This was supposed to be a night where all of us Eagle watchers would have three-plus hours to consider the full magnitude of the issues confronting this team as it looks to extricate itself from the smoldering wreckage of a lost season.
We would look at the offensive line and wonder what the future held at left tackle, where Jason Peters has spent much of this season looking like a player who might not warrant a $10.67 million cap number at the age of 37. We would wonder about Nelson Agholor and the $9+ million his current contract calls for him to be paid in 2019, about Golden Tate and his looming free agency, about the lack of a bona fide running back, about the need to re-sign or replace Brandon Graham, and Jordan Hicks, and Ronald Darby.
At whatever point the Coliseum clock ticked to zero on Sunday night, the tens of thousands of Eagles fans would turn their attention from the end of this season’s playoff chances to the herculean work that awaited Doug Pederson and Howie Roseman as they set about fixing all that went wrong.
This was going to be a beat down, and it was going to be a reckoning.
Instead, what unfolded was a reminder that there was something more than magic involved in last year’s Super Bowl run, that there are some strong fundamentals at the foundation of this thing that the Eagles have spent the last few years building, that the formula that Pederson and Roseman utilized to bring the Lombardi Trophy south down Broad Street is one that can weather all sorts of storms. Protect the quarterback, pressure the quarterback, and then make the plays that are there to be made. That’s what the Eagles did in this wildly counterintuitive 30-23 win over one of the NFC’s leading Super Bowl contenders, and in doing so, they staged a dramatic resuscitation of their hopes of doing 2017 all over again.
It sounds silly, borderline absurd, but the Eagles are not dead. They might not be fully alive, but they are a lot closer to it than a team could possibly expect to be in their situation. A full appreciation of this fact might require more than a few glances at the standings and the remaining schedules of the rest of the relevant teams. But it really breaks down to this. The Eagles need the Panthers to lose one of their remaining three games, two of which are against the Saints, and the third of which is against the Falcons. That would leave the Panthers, who host New Orleans on Monday night, with eight losses. I don’t know the exact probability, but I would venture to say that the odds of such a thing happening are more probable than not.
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After that, they would need the Vikings to lose to the conference-leading Bears in Minnesota in Week 17. Again, as long as Chicago has something to play for, I would venture to say that the odds of such a thing happening are more probable than not.
Nate Silver’s 538 predictions have the Eagles' odds of making the playoffs up to 37 percent. Really, the most improbable part of the equation might lie on the Eagles’ own end of things.
But the remarkable thing is that, if both the Panthers and the Vikings suffer their aforementioned losses, the Eagles’ ultimate playoff fate will have been in their hands and their hands alone. That means beating a Texans team that is about as underwhelming a squad as can enter Week 16 with 10 wins. And then it means beating a Redskins team that is currently quarterbacked by someone named Josh Johnson. The Texans have beaten one winning team since Week 5, and that team was the equally underwhelming Titans. On Saturday, they managed to get themselves into a game on the road against the Jets. An Eagles win might not be probable, or even likely, but there isn’t much more this team could hope for than a home game in Week 16 against an inconsistent second-year quarterback with their playoff hopes still alive.
The best part about all of this is the opportunity it gives us to kick the future down the road for at least another week. Now, suddenly, the short-term questions facing this team are what matters.
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At the top of that list is a doozy. What, exactly, is the situation with Carson Wentz’s back? And what, exactly, was the Eagles' thought process in holding him out this week?
That will be the animating question of the upcoming week. Against the Rams, Nick Foles left little doubt that he can still sling it. His third down throws of 36 and 26 yards to Alshon Jeffery were the kinds of plays that he made throughout those magical performances against the Vikings and Patriots last postseason. So was the 50-yarder that set up the Eagles' third touchdown. But the best version of this team remains the one with a healthy Wentz under center, and it isn’t particularly close.
Question is, were the Eagles simply looking toward 2019 when they shut Wentz down last week? And, now that a very real path to the postseason has once again emerged, can they afford to continue to operate with that kind of thinking? Will Wentz allow them to do so?
“We’re gonna enjoy this win,” Pederson said when asked if the Eagles would stick with Foles. “We’re gonna get on this plane, we’re gonna enjoy it, we’ll take a couple of days and make those decisions later in the week.”
The bigger term concerns about the future of this team aren’t going away. At some point, the stage will be set for an interesting offseason. Right now, though, the stage is set for a heck of an interesting week.
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