A few weeks ago, Philadelphia was salivating over the rising chances of the city’s first ever Super Bowl victory. The team’s defense had been playing excellently, and budding superstar quarterback Carson Wentz was leading a potent offensive attack to the highest points per game average in the NFL. It looked like all of the pieces were falling into place for the Eagles to enter the postseason with their best title chances in years.
But in week 14, disaster struck. Late in the Eagles’ matchup with the Los Angeles Rams, Wentz tore his ACL diving for a touchdown and will miss the remainder of the season. It brought back all-too-vivid memories of the Oakland Raiders’ tanked playoff chances last season, after losing starting quarterback Derek Carr to a broken leg in week 16.
While veteran backup quarterback Nick Foles won both games he played in full after Wentz’s injury, it’s not hard to see the differences in the Eagles’ offense without the talented sophomore at the helm. Foles is less mobile than Wentz and has struggled to extend plays when the pocket collapses on him. He doesn’t seem to be on the same page with Philadelphia’s talented receiving corps and has missed a number of easy passes over the past few weeks. In Foles’ most recent start against the Dallas Cowboys, in which he was subbed out early (the Eagles had already clinched the #1 seed in the NFC, so the game was meaningless), Foles went 4-11 for 39 yards and an interception in his limited work, far from a Super Bowl-caliber quarterback line.
With the loss of the team’s best player resulting in such a depleted offensive attack, it’s hard to envision the Eagles having ample success in this year’s postseason, but there are still reasons to be mildly optimistic of Philadelphia’s chances to get to the Super Bowl.
Bye week and home field advantage
Foles’ greatest accomplishment in his short time as starter was clinching the top seed in the NFC by beating the Giants and Raiders in weeks 15 and 16. Having a bye week is always useful, but it’s especially important in this scenario. Foles will now have an extra week to practice with the first team and will have more time to develop a repertoire with the Eagles’ offensive weapons, like tight end Zach Ertz and wide receivers Alshon Jeffrey, Nelson Agholor, and Torrey Smith.
The #1 overall seed in the NFC also gives the Eagles home games in every playoff round except for the Super Bowl. Philadelphia was undefeated at home through week 16, until its last game of the regular season versus the Cowboys, when the Eagles’ playoff fate was already decided and the team elected to rest many starters. The Bird Gang will be out in force for the Eagles’ postseason games and will provide a huge home field advantage, as the Philadelphia defense is giving up an average of just 14 points per game at home this season.
The Philly defense has been superb all season. It gave up the fourth lowest yards per game in the league, and the team’s defensive line has dominated, allowing only 80 rushing yards per game, the best rushing defense in the NFL. Rookie cornerback Sidney Jones made his season debut in the team’s last game of the season after missing the rest of the year with a torn achilles and will provide a welcomed boost to a sometimes inconsistent Philly secondary. If the defense can continue its success, it will take pressure off of Foles and provide him with better field position to work with.
Foles isn’t actually as bad as he has looked
It’s impossible to argue that Foles has looked like a quarterback talented enough to win the conference throughout the last three games. But that doesn’t mean Foles lacks the potential to be a serviceable playoff quarterback. In 2013, when he led the Eagles to the playoffs and won the Pro Bowl MVP, Foles threw for 2,800 yards, 27 touchdowns, and only two interceptions. He hasn’t reached a comparable level of success since, but there’s still hope that Foles can achieve production moderately close to his 2013 levels. The bye week will be key in allowing Foles the opportunity to get back into the groove of an NFL starting quarterback, but the question of whether he can have comparable success still remains.
Despite the lack of one star running back, the Eagles’ committee of LeGarrette Blount, Jay Ajayi, Corey Clement, Wendell Smallwood, and Kenjon Barner has been extremely successful running the football this year. As a team, the Eagles are averaging 132 rushing yards per game, the third best clip in the NFL. That average is partially buoyed by Wentz’s rushing ability, but regardless, the Eagles’ solid offensive line and capable running back corps can provide balance to an offense that may not want to rely too heavily on Foles’ arm.
The loss of Wentz is easily the biggest injury blow to the Eagles so far this season. But the team has overcome other key losses, and displayed an ability to adapt to unfortunate circumstances. Running back Darren Sproles tore his ACL in the third game of the year, and middle linebacker Jordan Hicks tore his achilles and left tackle Jason Peters tore his ACL in the seventh game of the year. None have played since. Cornerback Ronald Darby dislocated his ankle in week 1 and missed the first half of the season. Sproles was expected to be a key contributor to the offense, Peters was the Eagles’ best lineman at the most important offensive line position, Hicks was vital to the linebacking corps, and Darby was expected to be one of the team’s best secondary players entering the year. The team moved on from those injuries without a hitch. Obviously, losing Wentz is different, but there’s no reason to believe that other parts of the Eagles’ squad can’t pick it up to partially supplement the loss at quarterback.
The Eagles are no longer the favorite to win the NFC, and may not even be the favorite to win their first playoff game. While there are certainly a lot of reasons to be pessimistic about Philadelphia’s postseason chances, Eagles fans should still have hope. Anything can happen, and the Eagles are talented enough at other positions to maintain some kind of optimism heading into a Wentz-less playoffs.