Eagles can dream, as recent history shows

Eagles running back LeSean McCoy. (Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)
Eagles running back LeSean McCoy. (Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)
Posted: January 01, 2014

It is the impossible dream for Philadelphia sports fans and it is old enough to have an AARP card. The day that a sports announcer declares the Eagles have won the Super Bowl and ended the franchise's championship drought since 1960 is the day the city's joy-o-meter is sure to burst.

Now is the time to dream again, because this Eagles regular season was unlike any other in the franchise's history. Chip Kelly promised his offense would move fast when he arrived last January, but the speed-of-light transformation by the franchise overall wasn't on anyone's radar.

Kelly, despite a 3-5 start, turned a 4-12 team that was worse than its record indicated last season into a 10-6 team that won the NFC East title. If the Eagles fall to Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints in Saturday night's wild-card playoff game at Lincoln Financial Field, the season still will be considered a success.

The Eagles, of course, are not thinking that way - and they should not. The field of 32 teams that started the NFL season has been reduced to 12. The Eagles are among the most shocking invitees to commissioner Roger Goodell's postseason party, but recent history tells us that if you get in, you can win.

Baltimore started its Super Bowl run a year ago as a fourth-seeded team in the AFC that had lost four of its final five regular-season games. The New York Giants were a 9-7 fourth seed in the NFC and had gone 3-5 in the second half of the season before winning the Super Bowl two years ago. Green Bay was the bottom seed in the NFC when it won its most recent Super Bowl three years ago.

Less than eight hours after the Eagles were greeted by a small gathering of fans at the airport upon their 4:30 a.m. return, Kelly insisted at his Monday news conference that he knew little about the recent run of unlikely Super Bowl winners.

"I never really looked at it when I was in college," the coach said. "I mean, we watched the games if we had time if we were not having recruiting weekends and things like that, but I never really studied it."

When the coach later was asked what the Saints' 3-5 road record this season meant, he unknowingly acknowledged that he paid a little closer attention to the NFL playoffs than he'd like to admit during his college coaching days.

"Tampa Bay didn't win a game in cold weather until they came in here and did it [in the NFC championship game in January 2003], so we are not going to get really caught up in that one," Kelly said.

The 13-3 Seattle Seahawks look daunting as these playoffs begin, especially in the ear-splitting confines of CenturyLink Field where they have gone 15-1 the last two seasons. But the last time the team with the best record in the NFL won the Super Bowl was after the 2003 season, when New England beat Carolina.

Another thing to remember is that by playing the regulars and routing the Chicago Bears in Week 16, the Eagles secured the third seed in the NFC and made sure that their earliest date with the Seahawks would be in the NFC championship game.

If the Eagles beat the Saints, either the Packers, who are 6-2 in games started and finished by quarterback Aaron Rodgers, or the San Francisco 49ers, who are considered to be the second-best team in the NFC, will go to Seattle in the second round. If one of those teams upsets the Seahawks and the Eagles win in Carolina, the NFC championship game would be back at the Linc for the first time since 2005.

Kelly, of course, feels exactly the way you would want your head coach to feel about such speculation. He is ankle-deep in Saints video and knows he would be a fool to look beyond Saturday night.

"Yeah, the challenge is Drew Brees," the coach said. "I mean, he's just so talented and has such a great command of what they are doing. You've got five guys in a progression and he can go from one to five like that."

Kelly snapped his fingers for effect.

"He understands coverage and he understands how you're playing them, and he's very, very difficult to fool," Kelly said. "It's like the matchup when you're playing Peyton Manning. . . . You just can't home in and say, 'Hey, we take away this one guy, we are going to be in pretty good shape.' You have a guy there that makes all five weapons available to them, so I think that's going to be a huge challenge."

That's the reality Kelly and the Eagles are living in. Dream about the Super Bowl and Saturday's game will become a nightmare.

The fans, meanwhile, can dream the impossible dream again.


bbrookover@phillynews.com

@brookob

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