Let me take you back to December 1, 2011.
Coming off a surprise NFC East championship in 2010, the Eagles were experiencing a surprise awful season in 2011 after adding several players who many thought would put them over the top. The loss in Seattle felt like the final nail in the coffin, and it seemed like all the Eagles had to look forward to was a juicy top-5 pick in the 2012 draft.
But after beating the Miami Dolphins and the New York Jets, the Eagles were 6-8. As NFC East teams were collapsing around them, the Eagles all of a sudden had life. Despite a rotten season to that point, a convoluted scenario unfolded where the Eagles could back into another division championship by winning their remaining games and getting some help from other teams.
One of those teams was the Jets, who needed to beat the Giants. Unfortunately, Mark Sanchez played like Mark Sanchez and the Jets promptly lost, eliminating the Eagles from the playoffs. The Eagles, still 6-8 when they found out they were eliminated by the earlier game, went on to win their final two games impressively to finish 8-8.
Having said all that, this was not a playoff team. It lost to inferior opponents. Michael Vick was average and injury-prone after signing a mega-deal days before the opening game. Its secondary, which was advertised as the best in football on paper, turned out to be one of worst in football on grass, allowing memorably egregious big scoring plays to Victor Cruz and Larry Fitzgerald.
Yes, the final tally showed the Eagles were a top-10 team in points scored and points allowed in 2011, but these totals were undoubtedly skewed by the last four games. In those games, the team scored 31.3 points per game while allowing 11.5 points, whereas in the first 12 games it scored 22.6 and surrendered 23.5 points per game, a truer measure of its ability.
The worst and most annoying aspect of this team was that it was incapable of holding a lead. It had no fewer than than five blown fourth-quarter leads and was an embarrassing 2-5 in games decided by seven or fewer points. The Eagles had a fourth-quarter lead in all seven of those games.
So, yes, the Eagles were mathematically still alive until the clock hit zero on the Giants-Jets game in Week 15. But realistically, they had way too many problems to compete in 2011.
However, that season-ending, four-game winning streak was supposed to build momentum going into next season. That streak convinced us the 8-8 finish was an aberration and that the true version of the team emerged at the end of the season.
And even though Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie called the streak "fool's gold," he proceeded to contradict himself and say that there would be no changes made to the team since the streak proved it could win.
But the holes in this team that were present in 2011 turned into huge, smoking craters in 2012. Because of a 4-12 nosedive, Andy Reid, the longtime head coach of the franchise, was relieved of his duties, but not until after the defensive coordinator, defensive line coach and leading sack-getter from the 2011 Eagles defense lost their jobs first.
As a result, the Eagles are now in full-blown rebuilding mode, and a two- to three-year hiatus from the playoffs looks to be looming.
I will go out on a limb and say that the 2012 mess the Eagles went through was directly because of the winning streak of 2011.
Let's for a second rethink history and mull how things would have gone had the Eagles lost instead of won their last four 2011 games and finished 4-12 instead of 8-8.
To start off, I think Reid would still have been kept as head coach for 2012. Much like what did happen, he would be put on a leash...improve or you're out.
Vick would have been gone. There would have been no reason to bring him back. The Eagles would have gladly eaten the 2012 portion of his contract.
Castillo would have been dismissed in a professional manner and allowed to seek a proper job in 2012, instead of classlessly fired mid-season, which wasted a year of his career. On the other side of that coin, the Eagles would've gotten to fix the Castillo error in the offseason by hiring a proper defensive coordinator, instead of handing the reins to an even less qualified Todd Bowles.
And, most importantly, with the 4th overall pick in the 2012 draft, they would have been in a perfect position to do what the Redskins did and trade up for RGIII. Reid could have had his next franchise QB, and the Eagles would have gone into the season with young talent at the position instead of a 32-year-old has-been.
Under these scenarios...
Could the Eagles have gone 10-6 this year? Possibly.
Would they have been better than 4-12 this year? I'm almost positive.
Would their outlook for the future be better than it is now? A resounding YES.
The Eagles are looking into the abyss of an uncertain future. A new head coach is always a gamble. With no blue-chip QBs in the 2013 draft and Nick Foles still unproven, nobody knows how long it will be until we have a competent signal-caller. With so many needs on this roster, nobody knows what to do with that precious fourth overall pick in the draft.
Perhaps as we look back on Reid's era as Eagles head coach, it will not be the miserable 2012 season we recall as the worst part of his tenure. Perhaps it will be the winning of four meaningless games that set us up for an unknown number of meaningless seasons.