Head-coaching continuity gives Eagles an 'advantage' in NFC East

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PHILADELPHIA -- Brandon Graham's enthusiasm for his 11th year in the NFL hasn't been dampened by this isolated, virtual offseason. In fact, the juices are flowing as high as ever for the veteran defensive end, because the way he sees it, the Philadelphia Eagles head into an unprecedented 2020 campaign with a leg up on the competition, especially in the NFC East.

"I'm all-in because it's all about having an advantage, and I feel like we have an advantage right now," Graham said. "We've got the same coach. All we've got to do is make sure we take this offseason like we're supposed to."

To Graham's point, Eagles coach Doug Pederson is the only returning head coach in the NFC East. The Dallas Cowboys (Mike McCarthy), New York Giants (Joe Judge) and Washington Redskins (Ron Rivera) are all breaking in new coaches.

While their rivals race to install new systems and adapt to foreign terminology, the Eagles are merely building on a foundation cemented over the past four years.

In theory, such fluency should prove beneficial in an offseason in which teams have yet to train together because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The only comparable situation in recent history was the 2011 season. A labor dispute led to a lockout that started in late March and lasted until July 25, forcing all teams into crash-course mode once the NFL season commenced.

Stability proved key then. Five of the eight division winners that 2011 season had a head coach entering at least his sixth season with the team, while John Harbaugh was going into his fourth season with the Baltimore Ravens. On average, playoff teams had a coach that had been at the helm for more than five years.

There were a pair of playoff teams guided by new coaches, however: the 8-8 Denver Broncos (John Fox) and 13-3 San Francisco 49ers, who reached the NFC Championship Game under Jim Harbaugh. And, somewhat surprisingly, the data shows that life for a first-year head coach wasn't any rougher than normal, at least in terms of final results. The win percentage for teams working with new coaches in 2011 (.461) was actually the fourth highest in the nine-year span from 2011 through 2019, according to ESPN Stats & Information research -- thanks in part to San Francisco's wild success -- while the number of playoff teams with a head coach in his first year (two) was right on average for that time frame.

For the 49ers, high-end talent and roster continuity powered them right through the new-coach learning curve. Linebackers Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman led a Pro Bowl-laden defense that gave up a stingy 14.3 points per game, while the offense, returning eight of 11 starters from the previous season, played the ultimate complementary football by matching an NFL record for fewest turnovers in a season with 10.

The 49ers' story provides hope for a team such as the Cowboys. Dallas also has eight projected starters returning on offense and has enough star power on its roster to smooth out the transition. And it's not like McCarthy is new to all this. He has 13 years of head-coaching experience with the Green Bay Packers. He's just changing addresses, not unlike Fox moving from Carolina to Denver in '11 (though McCarthy had a year off in between).

The latest projection model likes Dallas' chances. According to ESPN's Football Power Index, Dallas has the fifth-best chance of winning the Super Bowl in 2020 (5%) and is the favorite to win the NFC East (48%) over the Eagles (45%).

History suggests the overall odds favor the team with the tenured coach, but there's always an exception or two -- a trend that held last time there was a disrupted offseason.

Which way will it go in the NFC East? Graham believes it will break the Eagles' way as long as the team leaders pull their weight.

"I just want to go out there and give it all I've got so we can help each other lead ourselves back into a good situation," Graham said, "and that's the Super Bowl this year."