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How Close Are the Philadelphia Eagles to Being a Super Bowl Team?

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How Close Are the Philadelphia Eagles to Being a Super Bowl Team?
Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

On Sunday in Jersey, the Seattle Seahawks will try to slay the Denver Broncos to capture their first Vince Lombardi Trophy. If that happens, the list of active teams without Super Bowl victories will shrink from 14 to 13.

Regardless of what happens, the Philadelphia Eagles and their fans will be part of a viewing audience of more than 100 million, knowing that their franchise will remain one of only eight that have been in existence for all 48 Super Bowl years without actually having a victory of the roman numeral variety to bask in.

That, for at least another year, is what the Eagles have in common with the Minnesota Vikings, Buffalo Bills, San Diego Chargers, Atlanta Falcons, Tennessee Titans, Arizona Cardinals and Detroit Lions.

When you consider that Tennessee was actually in Houston until 1997 and that Arizona was in St. Louis until 1988, only six cities have gone all 48 years without a Super Bowl victory. 

Cities that are 0-for-48 in the Super Bowl era
Team Super Bowl losses
Atlanta 1
Buffalo 4
Detroit 0
Minnesota 4
Philadelphia 2
San Diego 1

Pro Football Reference

Sorry, Philadelphia. 

The bad news is that only one of the last 10 Super Bowl winners was a first-time champion. The good news is Seattle can buck that trend on Sunday. Maybe the floodgates will open from there.

If they do, the Eagles could be next. After all, they appear to be closer than all of those 12 teams in common, except maybe the Falcons and Bengals. They made the playoffs and won their division in 2013, which is something only they, Cincinnati and Seattle were able to do despite belonging to the non-Super Bowl club. 

So, how close are the Eagles to being a Super Bowl team? They do feel close, but one surprisingly strong season does not a perennial contender make.

The rest of the league wasn't ready for Chip Kelly and Nick Foles in their co-debuts as NFL head coach and full-time starting quarterback in 2013, so we'll see how they respond in Year 2 of the Kelly/Foles era. 

Here's what we know.

 

Kelly has a Super Bowl feel

I know, it's early. However, in 2013, Kelly became only the second head coach in the last 31 years with no prior NFL experience to make the playoffs in his first season.

In fact, the only other coach to accomplish that feat was Barry Switzer, who took over a Cowboys team that was coming off back-to-back Super Bowl seasons in 1994. None of the other seven coaches in that situation were able to finish with winning records, but Kelly was 10-6.

Head coaches in their very first year in the NFL (any role)
Coach Team Record Playoffs?
Barry Switzer Dallas Cowboys 12-4 Yes
Chip Kelly Philadelphia Eagles 10-6 Yes
Dennis Erickson Seattle Seahawks 8-8 No
Mike Riley San Diego Chargers 8-8 No
Rich Brooks St. Louis Rams 7-9 No
Darryl Rogers Detroit Lions 7-9 No
Steve Spurrier Washington Redskins 7-9 No
Hugh Campbell Houston Oilers 3-13 No
Jimmy Johnson Dallas Cowboys 1-15 No

Since 1983

To put that into perspective, only 21 percent of all first-year head coaches dating back to 1983 have been able to hit double digits in the win column. Kelly is now part of that special group, which includes Switzer, Raymond Berry, Jim Harbaugh, John Harbaugh, Dennis Green, Steve Mariucci, Bill Cowher, Chuck Pagano, Sean Payton, George Seifert and Mike Tomlin.

Unfortunately, that group also includes Eric Mangini, Tony Sparano and Jim Haslett, but you can't win 'em all. 

What's important is that Kelly is an outlier early in his tenure. These guys really appear to be buying into him, his scheme and his sports science regimen. The Eagles were one of the healthiest, seemingly happiest teams in football. They're young and they're stacked on Kelly's side of the ball, having ranked second in yardage and fourth in scoring in 2013. 

Keep in mind that no head coach has ever won the Super Bowl going in fresh in his first full season with a team. In fact, only Red Miller was able to get to the Super Bowl in that situation when he and the 1977 Broncos lost Super Bowl XII to Dallas.

However, five head coaches have won Super Bowls in their sophomore seasons on the sideline—Mike Tomlin with the 2008 Steelers, Brian Billick with the 2000 Ravens, Switzer with the 1995 Cowboys, Joe Gibbs with the 1982 Redskins and Tom Flores with the 1980 Raiders.

