THE FIRST thing Carson Wentz might think of doing this offseason is resting his arm.
If Wentz throws more than 73 passes over the Eagles' final three games, he will set the franchise record for attempts. If he completes 30 of those, he will set the franchise record for completions. That's kind of a big deal: the franchise is closing the books on its 84th season.
But Wentz does not seem worn down or worn out, as he approaches yet another game in which he will be under siege, Sunday at Baltimore, the 7-6 Ravens probably needing to run the table to make the playoffs.
"I think one thing I had going for me that a lot of rookies didn't is that we played 15, 16 games every year in college," Wentz said in a conference call this week with Baltimore-area reporters. He played at Football Championship Subdivision North Dakota State, in a playoff system, for a team that has won the title five years in a row. "We were playing into January every single year. I'm kind of used to the schedule. I think, obviously, it's still even more demanding in the NFL, but I'm in a good spot both physically and mentally."
Eagles coach Doug Pederson acknowledged this week that when he was plotting Wentz's development, "I didn't anticipate him throwing the ball quite as much. I felt that he was capable of doing it, but you never want to expose a rookie quarterback to that . . . Have we asked a lot of him? Yeah, we have, and he's handled it extremely well. It's just making him a better quarterback for not only the rest of the season, but for the future."
Wentz (317-for-498, 3,215 yards, 13 touchdowns, 12 interceptions) said in his NovaCare news conference this week that even if this wasn't how Pederson wanted the offense to look, he hasn't felt the weight of the world on his shoulders.
"It's hard to say that I expected to throw this much, but it's kind of just the way things have gone, so by no means am I down about it or anything," Wentz said.
Looking down the road, is throwing at a record-setting pace a good thing, or a bad thing?
"I feel like I've developed, for sure. But it's hard to say one way or the other on that," Wentz said.
"I don't think it's anything" in the long run, said backup Chase Daniel, who has been a mentor for the rookie. "I think it's the way things went . . . Rookie or not, if you get behind early in games and you're always playing from behind, you're going to throw the ball more than you run it . . . There's not much he can do. Just keep slingin' it. You throw that many times, of course there's going to be some ones you want back, some interceptions you throw. Hopefully, there's more good than bad."
The formula seems unlikely to change on Sunday. Baltimore's defense gives up 18.2 points per game, the league's third-lowest figure. The Eagles' running game hasn't been helping Wentz much lately, because of injuries and deficits that have skewed the run-pass balance; facing the NFL's toughest run defense, which gives up 75.5 rushing yards per game and 3.4 yards per carry, is hardly likely to lead to a reinvigoration.
Wentz's best receiver, Jordan Matthews, acknowledged Thursday that he is still not all the way back from an ankle sprain, though he plans to play, as he did last Sunday against Washington. Wentz's starting offensive line could feature its fifth right tackle, rookie Isaac Seumalo, if Allen Barbre can't make it back from the hamstring strain he suffered in the Washington game. Barbre was unable to practice Wednesday or Thursday.
Matthews said Thursday that before the season ends, he wants to see Wentz and the offense have that really big game or games, put up some numbers, maybe get both Matthews and tight end Zach Ertz over 100 receiving yards for the day. This might not be the most likely week for that, though the Ravens are expected to be missing their top corner, Jimmy Smith. (And yes, Jimmy Smith, often mocked to the Eagles in 2011, was drafted 27th overall , four spots after the Birds reached for guard Danny Watkins.)
"Obviously, he's been throwing like crazy. What helps with that is efficiency," Matthews said. "Completing passes on early downs," making third downs more manageable.
The Eagles, at 5-8, have no realistic playoff hopes. They want to get Wentz into his first NFL offseason healthy, with a good feeling about his rookie year.
That first offseason is considered a big deal, especially for quarterbacks. Wentz went right from winning the FCS championship game last January to the Senior Bowl, the Scouting Combine, the team visits; this winter and spring he can not only rest a bit but also study the ups and downs of 2016, knowing the offense he'll be in and most of the people he'll be working with, which was not the case a year ago.
"It's good, especially if you're a starter, to go back through each and every game - where we went wrong, where you personally went wrong, what we can do better in the offense, really just self-scout yourself," Daniel said. "Come up with tendencies that maybe you're giving away to defenses, and really, just relax. You've been playing two straight years of football, as a rookie.
"Your first offseason's nice. You've got a little bit of money in the bank, you've got a little time (for) relaxation. It's definitely some much-needed time off."
Wentz said he's still forming his offseason plan.
"Get a little more sleep than I've been getting, for starters," he said. "It'll be different. More spare time than I've ever had in my life! That's the biggest thing. Have to find the right balance between rest and recovery but obviously, getting better.
"It's nice to have iPads and different things, because no matter where I'm at, I can constantly be checking that stuff out and getting better with that."
Wentz said he definitely plans to get in extra work with his receivers, but hasn't set that up yet.
If the Eagles were still the team they seemed to be a month ago, I'd be tempted to pick them to win. Baltimore hasn't been that good without corner Jimmy Smith (ankle) this season, and the Ravens were in the news Thursday for some spleen-venting over their Monday night loss to the Patriots, a crusher that wasn't as close as the final score indicated. They are on a short week, and they know they didn't measure up, again, against the team they'll probably have to beat to get to the Super Bowl. Hard to know what the emotional tone will be, coming off of that.
Quarterback Joe Flacco said on a conference call with Philadelphia-are reporters Wednesday evening, "You can tell some people are still a little bit ticked about it . . . It's time to move on."
But with Isaac Seumalo possibly playing right tackle, running back Wendell Smallwood done for the season, concussed Darren Sproles possibly out, top wideout Jordan Matthews still gimpy and the Eagles' defense still prone to giving up big, back-breaking plays, nah, I'll pass on predicting an end to the Birds' six-game road losing streak.
Flacco has a big arm, along with Dennis Pitta (65 catches, 547 yards), Mike Wallace (62, 903) and Steve Smith Sr. (58, 646) to throw to. That oughta be enough, unless the Birds' pass rushers can turn the dial back to the first month of the season.
Prediction: Ravens 17, Eagles 9.