Daily News Agenda: After everything, will the Eagles win the division?
In the agenda, the Daily News will examine a major issue of the day in Philadelphia sports. We will frame the question and look at it from multiple angles, bringing you opinions from a sports staff unmatched in its experience. The Agenda will run every other week during the Eagles season, only in the Daily News:
Question: After everything, are the Eagles going to win the division?
Les Bowen: Sure, why not?
I have no idea. They have to beat the Redskins and Giants over the final two weeks to win the division, and I'm not sure how anyone who has really watched this team all season can be definitive about that, either way.
But if I have to pick a side, I'll go with, "Sure, why not?" The Eagles just trudged past a Buffalo team that probably was as good as Washington or New York. The key will be Sam Bradford.
Bradford, given an important long-term endorsement by Chip Kelly Monday, looks more and more comfortable. Early in the season he seemed half-frozen, unable to step into a throw, make a quick read, or deliver a ball right on target. All of that is going better now, and I think the difference would be more noticeable if Bradford had better receivers.
That part isn't going to change, though. Ditto the Eagles' linebackers' inability to cover receivers over the middle, and the ebb and flow of a pass rush that most weeks depends way too much on ironman outside linebackers Brandon Graham and Connor Barwin. Right guard Matt Tobin isn't going to suddenly develop a lower center of gravity and more inside running push. DeMarco Murray isn't going to get quicker. Byron Maxwell isn't going to start laying people out. Jason Peters isn't going to get younger and healthier. And so on.
All of that is why it's up to Bradford. He is the crucial element that's on the upswing. Without continued improvement at the QB position, frankly, there are a lot of holes being tiptoed around.
The Eagles have won their last two games after being blown out of the previous two. I wrote that Mark Sanchez was beside the point, as the defense gave up 10 touchdown passes in those two losses, but now I wonder if Bradford's leadership wasn't at least part of what was missing .
In these two wins, the Eagles were fortunate to get three touchdowns against New England that the offense had no role in scoring, and 15 Buffalo penalties, many of them in crucial spots. That isn't all luck, but luck plays a role.
Luck and Bradford need to be right on the money to get the Eagles into the playoffs.
Paul Domowitch: Birds best of a bad lot
When I first read this week's Daily News agenda question, which was delivered early Monday morning by an armed courier, my first reaction was:
Are you frickin' kidding me?
This is a team with a wobbly, inconsistent defense that gave up 45 points to the 4-9 Lions and the 6-7 Bucs.
This is a team that has been torched for 29 touchdown passes, is 28th against the run and 24th in third-down defense.
This is a team that has one wide receiver with more than 22 receptions and whose highest-paid running back is averaging 3.5 yards per carry, 2.9 on first down.
Then I remembered that all they have to do to win this poor excuse for a division is beat the Redskins and Giants in their final two games.
Ladies and gentlemen, your 2015 NFC East champions, the Philadelphia Eagles.
Just a suggestion, Jeff, but you might want to keep this championship banner in a drawer for a while until people forget just how bad the division was this season.
Last things first. Beating the Giants in Week 17 won't be a problem. As long as the Eagles can stay within three touchdowns of them going into the fourth quarter, Tom Coughlin and Eli Manning will find a way to blow it.
So it's basically going to come down to the night after Christmas and the rematch with the Redskins at the Linc.
Playing at home really isn't much of an advantage for the Eagles. They're only 3-3 there, and there's a very good chance the crowd will be booing them by the end of the first quarter. Even if they're up 28-0. OK, maybe not if they're up 28-0.
The Redskins won the first meeting, 23-20, at FedEx, driving 90 yards on 15 plays in the fourth quarter to win it.
Kirk Cousins looked like he was shooting fish in a barrel that day, completing 31 of 46 passes for 290 yards. And he didn't even have DeSean Jackson.
But the Eagles' defense seems to be starting to gain a little confidence, and Sam Bradford is playing well, and people like Riley Cooper and Nelson Agholor and Eric Rowe are starting to contribute.
Somebody's got to win it. From the guy who picked them to lose both of the last two weeks, I'm saying it'll be the Eagles.
