The Eagles reached the Super Bowl for the first time since 2004, winning in exciting fashion against America’s favorite villain, the New England Patriots. In our second of two Super Bowl edition-AJs, we’ll be looking at the amazing train wreck that was the Eagles season under Chip Kelly following the now-infamous “Wild Ride.”
Chip Kelly, the former Oregon Ducks college coach, became the surprise hire of the Philadelphia Eagles. Under Kelly’s stewardship, the once 4–12 Eagles team flew up to a 10–6 record and nearly secured a playoff victory before the Saints were able to send them packing with a last-second field goal. He achieved a similar record in his second season with the Eagles, but just missed the playoffs.
The following offseason, the Eagles made the bold choice to give Kelly the extra duty of becoming Head of Football Operations in an attempt to give the college guru and promising head coach a real chance to build the team he wanted. With his new title, Chip traded LeSean McCoy away to the Buffalo Bills in exchange for linebacker Kiko Alonso, a former player in his Oregon defense. Soon after, quarterback Nick Foles was shipped off to St. Louis in exchange for the Rams quarterback Sam Bradford. To cap things off, he convinced unsigned free agent running back Demarco Murray to become the next running back for the Eagles.
Was Chip Kelly a madman? A genius? Only time would tell. And tell it did. Bradford suffered injury, Murray had the worst season of his career, players feared being traded, and Kelly was fired after failing his team so spectacularly. At 6–9, Kelly was canned just before the end of the season. The Eagles then spent the next offseason correcting Kelly’s mistakes. Bradford was traded to Minnesota, Alonso was traded to Miami and Murray to Tennessee. The Eagles traded up with the Browns to secure the number 2 pick and draft their now franchise quarterback Carson Wentz. The following offseason, they fixed the final part of the Kelly era by bringing in Nick Foles to back up Wentz. And what does Foles do? Only lead the Eagles to their first-ever Super Bowl, defeating the mighty New England Patriots.
But what if Chip Kelly is never given that kind of power?
Keep in mind, the team that the Eagles fought so hard to restore is essentially the team that is going to the Super Bowl minus LeSean McCoy. So if Kelly after going two seasons at 10–6 and getting a healthy Nick Foles back going into his offensive system that has already proven to be at least netting them a decent amount of wins, it would make sense to try and keep the gang together. Now, heading into 2015, Foles is coming off of a season where he threw 13 touchdowns against 10 interceptions while only playing eight games. He also had LeSean McCoy coming off a season where he ran for over 1,300 yards and was not appearing to slow down whatsoever.
The Eagles are still in a good spot to be able to do some damage. They still don’t have Jeremy Maclin lined up at wide receiver anymore, however, so one fewer target for Foles to hit. Also worth noting: Sam Bradford is staying in St. Louis. The Eagles were the only team at the time vying for a trade with the Rams to try and land Sammy Two-Sleeves, so the oft-injured franchise guy is staying put. As for Demarco Murray, he hits free agency and winds up on the team who could desperately use an elite running back and were looking to secure one anyway: the Buffalo Bills!
With the Rams, Foles fell off a statistical cliff in 2015, but he was also playing in a Jeff Fisher offense so we’ll forgive him for a few things there. Comparing Foles’ previous season against Bradford’s season for Philly in 2015, we can make a few logical assumptions about how a quarterback like Foles could have handled the impending year. For one, Foles was on pace to throw for more touchdowns than Bradford in 2015. That gives the Eagles a distinct advantage in their many close games if Foles can continue his trend of throwing over 20 touchdowns while McCoy handles the ground game.
So, accounting for improved play out of Foles and assuming that, just like in St. Louis, Foles escapes without injury, the Eagles go from a 7–9 implosion to a more respectable 11–5 season after picking up wins against the Falcons, Redskins, Dolphins, and the now McCoy-less Bills. This puts the Eagles right back on top of the NFC East and denies Kirk Cousins his only playoff appearance. The Rams fair better with Bradford under center, but it’s not enough to make the playoffs.
Painting our 2015 NFC Playoffs as follows:
- Carolina Panthers
- Arizona Cardinals
- Minnesota Vikings
- Philadelphia Eagles
- Green Bay Packers
- Seattle Seahawks
This season is pretty easy to get through. Once the Packers dispatch the Eagles, everything plays out as it should with the Panthers losing in the Super Bowl to the Broncos.
2016: Foles is offered a contract extension to essentially be the Eagles quarterback of the future after maintaining a certain level of success that the Eagles haven’t really enjoyed for a while. This means that entering the 2016 draft, the Eagles are no longer in the market for a quarterback and have no reason to trade up in the draft to go after Carson Wentz. For that matter, they have no reason to fire Chip Kelly who has now scored three winning records with 10-plus wins and two division titles.
Sam Bradford, on the other hand, after five seasons of futility and injury is sent out to pasture by the Rams who still make the drastic move of trading up to get their new quarterback. This makes Bradford the only viable quarterback now on the free agency market in a year that was shockingly quiet for quarterback free agency moves. But, here’s what we can glean. The Texans were looking for a quarterback who could help rally their team. Their best bet, at the time, was Brock Osweiler. In a year where players like Osweiler, RG3, and Kaepernick floating around, Bradford could seem like a stable relief in comparison. Instead of blowing a stupid ton of money on the would-be Manning heir, the Texans make a run at Bradford.
