MINNEAPOLIS — Don’t throw away those dog masks just yet.
Despite winning Super Bowl LII here Sunday night, and despite beating the best coach and the best quarterback the NFL has seen, the Eagles opened as underdogs to win Super Bowl LIII next year in Atlanta, and not just to the greatest dynasty in modern team sports history.
Immediately after their 41-33 shootout victory at U.S. Bank Stadium, the Rodney Dangerfields of the NFL opened as underdogs to the Patriots.
Yes, those very Patriots they’d just beaten.
Those Patriots, whose 40-year-old quarterback acknowledged he was contemplating retirement.
Those Patriots, whose oft-concussed Hall of Fame tight end wouldn’t commit to returning, either.
Those Patriots, whose defensive genius of a coach gave up 373 passing yards and three touchdowns to Nick Foles, whom his defense never sacked and seldom touched.
This will serve as endless fuel for the Eagles’ bonfire of disrespect.
All season long, the Birds were billed as plucky, #weallwegotweallweneed underdogs; then as indignant underdogs; then as triumphant underdogs. Chris Long and Lane Johnson caused a brief shortage of product in rubber-rich Thailand when they donned dog masks after the Eagles beat Atlanta in the divisional round. Everybody in Philly wanted to look like Lassie. Long and Johnson posed as German shepherds, but, desperate to join the canine cult, people went so far as to purchase poodle faces, often at inflated prices.
Preserve those mementos.
You could almost justify the Eagles’ being slighted in favor of Tom Brady, Bill Belichick, and Rob Gronkowski. They been there eight times and done that five.
But one sports book favored the Steelers over the Eagles. Another liked the Packers … who missed the playoffs.
Yes, the Steelers have a championship tradition and Big Ben Roethlisberger. Yes, super QB Aaron Rodgers will return for the Packers next season.
But Carson Wentz will return for the Eagles, too. Before he tore knee ligaments in Game 13, Wentz was the favorite to be the league MVP, not the R&R boys. Even if Wentz’s return is delayed, Foles is under contract for 2018. Foles went 5-0 in meaningful games and was the Super Bowl MVP; so, yes, the Eagles are sure to have a competent quarterback.
Left tackle Jason Peters will return, too, to bolster his Hall of Fame resume. So will middle linebacker Jordan Hicks, the nerve center of the defense.
The Eagles will upgrade their cornerback group when Sidney Jones joins them. Jones was expected to be a top-10 pick in the 2017 draft before he injured an Achilles tendon in a predraft workout, and that’s the only reason he was available in the second round for the Eagles to draft-and-stash. He’ll be the No. 1 corner as soon as training camp begins.
Not only will the roster improve, but the players will also be hearing mostly the same voices. Running backs coach Duce Staley has an interview with the Giants for their offensive coordinator position, but, with Jay Ajayi and Corey Clement, the Birds have two seasoned backs. Quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo might hear from the Vikings, who need an offensive coordinator. Overall, though, Doug Pederson’s program will enter a third season without significant reorganization. That’s a rare thing for teams that win it all.
The other three teams? They will be shaken at their foundations. Belichick will lose both coordinators to head-coaching jobs. The Packers and Steelers each fired their offensive coordinator.
The Eagles are alarmingly stable throughout the roster, too, thanks to clever maneuvers by Howie Roseman & Co. The offensive and defensive lines feature a total of three Pro Bowl players and three All-Pro players, and both lines will return intact.
Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor and Zach Ertz, their three top pass-catchers, accounted for almost 57 percent of the team’s receptions, more than 60 percent of the receiving yards, and more than 65 percent of the receiving touchdowns. Jeffery and Ertz each had a TD catch in the Super Bowl, and Ertz’s won it. Agholor led the team with nine receptions. They will be back, too.
So will both safeties.
The team that just won 16 of 18 meaningful games and proved itself to be the best in the league despite major injury issues might also be the most stable and is certain to improve its talent pool.
And that team is nobody’s favorite.
So, put on your masks.
And place your bets.