Eagles need to be wary of changing NFC landscape

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Whether you saw it coming or not, after 10 weeks of the season, the Eagles are definitely the real deal. As a fan, you start to look at the other known contenders in the conference and you can see the opportunity. Division rival Dallas is 5-4 and without Zeke Elliott until week 16. The Packers are without Aaron Rodgers for the year. Seattle just lost Richard Sherman for the season.  Just reading those statements probably makes you tingle just a little and the words “Super Bowl” creep into your head. I’m here to warn you that despite the injuries, and the preseason powers looking very vulnerable, the Eagles have some very formidable foes that lie ahead in the path to glory.

This isn’t the AFC folks, the conference that has the same 2 or 3 teams at the top every year. Any team with aspirations for something great in the AFC know exactly who they have to gun for. The organizations are run so poorly in the AFC that the top teams are never really challenged. Since 1995, 22 seasons, New England, Denver and Pittsburgh have represented the conference in the Super Bowl 16 times. Twice for Baltimore, twice for the Colts with Peyton and the Raiders and Titans each snuck in there once. In that same time period, 13 different NFC teams went to the Super Bowl with no team going more than 3 times (Green Bay, Seattle). The teams at the bottom of the AFC stay at the bottom and can’t get it right. Sure, there are surprise stories every year over there, like the Dolphins last year or the Jaguars this year, but none of those teams have proven to be legitimate. They’re more so 1 year aberrations who simply get to the playoffs based on the fact that someone else has to win games in that mess of a conference.  Outside of Pittsburgh, New England, and occasionally Kansas City, the AFC playoffs are filled out by the teams that happened to have the Browns, Jets and Colts on their schedule.

The NFC is different. Every year it’s wide open. Every year we see someone new emerge. You can never bank on easy wins, and projecting wins and losses before the season always proves to be a fruitless exercise. We see this because the teams are so well run and despite some teams having losing records, they still have plenty of talent. I’m sure we could all see the Giants bouncing back next year with a new coach, an offensive lineman or 2 and a fresh start. It happens every year! The scouting is better in the NFC. The coaching is better in the NFC. The front offices are better in the NFC. Let’s not forget that most of the AFC teams are former AFL franchises, which was the junior circuit of football. Nobody even heard of the Patriots before the year 2000. The Eagles need to stay focused because in the NFC, everyone is a threat. New contenders have emerged and the Eagles should be wary.

The Super Bowl takes place in Minnesota on February 4th, 2018 and you better believe that’s what the 7-2 Vikings are gunning for. Even with Sam Bradford and stud rookie running back Dalvin Cook out of the lineup the Vikings are 9th in total offense.  Case Keenum has brought a different element with his mobility in the pocket. They have enough weapons to be dangerous. The Vikes really make their money on defense. They’re 5th in total defense and 3rd in pass defense. They have an excellent secondary with Xavier Rhodes and Harrison Smith and great pass rushers in Everson Griffen, Danielle Hunter and Anthony Barr. They’re very well rounded team and will certainly be playing with a motivation to have a home Super Bowl.

Despite beating the Panthers a couple weeks ago they are still a very real threat to the Eagles. The Panthers are 1st overall in total defense (4th vs. pass, 2nd vs. run) and have really righted the ship after the Eagles game winning 3 in a row. Adding Christian McCaffrey to the offense makes them much more versatile and takes a lot of pressure off Cam Newton. Cam is playing really well lately, not unlike his MVP season 2 years ago.

The Los Angeles Rams were in the same predicament as the Eagles were 2 years ago and they both drafted the future of their franchise on the same night. After getting beat up when he toke over as starting QB last year, Jared Goff has really come into his own. New head coach Sean McVay has made the offense so much more dynamic and the Rams now lead the league in points and point differential. Running back Todd Gurley is a legitimate stud in this league. McVay’s offense has also reinvigorated Gurley’s career. The defense features a front 7 that is at the top of the league with the likes of Aaron Donald and Robert Quinn. Not only are the Rams a real threat to the Eagles this season but the Goff/Wentz rivalry may headline the NFL for years to come.

Perhaps the biggest threat to the Eagles this season is the New Orleans Saints. The Saints have made a commitment to running the football which has taken a lot of pressure off Drew Brees. Running the ball and having more balance on offense was the key to the last 2 successful Saints teams, including the 2010 Super Bowl winning team. They’ve always been able to put up points on offense but the scariest thing about this team is that now they’re playing defense. They rank 8th overall defensively (7th against the pass) which has been the catalyst to a 7 game win streak. The thing that separates the Saints from some of these other new threats to the Eagles is that they have a legitimate Super Bowl winning quarterback. Drew Brees has done everything in this league and whether it’s at home in the dome, or on the road in the elements in Philly, nothing is going to faze him in the playoffs.

So don’t start thinking Super Bowl just yet. There’s plenty of competition in the loaded NFC. Do like Doug Pederson says and take it “one game at a time”. In addition to these new threats, the preseason powers, Seattle, Green Bay, Dallas and defending NFC champion Atlanta are still hanging around and could make a late season push. Nothing has been locked up yet for the Birds. They haven’t secured home field. They haven’t secured a bye. They haven’t even secured the division yet. This Sunday night in Dallas will go a long way to taking that first step. This Eagles team is going to have to learn how to win in the playoffs which they haven’t done since 2008. It’s going to take some time and a little adversity but they’re on the right path. Don’t get sucked in to the “Super Bowl”‘ chatter. Take it one game at a time. The NFC is a beast that is not easily conquered.

 

Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

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