“What if’s” are always a fun game to play when talking about the NFL. One play or game changes, and the entire course of a franchise is altered. In terms of Eagles history, there are plenty of examples to do a “What if” for a franchise with plenty of painful losses.
Today’s “What-If” centers around one thought that doesn’t really get talked about enough: What if the 2008 Eagles ended up beating the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC Championship Game?
During the Andy Reid/Donovan McNabb era, the Eagles went to five conference championships but only won one of those playoff contests. In ’08 the Eagles fell to the Cardinals 32-25.
The Birds came back from 18 down to actually take the lead midway through the fourth quarter. Kurt Warner and the Cardinals completed an eight-minute drive while converting on a fourth and one from midfield and regained the lead. The Eagles weren’t able to respond.
But what if the Eagles were able to hold on to the lead? What if the last playoff game between the Holy Trinity of McNabb-Westbrook-Dawkins was in Super Bowl XLIII against the Pittsburgh Steelers? Let’s take a look.
The Super Bowl
Philadelphia beat Pittsburgh earlier in the year 15-6, but the Steelers had an incredible season. They were the #1 ranked defense overall against the toughest schedule in the NFL that year. There is absolutely no guarantee that the Eagles would’ve been able to beat the Steelers again. The only positive they had going for them was that the sixth seed in the playoffs had won the two of the last three Super Bowls (’05 Steelers, ’07 Giants). In my opinion, they probably still lose the Super Bowl to Pittsburgh although it’s a lower scoring game as the Cardinals had weapons the Eagles could’ve only dreamed of.
Dawkins and the Holy Trinity
A second Super Bowl appearance for McNabb/Westbrook/Dawkins would’ve been a massive thing for an aging team. If the Eagles beat Arizona, there’s a better chance Joe Banner and the front office retain Brian Dawkins the following offseason. Dawkins played until 2011. Let’s say the Eagles keep him for another two years making him a 37-year-old safety. The secondary issues of the 2010 season look a lot different even with the passing of Jim Johnson in the offseason of 2009.
Brian Westbrook is probably the only player whose career doesn’t change. Passing the 30-year-old threshold for a RB in 2009, Westbrook is released with the Eagles drafting LeSean McCoy.
McNabb is an interesting case. The best QB in Eagles history, with a win against Arizona, showed that he could still produce at a later age. This means even after a playoff loss to Dallas the next year, the Eagles would hang on to McNabb for a couple more years and he wouldn’t be traded to Washington.
This year doesn’t change much. The Cowboys still probably beat Philadelphia in the playoffs that year. The emergence of DeSean and Jeremy Maclin would’ve added a different level for McNabb’s tenure and the secondary would’ve still been successful with Dawkins as the team leader.
This is the year where everything changes. McNabb is still on the roster along with Dawkins. Kevin Kolb is traded to Arizona for a second-round pick and Michael Vick is sent to Washington instead of McNabb. Vick doesn’t win Comeback Player of the Year and Kolb still struggles in Arizona.
The Eagles secondary is not the glaring hole it was actually. Losses to Chicago, Minnesota, and even Dallas don’t end up happening and the team becomes the #2 seed in the NFC Playoffs. That means Green Bay has to come to Philadelphia for the NFC Championship Game. McNabb would’ve beaten Rodgers as he was a better player than Vick. The Eagles get to the Super Bowl in a rematch with Pittsburgh and this time end up winning because of the added speed of Maclin and McCoy to the roster. McNabb and Dawkins leave the team as champions. Both are in the Hall of Fame.
The retirement of McNabb and Dawkins end the Eagles reign of championship football. The team doesn’t go all-in on the Dream Team and that disaster doesn’t happen. Andy Reid ends up retiring after 2012 and doesn’t come back to the NFL for a couple more years. Instead of Chip Kelly, the Eagles choose to bring in Colts Offensive Coordinator Bruce Arians.
Bruce Arians brings back the postseason run to Philadelphia. The Eagles sign Carson Palmer to solidify the QB position. Palmer and backup Nick Foles end up going to the playoffs all the first three years and an NFC Championship appearance in 2015. LeSean McCoy and DeSean Jackson are the teams leading rusher and receiver respectively and they are never traded or released. After a tough 2016 in which Palmer showed his overall age, Bruce Arians decides to draft a QB in the first round.
2017 Draft and Beyond
Andy Reid still ends up going to Kansas City and tries everything to trade up for Patrick Mahomes but the Eagles, after a disappointing 7-8-1 season nab the Texas Tech product to sit behind Palmer’s last season. With an older McCoy, Jackson, and Maclin, the team still takes off in 2018 with added speed. Arians’ pass-happy offense revolutionizes football with Mahomes at the helm and ends up winning the Super Bowl in 2018 over Tom Brady and the New England Patriots after beating Sean McVay and the Los Angeles Rams in the NFC Championship Game.
Your minds can finish the rest. It’s really incredible to think about how different the Eagles franchise could have been if they ended up beating Arizona in 2008. Of course, Eagle fans are lucky things turned out the way they did because we ended up with a Super Bowl ring anyway but letting McNabb, Dawkins, and Westbrook go out as champions is something we will always look back on as something that should have happened.
Mandatory Photo Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Nick Faria is currently a Marketing Coordinator for ESPN in Bristol, CT. A graduate from Hofstra University in New York, he is a two-time Associated Press Award winning reporter with experience in all four major sports in America. On top of his experience as a reporter and writer. Nick was born in Rhode Island but has a strong background around the Philadelphia Eagles, and other teams in the city of brotherly love. Nick is excited to take the next step in his professional career with Philly Sports Network!