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NFC preview: Philadelphia Eagles still birds of prey with strengthened squad from Super Bowl run

The Philadelphia Eagles have everything in place to become the first team since 2005 to repeat as champions.

Jay Asser 2018/09/05

It’s been 13 years since anyone has repeated as Super Bowl champions, but the Philadelphia Eagles are uniquely positioned to change that this season.

After lifting the Lombardi Trophy in February to cap off an improbable run with a back-up quarterback, the Eagles begin their title defence with a significantly stronger squad than the one that brought the franchise its first banner.

In Carson Wentz alone, Philadelphia will get back their starting quarterback and face of the team, as well as someone who was an MVP candidate before going down with an ACL tear in the middle of last season.

Nick Foles was unassailable in the postseason, but Wentz – who will be inactive for Week 1 – protects the Eagles from having to find out if their Super Bowl hero will turn back into a pumpkin when he returns to the field.

Philadelphia also welcome back nine-time Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters, linebacker Jordan Hicks and running back Darren Sproles – all of whom were sidelined by injuries in the playoffs.

As if getting healthy wasn’t enough, the Eagles went out in the offseason and added two stalwarts on the defensive line with the additions of veterans Michael Bennett and Haloti Ngata.

Arguably the most talented roster in the league last season has only gotten deeper, affording Philadelphia with all the ammo they need to break the drought of repeat champions.

In a loaded NFC, however, the Eagles will be tasked with going through a field that is as dangerous as any in recent memory.

Up north, the Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers are more than equipped to knock Philadelphia off their throne.

After upgrading from Case Keenum to Kirk Cousins at quarterback, getting running back Dalvin Cook back from an ACL tear, and retaining, by the numbers, the best defence in the league from a season ago, the Vikings are primed to avenge their NFC Championship loss.

The ‘Minneapolis Miracle’ – which saw the Vikings pull off a legendary last-second win over New Orleans in Divisional Round – wrote a new, memorable chapter in the team’s history, but the franchise is still searching for its first Super Bowl in its 58 years of existence.

In Green Bay’s case… well, they get Aaron Rodgers back from a broken collarbone, and when the best quarterback in the game is upright, he’s a one-man wrecking crew capable of putting the Packers on his back.

The last four seasons in which Rodgers has been on the field for all 16 regular season games, Green Bay have reached at least the Divisional Round each time.

In ‘The Big Easy’, there’s nothing laissez-faire about the Saints’ intentions this season as they aim to erase the bad taste left in their mouths from the aforementioned debacle against Minnesota.

Drew Brees, much like Tom Brady in New England, continues to churn out his usual production in his relatively old age (39), but flanked by a pair of stud running backs in Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram, and supported by a defence on the rise, the quarterback no longer has to shoulder the entire load.

Though all of the NFC’s contenders will deal with great expectations, arguably no team in NFL is under more pressure this season than the Los Angeles Rams.

A redux of the 2011 Philadelphia Eagles ‘dream team’, the Rams are under the microscope after adding several big-name players to a squad that won 11 games and the NFC West in head coach Sean McVay’s first year.

Joining reigning Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald on the defensive line is Ndamukong Suh, while newcomers Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters form a ball-hawking cornerback duo in a secondary also featuring free safety Lamarcus Joyner.

Considering the money and contracts Los Angeles have on their books, their title window with this current roster may not be more than two years, which ups the urgency to win now.

The Seattle Seahawks may not be as much of a threat now that their defence looks unrecognisable, but the San Francisco 49ers could make the Rams earn another NFC West crown thanks to the pairing of Jimmy Garoppolo and Kyle Shanahan.

Garoppolo has yet to lose as a starting quarterback as he holds a flawless 7-0 mark, which includes the five consecutive victories he led the 49ers to at the end of last season.

Elsewhere in the conference, the Atlanta Falcons will attempt to get back to the Super Bowl after taking a step back last year, while the New York Giants are banking on Eli Manning having something left in the tank and the Chicago Bears look to play dark horse under first year head coach Matt Nagy.

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Aaron Rodgers Carson Wentz Drew Brees Green Bay Packers Los Angeles Rams Minnesota Vikings New Orleans Saints Philadelphia Eagles Sean McVay