January 01, 2019
As the calendar flips to 2019, the Philadelphia Eagles find themselves in a similar position to where they were a year ago this time: playing the role of underdogs.
The path that led back to this point is both familiar (Nick Foles is once again filling in for Carson Wentz) and different (they're the sixth seed rather than the top seed in the NFC) compared to the one that led them to the postseason, and eventually a Super Bowl, a year ago.
But just like in 2018, when the Birds played all of their games as underdogs despite having home-field advantage, Doug Pederson's team will once again be looking to upset their competition. After opening as 5.5-point dogs against the NFC North champion Chicago Bears, the line has grown to six points according to OddsShark.
Furthermore, the Eagles, who snuck into the playoffs in the final hours of the regular season, have the worst odds of winning the Super Bowl.
Updated odds to win Super Bowl LIII (@BovadaOfficial):— OddsShark (@OddsShark) December 31, 2018
And according to ESPN's Football Power Index, the Eagles have just a 0.5 percent chance of repeating as champions, while the Saints, their opponents should they knock off the Bears on Sunday, have a 30 percent chance of winning it all.
Last year, that didn't seem to matter, as Jason Kelce so happily reminded the world during the championship parade. I know ski masks are all the rage this season, but it might be time to dust off those dogs masks, Philly.
Here's a look at the latest edition of what they're saying about the Eagles as they head into the playoffs and continue their quest for a second straight title...
While he hardly invented the song below, Eagles center Jason Kelce took ownership of it for at least a day last February as the Birds' parade wound through the streets of Philadelphia.
[Warning: Contains NSFW language.]
And it might be appropriate for this year, too, based on what the national media is expecting from the Birds this postseason. Over at ESPN, they had a handful of experts rank the current playoff teams from 1 to 12.
Any guesses where the Eagles ranked?
Philadelphia Eagles coach Doug Pederson could have been speaking to all 12 NFL playoff teams Sunday night.
"Always get in the tournament -- always get in, and see what happens," Pederson told Eagles players after Philly clinched the NFC's sixth seed.
With postseason seeding set, six NFL coaches and evaluators ranked the field of playoff teams 1 through 12. I've molded their votes into a composite order and peppered the final ranking with their insights...
12) What could be better for the Eagles than sneaking into the playoffs with Nick Foles behind center (ribs permitting) and a bunch of league insiders ranking them last in the field? Earning a first-round bye with Carson Wentz would be much better, obviously. But, like Pederson was saying, just get into the tournament. The Eagles have done that, and now they’ll face another team known for its offensive trickery.
”You thought Halloween was in October, but this is trick or f---ing treat between Pederson and [Matt] Nagy,” a veteran evaluator said. “It’s two teams with quarterbacks who at times play at backup levels. Which misdirection screen, throwback pass or throw to the quarterback is going to be the difference?”
An evaluator thought the Eagles missed their 2017 offensive coordinator [Reich] and quarterbacks coach [John DeFilippo]. But the Eagles are 4-1 with Foles in the lineup this season. That includes a 30-23 road victory over the Rams and a 32-30 home victory over Houston in the past three weeks.
”Their running game is not what it was and the secondary is a little scary, but their defense is good and their front four can be dominant,” an evaluator said. [ESPN.com]
Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins, however, doesn't agree with the national pundits. He and the Birds have every intention of making some noise in the playoffs.
"We ain’t sneaking in, we’re kicking the m-----f------ door down," safety Malcolm Jenkins said as he gathered his teammates around him. "We’re in this party. Nobody wanted us in, but guess what, they’ve got to deal with us now, man.”
When Jenkins was done breaking down the team, the music was turned up to 11, and it came screaming out behind coach Doug Pederson as he opened the training-room door to greet his wife, Jeannie, with a kiss before heading back to the ruckus. His duties weren't through just yet.
