Seldom have consecutive season-saving wins been met with such pessimism.
What weird psychosis is this? A football team playing without its most potent weapon, without its best offensive lineman, without its second-most valuable defender, emerges from a three-game road test, beats a good team at home, and enters the bye week with a winning record -- and people are scared? Angry? Sad?
Must be the end of daylight savings time.
There’s no reason the Eagles, now 5-4, shouldn’t win six of their last seven games. It’s not even unreasonable to believe they could run the table to a 12-4 finish. Certainly, they can beat every team likely to reach the playoffs. Except New Orleans, in New Orleans, but that isn’t entirely impossible, either.
How is this true? Simple. They’re good to begin with, and their returning players will make them very good. Further, their coach is a closer. Doug Pederson won five of six to make the 2018 playoffs, and he won five of the last six meaningful games in 2017 to secure the No. 1 seed. And most of that winning came without the franchise quarterback.
That quarterback, Carson Wentz, is healthy, and he’s playing much better than his statistics indicate. What’s more, the best player on the team, Fletcher Cox, is back on the beam. The secondary has reunited. The running game looks unstoppable.
Why worry because Alshon and Agholor drop passes?
The two wins are continually minimized, but they weren’t empty. Winning at Buffalo is at least as hard, and arguably harder, than winning at Minneapolis (where they lost). In that win over the Bills, the Eagles managed 31 points in their third consecutive road game against a very good defense in awful weather. They beat the Bears last week, and the Bears aren’t good as a whole but their defense is excellent. It was a game a winning team wins. A playoff team.
Yes, the days are colder and darker, and the Eagles play the Patriots and Seahawks after this week’s bye, but the games are in Philadelphia, at least. Both are winnable even without DeSean Jackson. After all, they’ve won four times without him.
The Eagles might be looking up at the Cowboys, and they might rank fifth among the wild-card contenders, but Carolina is a mirage and the other teams in front of the Eagles have hard rows to hoe. Besides, the division is still very much in play.
That embarrassment at Dallas didn’t decide the NFC East, no matter how it felt. Like the Eagles, the Cowboys still play both the Patriots and 7-2 Seahawks, and the Cowboys travel to Foxborough. The Pokes could lose to the Rams and Bills when they visit Dallas. And they face the Eagles on the road in Game 15. Their 5-3 record could turn into 10-6 by Christmas.
As for the wild-card slots, the Seahawks (7-2) play the 49ers twice, the Rams, and the Vikings (6-3), and travel to the Eagles.
The Rams (5-3) face the 49ers on the road, and the Seahawks, both of whom have beaten them already; the Ravens (6-2); the Steelers, who have won three in a row and will be home; and the Cowboys at Dallas.
The Vikings travel to the Cowboys, Seahawks, and Chargers, then finish with the 49ers.
Granted, the Eagles need to play better. But they have been. And they will be better, still. Here’s why:
1. Carson Wentz has been great. He’s operated without Jackson, his only deep threat, for eight games. His receivers have dropped 20 passes and rank 28th in the league according to profootballfocus.com. The Eagles are the only team with a winning record ranked 27th or worse. His passer rating is just 93.7, but he has thrown just four interceptions, and he’s the chief reason they aren’t 2-7.
2. Defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, who underwent foot surgery in the offseason, finally returned to form two weeks ago.
3. Cornerbacks Ronald Darby, who missed a month with a hamstring injury, and Jalen Mills, who missed a full year with a foot injury, played together for the first time two games ago. The Eagles surrendered 257 passing yards in those two games. Nickel corner Avante Maddox, who missed five games with a neck injury and concussion, returned last week.
4. They have a lightning-and-thunder running back combination on which you base your entire offense. Jordan Howard, 25, is running for a contract, at 4.4 yards per carry with seven total touchdowns, and Penn State rookie Miles Sanders is the only consistent big-play threat.
Those are just the known positives. A few unknowns could make the Eagles even more formidable.
1. Nigel Bradham is an outside linebacker who has been pressed into service as the middle linebacker the last three seasons, which made him possibly the most valuable defender of all. He has missed three games with an ankle injury. His return would be a monumental boost.
2. If 37-year-old left tackle Jason Peters, the best lineman in franchise history, returns from his latest knee injury, so be it. If he does not, first-round rookie Andre Dillard was very good in his last two starts and is far better than Halapoulivaati Vaitai ever was. They won a Super Bowl with Big V.
3. Finally, 5-foot-6 inch, 36-year-old combination back Darren Sproles remains a terror for defensive coordinators -- at least, he would be if Wentz could start throwing the ball to him six inches lower.
Certainly, the absence of Jackson and the invisibility Mack Hollins and J.J. Arcega-Whiteside diminish the overall potency of the attack, but when Belichick and Brady visit next weekend, the Eagles very nearly will be the best version of themselves. They’ll probably be a better version than could be expected, considering it’s the 10th game of the season.