There's a time each year when 20 NFL teams realize their seasons will not extend past Week 17. For the Eagles, that time came early this year.
Three games remain, and even though mathematics suggests the most remote of possibilities remain, the players in the Eagles' locker room know this will be another year without a postseason berth. It's the third consecutive year that they'll pack their lockers on the day after Week 17, and the fifth time in six years.
"I'm tired of this [stuff]," said linebacker Mychal Kendricks, who has been with the Eagles since 2012.
He's not the only one. Left tackle Jason Peters came to the Eagles in 2009. The team made the postseason in his first two years, but only once since. Like others throughout the region, it stings Peters even more seeing the Dallas Cowboys atop the standings and playing in the postseason for the second time in three years.
"It's tough losing, not getting to the playoffs five years and seeing people like the Cowboys going," Peters said. "It's tough on me, because that's where I'm from, I'm from Dallas. That [stinks]."
Safety Malcolm Jenkins signed with the Eagles in 2014. The team was coming off the postseason - Jenkins' New Orleans Saints beat the Eagles in the opening round - and appeared on the verge of becoming a perennial contender. Jenkins reached the postseason in four of his first five seasons in the NFL, and he didn't think that trend would end when he signed in Philadelphia.
"It's something I'm not trying to get used to," Jenkins said.
So with a 5-8 record and a game Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens, the Eagles are playing out the string. They can be spoilers because all three opponents are playoff contenders. Veterans will try to prove they should remain in Philadelphia or are worthy of contracts elsewhere. Younger players will try to earn more playing time for next season. There is much to watch in the final three games, even if the results won't change the outcome of the season.
"Spoiler or not, technically if you look at it, mathematically we're not out of it," coach Doug Pederson said. "I've been on a couple teams where we've been out of it, but we actually play our best football at the end of the game. For whatever reason, the psyche of it is you go out and you just enjoy playing, playing with your guys. That's kind of going to be the message these next couple of weeks. We've still got three left. We're going to get ready for these three."
Several players emphasized that the way the Eagles finish the season can carry over to next season. That's not always the case, however. The 2011 Eagles finished the season on a four-game winning streak, kept the coaching staff and most of the roster, and thought it would carry over into 2012. They went 4-12 and Andy Reid was fired. But if players believe it, then it can at least help in the final three games.
"Every year, you have to play your best ball this month," Jenkins said. "No matter how the season went prior to that, the month of December is most important. This is kind of that foundation that hopefully we can draw on in future seasons."
The roster will look different next season, but many of these players will remain. The development of Carson Wentz makes each game relevant regardless of whether the Eagles are 5-8 or 8-5. His progress is crucial to the future of the team. But the Eagles need to know which young players can grow to be part of the foundation with him.
That's why the performance of rookies such as offensive lineman Isaac Seumalo, cornerback Jalen Mills, and wide receiver Paul Turner will be an intriguing part of the final three weeks.
For pending free agents such as defensive tackle Bennie Logan, these three games offer more chances to improve their worth. And the Eagles will have decisions to make about some key veterans with hefty salaries, such as Peters, Connor Barwin, and Ryan Mathews. Players understand that the camera is watching every practice and game - no matter the stakes.
"When we all leave this building at the end of the year and they start evaluating who they want to keep, all they can evaluate is what you put on tape," Jenkins said.
Some of the veterans - Peters is in this group - will have decisions about whether they want to continue playing in Philadelphia. An NFL season is grueling, especially for those who have played for more than a decade. They'll want to know whether the Eagles have a realistic chance of winning.
"At the end of the day, [Wentz has] a lot of upside and I'd definitely come back to try to protect his blind side," Peters said. "I really want a ring. I'd be sad to play all these years and not even be close."
Those words were spoken in the locker room minutes after last week's loss to Washington, when the Eagles' slim playoff hopes became even more unrealistic and the Eagles were ensured another year without a winning record. It was the feeling that 20 other teams have each year, knowing a season of work went unfulfilled.
Pederson experienced it as a player and as a coach. His message is to consider how the team plays at its best, think about what another draft and free-agent cycle can add, and have optimism about how they can finish and return next year.
"I think if they look at that, that's the message," Pederson said. "We're going to be OK."