The Philadelphia Eagles rolled into Los Angeles with a 10-2 record on Sunday afternoon and escaped with a thrilling 43-35 victory.
That would have most fans and sports bettors thinking everything was normal and that the now 11-2 Eagles were locks to secure the NFC’s top seed. From there, the former title favorite could easily march to Super Bowl 52 and land the franchise’s first-ever Lombardi Trophy.
Unfortunately, context is everything. Had you not been watching the game, you would have missed that star quarterback Carson Wentz suffered a knee injury and exited the game for good with a quarter to go.
Backup Nick Foles did enough to help the Eagles win, but on Monday Philly had some bittersweet news; the NFC East title and a trip to the playoffs had been won, but Wentz would be done for the year with a torn ACL.
Suddenly the Eagles look like a lifeless 11-3 team – if there ever was one – and whatever they do from now until the end of the year could end up feeling rather empty.
Of course, Bovada and other top NFL betting sites haven’t totally quit the Eagles just yet. They were previously right behind the New England Patriots in terms of Super Bowl odds but still come in at +900 as the league’s fourth-best bet.
Leapfrogging the Eagles in the NFC are the Minnesota Vikings, while the New Orleans Saints and Los Angeles Rams may have found new life with this huge news.
It’s true that the rest of the NFC may have reason to rejoice, but an argument could still be made that bettors shouldn’t quite count the Eagles out yet. Here are four reasons why:
Nick Foles Isn’t That Bad
I’m not sure anybody is feeling amazing about Nick Foles being under center going forward, but his presence as Wentz’s replacement doesn’t have to equate to a death sentence for the Eagles, either.
Foles did make a clutch third-down throw to help preserve Philly’s lead late in this game, while he’s put up big numbers and had success in the NFL in the past.
People can knock Foles all they want, but he does know the system and he’s been behind Wentz all year, ready to step in if needed. He made a few plays on Sunday that suggest there is room for optimism and he made a few that make you think the Eagles could be in trouble.
The Eagles have a brilliant coaching staff, he’ll have Wentz in his ear and he also has support across the rest of the roster.
Wentz going down absolutely takes away some of Philly’s down-field effectiveness and the ability to make magic out of broken plays, but Foles happens to be one of the better backup options in the NFL.
That still might not keep the Eagles from slipping down the stretch, but there is something to be said about a guy who has a lot of playing experience and knows his team’s system.
The Eagles Can Run the Football
I think Foles’ biggest friend will be a rushing attack that already ranks #2 in all of football.
LeGarrette Blount, Corey Clement, Kenjon Barner and Wendell Smallwood have all had a hand in one of the NFL’s best rushing offenses, while Philly had the foresight to swing a trade for stud rusher Jay Ajayi just a few weeks ago.
There is no doubt the Eagles will rely more on their ground game moving forward, while it’s possible not having Wentz will allow defenses to key in on it in a way they weren’t able to before.
That remains to be seen, but for now, the Eagles have the offensive line and running backs to make life easier on Foles. Everything this offense has done leading up to this point suggests this will still be a unit to fear and if Foles can keep defenses honest even a little bit, they might not miss a beat.
Philly’s Defense is Aggressive
Helping the Eagles out considerably is an aggressive special teams and defense. Fans saw that in Sunday’s win, as the Eagles stopped a desperation lateral play and returned it for a score.
On the year, the Eagles have met their elite rushing offense with the best run-stopping defense in the NFL.
It really hasn’t been close, as the Eagles have allowed just 71 yards per game on the ground, and that’s including a tough outing this past Sunday against a Rams team that runs the football about as good as anyone.
In addition, the Eagles rank 3rd in total defense and 6th in points allowed per game. In theory, if their offense can sustain drives with their elite rushing attack and the defense can keep harassing opposing offenses, this team could remain a very tough out come playoff time.
Philly Has a Leg Up
The beauty with the Eagles is that they won the NFC East with a win on Sunday and no matter how they close out the regular season, they’re in the playoffs.
A three-game slide to finish 11-5 isn’t impossible, but that’s not all that likely with games against the New York Giants, Oakland Raiders and the Dallas Cowboys coming up. Even without Wentz, the Eagles have a formula for success that should allow for them to win one or two of those games and maybe all three.
How they close out the regular season doesn’t matter, though. The plan is to make Nick Foles comfortable and get him acclimated as the starter to the point where he plays well enough to feel confident heading into the playoffs.
Perhaps that means throwing him into the fire and forcing the issue with the pass in one of these final games, just to help him see he can get the job done when called upon.
The Eagles already have the best record in the NFC and after beating the Rams, they can afford to lose and finish with the same record.
The Minnesota Vikings are really their only concern when it comes to the #1 seed and home-field advantage through the playoffs, however, and that will be something to monitor.
Betting on the Eagles
The Carson Wentz injury news is devastating. It’s brutal for a city that has never won a Super Bowl and it’s demoralizing for a team that seemed to truly believe this was finally going to be their year.
It’s a bummer for fantasy football fans, too, while NFL fans in general lose one of the more dynamic, exciting and truly decent players the league has to offer.
As bad as this looks, the Eagles still have a lot going for them. They probably still feel they can win games and make a playoff run with Foles as their quarterback, and with an elite defense and running game, why shouldn’t they?
I don’t know if I’d still bet on the Eagles to win it all this year, but I certainly wouldn’t be willing to bet they for sure can’t. This team still offers really nice value at +900 and very well could hold onto the top seed in the NFC. That home-field advantage could be a huge piece to the puzzle as this team rides out their work in the trenches and tries to get to the Super Bowl.
I’m not sure that once they’re there they’d be able to take down the Patriots or Steelers (likely), but getting there is half the battle.
The value is certainly tempting and the framework is still there for this team to grit it’s way to a title.