With just one appearance last week, Nick Foles brought back memories of last year’s Super Bowl run.
Only 10 days ago, it appeared the Philadelphia Eagles – defending champions – had suffered the defeat that would signal the end of their season.
A win over the Cowboys would have brought both team’s records to 7-6 and given Philadelphia a strong chance of taking the NFC East. Instead, a heart-breaking overtime loss dropped them to 6-7 while the Cowboys moved to 8-5
Rams suffer shock defeat to Eagles
Nick Foles and the Philadelphia Eagles summoned up memories of their Super Bowl run last season with a shock 30-23 win over the Los Angeles Rams.
However, after a shock upset win in Los Angeles, they are now 7-7 and two wins – and a Minnesota Vikings loss – away from reaching the postseason and having the chance to defend their title.
With Super Bowl LII MVP Foles back at the helm, do the Eagles really have a chance of doing it all over again?
The disappointing sequel
They say the sequel is never as good as the original, and after Philadelphia finally ended their 57-year wait for a title last year, they came into the season as division favourites and were seen as a team that could challenge for a rare repeat.
The return of quarterback Carson Wentz, as well as Jason Peters, Jordan Hicks and Darren Sproles were expected to provide a boost. 2017 second-round pick Sidney Jones came back from injury, Michael Bennett was acquired from the Seahawks, and move after move signalled the Super Bowl win was not just the end, but instead the start of a special era.
But as is the norm in the ever-changing NFL, it did not come to fruition. The Eagles have 14 players on injured reserve. Wentz, initially expected to be ready for the start of the season, missed the first two games. And last week, it was revealed he has been playing with a fracture in his back.
Hicks and Sproles have missed a lot of time, as has Jones and seemingly every cornerback on the roster. The offense has spluttered, averaging just 22.2 points per game compared to 28.6 last season. The team’s 31 takeaways ranked fourth in the NFL in 2017, but they have managed just 15 this time around (21st).
Is it simply the injuries? Or the personnel and coaching losses (Frank Reich, John DeFilippo, Patrick Robinson, Mychal Kendricks, LeGarrette Blount and more)? Or it is what five-time NBA title-winning coach Pat Riley described as “the disease of me”?
Head coach Doug Pederson, known for his aggressive, do-or-die coaching style – he even released a book in the summer titled ‘Fearless’ – has seemingly taken his foot off the gas as a play-caller. Players who excelled last season have taken a step back.
Did the team spend too long looking in the mirror rather than looking ahead? If they did, the 48-7 drubbing at the hands of the New Orleans Saints – the worst loss by a Super Bowl winner in the following season – woke them up.
In their three wins out of the last four games – and the second half of the demoralising defeat in Dallas to Amari Cooper’s deflected touchdown – the Eagles have shown what they are capable of, and drawn comparisons to last year’s group.
But if they want to go on another playoff run, they will require some luck.
Need some help
There are multiple scenarios in which the Eagles can make the postseason, but it will be extremely unlikely if they do not win their next two games.
December 23, 2018, 5:35pm
The first option is to oust the Minnesota Vikings as the sixth seed. Philadelphia will move to 9-7 with victories over Houston at home and Washington on the road, while if Minnesota drop one game – against either the Lions on the road or the Bears at home – they will finish with an 8-7-1 record. In that case, the Eagles likely have a trip to Chicago on wild card weekend. They could even pip Seattle (8-6) if they lose to both Kansas City and Arizona at home.
Secondly, while it appeared the NFC East race was over with Dallas’ Week 14 win, last week’s results opened the division back up as they were shut out by the Colts. The Cowboys have two very winnable games – they host the Buccaneers then travel to face the Giants – but losing both would drop them back to 8-8. Again, Philadelphia would require two wins to surpass them at 9-7.
Finally, there is slight room for error, but only if the Vikings truly crash and fall; losing both of their remaining games to end the season at 7-8-1. The Eagles cannot afford to lose their final game against the division-rival Redskins, but they could take a hit against Houston and still come out at 8-8, stealing the final seed in the final week.
What are they capable of?
This is not the same team as last season. In 2017, everything clicked. As the team was struck by injury after injury, the pieces were in place – as was the belief – so much so that when Wentz went down in December, just like this year, the Eagles quickly regrouped.
On last year’s run, Foles went 3-0 in the playoffs, completed 72.6 per cent of his passes, threw six touchdowns to just one interception, had a 115.7 passer rating, and was named Super Bowl MVP.
In his latest outing this season, he was his ‘big-game’ efficient self, completing 24 of 31 passes (77.42 per cent) for 270 yards. He had one pass picked off and no touchdowns, but he did the job.
Perhaps more impressive against Los Angeles was the performance of everyone but the quarterback. Pederson called a more balanced game, the play-makers stepped up – particularly wide receiver Alshon Jeffery with his eight catches for 160 yards – and the team looked like they believed again.
This is not a question of ‘Foles versus Wentz’. When healthy, the 25-year-old third-year star is the man who will line up behind center. But for now, he is on the sidelines and the team will rally around their back-up.
Play the NFL Challenge
Follow all the excitement of the 2018 season by playing the NFL Challenge, with weekly prizes and the chance to win a pair of season tickets to the 2019 games in London.
How far can the Eagles go? As they proved last year; all the way. But it will be a huge mountain to climb. Last year’s home field advantage at Lincoln Financial Field was a difference-maker, but this time, their path could feature road games in Chicago, New Orleans, and Los Angeles; a near-impossible three-game stretch.
Philadelphia need things to fall their way to even get there, but their fans will be hoping ‘Saint Nick’ can bring the Christmas cheer yet again.