2016 Week #13: Eagles at Bengals

Last offseason, when Eagles fans were lamenting the winter and looking forward to Phillies spring training and summer days spent down the shore, the NFL schedule makers were hard at work putting together the 2016 NFL schedule.

The “who” and “where” of the schedule had already been decided as soon as the last regular season game of the 2015 season had ended.  But it was the “when” that was yet to be determined.

With the availability of facilities, team requests, and travel dates all needing to be taken into account, there were many permutation combinations that could have taken place to configure the schedule.  And ultimately, the one that was created for your 2016 Philadelphia Eagles seems to be both a blessing and a curse.

A blessing because a team that not many had high hopes for started out the season 3-0.

A blessing because a team that traded its starting quarterback a week before the season commenced ended up starting a rookie at the position who looked poised and beyond his years as he stood in the pocket, giving fans reason to believe that he may replicate the success that rookie quarterbacks such as Ben Roethlisberger and Joe Flacco before him had experienced (a visit to the conference championship in their rookie season).

A blessing because the Eagles saw an oasis of riches that were possible before them as they stood alone in first place in the NFC East after three weeks.  Perhaps this team, the one that most expected to go 7-9 or 8-8, would surprise everyone and go deep in the playoffs.

But then there were losses to the Lions, Redskins, and Giants…all games where the Eagles fell behind early 14-0 but still had chances to win in the end.

An overtime loss to the Cowboys as well as a Monday night loss to the Packers also followed.  And a Seattle loss in which they were simply overmatched in the 2nd half.

And while there were quality wins over the Falcons and Vikings sprinkled between the losses, suddenly a 3-0 start had turned into 5-6.

Suddenly, the Eagles schedule had become a curse.  A curse, because a 3-0 start was the equivalent of “Fool’s Gold”.  A curse because the oasis of riches that the Eagles and their fans had seen after that Pittsburgh win was nothing more than a mirage.  Whether that mirage was just a longer path to the promise land or a toxic wasteland remains to be seen.

Looking back, the Eagles started off 2-0 by beating two teams (the Browns and Bears) that have won a total of two games between them.  Their third win, a thorough beating of the Pittsburgh Steelers, looked to be a victory against a  possible Super Bowl contender, but the Steelers have shown since then that they are slightly above average at best.

If you told Birds fans back on Labor Day that they would be 5-6 after eleven games, no one would have been surprised.  It’s just how they got there that’s disconcerting.

Turn the order of the Eagles season around and it paints a much different picture.  If the Eagles had started out the season at 2-6 and then reeled off three straight victories to get to where they are now, many would have seen it is a sign that the Eagles are progressing under first year head coach Doug Pederson after an initial “probation” period, involving getting to know him, his system, how he operates, etc.

The positive spin is that the Eagles had chances to win in all of their losses (including Seattle in the first half) .  The negative to all this is that a few of their losses can be pointed directly to their head coach.

If Doug Pederson chooses to kick a field goal against Dallas, that could have been a victory. If he decides to stick with a game plan that is working against a Packers defense that was allowing 37 points a game in its last four contests, the Eagles win that game.  Instead, they only managed to score 13 points.

Perhaps the scary thing about Pederson isn’t that he is another Andy Reid.  Perhaps the scary thing is that he is nowhere close and is overmatched.  That would set the Eagles back even further than all the bad receivers Chip Kelly drafted and good skill players he let go.

Let’s hope for Pederson’s sake and ours, that Doug is simply experiencing growing pains as a first year head coach and will only get better with time.  Let’s hope that his “growing” into his job (along with his quarterback), coupled with good drafts in the next few years means this team can do much better than 7-9 or 8-8 for years to come.

As for this season, there is still time to right the ship.  The good news is that the Birds are only 1.5 games behind the last playoff spot currently held by the Washington Redskins, whom they will play at home next Sunday.  The bad news is that there are four other teams between them and Washington all vying for that wildcard spot, whom the Eagles will have to overtake as well.

The Birds will face, what should be, their easiest opponent out of their five remaining games this Sunday.  Cincinnati is one of eight teams, in my estimation, that is out of the playoff race (if not mathematically, then for all intents and purposes).  The Eagles will face a wounded Bengals team that needs to simply be put out of their misery.  Whether they are good enough to insert the final dagger remains to be seen.

I’m picking the Eagles simply because I’m an Eagles fan.  Well that, and because I’m heading to Cincinnati for the game.

In the best case scenario, the Birds win at 1 PM, and the Redskins and Buccaneers both lose in their late afternoon games, resulting in a HUGE Eagles – Redskins matchup at the Linc next Sunday.

In the worst case scenario, the Eagles lose to the lowly Bengals, the Redskins win at Arizona, and we are better off spending next Sunday being tortured at the mall than tortured watching our Birds.

Let’s hope for the former…Birds win 30-17.  Just don’t ask me why.

Amit’s Marquee Matchups of the Week (all times in EST and on Sunday unless noted otherwise):

Cowboys at Vikings 8:25 PM NBC (Thurs) – Game of the Week

Chiefs at Falcons 1:00 PM CBS

Dolphins at Ravens 1:00 PM CBS

Bills at Raiders 4:05 PM CBS

Giants at Steelers 4:25 PM FOX

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