Give the Philadelphia Eagles a "D" over the last two seasons.
The D could have stood for dream team. And wasn't there the mention of a dynasty?
Following a disappointing 8-8 finish in 2011 in which the team had to win its final four games to get to the .500 mark, the Birds fell to 4-12 a year ago. That was following a 3-1 start which included wins over the eventual Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens and defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants.
But four victories doesn't cut it anywhere and head coach Andy Reid was let go after 14 seasons with the team. Former University of Oregon head coach Chip Kelly now looks to guide the franchise to its first NFL title since 1960.
Hence, it is onto 2013 and here we will take a look at five players who could be critical to the team's success this upcoming season. While in some cases the obvious will be stated, in other instances the focus will be on a newcomer to the team or a performer looking to rebound from a disappointing year.
So here are five players to keep an eye on this season when it comes to the Philadelphia Eagles:
QB Michael Vick: If the former Pro Bowl quarterback can regain his form of 2010, the Eagles could be right back in the thick of things in the NFC East. That season, Vick threw 21 touchdown passes and committed just nine turnovers and also ran for nine scores in a dozen regular-season games. In 23 starts since, the Birds' signal-caller has thrown 30 touchdown passes and 24 interceptions and lost nine of his 21 fumbles. Staying healthy has been an issue as well.
RB LeSean McCoy: Injuries wound up limiting the 2011 Pro Bowl performer (who led the NFL with 20 total touchdowns that season) to only a dozen games in 2012. McCoy is one of the league's most versatile running backs, rushing for 3,866 and 30 scores while catching 220 passes for eight scores in four seasons. And in Kelly's offense, there's no reason not to believe that McCoy could make a serious run at leading the league in total yards from scrimmage in 2013.
WR Jeremy Maclin: The four-year pro has led the team in receptions each of the last two seasons. In 2012, Maclin totaled 69 catches for 857 yards and seven scores and has now caught at least 50 passes in all four NFL campaigns. Teammate DeSean Jackson remains one of the league's big-play performers but Maclin has emerged as the team's most reliable receiver. And it's also worth noting that the former first-round pick is in the final year of his current contract.
DE Fletcher Cox: With the team's switch to a new defensive philosophy under coordinator Billy Davis, Cox will move to right defensive end in the Eagles' base 3-4. But you may see the team's first-round pick in 2012 any number of places as this unit looks to rebound from a dismal season. The Birds allowed 444 points in 2012, totaled just 30 sacks (down from 50 in 2012) and managed only 13 takeaways, tied for the fewest in the league. Last season, Cox tied for the team lead with 5.5 sacks.
OLB Connor Barwin: The Eagles will have a slew of new starters on defense, most notably the secondary. Barwin was a free-agent pickup from the Houston Texans and looks to bounce back from a disappointing season. After racking up 11.5 sacks in 2011, Barwin totaled just 3.0 sacks a year ago (although to be fair, teammate J.J. Watt was usually getting to the quarterback first). Trent Cole and Brandon Graham are in the mix at outside linebacker as well but Barwin is looking for a fresh start in Philadelphia.
So what can we expect from the Eagles in 2013? Can the team rebound from a 12-20 record the last two seasons combined? And who else will play an extremely pivotal role in the team's fortunes this season? It's never boring in the City of Brotherly Love.
Russell S. Baxter has spent the last 40-plus years watching football. He is the founder of ProFootballGuru.com, writes for numerous websites and publications across the country and is blessed with an encyclopedic memory. Ready to talk NFL? Follow him on Twitter at @BaxFootballGuru.
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