There’s no doubt about it, losing Carson Wentz for the season to a torn ACL absolutely sucks. We were robbed. We were hosed, and we were cheated. And worse, a really good human being who was having the greatest season by a quarterback in franchise history, a true team leader and a rising NFL superstar, was cheated, too.
Wentz was robbed. And now, a season that had us all dreaming visions of the Super Bowl, feels downright depressing. It feels hopeless. The entire city has been punched in the stomach, and it’s just not fair.
But after their big win against the Rams on Sunday, the Eagles still sit in the cat bird’s seat atop the NFC. At 11-2, the Eagles are a full game better than the Minnesota Vikings (10-3), and need only to win two of their last three games in order to clinch home field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs and that all-important first round bye.
Folks, with or without Carson Wentz, that is huge.
A recent analysis by FiveThirtyEight found 64.7% of teams with homefield advantage in the playoffs win that particular game. Since the league went to its current eight-division format with 12 playoff teams in 2002, 22 of the 30 teams that went to the Super Bowl had a first round bye, and 17 of the last 19 Super Bowls have had at least one No. 1 seed playing for the title.
In the NFC, home field advantage and a first round bye have meant even more. Every team until Carolina in 2003 had a bye, which was followed by a run from 2007-11 in which the Giants, Cardinals, Packers and Giants again made the Super Bowl without one. But since 2012, every NFC participant in the Super Bowl has had a first-round bye. In the AFC, only the 1992 Bills, ‘97 Broncos, ‘99 Titans, 2000 Ravens, ‘05 Steelrs, ‘06 Colts and ‘12 Ravens went to the Super Bowl without a bye in the opening round.
So even without Wentz, history tells us the Eagles are still in good shape to reach the Super Bowl. Can the Eagles win two of their last three regular season games with Foles at the helm? Against the 2-11 Giants? Against the 6-7 Raiders? Against the 7-6 Cowboys?
Sure seems like he could.
This is a time of mourning, to be sure, but when we’re ready to take off the black clothing and re-engage in the 2017 season, taking a look back at another team that suffered a similar loss and yet proceeded to win it all could prove cathartic.
In 1990, Phil Simms was having another terrific season, leading the NFL with a passer rating of 92.7 and the Giants to an 11-3 record. They had the second-best record in the conference, and a trip to the Super Bowl seemed a given. But Simms suffered a broken foot in the team’s 15th game of the season.
Back-up QB Jeff Hostetler took the reigns and led the Giants to wins in their final two regular season games. He then won the divisional round match-up against the Chicago Bears, followed by the NFC Championship Game against the San Francisco 49ers (although it helped that Joe Montana was knocked out of that game in brutal fashion).
Hostetler then went on to win Super XXV against the Buffalo Bills, 20-19 in a game that looked a lot like one the Eagles could play with Foles under center. The Giants used a ball control offense and gobbled up time of possession with Hostetler at the helm, and Hoss didn’t perform poorly either, going 20-for-32 in the Super Bowl, for 222 yards and a touchdown.
Think about it. Nick Foles has to win two home playoff games to get to the Super Bowl. Hostetler had to play the 49ers in San Francisco, so Foles’ path is even a bit easier. Yes, the Eagles will face good teams in the playoffs, and it won’t be easy. He’s likely to be the worst QB on the field in any postseason game. But is it crazy to think he can’t pull a Hostetler, given the talent the Eagles have along the offensive line, running back, tight end, wide receiver, and all over the defense?
Carson Wentz has given the Eagles an incredible leg up to reach the Super Bowl. Maybe Foles and the rest of the team can take the baton the same way Hostetler and the Giants did 27 years ago.
It’s wishful thinking, I know.