Marcus Hayes: Bradford will lead them
Even with the Cardinals looming Sunday night, not only CAN the Eagles win the NFC East, they SHOULD win it, thanks to Sam Bradford and the perpetual putridity of the division. All they have to do is beat Washington at home in Game 15, then beat the Giants on the road in the finale. Simple.
The last time a version of this agenda question was posed the Eagles were on track to win 10 games, a 5-2 finish, perhaps making the finale at the Giants irrelevant. The Birds were poised to face the Cowboys, who were still playing without Tony Romo; sure enough, they won.
Then, a week later, Bradford suffered a concussion and a separated shoulder while Jason Peters tried to fight through a back injury that cost him the Dallas game. They are the two best offensive players. Mark Sanchez replaced Bradford, Dennis Kelly occupied Peters' spot as a starter . . . and the Birds lost three in a row to the Dolphins, Buccaneers and Lions.
With Bradford back and with Peters feeling better, the Birds upset the Patriots in New England and the Bills at home. That's how much Bradford and Peters mean.
Bradford hasn't thrown a bad interception since Game 7 at Carolina. He made three passes in the past two games that, simply, won the games: two in tight windows to tight ends and a TD bomb to rookie Nelson Agholor.
His efficiency completes the Eagles' complex equation because, thanks to the design of Chip Kelly's "Machine Gun" attack, which minimizes the offense's time of possession, three-and-outs hurt the Birds' defense more than any other factor. If defensive end Fletcher Cox and nose tackle Bennie Logan are worn out by the fourth quarter the Eagles have little chance, especially this late in the season.
Other areas for optimism: Young defensive backs Ed Reynolds and Eric Rowe are improving; outside linebacker Brandon Graham is breaking out; Kelly finally demoted running back DeMarco Murray.
Washington, also 6-7, hosts a tough Bills team, comes to Philadelphia then finishes at the Cowboys. The Giants, 5-7 and at Miami on Monday night, have the toughest road: they host Carolina, travel to Minnesota, then host the Birds.
The four-win Cowboys . . . oh, never mind.
John Smallwood: It adds up to a 'yes'
What I hated the most about class was when I got the answer correct but the teacher still docked me points for not demonstrating the proper formula.
Who cared as long as the answer was right?
Fortunately, for Chip Kelly and his topsy-turvy Eagles, the NFL playoffs do not disqualify you for not using the proper formula for getting there.
If a team qualifies, it qualifies - whether it is on pace to go undefeated like the Carolina Panthers or by winning a mediocre division like the Eagles are going to do.
Last season Carolina (7-8-1) won the NFC South.
Things happen and that is why the Eagles, despite their flaws, will win the NFC East.
That the Eagles (6-7) are in this position says less about them and more about the lack of quality of their challengers - Washington (6-7) and the New York Giants (5-7).
The NFC East is so bad that the Eagles can lose on Sunday to the Arizona Cardinals and still win the division by beating Washington and the Giants in the final two weeks.
If the Eagles end up with the same record as Washington and/or the Giants they take the East by virtue of the best divisional record (4-2) tiebreaker.
In must-win games to decide the division, I will take the Eagles at home against Washington and at the Giants.
The Birds are not necessarily good, but they are better than those two teams. The Birds have the superior defense that will do its part.
In his last four starts, three of which were victories, Eagles quarterback Sam Bradford finally looks like he is comfortable operating Kelly's offense.
Bradford has not been spectacular but he has been competent and efficient in running things over that span. That is vital because competence and efficiency is all the Eagles will need from Bradford's offense to beat Washington and New York.
Before the season, I predicted the Eagles would win the NFC East. Admittedly, I also said they would do so by winning 11 games.
The Eagles making the playoffs is all that matters just like 15 being the square root of 225 is all that matters. OK, so I used a calculator, but I'm not in math class and neither are the Eagles.
Ed Barkowitz: No
Les Bowen: Yes
Bob Cooney: No
Doug Darroch: No
Jim DeStefano: Yes
Paul Domowitch: Yes
Sam Donnellon: No
Marcus Hayes: Yes
Rich Hofmann: Yes
Dick Jerardi: No
Mike Kern: Yes
Tom Mahon: No
Drew McQuade: Yes
David Murphy: Yes
Mark Perner: Yes
John Smallwood: Yes
Bob Vetrone Jr.: Yes