Second of two parts.
Yesterday, we looked at what Eagles fans should worry about regarding their team, as the regular season winds down and the playoffs loom.
Today, we look at the positive factors still enjoyed by the 13-2 Eagles, who are one victory away from clinching home-field for the playoffs.
Don’t worry, be happy.
Bright spots abound for the Eagles, even if it might not feel like it. Season-long optimism was moderated by the Dallas loss and recent, potentially devastating injuries.
Right tackle Lane Johnson and nickel back Avonte Maddox are expected to miss the remainder of the regular season, at least.
We still don’t know the health status of quarterback Jalen Hurts. He is expected to return before the end of the regular season — maybe even Sunday against the Saints. If not, Gardner Minshew will start. He showed to be quite capable against a tough Cowboys defense — but he isn’t Hurts.
The Eagles’ next game will be in January. By now, every team is banged up. This will be a good test of the strength of the Eagles’ roster, which had been highly praised all season.
It’s put-up time.
THE GOOD STUFF
If someone told Eagles fans, coaches and players back in September they would be 13-2 heading into 2023, every single one of them would have jumped on it.
The Eagles have:
- 13 victories
- Hurts as an MVP candidate for his brilliant season running and passing
- Eight Pro Bowlers
- Victory over Dallas. (OK, two victories would have been sweeter.)
- Drama-free season
- Mostly injury-free season until the last two weeks
- Locker room that seems to work in unison with a minimum of, if any, finger-pointing
- NFL’s best offensive line. Current status is murky with Johnson hurt. Jack Driscoll, the presumed replacement, has played well when given the chance. Can he can hold his own?
- Most sacks in the NFL, by far.
- Great middle linebacker in T.J. Edwards.
- Great cornerbacks capable of shutting down opposing offenses (the Dallas game notwithstanding).
- Second-most interceptions in the NFL
- Thousand-yard rusher in Miles Sanders
- Thousand-yard receivers in DeVonta Smith and A.J. Brown, the first time in team history with two thousand-yard receivers
- One of the league’s best tight ends in Dallas Goedert
CLOSE TO REACHING GOALS
All this acclamation is great, of course, but it also reads like what teams put into their year-end video yearbook — an upbeat review of the past season. That video would be perky and chock full of highlights, but it isn’t what you want.
Only one of those 32 yearbooks is what you really want.
The Eagles were one or two clutch plays from winning at Dallas, clinching the home-field and moving along their merry way. They remain odds-on favorite to do so. They need to win one of their final two games at home.
The Eagles aren’t 13-2 by accident. They have been the NFL’s best team over the long season. Not everything is going their way right now. Such is NFL life. Teams don’t win every game. Painful losses are the cost of admission.
Should they win Sunday against the Saints, they will have three weeks before their first playoff game. That is time to rest the battered, maybe heal the injured and strategize your future.
Rust shouldn’t be a problem, or, at worst, it only should be a temporary problem. If Hurts doesn’t play for a month but returns healthy, his skill level will be fine. In the preseason, he played one series and didn’t play for a month until the regular season opener.
If Hurts, Johnson and Maddox return healthy at some point, most teams would kill to be in the Eagles’ position.
One positive byproduct of the Eagles’ losses is a vow to fight back, to learn from mistakes, to not let an initial defeat snowball into something worse.
They did exactly that after losing to Washington on Nov. 14. They won five straight games to re-establish their dominance and continue down the path to whatever playoff riches or heartbreak await them.
After the Dallas loss, players exhibited the same attitude.
The Eagles’ next four games could be at the Linc — Saints, Giants, divisional round and NFC title game. The unfriendly confines should be a huge advantage.
- “Always important to play at home, especially in Philadelphia,” Eagles coach Nick Sirianni said.
- “We know how electric that stadium is. We know how awesome our fans are, we know how intimidating our fans and that place can be to an opposing team.
- “Any time you’re home you love that, because in this game where the parity of this league is so, so tight, we’ll take any advantage we can get.
- “That’s why you’re clawing and scratching for every little advantage you can get when you’re game-planning all week, and it’s the same thing here.”
Through all that, a warning from senior statesman Brandon Graham, the spirited defensive end who has been in Philly for 13 years and wears a 2017 Super Bowl ring:
- “We can’t be out here making them little mistakes,” Graham said. “We gotta make sure we stay on our stuff, giving ourself the best chance to win … We can’t beat ourselves.”