If you want to argue that Philadelphia has way too many ifs and maybes attached, fine. I'll accept that. You have a fair point.
Just because I'm slotting the Eagles second in an index that's entirely about fantasy potential — repeat: FANTASY potential — I'm certainly not saying that this group is a Super Bowl favorite. If we're talking real-life championship odds, Philadelphia doesn't belong in the discussion with the Packers, Giants or Patriots — and perhaps not with the Texans, Saints, Niners, Ravens, Steelers or Falcons, either. This is simply a team coming off an 8-8 campaign, a group that last year failed to properly assemble an impressive collection of individual pieces.
In the first four weeks of the 2011 season, the Eagles managed to lose three games in which they held fourth quarter leads. They followed the same script in Weeks 9 and 10, losing to Chicago and Arizona. And at that point, Philly was 3-6 — a mess, a punchline, a civic embarrassment. Yes, the team surged at the end of the season, winning its final four games. But a solid close against a friendly slate couldn't erase the Eagles' miserable first-half.
Head coach Andy Reid somehow missed the playoffs with a roster that was well-stocked and well-hyped, loaded with play-makers. Of course he's on the hot seat. He's fortunate that owner Jeffrey Lurie didn't place him on the ejection seat. Reid got the very least out of an exceptionally talented squad last season. If the team minimizes its potential again this year, giving away winnable games, he'll be gone.
But now I'm veering off the appropriate path. I'll remind you once more that the goal of this series is to assess the fantasy landscape, taking a team-by-team approach. Whatever else the Eagles might appear to be entering 2012, no one can reasonably argue that this squad isn't a fantasy buffet. Philly features the No. 3 running back in our preseason ranks, as well as our No. 7 quarterback, the No. 15 and 27 wide receivers, the No. 12 tight end, the No. 3 defense and our No. 12 kicker. We've been drafting the [expletive] outta this team for the past month.
LeSean McCoy might be the NFL's most entertaining back, an explosive and live-wire quick player coming off a tremendous season. McCoy found the end zone 20 times last year, the largest touchdown total the league has seen since '07, and he averaged 108.3 scrimmage yards per game. Coach Reid has suggested that the Eagles may lighten McCoy's workload somewhat this season, but that's awfully tough to buy. Shady is the most dangerous weapon in this offense, and no other Philadelphia running back is in his neighborhood, talent-wise. McCoy handled 321 touches last season and 285 the year before (with 78 catches). He was a top-five fantasy selection in nearly all leagues, well-positioned to justify his price. You can absolutely win a title with McCoy as your best player. If you're the handcuffing type, Dion Lewis is the back to add ahead of rookies Bryce Brown and Chris Polk.
Michael Vick gave us more than one injury scare during the preseason, tweaking his left thumb in the opener, then hurting his ribs in Philly's second game (when the New England pass rush ate him alive). At this point, even the most dedicated Vick zealots surely understand the elevated risk with this player. He exposes himself to more punishment than your average NFL quarterback, and this is not a Cam or Tebow-sized runner who can easily repel would-be tacklers. However, Vick is still a very dangerous man when he decides to leave the pocket and run; he's averaged 7.2 yards per carry over the past two seasons, crossing the goal line 10 times. As a passer, he remains a see-it/fling-it quarterback, but he has a rocket-launcher arm and stellar weapons in his receiving corps. Vick is certainly more accurate and patient today than he was back in the Atlanta years.
Following Newton's ridiculous rookie effort, it seems silly to suggest that Vick is the dual-threat QB with the highest fantasy upside. I can't go there. Cam just gave us the only 4,000-passing/500-rushing season in NFL history, and he established a position record for rushing TDs in the process. But obviously if Vick can remain healthy over 15 or 16 games — and yeah, that's a low-probability "if" — then he's capable of a top-three fantasy season. You'll clearly want to pair him with a high-end backup quarterback — someone in the Cutler-Big Ben-RGIII class — because Vick will likely miss time at some point. We should also note that Arizona rookie Nick Foles claimed the No. 2 quarterback gig in Philly after an outstanding preseason (40-for-63, 556 yards, 6 TDs, 2 INTs). On behalf of fantasy experts everywhere: We reserve the right to recommend Foles at a later date.
Jeremy Maclin was never quite right last year, as he dealt with some sort of avian/swine/flesh-eating virus-thing during camp, then battled injuries in the regular season. But he's healthy now, primed to make a value leap in his fourth year. He's just one season removed from a 964-yard, 10-touchdown campaign. Maclin had a relatively low draft-day price (ADP 62.7, WR24), so we could see windfall profits here, particularly in PPR. DeSean Jackson is still around, too, and he finally got his payday. D-Jax remains one of the game's greatest big-play threats, a terrific play in leagues that award bonuses for long scores. He's never caught more than 63 passes in any season, so this is an example of a wideout who doesn't get a huge bump in PPR formats. Still, he's a scary play-maker, a man who clears space for other receivers. Jackson was actually drafted a few spots higher than Maclin in an average league (55.2, WR21), which I can't officially endorse. Nonetheless, I can't help but like the player.
Jason Avant remains in the mix, and he'll tease us with the odd useful game (almost in the style of Antwaan Randle El). But Avant shouldn't have been drafted in most formats. Riley Cooper will miss at least Week 1, due to a broken collar bone, so undrafted rookie Damaris Johnson could see a few snaps. Johnson became a buzzy player during the preseason, and he's the career NCAA leader in all-purpose and kick-return yards. Keep an eye on him as a deep sleeper, in case of injury — and if you're in a return-yardage league, give him an extra-close look.
Brent Celek is an under-appreciated tight end, a guy who became a big factor in the Eagles offense last season following the team's bye. He averaged 4.9 catches and 71.6 yards per game after Week 7, and he was actually the top-scorer at his position over the season's final three weeks, Gronk and Graham included. Celek won't lead you to a fantasy title, clearly, but he also won't handicap your team. He's on the approved list for sure.
This defense almost has to be better, because it's just littered with talent. IDP owners know the names: DE Trent Cole, DE Jason Babin, DT Cullen Jenkins, DT Fletcher Cox (rookie), LB DeMeco Ryans, LB Mychal Kendricks (rookie), CB Nnamdi Asomugha, CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. I refuse to believe that Philly can't turn this group into something ... well, at least effective, if not great. I've drafted the Philadelphia D/ST in a pair of leagues, in part because the opening week match-up seems so friendly (at CLE).
And with that, we're finally down to our last team — a juggernaut that led the NFL in total yardage last year, by a wide margin. On Thursday, we celebrate the Saints. Tonight, however, we head to the bar to watch the season kick. Enjoy the opener, friends. Comment as you see fit...
2011 team stats: 24.8 PPG (NFL rank 8), 142.3 rush YPG (5), 267.3 pass YPG (10), 34.01 yards/drive (7), 0.182 turnovers/drive (30)
Previous Juggernaut posts: 32. Miami, 31. St. Louis, 30. Indianapolis, 29. Jacksonville, 28. Cleveland, 27. Arizona, 26. Seattle, 25. Minnesota, 24. Tampa Bay, 23. Buffalo, 22. New York Jets, 21. Washington, 20. Oakland, 19. San Francisco, 18. Kansas City, 17. Cincinnati, 16. Denver, 15. Tennessee, 14. San Diego, 13. Pittsburgh, 12. Baltimore, 11. Dallas, 10. Carolina, 9. Chicago, 8. Houston, 7. Detroit, 6. Atlanta, 5. New York Giants, 4. New England, 3. Green Bay