The Eagles have a tough schedule in 2023, but there is no opponent tougher than themselves

Eagles
Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts, right, hands off to running back Kenneth Gainwell, left, in the first half of an NFL football game against the New England Patriots, Sunday, Sept. 10, 2023, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

The Philadelphia Eagles are 1-0 after defeating the New England Patriots in the opening game of the NFL season. Although, you wouldn’t think it. The response to the win from fans and reporters alike has been one of frustration and concern. It should have been an easy day at the office for Philadelphia, and it eventually became a game they oh-so nearly threw away.

The main thing is that the team won. When Jalen Hurts struggled and the rest of the team was a step slower than usual, the Eagles found a way to win. Neither Josh Allen, Joe Burrow, or Patrick Mahomes are lucky enough to say the same thing. At the end of the day, that’s all that matters. But why is the response so different?

Expectation.

Eagles
Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeVonta Smith, left, is pursued by New England Patriots cornerback Marcus Jones, right, as he scores on a touchdown pass from quarterback Jalen Hurts in the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 10, 2023, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

The Eagles started off as a small fish in a big pond…

In 2021, the seeds were sewn. A rookie Jalen Hurts burst onto the scene and unseated Carson Wentz, playing well enough to take control of the team and flashing the upside of the future-MVP candidate he would become. At that point, expectations were minimal with an inevitable roster implosion on the horizon.

One frantic offseason later and the Eagles had built a solid foundation. Committing to Jalen Hurts as their quarterback, the Birds built around the young signal-caller, finding players he was previously familiar with and who were dream fits for the offense Nick Sirianni was building.

Howie Roseman foresaw a lighter schedule and decided to go all-in on a slew of big-name free agents. That decision would ultimately make this roster strong enough to not only waltz through the regular season but go all the way to the Super Bowl. Nobody expected the Eagles to win the NFC Championship in 2022. Nobody predicted Jalen Hurts to take a seismic leap in his development. He did. They did. The entire experience was joyous, with belief in the team, its players, and its culture, growing by the week.

But now the Eagles have hit a new level of expectation – sustenance.

…Now they’re swimming with sharks

It’s one thing to hit a trick shot, but can you do it again? Can you do it when your family is filming you, or your friends put you under pressure?

The Eagles now have one of the toughest schedules in the NFL and if they are going to repeat as NFC Champions, they’ll need to beat the best the AFC has to offer. We know how good this team can be, we’ve seen it. We watched for a whole year as the Eagles dominated teams on the ground and shredded them through the air, becoming everyone’s favorite underdog not named the Detroit Lions. But they’ve broken free from that reputation now, and the base standard of play has evolved with it.

If the Eagles had played the way they did on Sunday in their season opener a year ago, the response to the game would’ve likely been one of cautious optimism. Bright flashes from young players and a win, what more could you want? But this is now a Super Bowl-caliber team way past the point of flashes in the pan. The fans expect it, the players should expect it, and so should the coaching staff.

Eagles
Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts (1) looks for an opening while under pressure from New England Patriots linebacker Matthew Judon (9) in the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 10, 2023, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

Facing a schedule that punishes complacency, the Eagles cannot allow themselves to take their feet off the gas. With the schedule really toughening up in the later weeks, these are the must-win games that will afford some flexibility to drop a few against elite teams later in the year.

A failure to execute on Thursday night might well end in defeat, just as it so very nearly did on Sunday. Fans, critics, and just about everyone else would have every right to feel negative about a roster this stacked, a quarterback that good, and a coach that charismatic, falling short of understandable expectations.

The Eagles aren’t an up-and-coming team anymore. They’re not the Detroit Lions, they’re not the Carolina Panthers. They’re an NFC powerhouse who should be sleepwalking through teams like the Patriots and should be held to that standard.

AP Photo/Michael Dwyer