If not the Eagles, then who? That’s the question I keep coming back whenever a wave of skepticism rolls through me. I know, I know: The Eagles have an 8-1 record and one of the most promising young quarterbacks in the league, so the time for skepticism regarding this team has long since passed. They’ve passed every test they’ve faced since a Week 2 loss in Kansas City, from that Thursday night win on the road in Carolina to that dusting of the Broncos heading into the bye. But old neuroses die hard, and it’s sometimes difficult to separate the legitimate questions that this team still has to answer from the bogeyman the self has been conditioned to concoct after years of watching promising seasons turn out to be more glimmer than gold.
It’s a sad way to live, sure, constantly searching for a reason not to believe. But, keep in mind, we’re talking about a team that has not won a playoff game in eight postseasons, and has not been to a Super Bowl in the last 12. Maybe the most psychologically damaging part of that is the fact that the Eagles haven’t been all that bad during that stretch. They’ve averaged a hair over eight wins a season — not great, but better than 19 other teams in the NFL. Fact is, in all but one of those seasons, the Eagles gave you some reason to think they were capable of ending the drought.
One thing that fans in Cleveland never have to worry about is disappointment. There’s nothing disappointing about playing down to expectations. The Eagles, though, have spent most of the last decade stringing everybody along. In only one of those eight seasons in which they’ve failed to win a playoff game did the Eagles fail to give some reason to believe that they were incapable of doing so. (Sure, they were 4-12 in 2012, but they were 3-1 heading into Week 5, so that could be considered another letdown year.) It was really only 2016, when even the most rose-tinted world view couldn’t have pictured the season as anything other than dead on arrival. Which makes that the only season in which they exceeded expectations rather than the inverse. Perhaps you could count Chip Kelly’s first season, but they lost a home playoff game to a dome team, so it’s hard to argue that it wasn’t a disappointment.
The reality is, it’s hard to win 66 games over eight seasons and fail to win a single playoff game. The only other team who did it between 2009 and 2016 was the Bengals (see table below).
You know what they say: Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me seven times …
And yet …
What, exactly, is there to fear?
Most years, the answer would be some combination of Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson. And maybe the latter still counts. We’ll get a better idea of that in a couple of weeks, when the Eagles travel to Seattle to face a Seahawks team that dominated them last season.
Then there are the Cowboys. Anybody who is ruling them out of Sunday night hasn’t paid attention to their schedule this season: They scored 61 points in losses to Rodgers and Sean McVay. They handled a Chiefs team that remains the most balanced opponent the Eagles have faced this season (and the one team who gave them trouble). Last week against Atlanta was ugly. Tyron Smith is expected to sit out again, so this week would seem to project as ugly too. Yet throughout Jason Garrett’s tenure, the Cowboys have been impervious to a lot of things that are supposed to have been critically wrong with them.
Over the last month, I’ve developed mantra of sorts:
Not until after they play Dallas. Not until after they play Dallas. Ohm.
The Eagles are better than Dallas. They have the better quarterback. They have the better play-caller. They have the better defense. They aren’t ticking off Roger Goodell.
The growing consensus seems to be that the Saints are as good a bogeyman as any. And, yeah, Sean Payton finally seems to remember what won him that Super Bowl back in 2009. The Saints finished seventh in the league in rush attempts that year, with Mike Bell and Pierre Thomas both garnering 140-plus carries and 650-plus yards, and Reggie Bush chipping in with another 70 carries and 390 yards. Drew Brees attempted just 514 passes that season. He has averaged 656 per season since.
This year, the Saints are third in the NFL in rushing yards and fourth in attempts. It’s working.
But are they scary? Like, vintage Rodgers/Wilson scary? At home, perhaps. And perhaps therein lies the answer to our question.
The Saints play in a dome. The Cowboys play in a dome. The Vikings play in a dome. Falcons? Dome. The Rams used to play in a dome, but now they play in warm and sunny Southern California, so, really, what’s the difference? A couple of years ago, as he laid out his vision for the Eagles in the Carson Wentz era, Howie Roseman talked about the significant difference between getting into the playoffs as a 10-6 wild card as opposed to getting into the playoffs with home field advantage. The opportunity the Eagles have over these next seven weeks is very real. Look at their chief competition, and you realize how significant home field advantage is going to end up being. On a neutral field, the Eagles are probably the better team. Maybe even in a hostile environment. But put the Saints or Rams or Vikings in Lincoln Financial Field in January and there is very little doubt.
That wouldn’t guarantee anything. Lord, do we know that. It sure would set up nice, though.
Regular season wins v. postseason wins, 2009-16
|Reg Season Wins||Postseason Wins|