Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Five must-see games on Eagles schedule: Doug Pederson’s return will be as big as Brian Dawkins

Even though the Philadelphia Eagles are still in a transition period, the franchise has garnered high expectations heading into the 2022 season. The development of Jalen Hurts led to a surprising playoff appearance last year, one which the Eagles took advantage of building with their offseason moves. 

Philadelphia acquired A.J. Brown on draft weekend, getting Hurts a No. 1 wide receiver the franchise hasn’t had in years. Brown and second-year wideout DeVonta Smith form one of the top wide receiver duos in the game, necessary for Hurts to take his game to the next level. Add in the No. 1 rushing attack from last season and one of the best offensive lines in football and the Eagles’ offense is a massive strength. 

The defense also received a facelift with the offseason signing of Haason Reddick and the draft picks of Jordan Davis and Nakobe Dean, getting Philadelphia three cornerstones on defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon’s revamped unit. Brandon Graham is back from an Achilles injury and Josh Sweat still continues to grow as a pass rusher. Fletcher Cox, Javon Hargrave, and Darius Slay also return to a unit that transformed throughout last season. 

The Eagles improved their roster this offseason, while the Dallas Cowboys fell back to the pack in the NFC East. In what should be a compelling division race, the Eagles are expected to compete for the NFC East title and make a return trip to the postseason this year. 

There are quite a few exciting games on the 2022 schedule — five in primetime — as the NFL thinks the Eagles are going to be a team to keep an eye on throughout the year. These are the five games Eagles and NFL fans can’t miss on the calendar. 

5. Week 8: vs. Steelers (Sun., Oct. 30, 1 p.m., CBS)

The Eagles are coming off a bye week and facing their cross-state rival, the first matchup between the teams since 2020. Thanks to the 17th game on the schedule, the Eagles get to face the Steelers as a result of NFC East teams scheduled to face the AFC North (Philadelphia and Pittsburgh finished in the same place in their respective division last year).

Bragging rights are on the line, especially since the Steelers won the last matchup between the Keystone State squads. Pittsburgh always seems to have trouble in Philadelphia, as the Steelers haven’t beaten the Eagles in Philadelphia since 1965 — back when both teams played each other twice a year.

What Pittsburgh team shows up to Lincoln Financial Field will be determined, but the Eagles will be in for a fierce battle against a team that’s always competitive. This will be a fun matchup for two teams that don’t play each other much. 

4. Week 6: vs. Cowboys (Sun., Oct. 16, 8:20 p.m., NBC)

If the Eagles wish to make a statement in the NFC East and showcase their young talent to the league, beating the Cowboys at home in primetime is a must. Dallas was the team that swept Philadelphia last year and have beaten the Eagles three straight times. 

Philadelphia has its first of two “Sunday Night Football” games of the year against its division rival, the first true test for a team that has made enough moves to compete for the NFC East title. Eagles-Cowboys is always a great primetime game, a matchup that has been a night game every year since 2003 (only hasn’t been a night game twice this century in 2000 and 2003). 

The crowd is going to be loud at Lincoln Financial Field, hoping the Eagles can live up to the offseason hype. This isn’t a “must-win” game for Philadelphia, but it’s going to feel like one if the Eagles want the NFC East. 

3. Week 4: vs. Jaguars (Sun., Oct. 2, 1 p.m., CBS)

Normally, a game against the team with the NFL’s worst record from last season isn’t a matchup worth circling on the calendar. This one will be different, as Doug Pederson makes his return to Lincoln Financial Field as the coach of the Jaguars. 

Pederson won the Eagles their first Super Bowl title, snapping a 57-year championship drought that dated back to 1960. Eagles fans starved for their franchise to win the Super Bowl, a feat great coaches such as Dick Vermeil and Andy Reid couldn’t accomplish in the city (but did elsewhere). Pederson did. 

There’s a statue of Pederson in Lincoln Financial Field discussing the “Philly Special” with Nick Foles, showcasing how legendary the coach is in Philadelphia. That huge Super Bowl champions banner in the stadium doesn’t exist without Pederson. 

Pederson will be getting an ovation as loud as Brian Dawkins when he returned to Philadelphia in a different uniform in 2009. Eagles fans won’t forget what Pederson did for the city and the impact the 2017 Eagles made on one of the most passionate fan bases in the league. 

2. Week 10: vs. Commanders (Mon., Nov. 14, 8:15 p.m., ESPN)

Carson Wentz finally makes his return to Lincoln Financial Field for the first time since asking for a trade out of Philadelphia. The former Eagles franchise quarterback experienced an epic downfall since a torn ACL and LCL derailed his MVP campaign — and his ability to lead the franchise to the Super Bowl title — in 2017. 

Just three years later, Wentz was benched in favor of Hurts. Two months after the benching, Wentz was out of Philadelphia and given a fresh start with the Indianapolis Colts. That didn’t work out as planned, so Wentz has an opportunity to salvage his career in Washington — facing the Eagles twice a year. 

While the Eagles will face the Commanders in Week 3, that game will be at FedEx Field. Wentz will have to exercise the demons in prime time at Lincoln Financial Field with the fans watching his every move on the field. This reunion won’t be as warm as the one Pederson will receive. 

1. Week 16: at Cowboys (Sat., Dec. 24, 4:25 p.m., Fox)

This is the game that should determine the NFC East title, a Christmas Eve battle for a home playoff game. Philadelphia and Dallas are the two favorites to capture the East and should be battling for playoff position by the time these two teams clash in the rematch from the early season Week 6 showdown. 

Dallas swept Philadelphia last season, which included a 41-21 beatdown in Week 3 on “Monday Night Football.” The Eagles haven’t won in Dallas since their Super Bowl championship season in 2017. 

If Hurts can lead the Eagles to victory at AT&T Stadium, it will give the franchise and the fans two early Christmas gifts. First would be a clear path to the division title and second — a franchise quarterback. Not like the Eagles have ruined the holidays in Dallas before (see Jeff Garcia on Christmas Day in 2006). 

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