Phil Sheridan: A strange season, and stranger possibilities

Their work is done for the day: DeSean Jackson (left) and Michael Vick bundle up on the bench and watch the game play out in the fourth quarter of the Eagles' 45-19 romp.
Their work is done for the day: DeSean Jackson (left) and Michael Vick bundle up on the bench and watch the game play out in the fourth quarter of the Eagles' 45-19 romp. (RON CORTES / Staff Photographer)
Posted: December 19, 2011

There are two things we can take from a very strange weekend in the NFL.

At 6-8, the Eagles remain a long shot to sneak into the playoffs, and deservedly so.

More surprising, though, is this: If they do somehow get in, the Eagles would be the NFC East team with the best chance to win a playoff game or two. They are, at this moment, a more complete and more dangerous team than first-place Dallas and the inscrutable Giants. If that sounds incredible after months of watching the Eagles blow leads and lose games they should have won, that's because it is.

"You think back on the season, you get frustrated, because there were a lot of games we should have won," quarterback Michael Vick said. "And we didn't win, whether it was because of turnovers or lack of performance on offense in certain areas."

It is impossible to get your bearings in the NFL right now. Lewis and Clark, with a GPS and a Google Earth app, would get lost in Roger Goodell's forest. Sunday's mind-warping results proved it. Whether it's because of the lockout or rule changes that favor unfettered offense or some combination of factors, there is just no getting a handle on this league this year.

The Eagles are alive in the NFC East race but dead in the wild-card chase. Their modest two-game winning streak shouldn't be enough to overcome their horrendous start and their choke jobs in immensely winnable games against Arizona and Seattle. But because there just aren't any other good teams in their division, the Eagles are alive.

They still need help. Something about the Giants beating the Cowboys and Jupiter aligning with Mars.

"I have no idea about all of that," coach Andy Reid said. "I just know we've got another one this next week. Derek [Boyko, director of media relations] will fill me in on all the scenarios, but I'm not all that big on them."

Washington's upset of the Giants bulked up the Eagles' slim chance to win the division. They will have to beat the Cowboys on Christmas Eve and Washington here on New Year's Day. Plus, they need the Giants to beat Dallas on the final day of the season.

Impossible? Not really. The Eagles have already beaten both of those division rivals, and the Giants just finished beating the Cowboys. So it is possible.

"Regardless of what happens with them," Vick said, "we still have to take care of our business. If we go out and lose the game, it doesn't really matter. It's irrelevant. It doesn't matter what happens with the Giants. It's all about us. We're not going to make the playoffs based on what other teams do. We still have to go out and win."

That's partly true. The Eagles have to win two games to have a chance. The Jets and Giants and Cowboys can't get them into the playoffs. But they can knock the Eagles out. The Eagles gave them that power by blowing games to Buffalo, Arizona, Chicago, Atlanta and Seattle.

The problem with all of this talk is that it's just that. Talk. Empty talk. Because it is just about impossible to get a handle on any team, least of all the Eagles.

There are maybe five or six quality teams in the NFL this season. Green Bay certainly is, although the Packers' quest to go undefeated came to an end in Kansas City, of all places. New England and New Orleans qualify. Baltimore, Pittsburgh and San Francisco appear to be in the mix.

Otherwise, it's a weekly coin flip whether any given team will be excellent or excrement when it takes the field. That coin has landed about evenly for the Eagles this year. It came up excellence on Sunday, as they played arguably their best all-around game to crush a Jets team that needed this game badly for its own playoff chances.

But how will the coin land for the Eagles in Dallas Saturday? For the Cowboys? Will they be the teams that played at the Linc on Oct. 30? The Eagles shredded Dallas that night. Will they face the Washington team that has stumbled all over itself the last two years, or the one that ran roughshod over the Giants in a game New York had to have?

In a league of wildly inconsistent teams, the Eagles are the wildest and most inconsistent. They have enough talent to give any coach they face a bad case of night sweats. But they have found remarkable ways to lose games this year, often to seemingly inferior teams.

If the coin lands their way, the Eagles are capable of winning a first-round game, then giving the Packers or Saints a real test. They probably won't get a chance, and they have no one to blame but themselves.


Contact Phil Sheridan at 215-854-2844, psheridan@phillynews.com, or @Sheridanscribe on Twitter. Read his blog, "Philabuster," at http://go.philly.com/philabuster. Read his columns at www.philly.com/philsheridan

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