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January 08, 2023

Does anti-climatic clinch dampen memorable Eagles season?

Are you a glass half full, or glass half empty kind of person?

If you are reading this, and assumably an Eagles fan, then you probably naturally lean toward the glass half empty prognosis — at least when it comes to the local sports teams.

The Eagles now concluded regular season had all the makings of an all-time great one: a record-setting defense; tied for the best record in the NFL; the MVP and best quarterback in the game throwing to two of the best receivers in the sports, supported by one of the best running attacks in team history. They also had more Pro Bowlers than any other team in the league.

But all it took was a relatively minor tweak to Jalen Hurts' shoulder – paired with injuries to Lane Johnson (the best right tackle in football) and Josh Sweat (one of the league's best young pass rushers) to dampen a huge portion of that enthusiasm.

Following the Eagles' NFC East clinching win over the Giants at home, the Eagles will not only raise a banner next fall at the Linc, but they'll also have a week to get Johnson and Sweat healthy thanks to their first round bye. And, the No. 1 seed they earned guarantees they play a lesser playoff opponent at home in two weeks.

And still, it feels like a half measure.

Losses to the Cowboys and Saints made the Eagles play their starters in Week 18, a 22-16 win that was just as ugly as the final score indicates. Philly was not able to pull their starters at all in this one. A lot of meat was left on the bone — and there was a very palpable "I can't believe we have to do this" vibe, going against Davis Webb at quarterback.

It took a game against the Giants backups (after New York clinched the NFC's 6-seed last week) for them to end their losing streak and finally seize control of their playoff fate. It's also worth mentioning than an embarrassing Cowboys likely loss to Washington would also have handed the Birds the division crown.

If you compare the Eagles subdued celebration on the field to the many Phillies celebrations across the street at Citizens Bank Park from two months ago, it just feels different.

That's mostly because the incredibly high level of play from Nick Sirianni's club had them front-running for most of the season. For 15 weeks, at least, they were the best team in the NFL and Super Bowl favorites. The Phillies came out of nowhere, from the last Wild Card spot — it was completely different. Eagles fans expect a trip to Phoenix in February.

Hurts' immense value (perhaps the league's most value?) to the Eagles was proven by their setbacks against New Orleans and Dallas — winnable games with a backup QB — but that doesn't take away the sting from limping to the finish line. 

By the time they take the field to play the Buccaneers, Cowboys, Giants or Packers on either January 21st or 22nd, the Eagles will have had just one winning performance in more than a month. The momentum seems to have gone the other way.

The big picture is what matters the most. The Eagles set a franchise record with 14 wins and are two more of them away from reaching their fourth ever Super Bowl. They'll be rested, will have extra time to prepare and will be playing in friendly confines.

Eagles fans should be elated. They should not hesitate to pour into the streets following the Eagles punctuation win in Week 18. Some adversity could do this team good. They have young talent and veterans who have won the Super Bow before. The ingredients are there, as is the past success.

It's hard to avoid having a case of the "sposdas."

The Eagles were supposed to clinch two weeks ago. Jalen Hurts was supposed to win NFL MVP. The Eagles were supposed to be the betting favorites for the Super Bowl. They were supposed to be even more well-rested and healthy. Week 18 was supposed to be a preseason game.

But the fact still is, this could be the best Eagles team of all time. Injuries and schedules be damned, a real Eagles fan knows this is time to get hyped and celebrate. 

Follow Evan on Twitter:@evan_macy

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