Keith Allison via Creative Commons
Imagine this scenario: in 2018, the Philadelphia Eagles, the best team in the NFC, are going head-to-head with the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LII. Right now, that is exactly what is happening, but just two years ago nobody would have believed it to actually happen.
In 2016, the Eagles were sitting in NFL purgatory. They ended up last in the NFC East division with just seven wins in the season. Now, they are on the way to the big game with hopes of finally winning it all.
A lot of their success can be credited to star quarterback Carson Wentz, and his performance this season. Wentz, who was drafted that same year the team went 7–9, threw for 3,296 yards and 33 touchdowns in his 13 games, leading the team to an 11–2 record. The Eagles had climbed out of the hole that they were stuck in for the past two; of years, but things quickly went sour. The MVP candidate Wentz was ruled out for the rest of the season with a torn ACL in Week 14 against the Los Angeles Rams, and the team had to resort to a backup that wasn’t looking very promising.
With Nick Foles now at the reins of the Eagles’ offense, many people began to lose faith in the team. They tied for the best record in the NFL and earned a first-round bye in the playoffs, however they still weren’t considered contenders by many experts. They were even listed as underdogs in their Divisional round playoff game at home in which the Atlanta Falcons were the three-point favorites. Philadelphia eventually triumphed, beating Atlanta 15-10 behind Foles’ 246 passing yards and the defense’s clutch last-minute stop that sealed their victory.
Philly fans were initially concerned with Foles behind the wheel, but it’s clear that Foles hasn’t performed as bad as most would have believed. Foles is no Wentz, but the Texas native threw for five touchdowns and 537 yards in his last three appearances of the regular season, helping the team win two of those three.
Foles and the offense had the pleasure of dismantling Minnesota’s No. 1 defense in the NFC Championship, by far his most impressive performance of this season. The Vikings were three-point favorites just as the Falcons going into the game, but the Eagles ultimately won 38–7. Philadelphia’s 38 points were the most points scored in a playoff game against the No. 1 NFL defense since New England tallied 41 against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 2004 AFC Championship Game.
The Eagles have had good coaching throughout the year. They were able to go 13–3 despite the injuries to Wentz and other important players like offensive tackle Jason Peters and running back Darren Sproles. Head Coach Doug Pederson has put a lot of trust into his players—and most importantly—their performance. Young stars like RB Jay Ajayi and OT Halapoulivaati Vaitai, also known as Big V, have been able to fill the void left by the injured veterans. The former Miami Dolphin Ajayi ran for 408 yards in his seven outings for Philly, while Vaitai has played phenomenally after Peters went down, not allowing any pressures during the NFC title game, according to Pro Football Focus.
In an interview with media members, former Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb had a lot of praise for Pederson and what he’s done for the team this season.
“Last year, there were a lot of questions of what was going on and could he do the job,” McNabb said. “All of a sudden, people are starting to feel confident about [Pederson] and what he can do with this program and also with the guys.”
But there are still plenty of questions that people in the pro-football world can’t answer. Will the Eagles’ top-five defense be able to shutdown Tom Brady and the everlasting dynasty that is New England? There is really no way of telling. At 40-years old, Brady and his unlikely corps of receivers never seize to surprise. They have the best offense in professional football with no signs of stopping.
Another concern is if Foles’ unbelievable playing will continue. He’s not considered one of the more consistent QBs in the league. After all, this isn’t his first tenure in Philadelphia—the organization and its fans know him and what he’s about. They know that he can return to the quarterback that got traded away by several teams at any moment, but they’re hoping with everything in them that he doesn’t.
What is known is that the City of Brotherly Love has embraced its underdog status. They were counted out after their stars came crashing down, but they have let it be known that that isn’t accurate. They’ve gone from 7-9 to a chance to win a title in two years. All over social media the hype for this Eagles team is growing. Fans are raging over the Super Bowl berth, and diehards are starting to sport ridiculously hyper-realistic dog masks to accept their new role.
During his locker room speech to the team after their NFC title win, Pederson said that although the team is excited about their season’s achievements so far, they still need to focus because they have to show up for one more game.
“The amount of work that has gone in to what you have accomplished this season—and guess what? We are not done yet,” Peterson said. “We got one more football game to play this season. One more game.”
There’s one question left to ask—can that heart and resilient attitude that they’ve had all of these past two years help the Philadelphia Eagles overcome the improbable on February 4? Ultimately, that might just be the difference between second place and the title of Super Bowl LII champions.