From 2-5 to 9-7 with a playoff game looming, Nick Sirianni’s first season as Eagles coach has been defined by a turnaround. Was it a matter of the first-time head coach figuring things out and growing in the role or is it still a letdown for an Eagles team in a winnable NFC East?

In the third of four point-counterpoint columns, The Inquirer’s Marcus Hayes and Mike Sielski debate whether Sirianni exceeded expectations in his first year.

Hayes: It’s easy for the recent 7-2 run to bias your judgment of Sirianni’s inexcusable 2-5 start, but beating a bunch of awful teams playing for nothing late in the season only proves that more was possible early.

The Eagles lost five of their first seven games due more to Sirianni’s obsession with the pass than to anything else. From his corny catchphrases to his wardrobe, Sirianni was much more style than substance in his first four months. Coach-centric issues abounded: penalties, discipline, and an unwavering commitment to not blitz the opposition’s quarterback. This is why the Eagles earned only a wild-card slot.

Sielski: So ask yourself: If someone had told you back in January that the Eagles would be 9-7 ahead of a mostly meaningless regular-season finale against the Cowboys, that they already would have clinched a playoff spot, and that no one would be snickering at Nick Sirianni anymore, would that scenario have exceeded your expectations for this team and its coach?

Of course it would have.

Tell us what you think: Has Sirianni exceeded expectations in his first season leading the Eagles? Why or why not?

Starting today, we’re trying something new. We’re going to send you extra e-mails with Eagles stories we think are especially worthy of your time, and you’ll notice the Early Birds logo at the top of them. Send us your feedback with what you think of them at

— Inquirer Sports Staff, @phillysport

Early Birds

Greg Ward hasn’t exactly been a go-to target for Jalen Hurts this season. The third-year receiver has appeared in 16 games but played just 321 snaps and has been targeted nine times. But of his six catches, three have gone for touchdowns. He’s described as “the ultimate pro” by offensive coordinator Shane Steichen. So why doesn’t he play more? “I’m just going to stay ready for when my name is called,” Ward said. “That’s all I’m focused on.” With Sirianni remaining noncommittal on whether he will rest his starters against the Cowboys on Saturday, Ward could be one of the Eagles who can expect more playing time to close out the regular season. “This game still matters because it’s the next game,” Ward said. “It’s the Cowboys — this is the biggest rivalry in football. We’re going to play to the best of our ability and try to come out with a win.”

Next: The Eagles wrap up the regular season against the Cowboys at Lincoln Financial Field at 8:15 p.m. Saturday (6ABC).

Extra Innings

Inquirer baseball Hall of Fame voters Marcus Hayes and Scott Lauber have differing views on the Cooperstown case for Phillies icon Jimmy Rollins, who makes his debut on the ballot. The results will be announced live on MLB Network on Jan. 25. Let’s open up the mailbag and get a sampling of what the fans think.

  • Jimmy Rollins definitely deserves induction into the Cooperstown Hall of Fame! With the double play combination between him and Chase Utley being second to none in their era, how can he not be a shoe-in? — Steve K.

  • I love Jimmy Rollins as a player, team leader and proponent of Philadelphia, but I don’t believe Jimmy will gain admission for the time being. I was among the fans screaming “MVP” for Jimmy at one on the Rockies playoff games. However, this is another example of the Harold Baines HOF debacle hurting the chances of more deserving players. Baines was a nice player, but his career was decidedly mediocre when compared to a host of players who have been denied entry. —Spalding K.

  • “... advanced metrics as a sticking point with Jimmy Rollins.“ Pretty soon they will use a slide rule as a gauge!!!! His on the field performance and the leadership he provided as well as always giving the fans their money’s worth are the measures. He should be a lock!!!!! — Bill D.

  • I think he should eventually make the Hall. I compare him to Barry Larkin. Some of his stats are less, some are better than Larkin’s. But his leadership qualities get him over the top for me. — Robert G.

Off the Dribble

No matter how little news emerges on the Ben Simmons front, his impasse with the 76ers remains a hot-button topic around the league. And because it’s still one of the more bizarre situations in the NBA, National Basketball Players Association executive director Michele Roberts was asked for her opinion when she spoke with Antonio Daniels and Rick Kamla on SiriusXM NBA Radio.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Roberts mostly sided with the player in this equation. While she did recognize that Simmons asked for a trade despite having multiple years left on his deal, Roberts said there must be communication between both sides before a solution can be reached.

“Candidly, I think a lot of this stuff could be resolved if everyone behaved like a grown-up,” she said. “I think what’s happening in Philadelphia frankly is ridiculous and I don’t know why we’re playing chicken with each other.”

Next: The Sixers play the San Antonio Spurs at 7 p.m. Friday at the Wells Fargo Center.

On the Fly

We have been showing a glimpse of the Flyers’ potential future with a series of scouting reports on prospects — defensemen Emil Andrae and Brian Zanetti. Today we wrap up the series with forward Elliot Desnoyers, who analyst Chris Peters calls “a guy that I think can be an impact player.”

Next: The Flyers host the Sharks at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Wells Fargo Center (NBCSP).

Fleet Street

The most overlooked international continental competition, the Africa Cup of Nations, kicks off this weekend. There’s actually a Union connection to root for — and on more than one team. Jonathan Tannenwald gives more information on that, plus the top European league action, including the big La Liga clash between Real Madrid and Valencia.

Worth a look

  • Temple’s catalyst: The Owls count on Jeremiah Williams to be a coach on the court — and he considers that responsibility ‘a blessing’

  • Villanova to honor Hart: The Wildcats will retire the jersey of their leading scorer on their 2016 NCAA title team, Josh Hart, at halftime of a Jan. 19 game with Marquette at the Finneran Pavilion.

Your reactions: Celebrate Howie?

After Hayes and Sielski weighed in, we asked you on Thursday for a grade on the job by Eagles general manager Howie Roseman this season, and the responses ran very hot and very cold. A sampling of your takes:

  • Howie gets a D. His ability to draft is awful. I can’t stand the fact that he will have an opportunity to mismanage 3 #1 picks as badly as he has in the past. — Daniel W.

  • I’ll give him a B. What he accomplishes with this years draft and the development of the last three will overshadow all else, including the Super Bowl. — Joe C.

  • I just look at his draft record and wish we were rid of him! — Dave S.

We compiled today’s newsletter using reporting from Marcus Hayes, Mike Sielski, Josh Tolentino, Jeff McLane, EJ Smith, Mike Jensen, Sam Cohn, Olivia Reiner, Jonathan Tannenwald and Keith Pompey.