Underdogs again. Phew.
In the moments after the Minnesota Vikings beat the New Orleans Saints on one of the most miraculous finishes in NFL playoff history, the first thing many Eagles fans did was check the opening line in Las Vegas.
Being underdogs feels right in Philly. We know nothing else. We’re the city nobody likes. The one that never wins. The little engine that could, but won’t. The city everyone laughs at when we think we can, but never do.
Not counting the Soul — the fact I even feel compelled to mention them proves my point — the five Philadelphia pro teams have won a total of zero championships since the Phillies won the World Series in the fall of 2008. The last title before that was when the Sixers won the NBA Championship in 1983 and the last before that was 1980. That’s one title in a decade, two in 35 years and three in the last four decades.
We relish the underdog role in Philly because we have to. Without it, we’d barely have an identity at all.
The Eagles, as a team, have relished the underdog role since the minute Carson Wentz went down for the season. An underdog in the NFL playoffs is something a team that finishes 13-3 in the regular season with home field advantage rarely gets to the chance be. Before toppling Atlanta in the divisional playoff round, several Eagles, most notably Fletcher Cox and Lane Johnson, said they were eager to shut up the doubters who gave up on them. As I wrote last week, winning in the playoffs should be motivation enough. The Eagles shouldn’t care that “nobody” thought they would win. They were three games away from their lifelong dream — something no Eagles team has ever done — so why is any extra motivation necessary?
Chris Long echoed those thoughts, telling reporters, “What would it sound like if I stood here and was like, ‘Man I wasn’t that motivated for this playoff game, but I just found out we’re underdogs and nobody picked us on ESPN, so now I’m more motivated?’ I mean, It’s just not the way we think.”
It’s totally the way they think.
Embracing their inner (under)dog
Long was one of the players wearing an underdog mask after the Eagles beat the Falcons, relishing not just the playoff victory but the ability to prove those who doubted them wrong. Maybe Long was just having fun after the game, but sure as hell Johnson wore that mask to prove a point. If you listen to head coach Doug Pederson speaking after the game, this whole underdog thing hit the team hard.
All credit to the plays and coaches, because they did shut us up and prove us wrong, beating the No. 6 seed at home on a last-second defensive stop in the end zone. The underdog Eagles won, out came the masks, and the entire city is back on the bandwagon.
After Johnson pulled the now famous dog costume out during the postgame celebration on the field at the Linc Sunday, the item was sold out on Amazon almost immediately. Those, uh, lucky enough to buy one before they were gone, or those grabbing similar versions at local costume shops this week, will be allowed to wear them to the game this Sunday, per Eagles security.
(More like Philadelphia Beagles, eh? EH?)
Those who couldn’t get a mask — or thought spending $35 on something they’ll wear one time was a little
ruff rough — have the opportunity to purchase several different underdog t-shirts this week, thanks to Johnson’s viral stunt.
That was one of the first shirts to drop. Johnson himself has a shirt he’s promoting, with a photo of him and Chris Long wearing masks and the words HOME DOGS GONNA EAT on it. (Check out our post on the shirts here.)
It’s not a great shirt, really, but it’s cheaper than the others, you can buy one at Chickie’s and Pete’s this Thursday and proceeds go to The Fund for the School District of Philadelphia, so some actual local good can come out of all this dog talk.
In most sportsbooks in Vegas, the Vikings immediately opened as favorites in this Sunday’s NFC championship game. The line that opened at Minnesota -3.5 — for those unfamiliar with betting terminology that means the Vikings were initially favored by three-and-a-half points, so if a bet is placed on the Eagles and they lose, say, 17-14, the bet is a winner even though the team is a loser.
Underdogs in Vegas get additional points on wagers, so the Eagles being an underdog two straight weeks in the NFL playoffs isn’t merely a media-driven storyline or a “nobody believed in us” mentality. There’s an actual, tangible benefit…for gamblers.
Presently, most oddsmakers have moved the line to -3, which means more money has come in over the last two days picking the Eagles. If “nobody” believes the Eagles will win, enough people think they’ll lose by three points or less that the line already moved by half a point. A line only shifts when oddsmakers deem too much of the money is being bet in favor of one team. If Eagles -3.5 was getting significantly more action than Vikings +3.5, a sportsbook will move the line, in hopes of getting a more even distribution of money across the board.
The Eagles feel they’ve been disrespected since Wentz went down, reminding doubters they finished the season with the league’s best record, third-highest scoring offense and fourth-best scoring defense. The Eagles had the best run defense in football this year by nearly five yards per game.
The second-best team against the run? Minnesota.
The Vikings and Eagles are eerily similar this season. They both have great defenses, award-worthy coaches, and offenses run by back-up quarterbacks, who both used to be teammates with the Rams. Minnesota has been using Case Keenum under center for most of the season, while the Eagles have gone with Nick Foles for just a few weeks. But the Vikings, like the Eagles, had a top-10 offense and the best scoring defense in football, giving up just 15.8 points per game.
The difference between the Vikings and Eagles on defense, however, is balance. The Eagles ranked 17th in passing yards allowed per game, in part because teams had to throw so much against them all season, but also because despite significant upgrades in the secondary, that unit was still the one notable weakness at times during the regular season.
The Vikings have no such weakness.
Minnesota was first in the NFL in yards allowed and second in both rushing and passing yards allowed.
In the playoffs last weekend they ran up more yards and nearly twice as many points against a better defense than the Eagles faced. They did give up 14 points more to the Saints than the Eagles allowed the Falcons, allowing 5.3 yards per play last weekend to the Eagles’ 4.8, but the game in Minnesota was indoors as compared to the elements at the Linc, and the Saints offense was miles better than the Falcons this year.
So even though the game is here and the fans will be barking up a storm, without Wentz, the Vikings are, on paper, the better team. That’s why they’re favored. It’s not about disrespecting the Eagles, it’s about watching hours and hours of film and knowing that one decent half by Nick Foles does not a Super Bowl offense make, and as good as the Eagles defense has been, the Vikings defense is just as good.
As for chances to win the Super Bowl, the Eagles do have better odds than the Jaguars at 7-to-1 compared to 8-to-1. The Vikings are 7-to-4 to win it all — the Super Bowl is in Minnesota this year — while the Patriots are listed currently at 11-to-10, which is about as close as a 1-to-1 shot as you can get.
Would Doug Pederson prefer Wentz be healthy and his team be favored to get to the Super Bowl this weekend? Of course, but we are where we are, which given the circumstances of the season, seems right where the Eagles want to be.