Are Eagles better positioned for a Super Bowl run than this time last year?

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The Eagles are just a few days away from their third consecutive entrance into the NFL playoffs. Almost a year has passed since their last run came to a heartbreaking end. But are they better positioned to get back to the biggest stage of all than they were heading into last year’s wildcard game?

No place like home

Last year, the Eagles had to open up their playoff dream on the road against the Chicago bears. This time, things are arguably a little easier. The Birds will face the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday, granted, but they’ll do so from the comfort of a raucous Lincoln Financial Field, where Head Coach Doug Pederson is 5-0 in the postseason.

The defense has come under plenty of fire this year, but since 2016, they’re giving up the fewest points per game at home in the entire league and obtain a 25-9 home record, second to only the Patriots.

This isn’t to say that the Eagles are going to walk all over a Seattle team that has had Pederson’s number in each of their last four fixtures, but it at least proves that the homefield advantage does exist…and right now this team will take every advantage they can get.

The injuries

The Eagles have had some of the worst injury luck imaginable over the last three years and while the team is banged up beyond belief this year, it’s hardly anything new. Going into last year’s wildcard matchup against the Bears, the team were without:

CB Sidney Jones
CB Jalen Mills
CB Ronald Darby
CB Avonte Maddox (Hey Cre’Von)
S Rodney McLeod
S Chris Maragos
WR Mike Wallace
WR Mack Hollins
RB Jay Ajayi
RB Corey Clement
DE Derek Barnett
TE Joshua Perkins

Oh, and some guy on Carson Wentz…but more on that a little later.

As for this year, buckle up. The team will be without:

DT Malik Jackson
DT Hassan Ridgeway
OG Brandon Brooks
WR DeSean Jackson
WR Alshon Jeffery
WR Nelson Agholor
RB Corey Clement
RB Darren Sproles
LB Kamu Grugier-Hill
S Rudy Ford
CB Ronald Darby

along with a flurry of questionable playmakers including Zach Ertz, Lane Johnson, and Miles Sanders.

The cluster injuries aren’t as severe this season, with the whole secondary being depleted last year, but it’s arguable the team has lost more star power.

The main difference here is that the team do indeed have Carson Wentz, and not only that, but he’s in the best form we’ve ever seen. Ending the regular season by becoming the first Eagles QB to throw for over 4,000 yards, and the first NFL QB to do so without a 500+ yard receiver, Wentz dragged the remains of an offense over the line in the month of December.

His 27 touchdowns to 7 pick ratio is impressive, but even more so when you consider he spent half of the year throwing to practice squad promotees and the other half to flailing starters. Wentz has been surgical in an offense that has been remolded around his skillset, leaning on him being the center of attention as opposed to the playmakers.

More sprintouts, more rollouts, more Wentz on the move. In the same way the offense was simplified for Foles last year, it’s been reconstructed for the face of the franchise this year…and the trust he now has in guys like Deontay Burnett and Greg Ward Jr. is astounding and can only mean good things.

The opponent

The Seahawks have had the Eagles right where they want them for four consecutive games…or since 2008 if you want to be even more pessimistic. More recently, it’s been all about the Russell Wilson show. The MVP candidate has seven touchdowns, one interception and just one fumble against the Eagles in his last four games, while the Birds have turned the ball over nine times in that timespan. That doesn’t bode well when facing a team with 32 takeaways.

The Seahawks have a young and energized defense and an elite quarterback. However, K.J Wright’s shots about ‘predictable offensive plays’ may have been circled in red. It would explain such a drastic turnaround in recent weeks, for sure.

There’s no questioning that the Seahawks present more of a complete challenge than an incredible defense and….Mitchell Trubisky and a rookie Head Coach at the time. The strength and caliber of this team, its Head Coach and QB combo, and its playoff prowess cannot be overlooked.

The journey

If the Eagles can burst out of the gate quickly, they’ll move on to face the San Francisco 49ers, who in my opinion would’ve presented the easier first-round matchup due to being able to single out shaky CB Ahkello Witherspoon and send plenty of speed his way on offense, while relying on the defense to take Kittle out of the equation, forcing Jimmy G to let routes develop and exposing him to a rampant pass-rush.

After that, it’s a Green Bay team who the Eagles have already beaten this year, Minnesota…who…oh god another grudge match, or the New Orleans Saints.

The road is by no means an easy or predictable one, but it’s easy to see the Eagles having a realistic shot at the NFC Championship if they can just get out of their own backyard first. The good news is, with a roaring crowd behind them, the team will have Carson Wentz playing playoff football for the first time in his career. And that alone gives this team hope.

Are they better positioned to make a run than last year? I’d say so.

Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

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