’t a guarantee to be the long-term play caller in Philadelphia. He led the Eagles to a Wild Card game last season but fell apart on the big stage. He still has a lot to prove this season. He’s shown flashes of brilliance during his tenure, but the ability to maintain that level of play throughout an entire season has yet to be manifested.
The Eagles’ path to the postseason is easier than most, as they have the second-easiest schedule in 2022. Their roster is the most talented in the division, and now with Prescott out for several weeks, they can’t afford to waste this great opportunity to reclaim the NFC East title.
Stats courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.