Heading into the 2017 season, a variety of analysts predicted for the Philadelphia Eagles to finish third within the NFC East, with the Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants battling for the title. Once the season began, Philadelphia was able to prove those critics wrong by playing consistent football, and that showed with a beginning record of 6-1.
With that said, are the Eagles legitimate playoff contenders in the NFC, or will they crumble in the second half of the season?
On offense, the Eagles are ranked in the top ten in terms of driving the ball downfield, averaging 28.4 points, 381.4 total yards, and 249.7 passing yards per game. With all of that success on offense, there have been a handful of players that have stepped up this season.
That all starts with sophomore quarterback Carson Wentz, as he has been able to emerge out of his shell and become one of the most elite men under center this season. Throughout seven games, Wentz has thrown for 1,852 passing yards, 17 touchdowns, 4 interceptions, and is posting a passer rating of 104.0. Although Wentz is not the only one responsible for the success of the Eagles this year, he deserves every ounce of credit heading in his direction.
Outside of Wentz, the Eagles also have maintained an efficient running game with the likes of both LeGarrette Blount and Wendall Smallwood. With a decent 1-2 combo in the backfield, it happens to take a lot of pressure off of Wentz in the long-run.
Last season, it seemed as though the running game was a major downfall for the Eagles, as the franchise was forced to rely on veterans Ryan Mathews and Darren Sproles. While Mathews is no longer with Philadelphia, Sproles is currently placed on injured reserve, which may ultimately prove to become a blessing in disguise.
Another reason why the running game was not effective last year was due to the lack of support from the offensive line. In addition, the lack of offensive line assistance in 2016 resulted in Wentz being sacked 33 times, which is never a positive sign.
Although he has already been sacked 19 times in seven weeks, Wentz has learned to get the ball out a lot quicker before the pass rush can get after him. With an offensive line that contains Lane Johnson, Jason Peters, Isaac Seumalo, Brandon Brooks and Jason Kelce, it has shown major improvement in comparison to past years.
Aside from an improved run game, how about the overall receiving core that Philadelphia has built upon? During the off-season, the Eagles sent Jordan Matthews to the Buffalo Bills, but also brought in talent such as Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith during free agency.
The free agent talent at the wide receiver position has been outstanding, but Nelson Agholor has played his role as well, surprising almost everyone with 24 receptions, 366 receiving yards and 5 touchdowns through the first seven weeks. For a player that a majority of skeptics wanted to be cut at one point, Agholor has been producing decent numbers.
Throughout the 2017 season, it has been known that the preferred target for Carson Wentz is not a wide receiver, but in fact, it is tight end Zach Ertz. The veteran has caught 39 receptions, 494 receiving yards, and has 5 touchdowns so far.
On the other side of the ball, the Eagles pass rush has been able to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks, reeling in 18 total sacks, with Brandon Graham placed ninth in the league in that category. The run defense has also been clicking as well, with Nigel Bradham leading the Eagles in tackles with 41 total tackles on the season.
Even with these impressive stats, there is always room for improvement. The franchise is currently allowing 272.9 passing yards per game, which is ranked 29th in the league. When you want to be a contender in the NFL, you have to maintain a decent secondary to stop the passing game. If there was a weakness right now for the Eagles, it would be within their secondary.
In the remaining games this season, outside of the divisional matchups against Dallas and New York, Philadelphia still has to go up against four potential playoff teams in Oakland (3-4), Los Angeles (5-2), Seattle (4-2), and Denver (3-3).
On paper, Philadelphia will be forced to undergo some tough games, but as long as the team does not fall apart, they should be fine. Out of everyone on their remaining schedule, the true test for the Eagles will be in week 11 against the Rams, who are seemingly on fire right now.
With a large lead in the NFC East, the Eagles have a bit of breathing room to work with at the moment. Barring any setbacks or sudden collapses, the Eagles should be able to run away with the division title.
Although the Eagles are currently placed at 6-1, they shouldn’t aim to slow down, with teams like Minnesota (5-2), Los Angeles (5-2) currently on their tails for the #1 seed in the NFC. With the stiff competition within the conference, the next few weeks are going to be very important for the Eagles.
At the end of the day, it’s still too early to tell if the Eagles are currently playoff contenders. I would recommend waiting until week 12 or so before further determination on whether Philadelphia can maintain any shot at a Super Bowl reign.
Photo Credit Michael Perez/Associated Press
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