Images of Brian Westbrook popped into my mind as I watched DeSean Jackson run back the game-winning punt-return for a touchdown against the New York Giants in the thus far NFL Game of the Year. While Westbrook’s punt-return was a surprising spark that helped the Eagles to victory that particular day back in 2003, Jackson’s return was the proverbial “icing on the cake” to one of the greatest comebacks in NFL History.
The week 15 marquee match-up between the Eagles and Giants was a high stakes game where two talented division rivals would battle it out for first place bragging rights in the NFC East. While in the first half it looked like the Giants were the only ones that came to play, the Eagles showed in the second half that it’s not how you start but how you finish that decides eventually who is going to win and who is going to lose the game.
The Eagles/Giants game was significant because not only would it help to decide who will most likely come out of the NFC East as division winners but also because the outcome would help give a more solid shape to the NFC playoff picture. The game itself has already been and will be talked about and analyzed from every single angle (and rightly so might I add) in the days to come, but I would like to focus on just what this game means going forward as the regular season draws near to an end for the Philadelphia Eagles.
Who is currently the best team in the NFC as of 12/19/10?
Greatest Show on Turf Part 2?
Ok, so while it is still a little early to be putting the Eagles up there with the likes of the 1999 Rams or 2007 Patriots, one can’t help but be astonished by what the Eagles offense has been able to do this season and be excited to think what they are capable of doing in the future. With the Eagles win, they sit at 10-4 going into week 16 of the NFL season against a banged-up and checked-out Minnesota Vikings team.
Depending on the outcome of tomorrow night’s game (MNF- Bears vs. Vikings), the Eagles could be sitting in second or third place in the NFC playoff picture. But with the Bears having to face two hungry teams struggling and jockeying for playoff positions in the Jets and Packers in the final two weeks of the regular season, the Eagles may well have the inside track to that second seed for the playoffs on the NFC side of things.
Bye Bye Competition
The significance of that seed should be greatly recognized by Eagles fans. Not only will a bye week that accompanies that second seed help heal some bruised and beaten Eagles players, but having to play one less game to get to the Super Bowl is something that no team wants to pass up.
The most important thing about that second seed, though, is that in Andy Reid’s tenure, playoff and regular season, he has only lost once coming off the Bye.
The Eagles should also have confidence against some of the elite teams in the NFC that they could possibly face down the row as well. The Atlanta Falcons, for all the great things they have done this year, have lost to the Eagles both times that the two teams have faced off this year and last year. The Eagles have had Atlanta’s number for awhile now, something Michael Vick himself can speak to from his days when he was wearing a red uniform.
To the Giants, the Eagles must be a nightmare that they can’t wake up from. Over the last three seasons, the Eagles have beaten the Giants in the playoffs, in blowouts, and close games. Any type of victory you can think of, the Eagles have had over the Giants the past couple of years. On the exterior, the Giants may show that another crack at the Eagles is all they would need to put all this behind them but I’m sure that the guys in green are the last thing the Giants want to see this year come playoff time.
The Bears have a strong defensive line like the Giants but to expect Jay Cutler, who has never won a playoff game, to be taken as a serious threat and that Bears offense to be consistent and mistake-free is a long reach. Still, despite their poor showing against the Patriots, the Bears have had good success this year and have played well against the Eagles the past couple of seasons. In a situation where the Eagles would have to travel to the Windy City for a playoff game, the Bears could find a scenario where the odds get evened up a bit for a Chicago team still trying to prove itself.
I’m not going to bother talking about any team that could possibly emerge from the NFC West.
Who Dat Nation
To me, the Saints pose the biggest threats to the Eagles Super Bowl aspirations (in the NFC). The Eagles have historically struggled against great quarterbacks (as do most teams), and there are very few that are as good as Drew Brees in the NFL. The Saints have all the swagger and offensive capabilities to compete with any team in the league. The defending Super Bowl champs have been under the radar for most of the season with Atlanta’s success, but Sean Payton is as bright a guy as you will find in the NFL, and the Saints can be a scary team if they get on a roll come playoff time.
The Future is Bright
The NFL is a “RIGHT NOW” league, and Philly fans are a “RIGHT NOW” fan-base. Birds' fans have seen many promising runs end in heartbreak and while there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the Eagles chances this season, Philly fans should not despair if the Eagles aren’t able to win the coveted Lombardi trophy come February.
While the defense made great strides in the second half against the Giants, there are still plenty of concerns for a group that is becoming historically bad at giving up touchdowns in the red zone. Add to that a string of injuries to defensive starters like Stewart Bradley, Ellis Hobbs, Brandon Graham, and now rookie starter Nate Allen, and you have plenty of things to be concerned about going forward into the season/playoffs.
Whatever the outcome may be at the end of the year, though, the Eagles should return with a talented roster in the 2011 campaign (granted a lockout for the most popular sport in North America doesn’t occur). The draft will most likely help address some offensive line and defensive positions issues.
While Michael Vick’s stock has gone through the roof with his MVP-level play this year, it would come as a shock if the Eagles just let No. 7 walk away in free agency after spending all this time grooming him into the player he has become on-the-field and the person that he has become off-the-field.
DeSean Jackson’s contract situation will surely also be in-focus during the offseason, and while Vick and Jackson are the two best players on the Eagles roster, there is still plenty of talent in that Eagles lineup to keep the Eagles in contention should one or perhaps both (in a worst-case scenario) leave the organization. The Eagles players are young, talented, well-coached, and are a part of an organization that has shown it can sustain winning even with key players coming and going through the span of more then a decade now.