The Rams still pull the switch on a trade to land the first overall pick from the Titans so they can take Jared Goff, the Browns still sign Robert Griffin III, and Osweiler resigns himself to the Broncos for way cheaper than $72 million, essentially entering a trial contract. This brings us to the draft. We have it good on authority that the Browns coach Hue Jackson had his eyes on Carson Wentz, but the front office felt the offer from the Eagles was too good to ignore. With that offer off the table, the Browns can actually use their prime draft stock to draft Wentz as RG3 insurance which they will need to very quickly jump on. The only hole left to fill is who the Vikings will be turning to at quarterback.
Remember that Teddy Bridgewater went down a mere week before the season started, prompting the Vikes to go after Sam Bradford while he was in Philly. But now Sam is playing in Houston, Case Keenum has yet to hit free agency, and their only real option was turning to Shaun Hill. Without a deep pool to pull from, the Vikings bite the bullet and sign controversial but talented Colin Kaepernick to take the reigns, as many advised Zimmer to do during following the initial injury.
This brings us into the 2016 season. Wentz is brought in in Week 2 to fill in for an injured Griffin III and hangs onto the spot for a majority of the season. Now, the Browns needed help from a decent quarterback at the very least, but Wentz is not going to be under the guiding hand of Pederson anymore. Instead, he’s under Hue “1–31” Jackson’s. We will, however, concede that Wentz even at his most raw would be able to help Cleveland more than the increasingly terrible quarterbacks they trotted out in 2016. Carson goes 5–11 with the Browns, including a two-game winning streak to finish out the season.
The Eagles, meanwhile, are getting Nick Foles on a roll (a Nick Roles, if you will). This is not an exercise in whether or not Nick Foles is BETTER than Carson Wentz, but in the fact that Foles, in a consistent system, could help the Eagles WAY sooner. With the quarterback locked and loaded, the Eagles improve their record to 13–3, which includes a win against the Dallas Cowboys to knock now Dak Prescott led unit into the wild card round instead of on top of the division. Which means…
- Philadelphia Eagles
- Atlanta Falcons
- Seattle Seahawks
- Green Bay Packers
- Dallas Cowboys
- New York Giants
To kick things off, the Cowboys still lose at the hands of the Packers; they just have to do that losing in Lambeau now, instead of on their own turf. The Giants, meanwhile, get a favorable matchup against a struggling Seattle team that kind of limped into the playoffs and secure themselves a playoff win. This sends Green Bay to Atlanta a week early while the Giants take on Philly. Foles dispatches his familiar foe and prepares himself for battle against the real world Super Bowl participants.
Now, I took some liberties getting the Eagles here, but they are now hosting the NFC Championship with a new and improved Nick Foles in a Chip Kelly system that was already working AND a strong running to go after Atlanta with. After running my simulations, I find that the Eagles make the Super Bowl an entire week early against, that’s right, the Patriots. Here is where the dream run ends as Foles isn’t able to run up the score against the Patriots. No miracle comeback, just a win for Brady.
Kaepernick gets booted out of Minnesota for the upcoming 2017–18 NFL season because the Vikings have a plan heading into the draft. They hold a middle draft pick since they haven’t made any trades with the Eagles. Teddy’s injury is going to plague them for another year, likely meaning he won’t play the same. They still get Keenum but need all the help they can get. Also, recall that Houston has no reason to trade up in 2017 since they have their quarterback in Sam Bradford. What’s the ultimate consequence? Watson is heading on over to Minnesota, adding another rookie quarterback to the NFC mix to offer competition and potentially motivation to young Bridgewater.
With Rodgers down and two rookies learning the ropes, Your NFC North champion instead? The Detroit Lions. The Lions are now able to sneak into the playoffs while Foles maintains momentum (Folmentum, if you will. I’m so sorry) and takes the NFC East AGAIN following a weak outing from his division rivals. Wentz saves the Browns from going 0–16 as well as saving DeShone Kizer from going to Cleveland. Kizer instead goes to Houston as Sam Bradford insurance in the 2nd round.
Seeds are as follows:
- Philadelphia Eagles
- Los Angeles Rams
- New Orleans Saints
- Detroit Lions
- Carolina Panthers
- Atlanta Falcons
The Panthers don’t have Drew Brees to worry about as they hand the Lions yet another first round exit. Now the Falcons have to worry about Drew Brees and the young defense behind him as they get knocked back out of the playoffs. Carolina goes up to lose to Philadelphia, while the Saints upset an upstart Rams team. This brings us to the showdown between the reigning NFC Champions and the Saints. Drew’s boys, a dynamic rushing attack, and a strong defensive effort actually manage to stop the Eagles in Philadelphia and we get a quarterback duel for the ages: Tom Brady vs. Drew Brees.
Chip Kelly’s decision to scramble his team only for us to watch it get put back together totally shifts our 2017 playoff picture in favor of the Saints. Foles may be our Super Bowl LII MVP, but riding him from the start could have thrown that entire story out the window. Funny how a man with a plan a mere three years ago can completely change what the league would look like here and now.