By Joseph Santoliquito

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — It appears, by the indications this preseason and during training camp, that Carson Wentz is far more improved in a year’s time. The Eagles will have a far better receiving corps than in 2016, thanks to rental mercenaries Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith. The offensive line, with Jason Peters, Isaac Seumalo, Jason Kelce, Brandon Brooks and Lane Johnson, could be arguably among the best in the NFL, especially on the right side. The running game looks solid, with a committee of LeGarrette Blount, Darren Sproles and Wendell Smallwood carrying the load.

Related: 5 Eagles Bold Predictions

Defensively, the line depth looks solid, with Fletcher Cox and Tim Jernigan inside, and rookie defensive end Derek Barnett emerging as an outside force, and linebacker Jordan Hicks has shown he has game-changing ability. With stability at safety in team leader Malcolm Jenkins and running mate Rodney McLeod back there, and new addition Ronald Darby holding down one corner, with improved Jalen Mills at the other corner, the Eagles defense is also better overall from last year.

Coach Doug Pederson should be in his second year.

And with all of the movement and progress, the Eagles will probably finish 7-9 again in 2017—as they did in 2016—and out of the playoffs—again, as they did in 2016.

Why?

Like it or not, the Eagles are still a team under construction. They’re very thin at linebacker, and the last time Jeffery, who quite a bit of this season may hinge upon, played a 16-game season was 2014. Since then, injuries and suspensions have kept him to 21 games the last two years. Does anyone envision Jeffery playing more than 12 games this year? Smith’s reception totals have dropped each season since 2013, and at 35, it is time to ask how much future hall of famer Jason Peters had left.

Add in those viable concerns to the fact that the New York Giants are more improved—and probably the team to beat in the NFC East. In 2016, the Giants allowed the fewest points in the NFL (284/17.8 ave.) other than the Patriots. They’ve added Brandon Marshall and first-round pick Evan Engram to the receiving corps. Include Odell Beckham Jr. and Eli Manning could have a career year.

Dallas, despite Ezekiel Elliott’s looming six-game suspension, is coming off a 13-win season with a rookie battery of quarterback Dak Prescott and Elliott. Right tackle Doug Free retired, but first-round picks Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick and Zack Martin all return for what is the best NFL offensive line.

The only team in the division the Eagles may be better than are the Redskins, who have beaten the Eagles five-straight times entering the NFL season opener on Sunday. Washington needs to make up for the loss of 1,000-yard receivers DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon with talented, though unproven Terrell Pryor and Jamison Crowder.

The Eagles will be better, and considering 7-9 was an overachievement last year, this year’s final mark, whether it’s 7-9 or 8-8, still places this team on the rise. They had the best record of any fourth-place team in the NFL in 2016 and finished scored more points than they gave up—a rarity (367-to-331, for plus-36, which was more than 11 teams in the NFL that finished .500 or better).

This season marks another step in that progression. Just not the step overly optimistic, and abundantly anxious Eagles’ fans think this team will take.

NFC East prediction:

New York Giants 11-5

Dallas Cowboys 9-7

Eagles 7-9

Washington Redskins 6-10

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