Show of hands, who thought when the 2017 NFL season started that after 10 games the Eagles would have nine wins and be the best team in the NFC?
Who thought, after crushing Dallas 37-9 Sunday night, the Eagles would be four games up on the NFC East through 10 games, with a chance to clinch the division next weekend?
Okay, for those of you still raising your hands (liars and homers, all of you)…who thought when the season started that on November 20 the Eagles would have fewer losses than Penn State?
This Eagles season is wholly unexpected, and even if you read the NFL tea leaves back in preseason camp and thought the Birds would be better — pat on the back for the time we said LeGarrette Blount could be the missing piece for a Super Bowl contender — nobody saw 9-1 coming. Not for a team that only won seven games all of last season.
Nobody saw, even a few weeks ago, a 37-9 annihilation of the Cowboys coming, on the road. Heck, at halftime Sunday night the Eagles were losing 9-7 and had lost their kicker for the rest of the game. Even then it was hard to imagine Dallas ending the game with Cooper Rush taking snaps under center.
In a game where Carson Wentz was great, then bad, then great again, the Eagles’ second-year quarterback outdueled his counterpart Dak Prescott, passing for 168 yards and two touchdowns, upping his season total to 25. Wentz completed just 14 of his 27 throws, but it proved enough, as the Birds’ running-back-by-committee torched the Dallas defense to the tune of 215 yards and two scores.
The Eagles defense intercepted Prescott three times — the first three pick game of his career — sacked him four times and held the Dallas rushing attack, without Ezekiel Elliott, to 112 yards. Dallas didn’t score a touchdown the entire game.
In a season full of great games, Sunday night was the greatest. But at nine wins in 10 tries, the Eagles aren’t settling for big wins in Big D. They’ve got bigger plans for this season. And history is on their side.
The history of 9-1
This is where history comes into play: The Eagles have started the season 9-1 five times in franchise history.
In 1949, the Birds finished 11-1 and won the NFL Championship. In 1960, the Eagles finished 10-2 and won the NFL Championship. In 1980, the Eagles started 9-1 and finished the regular season at just 12-4, but still made the Super Bowl, losing to the Raiders 27-10.
In 2004, the Eagles started 9-1 before ending the season 13-3 when Andy Reid took his foot off the gas pedal. It proved prudent that year, as the Birds finally got to the Super Bowl after losing in the conference title game three-straight years, losing that year’s NFL championship game 24-21 to the New England Patriots. Barf.
Per the NFL’s director of football communications, entering this season there have been 50 teams that started the season 9-1 in the Super Bowl era, and all 50 have made the playoffs. Nearly half of those 50 have made the Super Bowl (23), while 11 have won the Super Bowl.
That stat proves how different the playoffs can be, something Eagles fans know all too well. The regular season doesn’t mean anything once the playoffs start other than which teams get to play at home. The Eagles have won 12 or more games four times since 1980, and three times since 2002, and made the Super Bowl twice, losing both times.
The Eagles have won the NFC East seven times since 2001 and have zero championships.
The rest of the 2017 season
The bug on the Eagles early in the year was that they hadn’t played anybody. Outside of a win at Carolina, it’s still true. Of the eight teams the Eagles have played — they beat Washington twice — only the 7-3 Panthers have a winning record. Take out the two losses to the Eagles and Washington would be .500 on the year, while Dallas went into Sunday’s game at 5-4.
So, really, the Eagles haven’t played many tough teams in 10 weeks, and even with upcoming games against the Seahawks and Rams, the rest of the schedule opens up down the stretch. Chicago is 3-7, the Giants, even after they beat the Chiefs Sunday, are just 2-8, the Raiders are a woeful 4-6 and Dallas is about to fall off a cliff.
The Eagles are the best team in the NFC and they haven’t really been tested much. How they play on the road in December will say a lot about this team, and if they’ll have to go on the road at all in the playoffs. Minnesota and New Orleans are still keeping pace with the Eagles, waiting for a few losses to push the Birds out of home field and a bye.
Oh, and here’s a stat the Eagles should keep in the back of their minds: Seven times since 2004 an NFL team has finished the regular season at 14-2 or better. Only one, last year’s 14-2 Patriots, won the Super Bowl. The last five teams to win 15 or more games in the regular season didn’t win the Super Bowl.
Maybe another loss wouldn’t be so bad. As long as it’s before the playoffs.