Few people expected the Eagles to be in the thick of the playoff race heading into December, much less tied for first place in the NFC East. Chip Kelly’s inaugural season as head coach was supposed to be a rebuilding year. Instead, excitement mounts as Philadelphia makes its push for the postseason.
After the Birds failed to reach the past two tournaments, most fans understandably would be pleased by that much progress. Heck, a lot of folks are probably ecstatic the team is even in the hunt heading into the final month. Expectations are still relatively safe around here, as they probably should be, but at least football is fun again.
Win the division, maybe even advance as far as the second round, and that’s about as successful a season as anybody could have hoped for.
But if the Eagles can make the playoffs, perhaps even win a game in some eyes, why not more? That already puts them on the doorstep of the NFC Championship. One more W, and they’re only 60 minutes away from playing on the big stage. And if there’s even a remote chance they could make it that far, the thought has to begin creeping into your mind…
Is Philadelphia a darkhorse Super Bowl contender?
After talking to several Eagles fans during the bye week, I can tell a lot of you haven’t even entertained the thought. It may not have crossed your mind until now. Yet the Birds look like an increasingly formidable opponent, and prior to the break they were just beginning to fire on all cylinders, winners of three straight.
Chip’s offensive philosophies have opposing coaches on their heels. The quarterback is playing on a level that invokes names like Brady and Manning. The Birds’ defense has only allowed more than 21 points in a game twice this season. All things considered, the roster is in good health, and thanks to the sports science program, many of these guys are in the best shape of their life.
And the team is still improving. The Eagles are relying on major contributions from a ton of first- and second-year players, and they seem to be getting better every week. The youngsters round out a collection of solid veterans and Pro Bowlers that includes names such as LeSean McCoy, DeSean Jackson, Jason Peters, Trent Cole and DeMeco Ryans.
Doesn’t it kind of seem like everything is coming together at exactly the right time for this franchise to make some noise come January? How many times have we seen the hot team run the table at the end of the year?
Nobody is implying that’s definitely or likely or probably what’s going to happen here. The Eagles still have yet to defeat an opponent with a winning record this season. At some point, Nick Foles is going to come down to earth a little, or at least make a mistake or two. The defense hasn’t been challenged by many great quarterbacks this season.
The one great opponent Philly has faced this year—the Denver Broncos led by Peyton Manning—took this group apart 52-20. The Eagles didn’t appear as though they belonged in the same league, let alone on the same field.
Yet that seems like it was eons ago. Are the Eagles the same as they were back in September?
They also don’t have to worry about seeing Peyton again unless they go on this improbable run, although the schedule does intensify from here. Four of the Birds’ remaining five opponents currently own winning records, and obviously any team they encounter in the playoffs would as well.
There are quality teams in the NFC for sure, but does anybody look unbeatable? Maybe New Orleans Saints’ QB Drew Brees would carve up Philly’s secondary like a Thanksgiving turkey, or the Seattle Seahawks’ suffocating defense would have the answer to Kelly’s wizardry.
We won’t know anything unless and until the Eagles make it that far, either. There’s a very good chance they don’t make it into the playoffs, so you can see why it might be difficult to take them seriously as a contender.
Then again, if the Eagles come out of the bye week guns blazing and their momentum continues building into December, they’re going to be the opponent nobody wants to see come January. And as we tend to see once the playoffs are underway and every week is do or die, it's not always the so-called "best" team that wins—it's the team that's playing the best at the time.