1) Carson Wentz is out for the year with a torn ACL
It pains me to type those words. All the hope and promise that this season had to offer has turned to despair with the tear of a single ligament. An MVP-season derailed and Super Bowl chances now hanging by a thread I woke up this morning wondering where I could find hope in a world suddenly so meaningless.
That may be an overreaction but just ask Oakland fans how life’s been since Derek Carr’s season was unceremoniously ended last year. We had the clearest path to Super Bowl in recent memory with Aaron Rodgers on the shelf and the NFC potentially running through the Linc. None of this was being taken for granted by Eagles fans and with Wentz out for the season those hopes are all but gone.
However, rather than sulking in the loss of our leader, I spent the afternoon desperately trying to piece together reasons for optimism. Here’s what I came up with:
2) Silver Lining: Yesterday’s win all but assured a first round-bye and home game.
To be clear, there should be no celebrating after yesterday’s win. The loss of Wentz is way bigger than any one win – that much is obvious. But with a loss yesterday the Birds would have dropped to 3 in the standings and just one game ahead of Carolina and New Orleans. Fresh of a two-game losing streak our hopes of a bye-week and a home game in the divisional round would have been all but gone – making an already unlikely road to the Super Bowl all the more difficult.
Thankfully, we pulled out the victory and don’t need to worry about winning these last few games. With a Minnesota loss we reclaimed our spot atop the NFC and are two whole games ahead of the Rams, Saints, and Panthers. With just three weeks remaining and the Eagles holding most of the tiebreakers it’s fair to say a first round bye is all but clinched. Compare that with potentially having to play in the wild card round and having to win twice on the road and its clear how far yesterday’s win went in making our road to the Super Bowl more manageable – even in Wentz absence.
I realize we would all trade yesterday’s win for a healthy Wentz, hell, most of us would trade our ACL for Carson’s, but neither of those are feasible options. At this point we need to work with what we have and see the silver lining that our road to Super Bowl is significantly easier after the win.
3) Expectations for Foles should be higher than most backups.
Earlier I compared the loss of Wentz to when Oakland lost Derek Carr last season, and they’re the same in the sense that both teams lost their star QB in the midst of MVP-caliber seasons. However the one difference between the two situations is the backups. The Raiders turned to Matt McGloin and then when he got hurt the inexperienced Connor Cook – for as much as McGloin struggled, once Cook came in their slither of hope was gone.
It’s easy to see how Nick Foles is a more capable passer than McGloin and Cook, especially considering McGloin was beat out for the backup spot by Foles in training camp. Not to mention Nick has two stints as a starter in this league, once before in Philly and then in St Louis for a brief period. There’s no need for me to remind Birds fans of his 27-2 TD-int ratio when he replaced Mike Vick in 2013. In fact, the last time this team made the playoffs was that season with Foles as the starter.
It’s easy to liken this situation with the one in Oakland, but with such an experienced and capable backup we need to recognize how we’re better equipped to win without our MVP than the Raiders were. In a hypothetical scenario where we have to start a guy like Brett Hundley or someone who’s never thrown an NFL pass, like Connor Cook, I don’t think we stand a prayer at winning the Super Bowl. Nick Foles gives us a better chance than most backups, no matter how small that may be.
4) The running game was strong again and we need to lean on that moving forward.
After totaling 139 yards on 32 carries the running game continues to be effective behind a solid line and fresh committee of backs. Under any circumstances they would need to keep that production going but without Wentz that becomes imperative. Foles success will likely be linked to the success of our ground game, as is the case with most quarterbacks. Defenses will undoubtedly key in on Blount, Ajayi, and Clement so they should expect more defenders in the box moving forward. The running game is just one of several variables that will determine how far this team can go without Wentz, but it might be the most important.
5) The Eagles are one of the most complete teams in football, that hasn’t changed.
This is where we’ll get to see what Doug is made of in terms of game planning and play calling because that task has never been tougher than now. During his press conference he remarked, “We’ve overcome our MLB, we’ve overcome our LT, RB, we’ve overcome a core special teams player this year, a kicker this year. This is no different.” I remember thinking when Peters and Hicks went down we wouldn’t be able to recover. I thought we would still win but there was no way we could reach Super Bowl level play without them; I was wrong.
Although this loss is surely bigger and more impactful than those, the point is the Eagles are no stranger to overcoming adversity. Let’s not forget that our success was bigger than any one player; to suggest that Wentz is solely responsible for this 11-2 season is ignorant to the strides the rest of the team made. This is as complete a football team there is in the NFL and believe it or not that does not change with Nick Foles at QB. Like most of Philadelphia I woke up this morning in despair – but we need to recognize how good a football team we have outside of Carson. Furthermore, we need to recognize that there’s precedent set for teams losing their MVP-level QB’s and still winning in the playoffs, even the Super Bowl (’90 Giants & Simms, ’01 Patriots & Bledsoe). Sue me for being an optimist in such dark times, but this season isn’t over.