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January 16, 2022

Eagles still had a successful season, despite getting creamed by the Bucs

Still, it's all relative...

Eagles NFL
Nick-Sirianni-Eagles-Bucs_011622_usat Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports

Nick Sirianni in the Eagles' January 2022 playoff game in Tampa.

You may have some questions as to whether the Eagles really deserved to be in the playoffs after watching them look positively anemic against the defending Super Bowl champion Buccaneers Sunday afternoon. And with good reason.

Not only were they the No. 7 seed in a watered down and expanded playoff field, but they qualified for the postseason without having beaten a single playoff team in the regular season, beating up on the worst teams in football.

But while a feeling of disappointment is completely justified for a team that looked unprepared and like they were sleepwalking as they were bashed 31-15 by Tom Brady and Tampa, this is a team that is clearly on the rise. And a team that will only grow from this experience — as embarrassingly ugly and mistake-riddled as it was. 

Did they deserve to make the playoffs this season? Maybe not — but the fact that they did, and the other things that happened in concert with their playoff run, makes the future rosy and bright for Philadelphia.

Just think where this franchise was a year ago. Carson Wentz was awful in 2020 and demanded a trade. Doug Pederson would find himself out of a job following a 4-11-1 season as the Eagles tried to appease their beleaguered quarterback, who would eventually be traded while the team absorbed the worst dead cap hit in NFL history.

Karma rewarded the Birds, after they did everything they could to appease Wentz before jettisoning him. Indianapolis will be giving the Eagles the 16th pick in the draft after their epic late-season collapse kept them from the playoffs. Add to that the first-round pick they're getting from the Dolphins, who also narrowly missed the playoffs and are sending pick 15, and Philly is already heading into 2022 with the fifth best draft capital in the entire league.

Oddsmakers knew the Birds had a soft schedule in 2021, but they still thought the Eagles would barely make it to seven wins this season. They made it to nine, while resting their starters in the final game. This could be credited to the Eagles being better than expected. But in reality, it was more because the Giants and Washington were dumpster fires, as well as the Jets — four of the wins that led them into the playoffs.

Jalen Hurts gave the Eagles just enough confidence in him as QB1 that they can focus on other areas of need this offseason (Sunday's miserable performance not withstanding). They can use their three first round picks to bolster the defense or to lure a team to trade a star receiver to Philly. They can use their cap space to add players in free agency — and their playoff berth as a selling point.

This is a team with leadership, led by a head coach in Nick Sirianni (the only rookie head coach in the playoffs) who has shown he can adapt and grow throughout a season while connecting deeply with his players. After starting 2-5, a 7-2 stretch run through Week 17 showed a self-aware coaching staff that could make any necessary changes. And an offense that is willing to take what the defense gives it (and became the best running team in football).

The playoff-tested roster will mostly all be returning for 2022. Their unrestricted free agent class will likely include Anthony Harris, Derek Barnett, Steven Nelson and Jordan Howard among others — but that's it as far as impact players who they'll need to replace go.

Jason Kelce and Brandon Brooks could both retire this offseason — but with the youth and potential the team showed in 2021, there's a good chance one or both decide to give it another go. And they'd be linking up with an offensive line that boasts one of the best tackles in the sport in Lane Johnson, one of the best up-and-comers in Jordan Mailata and one of the most versatile returning rookies in Landon Dickerson.

On the field Sunday there wasn't much to help the medicine go down. The offense was flat and uninspired. The defense let Brady tear them apart, painfully, seven yards at a time. It's kind of hard to go from playing teams like the Jets, Giants and Washington for five weeks to then having to go on the road to face the defending Super Bowl champs. To expect anything but the result we saw in Tampa was a bit naive — with fans letting optimism from the Eagles pounding bad teams into the ground tease them into thinking they could hang with the big boys.

They're at least a year away from that — but things could be much worse, and are absolutely better than many would have expected when the season began back in September. In that sense, the 2021 was a successful campaign for the Birds.

Follow Evan on Twitter: @evan_macy

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