There just might be hope for the Eagles

Eagles QB Michael Vick has yet to show the kind of surge that can sustain playoff runs.
Eagles QB Michael Vick has yet to show the kind of surge that can sustain playoff runs. (SARAH J. GLOVER / Staff Photographer)
Posted: February 05, 2012

And now, something different: reasons for Eagles fans to hope.

As Philadelphians grind their molars and prepare to watch the Giants and Patriots play for their fourth Lombardi Trophies, it's tempting to point to the differences between the two finalists and the 8-8 Eagles.

There are the coaching track records - each Super Bowl head coach already has a title - and the Giants' superiority in the draft. There is the Giants' talent for surging in the postseason, as opposed to the Eagles' history of spurning opportunity. There is "The Patriot Way," with a smugness that sounds like the "Gold Standard," only with better results. And there is Tom Brady, whom everyone outside New Orleans and Green Bay should envy.

But as a certified member of the Philadelphia sports media, I'm going to try to spread cheer, hope, and sunshine. So here goes: Behind the Patriots' and Giants' recent triumphs are reminders that success is not the only thing that quickly comes and goes in the NFL. Failure can be fleeting, too.

In the three seasons between the last Giants-Patriots Super Bowl and this season's rematch, the two teams combined for zero playoff victories. (The Giants reached the postseason once, losing to the Eagles, and missed twice; the Patriots missed once and twice lost in their first postseason game, both times at home.)

The Eagles and Andy Reid have justifiably come under criticism for a three-year drought with no playoff wins, but the Giants and Patriots show that playoff struggles are not limited to bottom-dwellers.

The Packers went 6-10 in 2008 and lost in the first round of the 2009 postseason before winning it all after the 2010 season. The Saints were 8-8 in 2008 and finished last in the NFC South before winning their first championship the next season.

Things change fast in the NFL. Eli Manning led the league in interceptions last season. One year later, his excellent playoff run has given him a shot at a second title.

Does that mean that the Eagles are poised for a Super Bowl turnaround?

There's plenty of reason to doubt (and, just so they don't kick me out of the Philly press club, I tend to side with the doubters). There are still concerns about whether the defense can stop elite NFC offenses, and we've yet to see Michael Vick turn on the kind of four-game playoff surge that has allowed Manning to overcome his own occasional dips. Most worrying is the Eagles trend of diminishing win totals and postseason flops. (Just because the Giants missed the playoffs last year doesn't mean it's an advisable path to a championship.)

But then again, if you asked most people just two months ago if the Giants had a shot at the Super Bowl, they'd have said no. As recently as December some Las Vegas books had the Giants listed as 100-1 to win the title. Consider how much has changed in the short time since.

Yes, many bad teams simply continue to be bad (see Cleveland, Buffalo). But the Eagles, despite this season's disappointment, don't appear to be in that moribund class.

They have an offense with talent at every position group. Their defense can cause havoc with their front four, an essential element in the pass-first league.

Does that mean the Eagles escape the 8-8 pool of mediocrity? No one knows. Every season a once-proud team slips into the league's bottom tier. But each year also includes at least one surprise team that vaults into contention.

Which is why the NFL has the power to draw the millions who will watch on Sunday and continue talking football long after. Even though there will be seven months before another NFL game, fans and the media will fill those long days with chatter about drafts and free agency and practices and possibility. That possibility is the allure of sports in general and the NFL in particular, and, if you're an Eagles fan looking for reason to hope, that is one.

Along, of course, with your always cheerful local media.


Not Far From Super

While Eagles fans would certainly prefer that their team was in the Super Bowl, it's not difficult to see a path for the Birds to next year's big game. Based on recent NFL history, here are a few factors that could create optimism:

NFC EAST

If the Eagles had won any of those games they blew in the fourth quarter, they could have finished 9-7, like the Giants, and won the division because of tie-breakers.

PLAYOFF PATH

Here are the records and seeds of the last five NFC champions:

2011   Giants    9-7   No. 4 seed

2010   Packers   10-6   No. 6 seed

2009   Saints   13-3   No. 1 seed

2008   Cardinals    9-7   No. 4 seed

2007   Giants   10-6   No. 6 seed

Conclusion: The difference between playoff teams, regardless of regular-season standing, is often so slight that any team that just reaches the postseason has a legitimate chance to reach the Super Bowl. In the Eagles' 2008 run to the NFC championship game at Arizona, the Birds were 9-6-1 and the No. 6 seed.

DRAFT

Would the Giants have won the NFC East or earned a Super Bowl berth without Jason Pierre-Paul? He was the 15th pick in the 2010 draft. The Eagles' pick this year? 15th . . . and they could get their difference-maker.

- Gary Potosky


Contact staff writer Jonathan Tamari at 215-854-5214, jtamari@phillynews.com or @JonathanTamari on Twitter.

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