No more sneaking up on people. More than 1,300 receiving yards to be made up for by uncertain players, some of whom may not even be on the roster yet. A minefield of opponents that includes everyone from the toughest division in the NFC, if not the NFL.
These are just some of the dynamics in play now for the Philadelphia Eagles, who will find it doubly difficult to equal or better last season's NFC East-winning 10-6 record, despite the optimism generated by the success they enjoyed under rookie head coach Chip Kelly.
Following the release of the NFL schedule on Wednesday night (which followed the unexplained release of star receiver DeSean Jackson by the Eagles a month earlier), we take a preliminary look at what the reasonable expectations are now, before players around the league start mixing it up in minicamps and training camps and four preseason games.
Keeping in mind that so much can change before the Eages open their season on September 7 at home against the Jacksonville Jaguars, here is a fun projection, for amusement purposes only, based on what we know (or perhaps more appropriately, don't know) now:
• Sept. 7: vs. Jacksonville Jaguars. Gus Bradley, who would be the Eagles coach now had Kelly not changed his mind at the last minute and cut ties with the University of Oregon 15 months ago, leads his team into this must-win game for the Birds. Why is this a must? Because panic and riots and general entropy in the streets will ensue if the Jaguars come in here and steal one. That's why. Think about it. Those windmills at newly renovated Lincoln Financial Field would be set ablaze by 60,000-plus Don Quixotes.
• Sept. 15: at Indianapolis Colts. Colts QB phenom Andrew Luck puts up big numbers on seemingly befuddled Eagles defense but ultimately tosses a decisive pick in the fourth quarter of a tight game the Eagles manage to pull out.
• Sept. 21: vs. Washington Redskins. We all know by now that Jackson, who thankfully hasn't filed Chad Ochocinco-like paperwork to change the spelling of his last name to Jaccson, landed in Washington. But it won't just be him who will have a little somethin'-somethin' for is ex-teammates. Quarterback Robert Griffin III, now fully healthy after a January 2013 knee injury, will too. This game breaks bad for the Eagles.
• Sept. 28: at San Francisco 49ers. The 49ers are facing a season on the brink under Jim Harbaugh and so many run-ins with the law by their players. If they do go bad, chances are it won't happen until after they find a way to just play a little more fundamentally sound football than the Eagles. Of course, this assumes that their best defenders are not incarcerated at the time. A big if, we know.
• Oct. 5: vs. St. Louis Rams. Hungry after two losses, Nick Foles and the Eagles find a way at home against a surprisingly solid opponent under Jeff Fisher, a heck of an underrated coach who generally extracts the most from his players.
• Oct. 12: vs. New York Giants. Another team that's teetering like the 49ers. This group can go 11-5 and win the Super Bowl again or 5-11 and force Tom Coughlin into retirement. On this day, we split the difference and just call them so-so until they prove then can once again adequately protect QB Eli Manning.
• Oct. 26: at Arizona Cardinals. Former Temple coach Bruce Arians was too old to guide the Eagles and apparently too threatening to coordinate the offense of the Steelers. But he's put together a winner in the desert dome, where the Eagles are winless in three attempts (two regular season and one postseason). That trend does not get broken.
• Nov. 2: at Houston Texans. Who's the Texans QB? Johnny Football? Who knows now? But here's one prediction: this team will at least make a legitimate run at the playoffs after last year's travesty, no matter who they put in there.