Was 2013 actually a missed opportunity for the Eagles?

Was 2013 actually a missed opportunity for the Eagles?

No matter where you turn, the sentiments are largely the same. The future is bright for the Philadelphia Eagles. They were ahead of schedule this season. With a couple free-agent upgrades and another quality draft, the Birds are primed to be contender in the NFC for the next few years.

The flip side of the coin is they were within striking distance this year, and as much as we forecast better days on the horizon, the Eagles let this opportunity slip through their fingers. You never know when they’ll get another.

That’s the synopsis behind Reuben Frank’s Monday morning autopsy of Philly’s 26-24 first-round exit from the playoffs over the weekend, a game the Birds led with under five minutes remaining. The CSNPhilly.com columnist explains why it was actually so important they seized that moment.

The Eagles went from 4-12 to 10-6, won the division, reached the playoffs, seemingly righted the franchise after two dismal seasons.

All of which guarantees them nothing in 2014 and beyond.

Success in 2013 doesn’t automatically mean success in 2014, and while it might be reassuring to shrug off that loss to the Saints with the notion that the Eagles do have a promising young quarterback and an impressive coach and an array of offensive weapons and several terrific, young defensive players, the reality is that next year stands alone. Players change, circumstances change, team chemistry changes. You don’t pick up where you left off. You start over like 31 other teams, and that’s why so many NFL teams routinely go from worst to first and back again year by year.

Roob is absolutely right of course. We need not look outside the NFC East to find an example of what he’s talking about. Washington finished the 2012 season much the same way the Eagles did 2013, with an improbable run to do a division championship led by a budding superstar at quarterback.

The future looked bright for Washington, too. They went 3-13 this season.

Of course, there were circumstances that came into play. Robert Griffin III suffered a torn ACL in Washington’s final game last year, and it affected his entire offseason. The franchise also lacked a first-round pick, while a salary cap penalty limited the money the front office could throw around in free agency.

The Eagles finished the season in good health, they have all of their draft picks and are way under the cap. Still, the point is the NFL is unpredictable.

Philadelphia may not be so lucky with injuries in 2014, some key veterans could start to decline significantly and there’s always the possibility Nick Foles will regress. Right now, it seems like it would take a perfect storm to keep the Birds from going back to the playoffs next season, but teams get snake-bitten. It happens all the time.

That being said, I’m not so sure how legitimate the Eagles’ shot was at winning the Super Bowl this season even had they advanced over the weekend. The secondary was a mess for the last month, and New Orleans showed the defense could be pushed around in the running game. Foles and the offense were contained as well until the Saints’ top cornerback left the game with an injury.

Were the Eagles significantly better prepared to defeat the Denver Broncos in February than they were in Week 4 when they lost 52-20? Not by much, and there still would've been a tough road ahead to make it that far.

You still have to love the direction the Eagles are heading though. Foles should return strong with a full offseason of work as the starting quarterback—not to mention his wide receiver corps bolstered—while the defense will absolutely improve once a true nose tackle, a safety or two and another pass rusher are added to the mix.

It’s a great situation on paper. But as is always the case, everything needs to align at proper time.

>> 2013 Eagles failed to seize fleeting opportunity [CSN]

Best of NHL: Patrick Kane hat trick lifts Blackhawks over Coyotes

Best of NHL: Patrick Kane hat trick lifts Blackhawks over Coyotes

CHICAGO -- Patrick Kane scored three goals for his third career hat trick to lead the surging Chicago Blackhawks past the Arizona Coyotes 6-3 on Thursday night for their third straight win and eighth in nine games.

Kane has 23 goals to lead Chicago, which closed within three points behind first-place Minnesota in the Central Division and Western Conference.

Rookies Nick Schmaltz and Ryan Hartman each had a goal and assist. Blackhawks defenseman Michal Rozsival scored his first goal of the season in his first game since Jan. 15.

Chicago captain Jonathan Toews added two assists to extend his points scoring streak to five games and increase his output to 22 points in his past 13.

Jakob Chychrun, Ryan White and Radim Vrbata scored for the Coyotes. Chychrun and Vrbata each scored for the second straight game (see full recap).

