10 Reasons to Expect the Philadelphia Eagles In the 2012 Playoffs
Through six games, the Philadelphia Eagles are definitely one of the more disappointing teams in the National Football League. This is a team that entered 2011 with Super Bowl aspirations, and it's easy to see why, following an offseason in which they brought in six former Pro Bowlers: Vince Young, Ronnie Brown, Steve Smith, Jason Babin, Nnamdi Asomugha, and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, plus one of the more respected defensive tackles in the league in Cullen Jenkins. Oh yeah, and they also added offensive line coach Howard Mudd and defensive line coach Jim Washburn, two of the more respected position coaches in the game.
Yet the Eagles fell flat on their face, blowing five leads in the fourth quarter behind rookie defensive coordinator Juan Castillo. Michael Vick regressed to a level that might even be worse than his old form with the Atlanta Falcons, and that's when he did not have LeSean McCoy, DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, and Brent Celek on his team. So heading into 2012, the Eagles knew that they had to rebound or head coach Andy Reid would be fired and Vick was in danger of getting cut.
They haven't done that so far though. The season started very well behind a trio of last-minute victories in the first four games, including wins against the defending AFC North champion Baltimore Ravens and the Super Bowl champion New York Giants. But they've dropped a pair on last-second field goals, and the collapse against the Detroit Lions on Sunday was brutal enough that it cost Castillo his job, just 22 games into his tenure as coordinator.
Yet I have confidence that the Eagles will bounce back and make the playoffs, for a number of reasons. Here they are, in no particular order.
This is one of my favorite statistics ever. The last eight times the Eagles have started the season with a 3-3 record, they have made the playoffs seven times and won 10 games the other time. That's unbelievable. Remember, we're not talking just under Reid, who is the best coach in league history. We're talking about a team that could have started 3-3 and slipped to 6-10 relatively easily. Teams do that all the time. Just not the Eagles. For the record, under Reid, it has happened four times: 2000, 2001, 2003, and 2008. Two of those times the Eagles won 11 games and easily reached the playoffs. And in the other two, they reached the NFC championship, once with the best record in the NFC. That's unbelievable.
Reid is all about late-season turnarounds.
Look at how any times the Eagles started slowly. In 2000, they went from 3-3 to 11-5. In 2001, they went from 3-3 to 11-5. In 2003, they went from 0-2 and 3-3 to 12-4. In 2006, they went from 5-6 to 10-6. In 2007, they went from 5-8 to 8-8. In 2008, they went from 5-5-1 to 9-6-1. In 2011, they went from 4-8 to 8-8. Not every one of those teams reached the postseason, as some had dug too big of a hole to climb out, but they all did well late in the season. This team has the makings of a late-season run.
New defensive coordinator
No, I don't believe that Juan Castillo is the reason why the Eagles are only 3-3 this season. But I do believe that Castillo was never qualified to be a defensive coordinator in the first place, and it's easy to see that he was frequently overmatched by strong offenses. The offense and special teams are the units that has been struggling, but defense is the unit that needed to replace its coach to win back some of its fan base and show that mediocrity is not acceptable.
Easy closing schedule
I love the Eagles' schedule in the second half of the year. The final eight games look like this: Dallas, at Washington, Carolina, at Dallas, at Tampa Bay, Cincinnati, Washington, and at the Giants. I believe that the Eagles will be favored in all of those games, with the likely exception of the season finale. None of those games are too difficult. If the Eagles can split their next two games against Atlanta and at New Orleans, they can easily go 6-2 to end 10-6 and sneak into the postseason. Once they're in, anything can happen. Just ask the Giants.
Win over the Giants
The game against the Giants was easily the most important game for the Eagles so far this season, and they came away with a much-needed victory. It's a head-to-head win against a divisional opponent and will likely play a role into the playoff seeding. The Eagles have been doing a pretty good job with who they lose to, in my opinion. I don't think the Cardinals or Lions will be in position for a wild card berth, so a head-to-head loss won't hurt the Eagles, and the Steelers are an AFC team.
Five divisional games remaining
Lucky for the Eagles, they have almost all of their division schedule remaining, and all five games are very winnable. The Cowboys are a threat but they're inconsistent (although so are the Eagles), and I think the Eagles are better. Washington is also scary, especially on offense, but they have a weak defense. The final game against the Giants looms large, but the bottom line is that the Eagles should be able to win at least three out of the five, giving them an overall 4-2 division record.
Defensive line will improve.
I do not like to predict that a unit will improve if they are clearly showing signs that they're not improving, such as Michael Vick and the Eagles' offense. But I have confidence that the defensive line will improve. They're going to start collecting sacks. They just have to. Trent Cole and Jason Babin were Pro Bowlers last season. Cullen Jenkins and Fletcher Cox are excellent pass-rushing defensive tackles. Phillip Hunt showed a ton of promise in the preseason. Brandon Graham is starting to earn his paycheck, as well as increased playing time. And Derek Landri was phenomenal in 2011 but has faded in 2012. Something has to give. I really do think the sacks will start coming.
Not many injuries
The Eagles are having a very unusual season with injuries. They lost Jason Peters to a torn Achilles back in March, although I truly believe that he will play if the Eagles make the Super Bowl. Jason Kelce and Mike Patterson (likely) are also out for the year. But no other player has had a nagging injury. The only game this season missed by a starter who actually matters (sorry, King Dunlap and Akeem Jordan) was when Jeremy Maclin couldn't play against the Cardinals. A healthy team will really benefit the Eagles, especially as the season continues and their divisional opponents wear down. Seriously, how great is it that the healthy team gets even more rest during their bye week?
Talent is there
The Eagles aren't the Bills, Jets, or Dolphins, who have split their first six games but have major holes on their team. The Eagles should be better than their record, although they have played consecutive games against teams both desperate for a win and coming off a bye. If Vick learns to take care of the football, the Eagles' offense will start scoring about seven to 10 more points per game. You can win with a weak offensive line. You really can. But you can't win with a quarterback who turns the football over so much, as Vick has shown that he is capable of in any given game.
It's a do-or-die season and everybody knows it.
There is no next year for the Eagles if it doesn't happen this season. No Reid, no Vick, and probably no chance at a Super Bowl for a few years while the team rebuilds. It's amazing what can happen when the right amount of pressure is put on a player, or a whole team. I'm not saying I think the Eagles will turn into the Miami Heat, who won the NBA championship under immense pressure, but I think they have the talent to do so. Let's just see what happens before we pull the plug on this team.
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