A season without playoff football in Philadelphia is like 10.
When the Eagles missed the postseason last year after a disastrous 4-11-1 record, the result was the firing of a Super Bowl-winning head coach, the trade of a once-untouchable franchise QB, and a create collapse into dysfunction that was discussed endlessly by talking heads across the NFL.
It’s hard to remember that the Eagles went to the playoffs just two seasons ago. So much has happened since then.
This Sunday, the Eagles will tackle the Washington Football Team at Lincoln Financial Field, with two flawed 6-7 teams battling for playoff positioning. Fresh off their 27-20 loss to the Dallas Cowboys, Washington holds the NFC’s final postseason spot, the No. 7 seed, just ahead of four other 6-7 teams: Minnesota, Philadelphia, Atlanta and New Orleans.
The Eagles enter play as the No. 9 seed, but with two games against Washington still to play, as well as a must-win game against the Giants and the prospect of a Dallas game in the season finale in which the Cowboys rest their starters, the postseason is a realistic goal for Nick Sirianni’s crew.
What a glorious thing it would be for the Eagles to be back in the NFL tournament. No matter how flawed their team may be, Birds fans desperately want to get back to there because, as the saying goes, anything can happen once the playoffs begin.
However, while making the playoffs after a one-year absence is undoubtedly the team’s goal, there is something else that should override a postseason appearance.
Learning about Jalen Hurts.
Imagine the following scenario: Hurts and the offense struggles against the Football Team in much the same way they did two weeks ago against the Giants. He’s turned the ball over twice, he’s inaccurate and out of sync, yet the Eagles trail only 10-3.
Undoubtedly, Twitter will scream for Gardner Minshew to take over and for Hurts to ride the bench. That reaction would be understandable if the chief goal of the Eagles is to make the playoffs in 2021.
But that was never the goal of the ‘21 season.
Given the three first round draft picks the Eagles will have in their war chest this off-season (barring a disastrous turn of events in Indianapolis), Sirianni, Roseman and Jeffrey Lurie need to know what they have in Jalen Hurts in order to make an informed decision regarding the future at the position.
Do they use those picks to trade for a veteran? Do they use a couple to move up in the draft? Do they simply use one to take a QB wherever they are? Or do they stick with Hurts as the answer in 2022 and possibly beyond?
I have not made up my mind about Hurts. He is an enigma. His running ability has turned the Eagles’ ground game into a force to be reckoned with and, at times, he’s shown improvement as a passer. But has he shown enough? The locker room is behind him, his teammates love him, and his intangibles are off the charts. But can he actually throw the football well enough to win key games in the month of December against divisional opponents?
If you have already decided he’s not the guy, then benching Hurts at the next sign of struggle is logical, but doing so would also deny him the opportunity to bounce back in the second half of a meaningful game after a series of first half struggles.
What if Hurts is awful against Washington in the first half then lights it up in the second half? What would that say about him? While it may not convince anyone, it certainly would be good information to have.
And let’s also not overrate Gardner Minshew’s performance against the Jets two weeks ago. It was a splendid performance against a woeful defense, and he’s a very good back-up quarterback who can step in for a few weeks and beat lesser opponents. But his physical limitations are obvious. Like Hurts, he doesn’t have a dynamic arm and he’s short, but unlike Hurts, doesn’t run with the football. If you bench Hurts and hand the job to Minshew, you risk Minshew taking a big step backwards and missing the playoffs anyway while while locking out Hurts as the starter in 2022 and dinging his trade value in the process.
Is Minshew a better QB for the playoff chase? Perhaps. It’s a close call, but we know Minshew is not the future at the position. Hurts might be.
Let’s also be realistic about the Eagles’ playoff chances, should they get in. Yes, anything can happen in a playoff game, but as the No. 7 or 8 seed, they would likely travel to Arizona, Green Bay or Tampa for a wild card round playoff match-up against the Cardinals, Packers or Bucs. The odds of escaping the first round with a victory are extremely small. Would it be better to know more about Hurts than get into the postseason and likely lose their first round match-up against an NFC juggernaut?
Yes, the Eagles are in a playoff race, and we all want them to finish strong and get in the dance. But how Hurts plays during these last four games are more important than winning those games, because the long-term future of the team rests largely on how Hurts performs. It’s vital Roseman and Co. gather all the information they can on him in order to chart the course ahead for the franchise this off-season.
Seeing Jalen Hurts play is more important than making the playoffs.
Hopefully, we can have both.