The precedents are there. Kelly has the ability and the resources to join that group. 

 

The defense is good enough right now

When the Giants and Patriots met in Super Bowl XLVItheir respective defenses were ranked 27th and 31st. The Saints won the Super Bowl in 2009 with the league's 25th-ranked D. The Baltimore defense was at or below the league average in terms of yardage and takeaways when they won the Super Bowl last year.

My point is that you don't need a defense like Seattle's in order to win it all. Not in this era. You need a D that can get some pressure when needed and can avoid breaking despite bending. That's exactly what Philadelphia's D did this year, ranking 29th in the NFL with 394 yards allowed per game, but just beyond the league average with a respectable 23.9 points per game allowed.

Philly also had the league's 12th-ranked defense in the red zone, per TeamRankings.com

Red zone defense: Eagles vs. recent champs
Team Stop percentage (TDs) Rank
2013 Eagles 49% 12th
2012 Ravens 57% 2nd
2011 Giants 45% 19th
2010 Packers 49% 15th

TeamRankings.com

Fletcher Cox, Bennie Logan, Cedric Thornton, Mychal Kendricks, Brandon Boykin and Earl Wolff should only get better, and this is a unit that improved immensely as the 2013 season wore on. Trent Cole, Connor Barwin and Brandon Graham are quality pass-rushers, but they're also versatile. 

They have the time and money to get better, but Bill Davis' defense has already reached a point at which it won't prevent this organization from capturing its first-ever Super Bowl. 

 

It's all about Nick

You just don't win Super Bowls nowadays without a stud under center. That's indisputable. Before Joe Flacco and the Ravens won in 2012, the previous nine Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks were Hall of Fame candidates named Brady, Manning, Roethlisberger, Brees and Rodgers.

Flacco might not be of the same ilk, but let's not forget that he tossed 11 touchdown passes and zero interceptions during last year's postseason. 

We mentioned that you don't need a top-flight defense to win it all, but that only applies if your quarterback is able to carry the team in multiple crucial moments down the stretch.

As good as Foles was as the league's highest-rated passer in 2013, we've yet to see him win a game in January and we've yet to see him enter a regular season as a starting quarterback. 

If Kelly and Bill Musgrave coach the 25-year-old up some more this spring and summer and he can take the next step in his third season, that might be all the Eagles need to go toe-to-toe with perennial NFC Super Bowl contenders like Seattle, San Francisco, New Orleans, Atlanta and Green Bay. 

He'll need to learn to throw the ball away and work on his pocket presence in general.

The game's best quarterbacks—the guys listed above—rarely take sacks. Kelly himself has discussed how much he despises them. However, Foles spent more time in the pocket last year than every other qualifying quarterback in football, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). 

Nick Foles: Sack rate vs. recent Super Bowl-winning QBs
Quarterback, year Sack rate
Foles, 2013 8.1
Joe Flacco, 2012 6.2
Eli Manning, 2011 4.5
Aaron Rodgers, 2010 6.1
Drew Brees, 2009 3.7
Ben Roethlisberger, 2008 8.9
Eli Manning, 2007 4.9
Peyton Manning, 2006 2.5
Roethlisberger, 2005 7.9
Tom Brady, 2004 5.2
Tom Brady 5.7

Pro Football Reference

If Foles can improve in those areas and continue to progress as a passer in general, he could have what it takes to take a half-decent defense and a loaded offense to the Super Bowl. 

I kid you not, that could happen as early as Feb. 1, 2015 in Glendale, Ariz. 

 

Just like that

The Eagles were just 4-12 a year ago. Between 2011 and 2012, their minus-38 turnover differential was the worst in the NFL by a tremendous margin. This was a bad football team. However, that's another thing about the National Football League in the present day—you can turn things around at a stupidly quick rate.

Three years ago, the Broncos were 4-12, and the Seahawks went 7-9 in 2011. Two years before winning it all in 2010, the Packers were a 6-10 team. The Saints missed the playoffs in the two preceding seasons before capturing Lombardi for the first time in '09. 

The Eagles have already dug themselves out of that hole. Now, they just need to stay on their current track and hope for a little luck (which is always necessary) and they could finally break a half-century-long curse by removing themselves from that dwindling, depressing group of teams that have never won the biggest sports game on the planet. 

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