Rangers outlast Maple Leafs in shootout
TORONTO -- Mika Zibanejad scored the shootout winner and the New York Rangers continued a strong February with a 2-1 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday night.

Henrik Lundqvist made 32 saves and J.T. Miller scored the game-tying goal in the third period for the Rangers, who improved to 8-1-1 this month.

New York moved into third place in the Metropolitan Division with 80 points.

Connor Brown scored for Toronto, which fell to 1-7 in shootouts this season. Frederik Andersen had a stellar performance in defeat with 37 saves.

The Leafs hold the third playoff spot in the Atlantic Division (68 points), two points back of Ottawa (70) and four back of Montreal (see full recap).

Islanders shut out Canadiens
MONTREAL -- Rookie Anthony Beauvillier scored in the first period, Thomas Greiss made 24 saves, and the New York Islanders beat the Montreal Canadiens 3-0 Thursday night.

Anders Lee scored in the second period and John Tavares added an empty-netter in the final minute to seal the Islanders' third straight win. New York has won the first two games on a crucial nine-game road swing and improved to 12-4-2 since interim coach Doug Weight replaced the fired Jack Capuano.

Josh Bailey and Brock Nelson each had two assists, and Greiss got his third shutout of the season.

Carey Price finished with 21 saves as the Canadiens lost coach Claude Julien's 1,000th NHL game. Montreal is 1-2-0 since Julien replaced Michel Therrien last week and has totaled just 14 goals while going 2-7-1 in the last 10 games, including four shutouts (see full recap).

Best of NBA: Rockets crush Pelicans to spoil Cousins' debut

Best of NBA: Rockets crush Pelicans to spoil Cousins' debut

NEW ORLEANS -- The Boogie-and-Brow era in New Orleans is off to a highly inauspicious start.

The Pelicans' tandem of newly acquired All-Star DeMarcus Cousins and All-Star Game MVP Anthony Davis was no match for the surging Houston Rockets on Thursday night.

Reserve Lou Williams hit seven 3-pointers and scored 27 points in his Rockets debut, and Houston crushed New Orleans, 129-99.

Davis had 29 points, and Cousins finished with 27 points and 14 rebounds. But New Orleans turned the ball over 20 times couldn't keep pace with the firepower of the Rockets, who hit 20 3-pointers.

Eric Gordon scored 19 points and Ryan Anderson added 17 in both players' first game in New Orleans since leaving the Pelicans. James Harden had 13 points and 14 assists (see full recap).

LeBron triple-double powers Cavs past Knicks
CLEVELAND -- LeBron James recorded his 48th career triple-double and Kyrie Irving scored 23 points, leading the Cleveland Cavaliers to a 119-104 victory over the New York Knicks, who hung on to superstar Carmelo Anthony and Derrick Rose at Thursday's trade deadline.

James scored 18 points and had 13 rebounds with 15 assists for his sixth triple-double of the season.

Anthony, the subject of trade rumors because of a strained relationship with Knicks President of Basketball Operations Phil Jackson, scored 20 points, going 9 of 25 from the field.

Kyle Korver scored 20 points for Cleveland, which is 8-1 in February and has beaten New York 10 straight times.

Courtney Lee had 25 points for New York, which has lost six of seven and is 12th in the Eastern Conference playoff race (see full recap).

Pistons rally from 18 down to beat Hornets in OT
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- Kentavious Caldwell-Pope scored 33 points, including three 3-pointers late in the fourth quarter during a pulsating Detroit rally, and the Pistons outlasted the Charlotte Hornets 114-108 in overtime Thursday night.

Caldwell-Pope scored Detroit's last 11 points of regulation, and his 3-pointer with 18.2 seconds to play tied the game at 100. Kemba Walker scored Charlotte's final nine points of the fourth, but the Pistons forced him to give up the ball on the last possession, and Marco Belinelli missed a 3-pointer that could have won it.

Detroit, which was behind by 18 in the third quarter, never trailed in the overtime. Caldwell-Pope's 3-pointer with 55 seconds remaining put the Pistons up 110-102.

Charlotte led 85-70 at the start of the fourth but missed 14 of its first 15 shots in the period, enabling Detroit to cut into the lead.

Walker scored 34 points. Tobias Harris had 25 for the Pistons (see full recap).