It is actually an insult to Andy Reid to ask what happens if his team goes 8-8 and misses the playoffs again this year.
Yes, that happened last year and yes, Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie said a repeat of 2011 would not be enough for Reid to keep his job. But come on, let's raise the bar a little bit here. The pass/fail mark for Reid should not be the worst all-around season of his 13-year tenure.
"Well," Reid said last week, "8-8 itself isn't good enough. None of us are shooting for 8-8. Nobody in this building is shooting for 8-8, so I'm all in on that. That's how I feel and I'm not worried about all that."
The real question is what happens if the Eagles have a typical Reid season: 10-11 wins, a playoff win in either the wild-card or divisional round, and then a season-ending loss the following week. With Donovan McNabb as his quarterback and Jim Johnson running his defense, Reid practically ran such seasons off an assembly line. That era, from 2000 to 2008, is the foundation of Reid's reputation as well as Lurie's hope that 2011 was a stand-alone rather than part of a trend.
And we will all see soon enough - although let's wait until next week's home opener against a certifiable NFL team to begin forming conclusions. Sunday's opponent, the Cleveland Browns, provides both a best- and worst-case scenario. It is best for an Eagles team that needs to start strong, but the worst thing for anyone hoping to get a handle on the Eagles' place in the NFL firmament.
"The last thing we want to do is start the way we did last year," quarterback Michael Vick said. "We found ourselves in a hole and tried to dig ourselves out of it week in and week out. It obviously created more pressure to perform well, and the mistakes that you make are hard to overcome when you create such a huge deficit. The thing is to start fast, and that's what we preached last year and this year. We want to get out to a great start."
With the Browns and Cardinals in the first three weeks, the schedule seems amenable to that. Of course, the Eagles lost to such seemingly nonthreatening teams - Buffalo, Seattle, the Cards themselves - last year.
Going in, it is very reasonable to expect at least a standard Reid season: 10-11 wins and a playoff berth. For the Eagles to fall short of that would be disastrous for Reid, for Vick, and for everyone involved in putting this team together.
For the team to exceed that standard, it would have to do something the 2011 edition simply failed to do: come together as a team. From the earliest days at Lehigh through the weekly embarrassments of September and October and even through the overblown "strong finish," the 2011 Eagles never felt like a cohesive team with a strong personality. It felt like a random collection of mercenaries who had little or nothing invested in the team's success.
And that, more than anything, was shocking to see in a Reid-coached team.
What's fascinating is that the coach has decided to try again with virtually the same players. Reid is like a chef who trusts his recipe. Even if one soufflé fell, he's confident the same ingredients will produce a better outcome next time around.
That means Vick follows through on his supremely confident pronouncements about staying on the field, eliminating turnovers, and getting the most from this talented offensive arsenal. That means the extremely well-paid defensive players worry less about their own numbers and more about performing as a unit. It means Juan Castillo makes an enormous leap from overmatched apprentice to elite coordinator. It means big contracts coax big efforts rather than big letdowns from LeSean McCoy and DeSean Jackson.
There are worries. The big veteran acquisitions - Demetress Bell to replace injured left tackle Jason Peters, DeMeco Ryans to provide an actual grown man at middle linebacker - are not looking quite so impressive at the moment. That is liable to change now that the games count.
Rookies will handle the return duties, an area that has bitten Reid in the past. Last year's safeties are back, which would have seemed impossible after some of those come-from-ahead losses last season. We still haven't seen whether the various defensive puzzle pieces form a complete picture, or how that picture looks against a good quarterback.
So there are worries, but then, there is never a shortage of worries.
There is one thing Reid and Vick and the Eagles are out of, and that is excuses. There's no reason this team can't be one that comes together and surges through the playoffs and into the Super Bowl. That, not 8-8, is where the line between success and failure has to be set.