Defending Super Bowl Champions

Watching the Eagles win the Super Bowl serves as the best sports moment of my life. At times, it doesn’t possibly feel like it happened, even if I’ve watched Corey Clement stiff-arm, Brandon Graham strip sack and Nick Foles catch a pass, dozens and dozens and dozens of times. With training camp in the fold, and as much as I’d like to relive the 2017 Eagles season year after year, it’s time to move forward.

The team came together, checking egos at the door. They had fun, like the defense electric sliding in a win over the Bears on the damn field. They gave back to the community like Zach Ertz, Malcolm Jenkins, Rodney McLeod, Brandon Graham, Chris Long and Carson Wentz (the list goes on and on). They raised awareness for social issues. There was something truly magical about the team—from losing a Most Valuable Player candidate to rallying around a former starting quarterback, and all the enchantment in between. Everything about the season feels improbable, even though the team had talent, even though it actually happened. Moving forward, no matter what type of success that Eagles bring to the city of Philadelphia, nothing competes with the elusive Super Bowl victory after so many years, especially with how they won it. (The Philly Special, fourth and one in the fourth and the strip sack.)

The team says it’s moved past the Super Bowl victory. Last year the team was listed as underdogs in three straight postseason games. It fully embraced that label. This year the team says it’s “embracing the target” of being defending champs. You’ll continue to hear clichés about “the Super Bowl hangover” and how hard it is to make it back. Playoffs aren’t even a guarantee, especially with a first place schedule after a last place schedule a season ago. Opening night, with a banner that means something displayed, the Falcons will be back in Philadelphia, trying to avenge that 15-10 loss in January. But this Super Bowl champion has something monumentally different about their team as previous teams who tried to defend their crown: the franchise quarterback returns.

He threw 33 touchdown passes through 13 games. He made about seven plays that made you question if he’s human or not. The throw he made to Nelson Agholor in Seattle on the move as defenders brought him to the ground remains most impressive. It’s staggering what he was able to do to evade rushers, just ask Washington’s defense. This whole notion that he’ll somehow be less mobile, or elusive, doesn’t pass the smell test. It doesn’t seem realistic. He’s going to ball out. Yeah, the Eagles turned opponents over, mostly poor quarterbacks, in favorable areas on the field for Wentz and his weapons last year. Wentz capitalized on those situations, like in back-to-back weeks against the Broncos and Cowboys. Neither performance resulted in higher than a 56 percent completion percentage, or more than 200 yards passing. He had a combined total of six touchdowns, though. His three best games of the season, based on QBR, were against Chicago, Arizona and Washington in Philly. All three finished in the top-15 in defense DVOA by Football Outsiders. He would have won MVP if not for a torn ACL in Week 14.

Since Wentz is this all-around humble person, he refused to take away the spotlight from Foles and his teammates as the Super Bowl became a reality. He never made it about him, and that’s a beautiful thing. Of course, he wanted to be the savior. He wanted to give this city its first Super Bowl. The players know it. The coaches, too, which makes this season so exciting. It’s just a different vibe from what I’d imagine if Wentz had been the one to win it all last year. In addition to Wentz, it’ll be fun to see Darren Sproles, Jordan Hicks and Jason Peters back; newcomers Mike Wallace, Michael Bennett, Dallas Goedert and Haloti Ngata and former second-round pick Sidney Jones play in his first real season.

Doug Pederson stressed in the off-season and during minicamp and OTAs that last year is the past, that the Super Bowl was the new norm. There’s a sense of expectation from the fan base, and certainly from the opponents on Philadelphia’s schedule. They will be targeted. The Rams, Saints, Packers, Vikings, Falcons, Cowboys will be lurking, and history says one of those teams, or a surprise team, will represent the NFC in the Super Bowl in Atlanta, because since the 1997 Green Bay Packers, only once has a NFC champion repeated its conference title (Seattle Seahawks). It’s unlikely Philadelphia repeats as conference champs, but winning Super Bowl 52 appeared unlikely, too.

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