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Eagles are somehow still in the NFC playoff race | Early Birds

But even coach Doug Pederson acknowledged how difficult it’s going to be for this team to flip the switch to close out the year.

Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz gets rid of the football as he absorbs a hit from Dolphins linebacker Raekwon McMillan.
Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz gets rid of the football as he absorbs a hit from Dolphins linebacker Raekwon McMillan.Read moreYONG KIM / Staff Photographer

Good morning, Eagles fans. I know, that’s a little optimistic given the circumstances. The Eagles are fresh off their worst loss of the season, a 37-31 clunker to a Miami Dolphins team that came into the game with just two wins and the worst point differential in the NFL. There were dozens of costly mistakes and 37-year-old journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick looked like a Pro-Bowler against the Eagles defense.

But the Eagles will likely tell you they’re moving on to next Monday’s game against the New York Giants. They have good reason to move on quickly, too. Somehow, by the grace of the NFC East’s ineptitude this season, they’re still in the playoff race. More on that later.

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Do you believe in miracles?

Despite all the tumult this season has brought the Eagles and their fans, there is still a clear path for them to have a wild-card playoff game at Lincoln Financial Field.

The Eagles need wins against the Giants next Monday night and Washington the following Sunday, or some help from the Cowboys, to set up a matchup with Dallas with the division title on the line. The Eagles finish the season with another game against the Giants, while the Cowboys take on Washington.

If the Eagles were to win out, which is a big if, they’d tie the Cowboys’ best possible division record and have the advantage in common opponents. The Eagles beat the New York Jets, Green Bay Packers, and Buffalo Bills, who all handed losses to the Cowboys.

The Eagles’ strength of schedule for the last four weeks is easiest in the NFL. The Cowboys, who play the Bears and Rams before the Week 16 showdown, have the eighth-easiest slate.

But winning out, even with the easiest schedule in the league, is far from a given. The Eagles are reeling. They’ve lost three straight. They just watched the Dolphins, one of the worst offenses in the NFL this season, put up 37 points on their defense. Carson Wentz played better than he did the previous two games, but the Eagles’ offense was stagnant in the second half and had several costly miscues.

Even Eagles coach Doug Pederson acknowledged how difficult it’s going to be for this team to flip the switch to close out the year.

“As crazy as this is, I would say that it’s a long shot, but we’re not out of it,” Pederson said after Sunday’s loss. “We have four of our division opponents coming up and the guys gotta understand that. It’s my job to make sure they do understand that we’re still fighting.”

What you need to know about the Eagles

  1. The Eagles’ defense was destroyed by the Dolphins, and it may be time to acknowledge the team isn’t as good as it thought it was, writes Les Bowen.

  2. Given the circumstances and the opponent, Bob Ford argues that this is a historically bad loss for the Eagles.

  3. Ford also offered five quick takeaways from the loss here.

  4. Be sure to read Paul Domowitch’s grades for the Eagles after the game, and give your grades for each position group, too.

  5. After grading the Eagles, check to see who is trending up and who is regressing in Jeff McLane’s Up-Down Drill.

  6. Want to hear how Doug Pederson and Carson Wentz explained themselves after the game? Erin McCarthy summarized their postgame comments.

  7. The Eagles cornerbacks were shredded by DeVante Parker yesterday, as Domowitch details.

  8. Eagles fans were humiliated, and they let everyone know on social media. Jonathan Tannenwald compiled the best tweets of the afternoon for you.

  9. Even if the Eagles could somehow win out and make it to the playoffs, they don’t have the talent for it to actually matter, writes David Murphy.

  10. Murphy also outlined how yesterday’s loss paints such a bleak picture for the team’s future, both in the short term and the long term.

From the mailbag

Is Carson Wentz’s best season ahead of him or behind him? — From Elizabeth (@elizabethbaylor) via Twitter

Good question, Elizabeth. There have certainly been causes for concern surrounding Carson Wentz this season, but I still think there’s reason to be optimistic with the quarterback. He hasn’t played at the MVP level we saw in 2017, of course, and his numbers have regressed. I recently rewatched the first half of the Eagles’ win against the Rams in 2017 — the game in which Wentz tore his ACL — and it’s immediately noticeable how many times Wentz took shots down the field. We haven’t seen nearly as many this year.

Wentz deserves a fair share of the blame for the Eagles’ recent struggles. He has shown the ability to make throws that only a few guys in the NFL can make, but he has also missed plenty of throws that just about everybody is capable of making. I’d predict that Wentz’s best season is ahead of him mainly because I think this year has been a learning experience on how to build around him. I’d be surprised if the team doesn’t come back next year with at least one more wide receiver capable of making big plays. I think the formula for Wentz to be at his best is a team that runs the ball effectively and asks him primarily to impact the game on manageable third downs and mixing in occasional shots down the field. This year’s team isn’t quite set up to do that, but there should be many seasons ahead to figure that out.