Destiny? Three more wins would be nice
Of all the clichés that dominate everyday conversations about sports, none is more brain-numbing or logic-defying than the suggestion that a team "controls its own destiny." By definition, destiny is predetermined. You can't control it - unless you're Marty McFly and have a DeLorean, 1.21 gigawatts at the ready, and a stretch of open road ahead.
So no, the Eagles cannot control their own destiny over the final three weeks of this NFL regular season. What they can do, rather, is see a clear path to the playoffs, and there is a growing sense among fans that the Eagles will negotiate this path without much trouble.
They have won five straight games, including Sunday's "Snow Bowl" against the Detroit Lions, to lift their record to 8-5. And after the Dallas Cowboys lost to the Chicago Bears, 45-28, on Monday night, the Eagles were alone in first place in the NFC East, leading the 7-6 Cowboys by a game.
All of these developments have cultivated the latest Era of Good Sports Feelings around here. (And by "era," we mean the hours that passed from the end of the Eagles' victory Sunday until the first tweet reporting that the Phillies might be willing to trade Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels.)
Chip Kelly is schooling opposing coaches. The Cowboys appear poised for another December full of Chernobyl moments. And it sure does look like the Eagles will thump the Cowboys in the teams' season-ending matchup on Dec. 29 and win what was once thought to be an improbable division title.
Well, not to be a party pooper, but . . .
It's natural to get swept up in what Kelly, Nick Foles, and the rest of the Eagles have accomplished, how much they've improved, since early November. But this recent stretch doesn't change either the unpredictable nature of the NFL or the unforgiving math that puts the Eagles at a disadvantage in the standings vis-à-vis the Cowboys.
The point here is not that the Eagles can't or won't win their final three games. It's that, for all the heady visions of a deep postseason run, they'll probably have to win two of those final three games just to reach the postseason.
Here's why: Because the Eagles have a worse record than the NFC's two wild-card leaders - the Carolina Panthers and the San Francisco 49ers, each of whom is 9-4 - their easiest route to the playoffs is to win the NFC East. There, complications arise.
The Eagles lost back-to-back home games in October to the Cowboys and the New York Giants, which means Dallas holds two critical tiebreakers over them: It won the head-to-head matchup, and it has a better division record (4-0) than the Eagles do (3-2).
The Cowboys aren't likely to relinquish the latter edge, either, given that they play the Washington Redskins on Dec. 22. The Redskins are 3-10, and their owner, coach, and starting quarterback are reportedly engaged in a catty, three-pronged power struggle that has the franchise just a few hair extensions and Botox injections away from earning its own reality series on Bravo.
So after the next two weeks, if the Eagles either have the same record as the Cowboys or are a game ahead of them, they still must win on Dec. 29 in Arlington to clinch the division. The only realistic way that they can lose that game and still make the playoffs is if they're already at least two games in front.
Is it possible that the Eagles will forge that comfortable lead and render the season finale irrelevant? Of course. They play the 3-9-1 Minnesota Vikings in Minneapolis on Sunday, then play the Bears (7-6) the following week at Lincoln Financial Field - winnable contests both.
In contrast, before closing against the Redskins and Eagles, the Cowboys and their terrible pass defense host the Green Bay Packers (6-6-1), who might have quarterback Aaron Rodgers back from a broken collarbone. (The Eagles had the luxury of facing the Packers when Rodgers was out of the lineup. These have indeed been charmed days.)
Is it likely that the Eagles will have that two-game cushion? Little in the NFL is likely anymore. So as the clichés go, they just have to take it one game at a time, leave it all on the field every day, and let their destiny take care of itself.