Maybe the Eagles are fooling themselves, and maybe that's OK. If we can't indulge a little wishful thinking on Christmas, then when?

Listen to Brian Westbrook after a too-late-to-matter victory in New Orleans on Sunday and you can't be sure whether this is what he truly believes or merely what he wants to believe.

"We have a team that should be in the playoffs," Westbrook said after another afternoon of the brilliance he makes look routine. "We just haven't played like it."

Apply the same cold logic and I'm Don DeLillo; I just haven't written like him. Thing is, cold logic doesn't seem to work in the NFL. The more you look around the league, especially the NFC, the more you think a little self-delusion might actually be good for the Eagles.

They will miss the playoffs this year.

The Saints, the team they overran at the Superdome, 38-23, are still in the hunt.

So are the Giants, who look awful half the time. So are the Vikings, a team the Eagles beat on the road. So are the Redskins, who thumped the Vikings on Sunday night.

Tampa Bay is in. Seattle is in. Both are underwhelming on their best days.

The top seeds? Green Bay, which needed the Eagles' punt-return fiasco to grind out an opening-day win at Lambeau Field, and Dallas, with whom the Eagles split this season.

So it's not a matter of the Eagles' fooling themselves into being an especially good team; it's a matter of their competing with a bunch of teams that have been fooling themselves - and opponents - all season long.

The Eagles have enough talent to compete with every NFC team that will be playing in January. That's not in question. This lost and maddening and infuriating and confounding season was self-inflicted. That's not in question, either.

What is in question is how the Eagles move forward. Can they convince themselves this year was a product of a few bad breaks, injuries, and Donovan McNabb's gradual return to form? Forget whether that's the honest-to-goodness truth: Can they believe it?

Their puzzling home and road records provide a clue. The Eagles are 2-5 at Lincoln Financial Field, including that egregious come-from-ahead loss to Chicago, embarrassing blowout by Dallas, and missed opportunities against Washington and Seattle. Meanwhile, the Eagles won five and lost three on the road.

Ask Andy Reid or the players and they seem mystified by this. But the answer isn't that hard to figure out. If you accept that the Eagles' biggest problem was their maddening tendency to slip into a funk, then it makes sense that they were more prone to that at home, in front of their frustrated and vocal fans.

When the Eagles play well, they have a significant home-field advantage. When they begin to struggle, that advantage vanishes faster than Westbrook hits a crease in the line. Whatever the Eagles' problems - McNabb's status, the play-calling, the pass protection or pass coverage - they are more likely to snowball on them at home.

That isn't the fans' fault. Handling the different pressures at home and on the road is part of the gig for professional athletes. But this phenomenon does lend credence to the idea that the Eagles' problems were more psychological - which personality will they have this week? - than physical.

Reid and his staff must assume a share of the blame. Coaching is all about getting the most out of the talent at hand. That didn't happen for the Eagles, so coaching must have something to do with it. And if you believe that, as a group, these Eagles lack the drive and passion of previous teams, well, it was Reid who put this group together.

The coach says he hasn't started thinking about which players will stay and which will go, or what moves might be made to improve the team. That comment was for public consumption. You can be sure that Reid, his assistants and his personnel people have been assessing this roster all season.

If they believe the Eagles are close, there are two ways they can go. They can make minor adjustments and hope the team jells better around a healthier McNabb. That would be a huge mistake.

The other way is to be aggressive and add a few difference-makers: that impact offensive skill player, a defensive player or two who scare offensive coordinators, a return man with a legitimate chance to go the distance.

Do that, and it becomes a lot easier for the players to believe this is a good team, and play accordingly.

It's OK if the players are fooling themselves. If Reid and his staff do the same, it's a disaster.

Post a comment or question
for columnist Phil Sheridan
phil_sheridan. Or by e-mail