Throughout the past 10 weeks, the NFL season has been something many of us couldn’t have predicted. The Jaguars have the No. 1 defense in the league, Detroit just won at Lambeau Field for the first time since 1991 and the L.A Rams are 6-2 atop the NFC West thanks to the duo of Todd Gurley and Jared Goff.
Those are just some of the stories that have emerged this season, but one has stood above all the rest: the Philadelphia Eagles sitting atop the NFL with a record of 8-1 as they head into a bye week.
The Eagles made a statement in week nine with a huge 51-23 rout of the Denver Broncos at Lincoln Financial Field. The league is now on notice, and it’s clear something special is brewing in the City of Brotherly Love, thanks to the stellar play of Carson Wentz. But how far can they go?
Here’s what was going on the last time the Eagles started 8-1: Beyblades were the the top-selling Christmas toy, “Hey Ya” by Outkast was at the top of the music charts and Tobey Maguire was stealing our hearts as Spiderman. Also, they had a quarterback by the name of Donovan McNabb.
The Eagles were considered one of the most successful teams in the league after the Andy Reid and McNabb era began in 1999, making it to the playoffs for four straight seasons and the NFC Championship Game three straight times from 2001-2003. Unfortunately, the team could not reach the ultimate goal of a Super Bowl. Philly was favored in two of the NFC title games they ended up losing. In the offseason heading into the 2004 season, this already championship-level team was reinforced on both sides of the ball by the free agent additions of wide receiver Terrell Owens and defensive end Jevon Kearse, as well as middle linebacker Jeremiah Trotter, their third round draft pick in 1998 who had been released by the Washington Redskins.
When the season finally kicked off they made the leap and steamrolled the competition on the way to a 13–1 start. They would finish the season 13–3 and fly past the Minnesota Vikings and the Atlanta Falcons in the playoffs, earning a trip to Super Bowl XXXIX in Jacksonville against the defending champion New England Patriots. The game was hard fought, but the Eagles fell 24–21, ending their magical season one score short of an elusive Super Bowl title while the New England Patriots won the big game in back-to-back years.
This season, fans of the Eagles (myself included) are just as excited and when we reminisce on the days under Reid, we see a strong resemblance in this 2017 team and the 2004 Eagles. The big signings of wide receiver Alshon Jeffery and Legarrette Blount in the offseason boosted the team’s offensive. On the defensive end the signing of Ronald Darby, which had most fans excited, was delayed after he suffered an ankle injury in week one, but he will make his return week 11 at Dallas. So why not be excited, right?
Well here is why despite the 8-1 start, offseason signings panning out and Carson Wentz’s fast development the Eagles still have a lot to prove.
Remember the Dallas Cowboys last year who finished 13-3? Well despite having the NFC’s top seed as well as home-field advantage, the Cowboys lost in the divisional round of the playoffs to the Green Bay Packers by a score of 34-31, ending their season. The Cowboys were renowned as the favorite after running through the league with rookies Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott but fell victim to Aaron Rodgers and the more experienced Packers.
The Eagles sure don’t play the same style of football, but one must ask: Will inexperience be this team’s Achilles heel?
In 2004 the Eagles had seen three NFC conference championship losses and they were ready to make the leap and compete for a Super Bowl. The 2017 team has a new look, and if they finish how they’ve started, Carson Wentz will win his first division title and be facing a playoff atmosphere for the first time in the NFL. Playing at his home field has been great to Wentz but playoff football isn’t a regular season game in October.
Will Wentz be Tom Brady in 2001, Ben Roethlisberger in 2005 or Kurt Warner in 1999, who all won Super Bowls in their sophomore campaigns? Will he be Dan Marino or Colin Kaepernick, who both lost in the Super Bowl after making it in their sophomore years? Or will the team as a whole suffer the fate of Dallas last season, with inexperience being their downfall?
Time will tell and in this final stretch of the season the Eagles face Dallas twice and possible playoff opponents in Seattle and L.A. on the road. In a week-to-week NFL, right now the Eagles are flying high. But can this inexperienced team go the distance?