Let’s not beat around the bush here. No more playing around and being coy. Time to just man up and say it, THE EAGLES….ARE GOING….TO THE PLAYOFFS. Many of you already believe this to be true even if the national media hasn’t quite given the team the recognition it deserves, but some of you aren’t quite there yet. There’s some trepidation in going “all in” with this team and this regime. The Eagles are more of an afterthought in what is shaping up to be a loaded division. I’m here to tell you it’s okay. Say it again, “The Eagles are going to the playoffs“. Feels good right? When you have that argument about the NFC East with your friends and want to bring up the Eagles but don’t at the risk of jumping the gun and sounding stupid, have no fear. The birds are for real. Let me tell you why you should feel good going into 2017.
Football truly is a game of inches. One bounce, one call or non-call, one mistake can turn the fortunes of a game and alter the course of a season. There is so much parity in the NFL. There really isn’t much of a difference between a playoff team and a team that drafts in the top 10. That’s why we see almost yearly a team go from worst to first. This year the Eagles have an excellent shot at being that team.
Last year the team went 7-9 and finished at the bottom of a division that sent 2 teams to the playoffs including the #1 overall seed, but let’s dig a little deeper. The Eagles went into the year with a rookie coach who had barely called plays before let alone coach adult athletes. They also named a rookie from FCS school North Dakota State the starting quarterback 8 days before the season started. That rookie quarterback also only had about a quarters worth of preseason action under his belt. Coming off the mess of a season that Chip Kelly created, there was not a lot of room for optimism going into last year.
Despite that recipe for disaster the team still won 7 games. The Eagles beat 4 playoff teams along the way so it’s not like we beat up on cupcakes. They beat the NFC Champion Atlanta Falcons as well as the AFC title game participant Pittsburgh Steelers, and they beat them both pretty decidedly. Going back to the “game of inches” theme, let’s think back to the Lions game, where the Eagles were firmly in control and running out the clock. Then all of a sudden Ryan Mathews fumbles and the game slips away. Should have been a win. How about the Dallas game, in Dallas, that the Eagles let a late lead slip away and ultimately lost in overtime. Probably should have been a win. Going for 2 at the end of the Ravens games was a toss up that if it went our way the Eagles would have won that too. Not to mention 2 tough losses to the Redskins. Overall 6 of the 9 losses were by 7 points or less. If some of the minute details of the game were taken care of in a couple of those games, we could have easily been a playoff team LAST YEAR! Think about that for a second, rookie coach, rookie quarterback who was supposedly in over his head at this level, toughest schedule in the league, coming off the Chip Kelly disaster and we could have easily gone last year. The team was good enough then, and in a much better position now.
Every Eagles coach that was hired in the last 30 years has brought the team to the playoffs in their first 3 season. All except Buddy Ryan did it in their first 2. Doug Pederson is now entering season number 2 with more experience under his belt and confidence to spare. The worst coach in Eagles history, Rich Kotite, piggybacked off of a very talented team that Buddy Ryan left him and went to the playoffs year one. Okay I can understand that, but who saw Ray Rhodes turning around the mess that Kotite created and bringing them to the playoffs after 1 year? It took Andy Reid 2 years to get back to the playoffs after inheriting a team that was completely void of talent. I’d love to hear who claims to have predicted that. Then after Reids tenure runs its course and the players seemingly give up on him going 4-12, Chip Kelly and his wild “college offense” enters the fray and leads them to the playoffs in year 1. Don’t even try to tell me you thought he’d be successful right off the bat. Despite all these seemingly disastrous situations that these coaches were coming in to they all turned the team around and rather quickly. It happens every year and its happened here in Philly on multiple occasions. Starting to believe yet?
Now coming into this year things have definitely improved. We still bring back offensive and defensive line units that rank among the best in the league. Infusing the youth of Seumalo up front on offense and adding Timmy Jernigan and first round pick Derek Barnett to the defensive front should maintain our status at the top of the league as far as the lines are concerned. Winning the battles in the trenches is always imperative to winning in this league. We’ve added some play-makers on offense finally. Last year, you could say that while the defense kept us in a lot of games the offense just wasn’t up to par.
Howie Roseman and the Eagles front office agreed with that sentiment and went out and added LeGarrette Blount, Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith, established NFL weapons. Don’t expect Blount to put up the stats he had in New England last year. Truth is, last year was an outlier year for him and he really isn’t that good. However, all the Eagles need from him is to get the tough yards, help close out games, pick up 3rd/4th and short situations and convert in the redzone. If he does that, stats aside, it will be an excellent year. Having Alshon Jeffery around will be a huge benefit to Carson Wentz. Jeffery is a legitimate top 15 WR in the NFL. I would argue top 10 but I’ve been a fan of his since his South Carolina days. He will add a playmaker on the outside the likes we haven’t seen since, dare I say…T.O. Torrey Smith is another guy that you shouldn’t put too much stock in his stats at the end of the year. His speed alone adds an element that was lacking in this offense. If he can still run, and by all accounts he can, he’s doing his job. Throw in a young player like Mack Hollins and cross your fingers that Nelson Agholor has cleared his head after last years training camp arrest. Not to mention Zach Ertz and the tight end group and you’ve got an offense that will be able to put up points.
The other major issue from last year was the secondary, specifically the cornerback play. The position has gone under a complete overhaul. Now there is legitimate young talent in the building. No more band aids. No more mid round prayers. They have a direction now, and the direction is up. The quartet of Ronald Darby, Sidney Jones, Jalen Mills and Rasul Douglas are going to grow together and potentially be the force on the back end that we have been lacking for some time. Don’t get me wrong, these kids are probably going to take some lumps this year. If they really struggle this whole playoff idea becomes tougher to accomplish. However if 2 of these kids becomes studs then the Eagles can start setting their goals a little higher in years to come. Please be patient though Philadelphia. Give them time. These kids have serious talent.
Now for the biggest reason to be optimistic about a run is January is obvious…..Carson Wentz. If you haven’t bought in yet, now is the time. From someone who has watched all his college game tape to now, the kid is the real deal. He’s everything you could want in a person and a leader. There’s an old saying in NFL front offices, “The best teams best players are also their best people”. Carson Wentz personifies that. Intangibles are the key to successful quarterbacks in the NFL. Every year rookie quarterbacks get drafted that can run a 4.4 or throw 80 yards but it’s intangibles and intelligence that make a true winner and this kid has it in spades. That’s where you win in this league, behind the scenes. If you’re a guy that likes highlights, he can produce that too. 6’5 240lbs, huge arm, vision, ability to read a defense, accuracy, athleticism and teammates that are sold on this man as the leader of this football team. What more could you want?
So say it with me Philadelphia…..THE EAGLES ARE GOING TO THE PLAYOFFS! Don’t be afraid! Let everyone talk about the Cowboys or the Giants. Feel good about your team. Feel good that there is some stability now. The pieces are in place to make a run and to make it this year. Do you believe me yet? You should.
Mandatory Credit: Adam Wesley/Green Bay Press-Gazette via USA TODAY Sports