The season that started out with such promise for the Eagles, then turned bad, then turned back, then went wrong again, has finally deposited them on December’s doorstep with a well-lighted road to redemption.
This is a difficult trick in the NFL for teams with losing records entering the final month of the season, and for teams that have dropped four of their previous six games, but the Eagles are capable of difficult maneuvers. It’s the ordinary ones that usually trip them up.
In their case, the real chance of making the playoffs has more to do with their division rival than with anything they have done themselves. Since beating the Eagles by 27 points on Oct. 20, the Dallas Cowboys have suffered three losses of their own, including a home game on Thanksgiving against the Buffalo Bills.
It has been an article of faith since mid-season that the Eagles have to beat the Cowboys – finding a way to somehow get 28 points better than the previous meeting – on Dec. 22 in order to win the division and slip into the postseason.
As the Cowboys have unraveled, however, another scenario is now possible. If Dallas loses on the road to the Bears and at home to the Rams, that Lincoln Financial Field rematch might not even matter. The Cowboys would finish 8-8 at best, while the Eagles could lose that game and still be 9-7. It could happen. The Cowboys are that much of a mess right now.
That outcome would also require the Eagles to beat the Giants twice, the Redskins once and, of course, hold serve against the Miami Dolphins on Sunday. All three of those teams are 2-9 on merit.
Here’s the rub. They’re going to lose one of those games.
I don’t know how, and I don’t know which one, but it’s going to happen, and it might even be Sunday. This is not a team for which layups can be assumed.
Oh, I know. The Dolphins are ranked 30th in both offense and defense, and their running game is almost historically awful. Their quarterback, Ryan Fitzpatrick, whom everyone says very nice things about, is the lowest rated at his position among the 34 qualifying NFL quarterbacks. (Since you asked, Carson Wentz is 20th.)
Their starting running back, Kalen Ballage – drafted with the fourth-round pick the Eagles sent to Miami in 2017 for Jay Ajayi – is averaging 1.9 yards per carry. That’s almost impossible. Short of weapons already, the Dolphins also put receiver Jakeem Grant on injured reserve this week, the 13th active player put on the list this season.
All true, and also true that the Dolphins have lost their nine games by an average of 22 points. (This average includes a one-point loss to Washington, so you can imagine how the rest of them went.)
All true, but truest of all is that what happens Sunday in Hard Rock Stadium, or later on against the Giants and Redskins, hasn’t got that much to do with the opponent. It is about the Eagles, and they have proven to be an unreliable repository of trust.
The offense is apparently getting healthier this week and the defense has played well in the recent losses to New England and Seattle. Playing Miami doesn’t look dangerous, and the wagering public agrees, pushing the line on the game into double digits after opening at seven points. Nothing would indicate trouble. Nothing except that nagging feeling the Eagles have a few missteps yet to take.
Miami’s wins came in successive weeks at the start of November against the Jets and Colts. The Dolphins were outgained in both games, and didn’t do anything more remarkable than lining up against teams that weren’t ready to play that day.
The NFL reminds us every week that can happen. The Baltimore Ravens lost by 15 to Cleveland at home this season. Oakland lost to the Jets by 31. New Orleans lost by 15 at home to Atlanta. The Rams lost by 15 at home to Tampa Bay. The same Buffalo Bills who humbled the Cowboys in Arlington on Thanksgiving also lost by 18 at home…to the Eagles.
Almost every team has a bad loss somewhere along the way. Perhaps you believe the Atlanta and Detroit losses in September filled that quota for the Eagles. Maybe, but the rhythm of this season suggests they still have one left in them. It would be hard to figure, but considering what has already happened, it wouldn’t be hard to believe.