The Eagles are gritty underdogs once again but that’s exactly what the team needed


It’s been a long season for the Philadelphia Eagles. From the highest of highs to the lowest of lows, Doug Pederson and his Eagles team have triumphed at just about every turn, careering into the postseason. Now, with a first-round bye behind them, a new challenge awaits.

The Eagles ended the year with a wobbly week 17 loss to Dallas and while momentum may have been swept away in a gust of Texas wind, the Birds still ended the season with the best record in the NFC (13-3). But that wasn’t how this team started out. They weren’t a dominant outfit who were expected to put up 20+ points week in and week out. They were the underdogs.

A franchise quarterback and an aggressive defense set the tone coming into the season, one that was filled with intrigue and excitement as a revamped offense took to the field. But as the wins piled up, the electricity infused into the team by Carson Wentz lit up the hearts of thousands, this team rapidly went from underdog to championship contender.

In the final few weeks of the season, most notably after Carson Wentz suffered a heartbreaking injury, the Eagles fire started to burn out. Penalties chained the offense back into some disappointing situations, undoing the long drives and hard work seen on the field previously, while the defense started to slip…especially on double-moves.

The Eagles have a lowly 9 sacks in their last 6 games, ranking them 28th in the NFL. In their last three outings, the team have converted on a shocking 23.68% of third down attempts and have allowed opponents to convert an average of 6.0 per game, that’s two more than their season average of 4. Talking of that number, the Birds are also averaging just 4.3 yards per play offensively. A huge dip from the form that propelled them to the playoffs to begin with.

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+2.5 That’s where Philadelphia sits on the spread coming into this matchup as a number one seed playing at home. The Eagles home field advantage however has been remarkable this season. Dropping just one game all year at home, the Birds have been phenomenal in front of the Philadelphia faithful…which is just as well considering playoff tickets sold out in under 60 seconds. But what team will fans see? Will it be the gritty, underdog, Philadelphia Eagles? Or a team struggling to tie it all together?

“You can look at it both ways. Our – I won’t say backups – but the guys that don’t normally get all the reps held that team to six points.” Fletcher Cox explained to reporters after the week 17 loss, highlighting how impressive he feels the defense performed. “That says a lot. Obviously we wanted to win the game and wanted to sweep the division and also we wanted 14 wins. You want a lot of things, but sometimes you just don’t get them. Those guys went out and fought. At the end of the day, we get next week off and get a chance to go out and play again.”

Malcolm Jenkins also expressed a similar level of confidence, siting that the recent slump may simply be down to fatigue. “I think everything is within reason.” The defensive captain explained after the loss. “We have been kind of resting and getting guys healthy I think that has been important for us especially after that long trip on the West Coast and three road games in a row. But now, obviously with the little bit of rest now, this week with some of our starters, having a bye next week I think it’s important that we get back to some of the basics. Not do anything crazy or [unusual] but I definitely think it’s an opportunity for us to get better as a team and that’s where the focus needs to be.”

At the end of the day, the Eagles ranked inside the top five in total defense, had the league’s best run defense and third best third-down defense. This is a unit that can suck the life out of any offense and they will be asked to do so against a Falcons unit that is only picking up steam.

Although the circumstances are different, the mindset is the same. This Eagles team is no longer viewed as a powerhouse that will glide into a Super Bowl matchup. This is a team that has to earn every inch of turf they will gain next weekend. A team that has to embody the ‘mind, spirit and soul’ that Joe Douglas helped handpick for this roster, believing in the culture, vision and unity that Doug Pederson has bestowed. This is an Eagles team that has its backs to the wall…and that’s exactly where they want to be.

“Preparation builds confidence.” Words from the Eagles starting quarterback, Nick Foles, that eased the concerns of many after a tough loss against Dallas. “In anything you do, you prepare. Hey, you go into a test, what do you do? You study. You prepare. You’re confident going in and you do well. Same thing with football. We’re going to have an opportunity with the bye week to obviously rest our bodies. Get our bodies back. Get some practice in, whatever the coaches have for our schedule. We won’t know who we’re playing, but you can go back and analyze yourself fundamentally and work on that and then once we know and we get into our normal prep week, you prepare for the game like you always do and we get ready to roll.”


Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports