A year ago, on prime-time national television, the Eagles ended the 2020 season in ignominy.

Doug Pederson’s awkward substitution at quarterback when his team still had a chance to knock Washington out of a playoff berth puzzled many and drew criticism from across the NFL, especially from their divisional rivals in New York, who would suffer as a result.

Some Eagles fans didn’t care about the apparent tank job – Hey, we just moved up three spots in the draft! – and they certainly didn’t care about the protesting Giants. But many were embarrassed. If the Linc had spectators, it’s likely there would have been howls when Jalen Hurts was benched for Nate Sudfeld.

It was, in some ways, a fitting end to one of the worst seasons in franchise history. But it had been eight years since the Eagles had won as few games (four), and arguably more than two decades since there was a season as comparatively dreadful.

A week later, owner Jeffrey Lurie fired Pederson. And two months after that, general manager Howie Roseman traded disgruntled quarterback Carson Wentz, incurring the largest dead-money salary cap hit in league history.

The Eagles were starting over – again – and fan confidence had seemingly hit its nadir. Nick Sirianni, Pederson’s replacement, was a virtual unknown. Roseman had just overseen a rapid decline following the Super Bowl victory three years earlier. And Hurts was mostly a blank slate.

But the NFL isn’t like other professional sports leagues. The cap, favorable schedules, and large rosters allow for quick turnarounds, especially for competent franchises like the Eagles. The lack of an elite quarterback may keep most teams from title contention, but with the right moves, and a few lucky bounces, the postseason is attainable.

The Eagles’ rebound shouldn’t be minimized, though. Looking back 12 months and five days only reinforces how much the narrative has shifted. The team is expected to bench Hurts in the season finale Saturday against the Cowboys, but for reasons that have nothing to do with their draft position.

They are playoff-bound and have more to gain in resting the quarterback and other starters than they would in playing Dallas at full strength. The Eagles are locked into the sixth or seventh seed and will travel to face one of four opponents, and win or lose, it will most likely be the Buccaneers.

Sirianni kept his cards close on Thursday and said the Eagles were still “discussing” and “working through” their options. But all signs pointed to their playing with less than a full deck.

As of Friday, they still had 11 players – Fletcher Cox, Dallas Goedert, Rodney McLeod, Avonte Maddox, Alex Singleton, Nate Herbig, Jordan Howard, Boston Scott, Genard Avery, Marcus Epps and Jack Stoll – on COVID-19/reserve. In terms of injuries, Miles Sanders (hand) was listed out and Lane Johnson (knee) and Landon Dickerson (thumb) were questionable.

The Eagles also have several players with lingering bumps and bruises, most notably Hurts (ankle).

On Thursday, Sirianni laid out the merits of both sides in the rest vs. play argument.

“One side says, ‘They’re going to be rested,’ right? And the other side is like, ‘Well, you’re [on] a four-game winning streak right now. What if you disrupt that and they’re not ready to go the next week?’” Sirianni said. “So, I get both sides of it.”

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The Eagles clearly came down on the side of rest. Some starters likely will have to play. Kelce, who came off COVID-19/reserve on Friday, should continue his consecutive starts streak, which sits at 121 games. But one ceremonial snap would do the trick. DeVonta Smith may get the chance to break the team record for receiving yards by a rookie.

The wide receiver needs just 47 yards to top DeSean Jackson’s mark of 912 yards set in 2008, although the additional 17th game would add an asterisk to the accomplishment. But Smith said his reasons for wanting to play were unrelated to numbers.

“I feel like I need to be out there,” Smith said. “It’s a momentum thing.”

Sirianni said each player’s availability would be assessed on an individual basis, which suggests various layers in rest and playing time. The Eagles have been conservative when it comes to practice time this season. The dialing back on workouts has seemingly played a role in their relatively good health.

Sirianni has said the shorter sessions haven’t come at the expense of practice intensity, which he believes could also offset whatever could be gained in playing Dallas straight up.

“We practice our butts off here because we know how important practice is to getting ready for the game,” Sirianni said. “And so, that’s what would give me the confidence of not worrying about not having the momentum or whatever it is.”

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The Eagles have also seemingly navigated COVID-19 better than their competitors. When the games mattered, they had few test positive. Luck surely played a part, but their protocols became more stringent before the latest wave.

The dozen who landed on reserve on Monday shows the Eagles aren’t infallible, but the timing was convenient. They likely took advantage of the NFL’s less restrictive protocols, in which vaccinated players are tested only if they’re symptomatic, randomly selected, or volunteer.

It’s possible more than Kelce return after the mandatory five days, but the Eagles were likely looking beyond Saturday’s “meaningless” game and to the playoffs. Also, once a player tests positive, he doesn’t have to test again.

Whatever the opinion of the Eagles’ apparent gamesmanship, it’s just another example of how they plow as deep as possible in trying to gain any competitive edge. It’s a template they’ve long followed during Lurie’s ownership, one initially established by former team president Joe Banner.

Sixteen playoff appearances in 27 years, fourth behind only the Patriots (21 times), Packers (20), and Colts (18) over that same span, doesn’t happen by accident. Especially considering that the Eagles, unlike those other three teams, didn’t have a Hall of Fame-caliber quarterback.

There have been slips-up along the way, of course. The lone title looks more like an outlier with each passing year. Pederson handled last season’s finale clumsily, but senior leadership at the least knew of his plans.

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Some players and coaches did, as well. Some didn’t. Hurts understood there was a chance Sudfeld could play, but Pederson never told him directly. Almost no one expected the coach to make the switch when he did.

“The circumstances weren’t the best, maybe the communication wasn’t the best,” Lurie said last January, “but we would have loved to have eliminated Washington.”

Pederson may have had to answer for the supposed tank during his recent interview with the Jaguars for their head coach vacancy. He was certainly asked about his communication skills.

Sirianni considers communication among the most important aspects of his job. Embattled receiver Jalen Reagor and other Eagles have offered repeated examples of how he has maintained that connection, critical or complimentary, through his first year as coach.

“I get attached to these guys because it’s a family,” Sirianni said. “Think about the ups and downs that you go through with your family throughout a year.”

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Pederson likely didn’t win a Super Bowl unless he had a similar relationship with his players. But there was also a comfortable distance that was only exacerbated by the pandemic last year.

It’s more than likely Hurts knows Sirianni’s exact plans for him ahead of Saturday’s game. The quarterback wasn’t as adamant as Smith about playing, but he also didn’t tip the Eagles’ hand.

“I love football and I’m preparing,” Hurts said. “It’s business as usual.”

Business as usual, at least in terms of how the Eagles normally conduct their affairs.