"Once you get in, all bets are off," Jenkins said. "Obviously, the two times I've been part of a championship team, we've had a first-round bye. That helps when you've only got to win two games. But we've seen it all the time where guys fight and scrap to get in, end up in the wild card and somehow just fight their way through. For us, it's the long, hard way, but if you're saying it's a chance, then we'll be there." [espn.com]
As for the Bears, they're not too worried about the Eagles. In fact, they could've avoided facing the Birds by resting their starters in Week 17 and allowing the Vikings to beat them, which would've set up a rematch between the two NFC North foes this weekend.
Instead, they remained one of the hottest — if not the hottest — team in football, which includes the Birds. And they're ready to face the defending champs.
Oh, the Eagles are dangerous. They’re reigning Super Bowl champions, victorious in three straight games and four of their last five. Without a doubt, they’re playing by far their best football all season. Still, the idea this is suddenly the scariest team in the tournament is a little farfetched.
You know who definitely isn’t afraid of the Eagles? Sunday’s opponent, the Bears. You know who’s hotter than the Eagles right now? Also the Bears, owners of a 12-4 record and winners of nine of their last 10 games...
“I don’t care who it is,” Charles Leno Jr. told reporters Sunday. “We’ve been through so much already this season. We’ve been battle-tested. It doesn’t matter who comes to Soldier Field. We’re ready to play ’em. Just let us know what day it is and we’ll be there.” [nbcsports.com]
A few weeks ago, I tweeted the following...
Centuries from now, analysts will still be trying to figure out Nick Foles.— Matt Mullin (@matt_mullin) December 17, 2018
If he can pull off the improbable this time around — and lead the Eagles to their second title in as many years — scholars may never figure this thing out. But he can't do it again, right?
1. Is the Nick Foles magic real, and how far can it carry the Eagles?
Philadelphia’s charmed late-season existence continued on Sunday as the team’s 24-0 win over Washington, combined with the Bears’ victory against the Vikings, secured the defending champions the no. 6 seed in the NFC. Foles had to leave the game late because of a rib injury, but all indications are that he’ll be set to go against Chicago on Sunday afternoon. And for Eagles fans, that’s excellent news. ...
If the Eagles are going to knock off the Bears on the road as the weekend’s biggest underdog (the line opened at Bears minus-5.5), they’ll largely rely on the same stacked units—many of which are playing their best football of the season right now—that allowed Philadelphia to overcome its rash of injuries last year en route to the title. All-Pro tackles Jason Peters and Lane Johnson have both missed time with injuries this season, but each is back in the lineup and ready for the playoffs. Along with Jason Kelce (who’s enjoying another fantastic year as perhaps the league’s best center), Philly’s line is able to control games both on the ground and in pass protection—Washington’s front four was completely at their mercy on Sunday. The same goes for the other side of the ball. Defensive tackle Fletcher Cox was a force of nature in Week 17 (he tallied three sacks for a combined 20 yards lost), and even without injured defensive end Derek Barnett, the Eagles pass rush still has a deep, talented bench that can wreck games for opposing offenses.
Combine all that with Philadelphia’s top-notch coaching staff, and the Eagles get frightening in a hurry. Over the past few weeks, head coach Doug Pederson’s offensive staff has once again shown a remarkable ability to put Foles in advantageous spots. Last postseason, the Eagles relied heavily on play-action and RPOs to provide Foles with easy throws. Pederson has used plenty of play-action fakes this season, too, and he’s also mixing those throws with jet motion and other window dressing that’s made the Eagles passing game a pain to defend.
Looking at this weekend’s matchup against Chicago, the Eagles appear to be in a decent spot. Philly’s most significant weakness is its depleted and inexperienced secondary, and the Bears aren’t exactly built to torch teams down the field. But even against teams with more high-octane passing attacks, the Eagles’ formula makes them a factor in the NFC playoff race. There may be a shrine built to Foles in the Philly locker room, but it’s the surrounding elements of this Eagles team—many of the same ones that lifted them to a Super Bowl title a year ago—that could have them making noise in the playoffs yet again. [theringer.com]
So you're saying there's a chance?
Because if last year was any indication, that might be all the Eagles need...
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