I know nobody wants an optimistic look at this Eagles team right now. No one is in the mood to be cheered up. Like you, I know the Birds’ 2018 season likely ended with their 27-20 loss to the Cowboys at Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday night.
As you read this, don’t be under the impression I’m deluding myself. I realize Football Oustiders now has the Eagles at 16.0% to make the playoffs this year, below Dallas’ 17.3% and Washington’s 75.0%. In fact, only six NFC teams have lower odds to make the playoffs: the Falcons (10.7%), Lions (0.7%), Buccaneers (0.7%), Giants (0.3%), 49ers (0.1%) and Cardinals (0.0%).
But as we look back in franchise history, it wasn’t so long ago that the Eagles faced an even more dire set of circumstances and, miraculously, still made the playoffs.
The 2006 Eagles were two years removed from their Super Bowl loss to the Patriots. After a stirring victory against Dallas in the T.O. Return/Lito Sheppard game in Week 5 ran their record to 4-1, the Eagles embarked on a three-game losing streak and lost five of six to fall to 5-6 on the season. Not only that, in their Week 11, 31-13 home loss to the Tennessee Titans, the team lost quarterback Donovan McNabb for the season with a knee injury.
So, with just five weeks left in the season, the Eagles had to win out and were without their franchise QB. Instead Jeff Garcia took over signal-calling duties. The Eagles also had a tough task facing them over the last month of the season, with three straight road games against divisional opponents at a time when the NFC East was a bit stronger than it is now.
And yet, they did it.
The Eagles won their last five games, three straight division games on the road, and won the freaking NFC East. They then beat the Giants in a wild card match-up at home and then fell to the Saints in the divisional round in New Orleans the following week, ending their season.
They started with a Week 13 win against the 6-5 Carolina Panthers at home 27-24, to even their record at 6-6. They then built up a 21-6 lead over the 4-8 Washington Redskins before holding on by their fingernails, 21-19. With their record at 7-6, the Birds went to New Jersey for a must-win game against the 7-6 Giants. Entering the 4th quarter with a 14-13 lead, the Eagles pulled away, scoring 22 points in the final quarter to win 36-22.
Their final divisional match-up would be the last big test. The 8-6 Eagles went into Dallas to play the Bill Parcells-led Cowboys, who were ahead of them in the division at 9-5. But a win would give the Eagles the season sweep and the tie-breaker. Garcia and the Birds never took their feet off the gas, dominating Dallas 23-7, and finished off the season with a home win against the 7-8 Falcons 24-17 to earn the NFC East title at 10-6.
The Eagles would then beat the Giants at the Linc on a David Akers 38-yard field goal as time expired to win a nail-biter 23-20...
...before fallilng to a more talented Saints team in New Orleans, 27-24 in the Divisional Round.
That was the game that also featured the Sheldon Brown hit on Reggie Bush that Bush is still feeling, by the way.
There are some similarities between the 2006 team and the defending champs. The 2018 Eagles have undoubtedly featured more injuries and in a more concentrated fashion than both the ‘17 Birds and the ‘06 squad, however, that ‘06 team didn’t have its franchise QB and they also lost defensive end Jevon Kearse for the season as well. The 2006 team also picked up a wide receiver in a mid-season trade, getting Donte Stallworth in exchange for linebacker Mark Simoneau and a 4th round pick. It remains to be seen if Golden Tate will provide a similar spark.
That 2006 team also, despite owning a losing record after 11 games, still controlled their own destiny. Winning three straight road games against divisional opponents was an unheard of concept at that time, and no one thought they could do it. But by doing so, won the tie-breakers and earned the NFC East crown. So far this year, the Eagles have played just two games against divisional opponents, with two games against Washington left to go, as well as single games against the Cowboys and Giants. In a sense, their destiny is still in their hands, somewhat.
However, there are differences. While the Eagles do have their franchise QB in Carson Wentz, this year’s overall injury situation is much, much worse.
Eagles Hurt— Jeff Skversky 6abc (@JeffSkversky) November 12, 2018
Ronald Darby (ACL)
Lane Johnson (MCL)
Jalen Mills (foot)
Rodney McLeod (MCL)
Mike Wallace (leg)
Mack Hollins (groin)
Jay Ajayi (ACL)
Derek Barnett (shoulder)
Darren Sproles (hammy)
Sidney Jones (Hammy)
Richard Rodgers (knee)
Timmy Jernigan (Back)
Chris Maragos (knee) pic.twitter.com/hi3pasUJVt
Also, while the Eagles had to play a decent Carolina team in ‘06, this year’s team has to take on the two best teams in the conference, the 8-1 Saints and 9-1 Rams, with both of those games on the road.
By opponent record, the Eagles have the most difficult remaining schedule in the NFL (future opponents are 40-23). Courtesy of ESPN Stats & Info.— Tim McManus (@Tim_McManus) November 12, 2018
Not only that, Washington has the 2nd easiest schedule the rest of the way, so even if they struggle over the next few weeks, that may not necessarily translate into losses for them.
The Eagles have two more games in hand than the 2006 team did, but the task in front of them now sure feels tougher.
Sometimes, it’s just not your year. And given the injuries, the schedule, and everything else, the 2018 season sure doesn’t seem like the Eagles’ year.
If they are going to do it, they’re going to have to pull off another 2006-like miracle.