IF THIS HAD turned out to be the high-flying Eagles season most fans anticipated, they might have spent the week speculating about how the New England Patriots' expected lack of Rob Gronkowski and other weapons could give the visiting team an edge in Sunday's matchup.
But the 2015 Eagles are 4-7, have lost three in a row, and just became the first team in the 83-year history of the franchise to give up 45 points in back-to-back games.
The Patriots, despite numerous injuries, are 10-1, coming off an overtime setback at Denver. They've won their last 10 games in a row after a loss. As a starter, quarterback Tom Brady is 40-8 coming off a loss. The Pats are 21-1 at home over the past three seasons, the only setback coming at the end of 2014, when having clinched homefield for the playoffs, en route to their fourth Super Bowl title, they emptied the bench. Oh, and the Eagles haven't won there since 1987.
Little wonder that Eagles coach Chip Kelly interrupted a press conference question Thursday about the Patriots' injuries by asking, "Did they lose Brady?"
That would be the only injury that could turn this matchup in the Eagles' favor. Otherwise, local fans might want to use Sunday for Christmas shopping. The Eagles, getting 9 1/2 points this weekend, haven't been underdogs on this scale since Sept. 29, 2013, when they opened Kelly's first season 1-2 and faced a trip to see Peyton Manning and Super Bowl-bound Denver. The Broncos were favored by 11 1/2 and won, 52-20.
How does a team some fans already have accused of quitting, in the face of much less formidable opposition, convince itself it has a chance to pull off what would be the upset of the NFL season?
One way to go would be just to ignore the whole thing, pretend they're headed for Jacksonville, only chillier.
"I've honestly never talked to any team I've ever been on about being an underdog, or point spreads, or anything like that," Kelly said, misinterpreting (more or less intentionally) a question about how he convinces his players they can do this. "I've never paid attention to them."
"Just go out there and do it. Work toward it and believe it, and don't worry about what people talk about," outside linebacker Brandon Graham said Thursday. "If you start to believe what people talk about, you're already defeated . . . You'll start to feel sorry for yourself or make excuses for yourself . . . Then you'll look real bad."
OK, Brandon, how can this possibly work, for a team that has given up 10 touchdown passes in its last two games, to Jameis Winston and Matt Stafford, now facing Brady, who commands the league's No. 1 passing offense? The man who is 4-0 lifetime against the Eagles, including Super Bowl XXXIX, the quarterback Kelly compared to an "orchestra leader"?
"We need to stop Brady; no matter who's not playing, Brady's Brady, and he's going to make sure that he demands the receivers that's in there get it done . . . It comes down to confidence and trusting the game plan and carrying it out . . . Everybody has to be on their 'A' game," Graham said.
Two games ago, Buffalo - though it lost 20-13 - held New England to its lowest point total of the season.
"They had a real good plan," Graham said of the Bills. "They stayed in front of 'em, they attacked 'em. I felt like a couple of times, where they had a couple hits on the quarterback, if they'd just gone for the throwing arm instead of going low - he had time to get some stuff out (that the Bills could have stopped) . . . Stay in front of him and don't let him kill you on his first read. That's the biggest thing, first read. You take away the first, then it's a little different."
Brady likely will be missing tight end Gronkowski (knee) and wideout Julian Edelman (foot), but it seems likely he will get back wideout Danny Amendola (knee).
Rookie corner Eric Rowe will make his first NFL start this week. Lucky him.
Rowe said that watching Brady on film, he is impressed by "the way he can pre-read the defense, adjust everybody's routes, blocking schemes, just to pick apart the defense. He can fit the ball, he can make every throw . . . he spins the ball in tight windows. He's throwing the ball before the receiver even breaks."
Rowe, who was 9 years old when Brady won his first Super Bowl, said he doesn't need to convince himself he can do this.
"We all know we have the ability to play," Rowe said. "That's not even a question in the locker room. Keep grinding, keep the effort up. We just know we're going to pull one out."
Tight end Brent Celek reached deep into the bag of sports motivational sayings, when asked about the matchup.
"The game starts out 0-0," Celek pointed out. "We practiced hard this week. We've got a great game plan. I'm excited for it."
Celek didn't say so, but he might find hope in the fact that New England's pass defense ranks 19th, one slot ahead of the Eagles.
"Just go in there and stay focused," nose tackle Bennie Logan said. " 'How are you going to make yourself believe?' Honestly, that's a stupid question. Why you have to make yourself believe? You should just believe."
Logan said defensive coordinator Bill Davis is "still the same guy" after the massive meltdowns against Tampa Bay and Detroit. "It's not so much Billy as it is us going out there and executing what he calls, being focused and doing our job."
Logan said spirits remain undaunted in the defensive line room.
"We understand what we have to get done. We hold each other accountable for things that don't get done. We're still the same."
Logan said the Patriots want to run the ball and get Brady into third-and-short (LeGarrette Blount has 596 yards on 142 carries; the Pats lost versatile running back Dion Lewis, the former Eagle, for the season, to a knee injury).
"Blount is the guy they really want to get started, because he's a physical back, to put 'em in short yardage . . . They're definitely going to start with Blount and try to get him established early in the game," Logan said.
Kelly was asked a question this week about getting the team through a rough time. He gave a better answer than when he was asked about being an underdog.
"I've seen the success from them, and I told these guys that," Kelly said. "I believe in them because I've seen it. I don't believe in them because it's fake. I've seen them all play at a really high level. We just need to play at a high level consistently, as a group."