The Eagles are 4-6 ahead of their game Sunday against the Giants at Lincoln Financial Field, the first of three consecutive games within the NFC East that should determine, once and for all, whether they can salvage a genuinely positive result out of this drag of a season. Winning the NFC East with a 9-7 or even an 8-8 record would not qualify as the franchise's greatest achievement, particularly given the second-rate condition of the division. But such a result would be preferable to the worst-case alternative, and make no mistake: That scenario could very well play out for the Eagles. In fact, it might be likely that it does.
And what is that worst-case scenario? Simply this: that the 2018 Eagles could turn out to be the worst defending Super Bowl champions in NFL history.
With their embarrassing 48-7 loss Sunday in New Orleans against the Saints — the most lopsided loss by any reigning Super Bowl champ — the Eagles already have distinguished themselves, but there's more for them to accomplish, if they're able. Among the 52 teams that won a Super Bowl, just six had a losing record the following season. Two of those teams carry asterisks: The 1982 49ers (3-6) and the 1987 Giants (6-9) competed during strike-shortened seasons. Over a full 16-game schedule, the worst of those six was the 1999 Denver Broncos, who went 6-10.
The Eagles could be the seventh, and there's ample reason to think they will be. Of the six games left on their schedule, just one — their next one — is against a team with a losing record. The Giants are 3-7, but they have Odell Beckham Jr., and the Eagles, at the moment, are running short of NFL-quality defensive backs.
The Redskins, whom the Eagles have to play twice yet, are 6-4. And though their starting quarterback, Alex Smith, suffered a gruesome leg injury Sunday and will miss the rest of the season, his backup, Colt McCoy, is experienced and has been immersed in coach Jay Gruden's system for nearly five seasons, and Washington's defense has given up the fifth-fewest points in the league. Smith's absence helps the Eagles, certainly, but it doesn't cripple the Redskins so badly that the Eagles are assured of victory in either or both of those games.
As for the other three games, one will be in Arlington against the Cowboys, who are 5-5 and have won their last two games, including a victory over the Eagles less than two weeks ago. One will be in Los Angeles against the Rams (yeesh), and one will be against the 7-3 Houston Texans. Based on Sunday's result at the Superdome, you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone with even a rudimentary familiarity with today's NFL who would say, Hmmm, Sean McVay and Todd Gurley and Jared Goff, then Deshaun Watson and J.J. Watt and DeAndre Hopkins. Yeah, I like the Eagles' odds…
Of course, it's possible that the Eagles will win one or more of those games. It's even possible that they'll win the NFC East. But there's little evidence now — considering their performance so far, the battered state of their secondary, and the ground they have to make up in the standings — to suggest that they can. Put it this way: It would be a more improbable comeback than the one they pulled off last season, winning the Super Bowl after Carson Wentz injured his knee.
If the Eagles split their final six games, they'll still finish 7-9, making them the first team to follow a Super Bowl victory with a sub-.500 record since the 2003 Tampa Bay Buccaneers. But if they finish 6-10 (or, heaven forbid, worse), they can lay claim to being the worst defending champs of all time.
Remember: The 1999 Broncos were coming off not one Super Bowl victory but two. They had established their bona fides as a mini-dynasty. And after that second Super Bowl, John Elway retired, leaving Brian Griese to be the team's starting quarterback and squelching any realistic hopes that the Broncos would make the playoffs in '99, let alone win a third consecutive title.
These Eagles entered the season as the consensus favorites in the NFC East, at least. Wentz was returning, not retiring. This would be a more precipitous, less excusable regression. This would be a hangover that the biggest, greasiest breakfast sandwich on earth couldn't cure.
Now, you might be saying to yourself, Why does it matter if the Eagles are so lousy? They won the Super Bowl. That's all I wanted. Now I can die happy. That's a perfectly reasonable and defensible position to take. And here's a reasonable response: The Eagles were 7-9 in 2016. And in 2015, when they fired Chip Kelly. If they end up with another losing record, if they fall so far so fast after their first championship season in 57 years, it should and probably will lead to more doubts about their direction and bigger changes within the organization, and that Super Bowl run will look less like the "new norm" that coach Doug Pederson promised and more like an aberration.