Eagles face a litmus test with upcoming road games in Seattle, Los Angeles
The Eagles have beaten only one team with a winning record. They face two of the top teams in the NFL in the next two weeks
Forget the win over the Bears on Sunday, or even the Cowboys win or 49ers win or Broncos win that came before. Teams usually take a day to revel in a 31-3 victory, but some Eagles were not even out of their uniforms when the questions started coming about the West Coast trip ahead of time.
And for good reason: The Eagles visit the 7-4 Seattle Seahawks on Sunday, then fly to southern California for a week of practice leading up to the Dec. 10 game against the 8-3 Los Angeles Rams. Between the time they depart from Philadelphia on Saturday to the time they arrive in Philadelphia early on the morning of Dec. 11, the Eagles encounter a litmus test to reveal how good they are.
"I'm excited for this trip coming up," coach Doug Pederson said. "This is a great opportunity for our football team. It's a great set of challenges for us. …It's a great test for us in the month of December. Teams need to be playing their best football, and it will be a great opportunity for our guys to start something and to continue what we've begun hopefully during this stretch."
At 10-1 and with a league-leading point differential of plus-160, it's hard to find much fault in the Eagles' success. The only knock would be that they only have one win against a team with a winning record – an Oct. 12 victory over the 8-3 Carolina Panthers. Of course, like the 2003-04 St. Joseph's basketball team, they can only play the teams on their schedule. Plus, Washington has a winning record against teams other than the Eagles. The Cowboys, Cardinals, and Chargers are all .500 in their non-Eagles games.
But it's true the Eagles haven't been tested by many opponents who will play in January. That's why the West Coast trip is so important. The Seahawks and Rams are two of only 11 NFL teams with seven or more wins.
"Obviously it's big, and there are a lot of big matchups with good teams," quarterback Carson Wentz said. "Being on the road and being away from home for a while will be big for us. We're very confident right now coming off of this win at home and we know what to expect. We're excited for it."
The Eagles struggled on the road last season, dropping their final seven games. They are 4-1 this season, with a signature win over Carolina. Seattle offers perhaps the toughest venue they visit this year.
The Seahawks might not be as fearsome this season with star defensive backs Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor both sidelined, but the Eagles can still expect a tough game. Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins noted that the Eagles must deal with a road game in a difficult environment in prime time. Plus, the Seahawks are often best late in season. Since 2012, they are 17-5 in December and 10-3 at home during the month.
"They have been in the postseason," Pederson said. "It's a talented football team, even despite the injury situation, and obviously you're playing in that loud stadium. Fans are crazy up there and they are excitable."
The Eagles requested back-to-back West Coast games, which is why they're going to stay out west between the Seahawks and Rams games. That will alleviate some of the travel concerns, but it doesn't change the fact that they're playing good teams.
Pederson puts thought into what his message is each week with the team. On Monday morning, he weighed whether to acknowledge the gravity of this road trip or whether he should treat it the same way he did the Bears game.
"I definitely want to make sure that we're focused on this week," Pederson said. "I don't want to get into worrying about the L.A. trip and staying out there. We are focused on Seattle this week. I want to make sure that these guys understand that the way we played yesterday, even though we won the game, some of the mistakes that were made, the penalties, the fumbling, the off-sides, those things are unacceptable, and that we have to play our best ball in the month of December. Those are the things that have to get cleaned up."
Pederson knows the Eagles must improve from the way they played Sunday, even if the Eagles won by 28 points. He looked at the turnovers and penalties and wants the players to understand that they'll have a harder time getting away with those mistakes against better competition.
"It's my job to make sure the guys stay humble and stay grounded," Pederson said. "If we've got a certain goal in mind, we can't play this type of ball against the Seattles and the Rams and the playoff-type teams down the stretch and expect to win."
Pederson also thinks it will be important for many players on the roster to experience these high-pressure games. Although the Eagles added valuable veteran experience, the majority of the roster hasn't played many meaningful late-season games. These December games against the Seahawks and Rams will give them a taste, and it could also dictate the Eagles' seed when the playoffs arrive.