Bob Ford: You better, you bet: Eagles still have a shot

Sheldon Brown and Macho Harris celebrate the interception that sealed last Sunday's 24-20 victory over the Bears.
Sheldon Brown and Macho Harris celebrate the interception that sealed last Sunday's 24-20 victory over the Bears.
Posted: November 29, 2009

The NFL revealed the identity of the musical halftime performers for the Super Bowl last week, and, in about two months, it will also reveal the identities of the teams that will play the game.

In both cases, fans not paying attention might be tempted to ask, "the Who?"

The game will wrap itself around a mini-show by the surviving veterans from one of the most venerable English Rock League franchises. Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend, along with whatever members of the practice squad are activated, will get 12 or 13 minutes to encapsulate 45 years of recording history. The early line isn't out yet, but the bet here is that it will be pretty good.

As for the participants in the game itself, they get 60 minutes of playing time to memorialize a season that has lasted the six months since training camp. Without a reliable set list, there's no way to know if the game will be as entertaining as the halftime band, or even as entertaining as the various talking dogs and flatulence jokes employed annually to trick the nation into buying beer and auto insurance. Some years, as local fans know, are better than others.

Although it hasn't seemed likely most of this season, and although there are several good arguments against the premise, there is no real reason the NFC representative in this season's Super Bowl can't be the Eagles.

The who?

Yeah, the Eagles.

This is less a declaration of confidence in the Eagles themselves as a lack of confidence in the rest of the conference. With the possible exception of New Orleans - which tried its damnedest to lose in St. Louis two weeks ago - there isn't much out there to prevent them from taking another run at it. There is only the one team that actually stands in their way.

The who?

That's right. The Eagles.

Today's game against Washington might actually be a litmus test for their whole season. If last week's game in Chicago was a "must win," according to Donovan McNabb, and "our Super Bowl," in the words of Quintin Mikell, this game against the Redskins is just as important and just as treacherous, even though it hasn't generated the same hyperbolic fuss.

Win today and the Eagles are 7-4, set up for a late-season push that should at least win them one of the two wild-card berths in the conference, if not the East division outright.

Once in the playoffs, well, it's a dice game. The Eagles are a better team in many ways than a year ago, when they came within one more defensive stop or one more offensive drive of making the Super Bowl. If that could happen, so could this.

Looking at their rivals for a wild card, Green Bay has already reached 7-4 by virtue of its Thanksgiving romp over Detroit. The Packers have a more difficult end of the schedule, however, with road games against Chicago, Pittsburgh and Arizona, and home games against Baltimore and Seattle.

The Atlanta Falcons (5-5) have three layups on the schedule - two against Tampa Bay, one against Buffalo - and one semi-layup against the Jets but also have to play the Saints and Eagles.

The faltering Giants (6-5) still have games against Dallas, Minnesota and the Eagles. And as for those division-leading Cowboys, they have San Diego and New Orleans to contend with and what could become an end-of-the-season showdown with the Eagles.

That's a lot of permutations to sort through, but the conclusion is that the Eagles are sitting as well as any of those others. Before the Dallas game Jan. 3, they have games against the Falcons, Giants, 49ers and Broncos, none of which look as difficult as they did a month ago.

But none of it matters if they aren't able to hoist themselves past the Redskins today.

If they aren't good enough to beat Washington, they don't have the mental toughness to get through the rest of the schedule without another tumble. Every team gets one mulligan, and the Eagles used theirs against Oakland.

History tells us today's game will be low-scoring and ugly. The Eagles managed to lose twice to the Redskins last season and didn't really outplay them in the earlier meeting this year. That game was marred by the first concussion suffered by Brian Westbrook, but it was also another example of the offense's struggles against Washington.

The Eagles scored touchdowns on two big plays to DeSean Jackson and another on an interception by Will Witherspoon. Without those exceptions, the Redskins were arguably the better team. Not by much, and not in any lasting way, but it could have as easily been a Washington win.

The Redskins are good on defense. They don't score much - more than 17 points only once this season - but the Eagles are capable of playing down to that level.

A team that is getting itself together for a late run shouldn't do that, however. The Eagles say they are that kind of team, even though we've been fooled by such claims before.

Lose this one, though, and it won't matter. They will be sitting home watching the Super Bowl halftime show along with the rest of us. Won't get fooled again.


Contact columnist Bob Ford at 215-854-5842 or bford@phillynews.com. Read his blog at http://philly.com/postpatterns.

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