I’m not going to lie- I pegged the Eagles for somewhere between seven and ten wins before the season. The AFC West was supposed to be loaded. Carson Wentz was only in year two of his development from North Dakota State to NFL Franchise QB. Road games at Carolina, Seattle, and Kansas City were mortal locks for defeat. Two trips to Los Angeles? Impossible. The defense wasn’t going to be very good, Doug Peterson’s offense still worried me, and the team went 7-9 the last two years. I wasn’t a believer.
The thing here is, I’m not often a believer in the Eagles. I was a kid watching Buddy Ryan’s feared defenses get let down in the playoffs, and when Reggie White was allowed to leave Philadelphia over money. I was a young adult when they lost the NFC Title Games to St. Louis, Tampa, and Carolina. I was in college when they lost the Super Bowl to Tom Brady. I was 25 when they lost the NFC Title Game to an Arizona team they had beaten during the season. I can honestly say at least three times I expected (yes, expected) my Eagles to win the Super Bowl. They never did. They never have, period. When they got gimmicky and brought in Chip Kelly, I immediately called fraud on that clown. He proceeded to wreck the team. Over my 34 years, the Eagles have given me every reason to doubt them.
The thing is, if you’re actually objective, there’s no reason to trust a franchise who last won an NFL Championship when my father was three years old (1960). Like most Eagles fans, I’ve so badly wanted to believe they’d win, but they usually end up disappointing us- in fact, they always seem to. It’s part of being a Philadelphia fan- you learn to deal with heartbreak and disappointment with the best of them.
I didn’t feel that way about this year’s team though, at least not until December 10th. Carson Wentz made me, and many others, truly believe this could be it. He’s that good. He’s an MVP type of QB. He really has the talent. So, of course he got hurt. Of course. His ACL had to tear as the team was winning the NFC East, and their 11th game of the season. This is the essence of being an Eagles fan. You want to believe so bad, and when the deck finally seems stacked our way, the rug gets pulled out from underneath you. Wentz got hurt, then somehow it was the defense that went shaky. Then the defense looked great this week, and the offense went shaky. I’ve never seen a less confident fanbase for a 13-2 team.
So, here’s the thing. I actually am pretty happy with the season they’ve had. They’ve defied my expectations and beliefs about them. I’m bought in on the coach/front office regime, the quarterback, and the roster they’ve assembled. I think this team is actually, legitimately good. Would I predict them to win the NFC, or the Super Bowl, right now? No. Do they have a shot? Yes, they have a real shot to win it all. I think they absolutely would have won the Super Bowl if Carson Wentz hadn’t got hurt. I think they still have a chance now. Why?
- They have home field advantage in the NFC Playoffs. If you’re home, you at least have a chance. Philadelphia is a tough place to play in January, and who among the other current NFC Playoff teams is a legitimate outdoor, cold weather team? Minnesota, New Orleans, and Atlanta play in domes. Los Angeles and Carolina play in nice weather cities. Even beyond the noise, there is a real advantage here.
- The road is shorter. Thanks to the bye in the Wild Card round, the Eagles only have to win two games to win the NFC, not three. Beating two good teams is a lot easier than beating three, even if it’s still hard.
- Nick Foles replacing Carson Wentz really isn’t their biggest issue. Okay, so Nick Foles didn’t look great Monday night, but he looked good in LA and New York the two previous weeks. He’s had some playing time this season, he’s not totally cold. He’s been an NFL starter, and even started in the playoffs. I’m far more worried about mistakes in the secondary and the loss of Jason Peters doing the Eagles in than Nick Foles. Foles isn’t Wentz, and I never bought into him even in his “27 to 2” season a few years back, but he’s good enough to win an NFL football game. He’s done what he needed to for the first two weeks as starter.
- They keep overcoming major injuries. Jason Peters, Jordan Hicks, Darren Sproles, Caleb Sturgis, and of course, Carson Wentz have all suffered season-ending injuries.. Ronald Darby and Zack Ertz missed time. The Eagles are 13-2. Again, that’s 13-2, not 10-5 or some other very good, but not dominant record. This is a very good football team, a team that seems to find ways to win, regardless of the issues.
- If not them, who else? No, really, who else? I guess if I were a betting man on the hot hand in the NFC, I’d probably take Carolina, who will have to play in the Wild Card round regardless of what happens next week, and who the Eagles did beat at their place earlier this year (granted, with Wentz). Minnesota has a great defense, but do you really think Keenum gets them all the way? Drew Brees is a football God, but do the Saints scare you in the cold like they do in the Dome? Are you bought into the Rams yet? Is Atlanta what they were last year? Are the Patriots or the Steelers the best version of those franchises that you’ve seen in recent memory? Any of the teams I mentioned, and even a Jacksonville or Kansas City, could possibly beat the Eagles in the post-season. The Eagles may not even win a game. But really though, which team is out of their league?
- If they get there… Look, if the Eagles can win two NFC Playoff home games and win the NFC, they’re in the Super Bowl. The Super Bowl is unique in American professional sports in that it’s a one-and-done game. It’s hard to get lucky and win four out of seven games in the World Series, or the NBA Finals, or the Stanley Cup Finals- you have to at least be competitive to get lucky in those championships. The Super Bowl is one football game. You have to outplay the opponent one time. That can happen- any given Sunday.
I don’t want to get your hopes too far up- the Eagles aren’t the favorites to win the Super Bowl anymore. They’re at best a “pick ’em” in the NFC, where no one is way out ahead right now. They could lose in the divisional round. If that happens, it’ll be sad, but something we’ve all seen before. I’ll still have faith in the future of the team, provided that they are smart and let Carson Wentz heal 100%- not rush him back to play Opening Day in 2018. With the way this team defied my expectations, my hopes are now sky high for a next decade of Carson being among the NFL’s elite. With a defense that showed amazing progress in a year’s time, a running back situation that was productive, and receivers that make plays, I have high hopes moving forward. I’m just not done hoping for big things to come- this year.