On Sunday, the Philadelphia Eagles officially became the team to beat in the NFC East.
Chip Kelly's squad had already been playing well and gaining momentum, but it hadn't won at home since last September or three straight games since 2011. By burying the division-rival Washington Redskins at Lincoln Financial Field, they ripped those monkeys off their back, and now they lead the division outright this late in the season for the first time since 2010.
It was only a 24-16 victory in the end, but Philly dominated the 'Skins for the majority of the afternoon. The defense pitched a shutout for three quarters, which means a lot against the league's fifth-ranked offense. And quarterback Nick Foles was once again superb, posting his third consecutive 100-plus passer rating and extending his interception streak to near-unprecedented levels.
There's no doubt now that if anyone in the NFC East is going to make a run this winter, it's going to be the Eagles, who are heating up at just the right time and appear to have all of the necessary ingredients.
It starts with Foles, who now officially qualifies as the NFL's highest-rated passer. He averaged 11.5 yards per attempt and had only nine incomplete passes in another tidy performance against the 'Skins, and the Eagles are now 5-1 in games in which he's taken the majority of snaps under center.
Foles has hit the triple digits in the passer rating department five times in those six games, which is a rate no other starting quarterback has matched. Excluding late Sunday games in Week 11, there's only one other quarterback in football who has put together more 100-plus ratings this season, and Peyton Manning has done so with three extra opportunities.
|Games with 100-plus passer ratings, 2013|
|1. Peyton Manning||6||9||67%|
|2. Nick Foles||5||6||83%|
|3. Aaron Rodgers||5||8||71%|
|4. Drew Brees||5||9*||56%|
|5. Russell Wilson||5||10*||50%|
|6. Philip Rivers||4||9*||44%|
|Pro Football Reference (* excluding late-Sunday games)|
But it's not just Foles. It's also that D, which completely controlled Robert Griffin III and Co. until the desperate 'Skins scored a couple last-ditch touchdowns in the fourth quarter.
Everybody's been talking about Kelly's offense, but hold on. Bill Davis' defense has given up 21 or fewer points in seven consecutive games. Fletcher Cox is a force up front. Trent Cole, DeMeco Ryans and Connor Barwin are a running back's nightmare and Brandon Boykin has become a bona fide playmaker.
It was fitting that the game-clinching play came when Cox put pressure on Griffin, forcing a back-footed throw that was intercepted in the end zone by Boykin, because this team would be far from where it is right now without those two.
Nobody has impacted this team as much as Foles, Cox and Boykin. Call them Andy Reid's final gift to Philly fans from the 2012 draft.
Oh wait, nobody except LeSean McCoy, who is yet another key ingredient. On Sunday, McCoy became the first back this season to hit the 1,000-yard mark, posting 150 yards from scrimmage in the victory. The 25-year-old now has 1,408 total yards this season, which ranks first in the NFL by a wide margin.
This team is healthy, too, and the best part is that it's hitting its bye week now. That'll give banged-up cogs Jason Peters, Mychal Kendricks, Earl Wolff and Bradley Fletcher a chance to rest up. The schedule isn't tough after that, with three of the Eagles' final five games coming at the Linc.
In fact, dating back to last Monday, the Eagles go five weeks without having to board a single flight. That's ridiculously convenient, and it might provide an edge.
They should be favored to win at least four of those final five games, maybe all of them. Beyond that, it wouldn't be surprising to see them favored again in a home wild-card playoff game.
|Eagles: Remaining schedule|
Of course, that doesn't mean they'll win those games. This is still a fairly unpredictable franchise in an unpredictable league's most unpredictable division. But if you have to predict things regardless, it's hard not to go with a team that has 14 defensive takeaways in the last seven weeks, a span during which they have just two turnovers with Foles at quarterback.
Foles, who still hasn't thrown an interception on 352 snaps, now has the second-longest pick-less streak in team history.
|Eagles: Most consecutive passes without an interception|
|Quarterback||Year||Passes without pick|
|1. Michael Vick||2010||224|
|2. Nick Foles||Ongoing||199|
|3. Donovan McNabb||2006||187|
At 3-7, Washington's done. The Cowboys have been hammered by injuries and have lost two of their last three games. Few expect them to finish any better than 8-8 for the third year in a row. The Giants have battled back, but still have plenty of work to do and not a lot of time to do it.
It's hard to believe I'm saying this when you consider the state this franchise was in one year ago at this time, having lost all four of their November games last year in embarrassing fashion, but the Eagles now literally and figuratively control the NFC East.
And there's no reason to believe a Super Bowl run is out of the realm of possibilities.