One heck of a rollercoaster ride. That’s one of many ways Eagles fans have described the season as and personally I couldn’t agree more. If you go back to week 3 of the regular season, Philadelphia was heading into a game with the Indianapolis Colts, which not only marked the return of former Offensive Coordinator Frank Reich, but also Carson Wentz. The Birds had come up short a week prior when they lost to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers who, many may have forgotten but started 2-0 under Ryan Fitzpatrick. In Carson Wentz’s first game back he definitely didn’t look 100%, and neither did the Eagles defense. Jalen Mills had struggled mightily heading into the game, and for Eagles fans it became an omen of things to come. Fast forward to week 14 and the Eagles were 6-7 coming off a controversial loss to the division leading Dallas Cowboys and staring down a road to missing the playoffs. With Minnesota and Carolina losing the Eagles hopes remained alive. Then a few days after the loss starting quarterback Carson Wentz was ruled questionable with back soreness, that later was found out to be a fracture that would open the door for another Nick Foles return. This is when the storybook starts.
Dating back to last year, Nick Foles came in against the Rams when Carson Wentz tore his ACL and closed out the game for a victory. That would eventually lead to a victory over Oakland the following week, and then he was rested in the loss to Dallas. Foles hadn’t looked very efficient in either matchup, and there were even fans who were calling for backup quarterback Nate Sudfeld to lead the team into the playoffs. No one believed the Eagles had a shot to make it out of the second round when they faced Atlanta, and we all know how that story ends. Foles has another chance to do exactly that, and him being in the lineup over an injured Carson Wentz gives the Eagles a fighting chance, a spark, motivation, and experience in the playoffs. I never thought I’d say this, but if the Eagles want to win the Super Bowl, it’s going to have to be Nick Foles at quarterback, not Carson Wentz.
This is not a knock on Wentz. I think he’s a good quarterback, who has the potential to be great. If I were to put my name on the line, I would say he’ll be a top 5 quarterback in the league at some point down the road. For now, he’s just a gunslinging quarterback playing with an injury, whereas Nick Foles opens up the run game a lot more. Surprisingly you’d expect Wentz’s ability to scramble and sling the ball deep to open up the run game, but all it’s done is influence play calling to be pass-dependent. When Foles is on the field, at least from what we have seen in the small sample size we’ve been given, the Eagles rely on the run much more. They use play action to open up lanes for their wide receivers, and Alshon Jeffery, their number one receiver, gets the targets as if he is the number one guy. We saw how important Jeffery was last year in the playoffs, and in order to repeat that success you have to give the guy the ball.
It doesn’t just stop at Alshon however. With Nelson Agholor starting to descend, Golden Tate has been a big help for the Eagles in recent weeks. His performance against Washington was his biggest star line since joining Philadelphia, but with 5 targets he made 5 catches for 43 yards and served as the perfect compliment to Alshon Jeffery. Foles may not have Blount or Ajayi this year, but with Sproles and Josh Adams, and even Wendell Smallwood, he has just as many if not more weapons to at his disposal. Foles is considered a traditional quarterback. Sits in the pocket, gets rid of the ball quickly, and on a good day turnovers are at a minimum. Defeating who is considered the NFL’s best team by some, and by all considered a tier 1 team, on the road, The Eagles proved they can beat just about anyone when all is clicking. In order for them to click, they’ll need help from both sides of the ball. With a WR tree that consists of the three I mentioned, a solid offensive line, and also Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert, there is no reason the Eagles offense can produce.
I have no doubt that the offense will be just fine heading forward. My worry is if the defense can pick up the slack. On Sunday night we saw what they could be. A defense anchored by Fletcher Cox who absolutely bullied the Rams offensive line all night, along with Chris Long, Michael Bennett, and Haloti Ngata, who have been playing like they’re back in their primes, the Eagles defensive front not only outplayed the Rams star-studded defensive line, but showed that the momentum train they road last year could come back and carry the older guys throughout the remainder of the season. With a depleted secondary, players like Cre’Von Leblanc, Rasul Douglas, Malcolm Jenkins, and Avonte Maddox are going to have to step up in a big way. But when the defensive line is getting pressure on the opposing quarterback all night, these guys will make big plays. The defensive and offensive line have two things in common that everyone overlooks. A running back is only as good as the guys in front blocking for him, and a secondary is only as good as the guys in front applying pressure to the quarterback. The Eagles showed they could outplay an all-star lineup like offensive line in the Rams, and they should have no problems against one of the league’s worst offensive lines this week when they face Houston at the Linc.
