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Eagles not as young as you might think

The premise presented by Doug Pederson last week was that the Eagles are a young team on the verge of getting better. It's flawed, mostly because the coach's team isn't as young as he thinks it is.

The premise presented by Doug Pederson last week was that the Eagles are a young team on the verge of getting better. It's flawed, mostly because the coach's team isn't as young as he thinks it is.

Look no further than the Eagles' own division for proof.

Dallas is 11-1 and its best two players on offense this season have been rookie quarterback Dak Prescott, who is seven months younger than Eagles rookie quarterback Carson Wentz, and rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott, who is a candidate for league MVP at 21.

That duo have ignored the "trust the process" mantra we're so sick of hearing about in this town and are carrying the Cowboys straight to the top seed in the NFC playoffs. But Dallas' youth movement goes beyond those two. The average age of the Dallas offensive line, which is arguably the team's greatest strength, is 26.4 and it includes three first-round picks. The average age of the top 11 players on the Cowboys offense is 26.5 years old.

By comparison, the average age of the Eagles' top 11 offensive players is 27.9.

Move to the defensive side, where Dallas also has two rookie starters in defensive tackle Maliek Collins and cornerback Anthony Brown, and the discrepancy is even greater. The average age of the Cowboys starters is 25.5. The average age of the Eagles' defensive starters is 27.4.

You can argue that Jalen Mills, a 22-year-old Dallas native, is making strides to move into a starting cornerback position, but a counterargument could be made that the Eagles would have been better served by keeping Eric Rowe, who has moved into a starting role after being traded to the New England Patriots.

Regardless, the point remains that the Eagles aren't as young as the best team in their own division.

The Giants, who sit second in the NFC East, are also younger than the Eagles on both sides of the ball and that's even with 35-year-old Eli Manning at quarterback. The average age of the Giants' offensive starters, which includes 24-year-old superstar receiver Odell Beckham Jr., is 26.5. New York does not have a defensive starter over 29 years old and its average age on that side of the ball is 25.6.

Even Washington, with an average age of 27.5 on offense and 26.4 on defense, is slightly younger than the Eagles.

That can change in a hurry, of course. Oakland was one of the oldest teams in the league a couple of years ago and is considerably younger now. The 9-2 Raiders are one of the two teams Pederson mentioned when he spoke of a better tomorrow for the Eagles. He talked about how they have done things right to rebuild their franchise. He also mentioned the Seattle Seahawks, who built from the ground up after Pete Carroll took over as head coach in 2010.

Oakland has a 25-year-old quarterback in Derek Carr, who is already in his third season, and a 22-year-old stud receiver in Amari Cooper. The average age of the Raiders' 11 offensive starters is 26.6. On defense, the Raiders have three rookies playing major roles and an average age of 26.5. Yes, they, too, are younger than the Eagles and well ahead of them in the standings.

"We had Big V in there for a while," Pederson said, referring to offensive tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai. "Now [guard] Isaac [Seumalo] is in there. Wendell [Smallwood] and Carson [Wentz], the youth at receiver . . . are getting valuable reps."

All of them are unproven, including the quarterback.

Wentz, of course, is the basis for most of the optimism Pederson, the Eagles, and their fans have. A franchise quarterback is the common thread for most of the good teams in the NFL.

Only two teams - New England and Green Bay - in this decade have been to the playoffs every season, and Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers have been the two best quarterbacks in that time period. It would be overly optimistic to think that Wentz is about to ascend into that stratosphere.

Only 10 of the NFL's 32 teams have made the playoffs in three consecutive years during this decade and all of them have had pretty good quarterbacks, too.

One of those teams is the Eagles' opponent Sunday. The Cincinnati Bengals, behind Andy Dalton and a typically strong defense, have been to the playoffs five straight seasons. They have not won a playoff game, and Dalton's play, along with the team's, has slipped badly this season.

Would it be overly pessimistic to suggest that the future for Wentz and the Eagles could head in that direction, too?

Thumbs up    

Dallas running back Ezekiel Elliott figures to get a lot of support for the league MVP award after the season and he has earned that distinction by putting together a fantastic rookie year. There is still an argument to be made, however, that Pittsburgh's Le'Veon Bell is the best running back in the league. Since returning from his three-game suspension at the start of the season, Bell has averaged a league-best 142 yards from scrimmage per game.

Thumbs down

President-elect Donald Trump took some time during his rally in Cincinnati on Thursday to credit his supporters with keeping the NFL's ratings down during his campaign.

This isn't the first time the NFL has lost to Trump. The soon-to-be-president also spearheaded the USFL's 1986 movement to go head-to-head with the NFL after playing its first three seasons in the spring. That led to an antitrust lawsuit, which resulted in a $3 victory for Trump's league. It also marked the end of the USFL. For the record, Trump's New Jersey Generals never won a playoff game, losing twice to the Philadelphia/Baltimore Stars.

The games

Early afternoon game:

Miami at Baltimore

The Dolphins, winners of six straight behind rookie head coach Adam Gase, are trying to become the third team in the last two seasons to make the playoffs after losing four of its first five. Kansas City, which started 1-5, and Houston did it last year. The 2012 Ravens are the only team to ever finish 1-4 and go on to win the Super Bowl.

Late afternoon game:

N.Y. Giants at Pittsburgh

The 8-3 Giants have won six in a row and with an opening-day win at Dallas are the one team in the NFC East with a legitimate chance to catch the 11-1 Cowboys. New York's win over Cleveland last Sunday was its first of the season by double digits. The Giants' other seven wins were all by seven points or fewer.

Sunday night:

Carolina at Seattle

This is a rematch of an NFC divisional playoff game last season won by the Panthers. The Seahawks, however, are the only team here that appears to have a legitimate chance of returning to the NFC title game. The Seahawks are 5-0 at home, but they have scored six points or fewer in three of their six road games, which would be a concern should they have to play in Dallas during the postseason.

Monday night:

Indianapolis at N.Y. Jets

      The 5-6 Colts are in danger of missing the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1997 and 1998, when they posted back-to-back 3-13 years before drafting Peyton Manning. Quarterback Andrew Luck is likely to return after sitting out last week's loss to Pittsburgh, but he completed fewer than 60 percent of his passes and threw four interceptions in his last three games.