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December 30, 2018

Eagles somehow make playoffs despite seemingly insurmountable setbacks

Eagles NFL
1230_Darren_Sproles_USAT Geoff Burke/USA Today Sports

Darren Sproles' Eagles career isn't over yet.

In hindsight, there should never have been any doubt.

A perfect storm cracked the door open for the once 4-6 Eagles to slide into the playoffs. They will continue their Super Bowl title defense with a date in Chicago against the Bears next weekend — the team that ironically gave them the chance to continue on this season by beating the Vikings. A very impressive 24-0 win over the Redskins along with a Chicago win over Minnesota has the Eagles in the mix as a very dangerous No. 6 seed in the NFC.

Minnesota's QB Kirk Cousins is terrible against good teams, and in big games, and with the Eagles playing their best football of the season since Foles returned — they are 3-0 since their Week 15 loss to Dallas — of course the Eagles make the postseason this way. (Don't forget, we told you before the season that the Eagles own the Vikings' souls.)

The "Super Bowl hangover" seems to have been kicked, but it was far from impressive. Against almost all odds, the Eagles made the playoffs despite the following five setbacks that nearly derailed everything:

Injuries

The following players ended the regular season on the Eagles IR: Derek Barnett, Jalen Mills, Ronald Darby, Jay Ajayi, Rodney McLeod, Corey Clement, Mack Hollins, Chris Maragos, Josh Perkins and Jordan Mailata. And that's not including two players, Richard Rodgers and Mike Wallace, who had IR stints.

The Eagles also, obviously, lost Carson Wentz again to injury, this one to his back, after he started the season in Week 3 after getting ACL surgery last winter. He didn't have a full offseason and clearly was not healthy all year. He played incredibly well those things considered: a 102.2 QB rating and 21-to-7 touchdown to interception ratio.

Players like Jason Peters, Jason Kelce, Jordan Hicks, Sidney Jones, Isaac Seumalo, Darren Sproles, Michael Bennett and others have been banged up and missed some time this season.

Yes, I am aware the Birds overcame some injuries last season and won the Super Bowl, but there is only so much one team can take. The fact that they were even in it until the very end — let alone made the freaking playoffs — is remarkable considering what their secondary looked like for stretches mid-season — with practice squad players like Cre'Von LeBlanc and Tre Sullivan manning cornerback and safety for the team.

The Titans game

In Week 5, at 2-2 with Carson Wentz back healthy, the Eagles trekked to Nashville for what was expected to be one of the team's easier wins. What ensued was the first of the team's blown double-digit leads this year and an overtime loss — one that haunts the team as it plans to watch the playoffs from home.

The defense allowed three fourth down conversions in Tennesee's final drive in regulation. Here's what Jimmy Kempski had to say when he recapped the game with his "10 awards":

It's been a long time since the Eagles just gave a way a game they had in hand, but that's exactly what they did on Sunday. There were multiple times throughout the game in which ESPN's "win probability" tracker gave the Eagles a better than 90 percent chance of winning. They were up over 93 percent after the Eagles went up by 14 points in the second half, and they were up over 92 percent when it was 20-20 in overtime and they were driving, potentially for a touchdown-scoring win.

The Panthers game

The Eagles led Carolina — a team that lost seven straight games this season to finish 7-9 — by three scores in the fourth quarter, 17-0 before, well Cam Newton went bonkers back in Week 8. Jimmy Kempski again:

For the second time this season, the Eagles had a greater than 90 percent chance (per ESPN's win probability graphs) of winning a football game, and they absolutely just gave it away. Against the Panthers, the Eagles the Eagles again allowed a fourth and long (this time a 4th and 10) that extended a drive, eventually resulting in a go-ahead touchdown.

Their running game

Last season, with LeGarrette Blount and Jay Ajayi splitting RB1 duties, the Eagles were third in the NFL in rushing with 2,115 yards. This year, they ran for just 1,441X, int he bottom 10 in all of football.

Sproles, Clement and Ajayi found themselves with serious injuries while undrafted free agent Josh Adams became the Eagles' top running back, splitting most of the carries with Wendell Smallwood the the middle of this season. No one has really emerged as a reliable option in the ground all season:

The Eagles attempted nearly 100 less run plays this season than last season. That is due in large part to them being ahead a whole lot more in 2017 than in 2018 — which is telling in and of itself.

The (second) Cowboys game

This one wasn't as winnable as the two aforementioned blown leads but it was in the Eagles' grasp as they were able to fight their way into an overtime battle that would have likely set them up for a sure NFC East crown (paired of course with the wins they had over the Rams and Texans).

Here's how our Eagles maven Jimmy remembered the game:

The Eagles have started slowly all season long, and Sunday was no different, as they were shut out in the first half. In the first two quarters, the Eagles had 70 yards, four first downs, a turnover, and they possessed the ball for a measly eight minutes and 46 seconds. Earlier in the week, Kamu Grugier-Hill called the Cowboys chokers, and while he wasn't wrong, it was the Eagles' offense that choked with the playoffs on the line.

If it had gone the other way, one can only guess what the seven-month plus offseason would have been like for talk radio listeners and Eagles fans alike as the playoffs commenced without the defending champs.

It almost feels like, even if they are one-and-done, this season will not have been played in vain, which is a nice feeling. And with Nick Foles and a confident defense in toe, anything can happen in the new year.


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