The biggest factor in all of this is Lincoln Financial field. For the fans who are unaware of how things are in the City of Philadelphia, let me enlighten you. Yes we trust the Process, and some bleed orange for the Flyers, and many are praying on a Bryce Harper signing for the Phillies. But let me tell you this; there is no greater love than the Eagles in this city. I live in the Philadelphia area, and I am in fact not an Eagles fan; but some days I wish I was. There’s no fan base nastier, meaner, passionate, crazier, and downright absurd than the Eagles fans, and if you’re a fan of the other 31 teams (excluding Bills fans) then you probably think this was an insult. To all of my Eagles viewers, readers, and followers, you and I both know this was the biggest compliment you could receive from me. They threw snowballs at Santa, beer cans at Vikings fans, and beat up Giant and Cowboys fans at home games (and probably away games too). Deshaun Watson may be a terrific quarterback, but mix in the cold weather on the road in a stadium that can’t wait to greet Nick Foles with open arms once again, this becomes Watson’s toughest test of the season. I’ll say it right now, as much as I love the success of my favorite quarterback from the 2017 class, I’m putting my money on a victory for the Birds.
Let’s say this is a win for Philadelphia. Not only would they be 8-7, but they would be facing almost a guarantee win over Washington that would improve them to 9-7. So the fate of the playoffs doesn’t lie in the hands of the Eagles. It actually lies in a different teams hands,four in fact. Two that have already clinched a playoff spot, and the other two who are out. The Detroit Lions (5-9), Chicago Bears (10-4), Atlanta Falcons (5-9), and the New Orleans Saints (12-2). The Saints unfortunately for the Eagles are one win away from clinching the number 1 seed, a situation Philly is very familiar with since they clinched their number 1 seed in week 16 last year. So while the Panthers own the tiebreaker over Philadelphia, they might be playing Teddy Bridgewater and other back ups instead of Drew Brees and company week 17. So in that case it may be up to the Falcons to knock them out this week. In their last 6 matchups, Atlanta is 5-1 against Carolina, with their one loss coming on the shoulders of a dropped TD from Julio Jones on the Falcons last play of the game. We may never see such a crucial mistake from the future Hall of Fame wide receiver, so we’ll chalk that one up as a fluke. That would make it 6 consecutive games the Falcons have outplayed Carolina, heading into the 7th one this week while Carolina has now lost 6 straight games. The Eagles would also finish with a better record than Carolina, should they win out. However when it comes to the Minnesota Vikings, winning out is only half the battle. The Vikings travel to Detroit for a division matchup that would give the Lions the keys to the spoiler-car. Detroit for much of the season has looked like a competitive team. Injuries have cost them, but Matthew Stafford is still a good quarterback, Matt Patricia has engineered a good defense, and this is a team who can expose a struggling Vikings team who are finally coming off a good game. In their last 8 matchups in Detroit, the Lions have won 5 out of 8. Not a stat that makes you very confident, but given the nature of the game with so much on the line, and Matt Patricia trying to prove himself still, you can expect Detroit to lay everything on the line to spoil the Vikings season. If all goes wrong for Detroit, the Chicago Bears get to face Minnesota the following week. The Bears are in an interesting predicament, because they are still 1 game back of the Rams for a first round bye, but they own the tiebreaker. So they will be playing every week as if the Rams are going to lose because they are one game away from jumping them in the seedings. So unless the Bears-Vikings game gets flexed to a Sunday night or Monday night game, (which it very well could), the Bears starters will be taking the field week 17 which could be a recipe for disaster for Kirk Cousins and the Vikings.
I have one more point to make. I’ve mentioned Foles, I’ve mentioned the offensive weapons at wide receiver, and the run game that is slowly starting to come alive. I’ve mentioned the defense stepping up, I even brought up other teams schedules, and the Advantage playing in the Linc gives the Eagles. There is one more huge reason why the Eagles will make the playoffs and it’s quite simple; History. History tells of two things; one is that when something great happens, it isn’t just one thing that people remember. It’s seasons, dynasty’s, and legends are born. Tom Brady didn’t win just one super bowl, he won 5. Russell Wilson’s Super Bowl wasn’t a fluke, he went back the next year. Not to mention he made the playoffs his rookie year and won a game. How many MVP’s did Peyton Manning win? Will Drew Brees bring home the second Lombardi trophy to the Big Easy? Did I just compare Nick Foles to 4 of the greatest quarterbacks of all time? I sure did. I definitely don’t think Foles will ever be remotely in the same category as these guys, but this is what happens in Sports. Lightning strikes twice. History is made. Fans tell their kids, and then tell their kids’ kids. They cut out newspaper articles, and we watch 30 for 30 documentaries about it years later. The Philadelphia Eagles haven’t won a Super Bowl before last year, and hadn’t won an NFL championship since I could count almost the whole league on one hand. So doesn’t it seem fitting that Foles becomes the starter around the same time as last year, after winning the first ever Super Bowl, defeats the same team he came in against, and has to overcome all this adversity? If Foles actually pulls this off, he will be making history, and I can see it coming.
Fly. Eagles. Fly.