One month ago, if you thought the Philadelphia Eagles would be making a serious playoff run this season, you were either a homer or just not paying attention. Now, things are quite different. With three games to go, the Eagles are sitting at 7-5-1, and are largely in control of their own destiny.
If the Eagles can stay as hot as they were in their impressive 20-14 road win over the Giants, the 6th seed in the playoffs is theirs for the taking. In order to make the playoffs, the Birds would need to win their last three games, and hope for Atlanta to drop one.
This reality is not lost on the team. "We're in a position now where we have to win them all," said Brian Westbrook, who saw a career-high 39 touches Sunday. "We're going to take them one week at a time, but we have to win them all to get into the playoffs and we started today."
The team as a whole is getting hot at the right time. The Eagles' defense did not allow an offensive touchdown until late in the final quarter. The Giants lead the league in scoring offense.
Things are looking up for the heavily criticized offense. Donovan McNabb has come back into his own, thanks in large part to a larger reliance on the running game. "It was very productive for us today, when we had the run going," said McNabb after the game. "It opened up some things outside for us to pass the ball and get some guys involved."
Even the passing game has steadily become more reliable. The game at The Meadowlands featured quite a few screens and short plays, but they proved effective against a Giants defense that is ranked 6th in the league.
The Eagles begin their final three game run with a Monday night home game against the struggling Cleveland Browns.
From the outside looking in, Monday's game appears to be the easiest of the three games left. Regardless, head coach Andy Reid wants to make sure his players realize the importance of playing well. "They have to get in and see the film and watch it, and boy, that tells you the story," said Reid of Cleveland. "They have a lot of talent on their team."
The Browns have the talent, but are having trouble getting the most of it. Many picked the Browns to win the AFC North after finishing 10-6 last season, but injuries and inconsistent play have earned the team a 4-9 record.
The Browns rank in the bottom of the league in nearly every major category. They rank 27th in total defense, giving up nearly 360 yards per game this season. The one bright spot has been turnovers. The Browns have 19 interceptions on the season, which is a +6 turnover differential. Cleveland will need to continue that if they want to have a shot at beating the Eagles.
Their offense hasn't fared much better. It ranks 28th in total offense, and 27th in total scoring. Following injuries to Brady Quinn and Derek Anderson, Cleveland has been forced to start Ken Dorsey. He is a capable game manager who will need his star players like Braylon Edwards to step up for him.
The Eagles, meanwhile, are in the top ten on both sides of the ball. The Eagles defense, which has been getting better play from its young players lately, gives up the fourth fewest yards in the league, and is second in sacks. The resurgent Eagles offense ranks 6th in total points scored, and 5th in passing yards per game.
Still, the Eagles have struggled with trap games in recent memory. After a close loss against the Giants in Week 10, the Eagles tied the AFC's worst team--the Cincinnati Bengals, in a 13-13 stinkfest. So far this season, the Eagles are 1-2 against teams in the AFC North, with their only win against the mighty Pittsburgh Steelers.
The game is winnable, but only if the Eagles focus and keep their eyes on the prize. Said Eagles radio host and local icon Merrill Reese, "They have got to look at Cleveland like they look at the Cowboys or the Giants."