6 Reasons Philadelphia Eagles Can Still Make Super Bowl Without Carson Wentz
Despite the unquestionably crushing blow of losing quarterback Carson Wentz, the NFC East champion Philadelphia Eagles still have everything in front of them as they inch toward the postseason.
Fans and pundits alike have attempted to pull the curtains on the Eagles' hopes of reaching the Super Bowl following Wentz's ACL tear, suffered in Week 14 against the Los Angeles Rams. There's no question Philly faces a treacherous task to get to U.S. Bank Stadium in February without their MVP-candidate quarterback, but the Eagles still have a lot to be confident about in regard to their chances of contending in a wide-open NFC.
Let's take a close look into the biggest reasons why the Eagles' hopes for a Super Bowl berth didn't die with Wentz's injury and how they could still make a miraculous run to Minneapolis for Super Bowl LII.
Nick Foles: Not Your Average Backup
Nobody, including Nick Foles, wanted to see it come to fruition. But the Eagles essentially exchanged backup quarterback Chase Daniel last offseason for Foles with the expectation he would be more than just a placeholder if something were to happen to Wentz.
There are few backups in the league who have a track record of big-time success as a starting quarterback, and Foles brings an added plus of having gotten it done for his team. Philly fans are well aware of Foles' incredible 2013 season, in which he threw 27 touchdowns and only two interceptions, including a seven-touchdown game to tie the NFL single-game record.
Most importantly, Foles led the Eagles to a 10-6 season and a postseason berth. He stepped off the field late in their divisional-round loss to the New Orleans Saints with the Eagles ahead, only to witness Drew Brees orchestrate a late game-winning drive.
He's still no Wentz, but Foles gives the offense every opportunity to continue going at it the way it has this year, as head coach Doug Pederson shared with the team site: "It doesn't have to change a lot. It's just now Nick stepping into the huddle and Nick commanding the huddle and you saw it out in L.A. He got in there and the guys responded. There was no hesitation whether it be with the coaching staff or by the players. I've been using the word 'resilient' all year and it really applies here.”
Plenty of Eagles were around when Foles led the team in 2013 and 2014, which should give the rest of the unit plenty of confidence he can do the job.
Defense (Still) Wins Championships
Much is made in today's NFL about needing to have a superstar quarterback and a high-powered offense to make a Super Bowl run. While those aspects play a huge roles, you won't find any star quarterback winning a title without a nasty defense by his side.
If the Eagles are going to find their way through the NFC without Wentz, the defense will have to play up to its potential consistently. Fortunately enough for the team's fans, it's been dominating with more consistency than virtually any other defense in the league.
Philadelphia concedes the fourth-fewest total yards per game in the NFL this season, and leading the charge is an impenetrable front four. The Eagles own the league's best run defense by a wide margin, allowing just over 70 yards per game on the ground.
The pass rush has been shredding pockets, with a burly rotation of Brandon Graham, Vinny Curry, Derek Barnett and Chris Long jelling magnificently. The secondary still has some holes, but it's found a way to complement the pass rush and prevent the huge aerial assaults that plagued the Eagles over the past few seasons.
It's obvious the offense won't be its usual self without Wentz, but the defense's performances this season have played the biggest role in Philly's many blowouts. That can continue through the playoffs.
They Are No Strangers to Overcoming Adversity
Losing Wentz is a different kind of blow than any the Eagles have suffered this year, but most teams would have folded weeks ago after enduring the types of personnel losses Philly has faced throughout 2017.
The Eagles lost the best player on their weakest unit in Week 1 when cornerback Ronald Darby went down and missed eight weeks, but the team went 7-1 without him. They lost two of their best players on both sides of the ball in the same game when left tackle Jason Peters and linebacker Jordan Hicks went down for the season, but the team has shown its next-man-up mentality to overcome those losses.
At those positions, the Eagles have had to rely on inexperienced talent. Their Wentz replacement, Foles, is an obvious drop-off in talent but possesses the experience and ability to keep the offense moving.
It goes without saying that all of Philadelphia's other injury setbacks pale in comparison to the loss of its quarterback, who is one of the best in the league. But it's easy to argue there is no team in the NFL more capable of rallying around each other to mitigate the loss of its best player.
There's No True NFC Juggernaut
The NFC is stocked with dangerous playoff contenders, making the road to Minneapolis tough. But there's no team presented in the mix that a Wentz-less Eagles can't compete with.
There's a logjam of contenders atop the NFC alongside the Eagles, with the New Orleans Saints, Carolina Panthers, Los Angeles Rams and Minnesota Vikings all surging. But Philly can rest assured knowing it has toppled two of those four teams on the road this season.
In fact, the Eagles beat one without Wentz down the stretch, as Foles came in cold against the Rams and orchestrated a late win led by methodical drives and a fourth-quarter defensive display.
Many of those outfits have something the Eagles no longer have: a game-changing quarterback. But few, if any, can boast the type of defense Philly possesses.
The only team in the league that appears to be unbeatable in the postseason for Philly are the New England Patriots, but the Eagles wouldn't have to face them until they reach the Super Bowl.
Jay Ajayi Is Fresh
The reason for slowly bringing Jay Ajayi along in the offense this season was twofold. First and foremost, the midseason trade required some time for Ajayi to acclimate to the offense. But most importantly, it keeps him fresh for the postseason.
The last reason is proving to be awfully important.
Ajayi received a tempered workload early on in Philly and didn't receive double-digit carries until his fifth game, a 15-carry performance against the Rams. For the first time, he looks to be the leader in a crowded backfield that has propelled the Eagles to rank near the top of the league in rushing offense.
"Every game counts, and these games are really when you want your run game to get going," Ajayi told the team site. "I think it was always in the back of our minds that, as the season was getting closer to the playoffs, we wanted to make sure our run game was on point."
As long as Foles can make short, simple throws and occasionally push the ball downfield, there's no reason to think the rushing prowess will subside behind a spectacular offensive line.
Philly still has a few games left to figure out how it is going to approach things offensively, but Ajayi figures to play a massive role. And with the smaller workload he's gotten, all signs point to him being ready to roll.
The Offensive Arsenal Is Still Potent
The Eagles overhauled their receiving corps in the offseason with the goal of providing an elite group for Wentz to work with. With the signal-caller no longer in the fold, the skill of that unit will prove even more critical to the team's success.
Simply put, there aren't many backup quarterbacks who get to step in and work with the type of pass-catching talent the Eagles possess.
Star No. 1 wideout Alshon Jeffery basically has a degree in working with subpar quarterbacks from his time with the Chicago Bears, and his ability to get open in the intermediate parts of the field will be huge. Tight end Zach Ertz constantly finds himself open and can act as much more than a security blanket for Foles.
Opposing defenses can't purely home in on Jeffery and Ertz, though. Secondary target Nelson Agholor has exploded this season from a production standpoint, and Torrey Smith is still a surefire deep threat. Backup tight ends Brent Celek and Trey Burton can make impacts as well.
Foles still has to do the job of getting the ball out accurately, but it can't be overstated how important his talent at receiver will be in terms of making his job easier.