By Joseph Santoliquito
Philadelphia, PA (CBS) — It’s easy to ruminate and jostle around all the hypothetical ‘what ifs’ that followed the Eagles’ 10-6 NFC East title and first-round playoff ouster to the New Orleans Saints.
This is the time to do it, while the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks ready to fight for NFL supremacy in the Super Bowl next week.
A major part of Super Bowl build up is talk. And a lot of that talk will be about what teams could possibly be in the same position as the Broncos and Seahawks next year.
No doubt, the Eagles will certainly be in the discussion. They made a stunning about-face from their horrid 4-12 finish in 2012. That’s reality. As there’s no doubt Chip Kelly is a quality coach and the staff he put together are a group of very capable guys.
But as the NFL narrows its prism toward the 2013 Super Bowl champion, the prevailing thought around these parts is that the Eagles really aren’t that far off from the Denver Broncos, New England Patriots, San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks.
A closer look at the NFL’s Final Four reveals that the Eagles still may have a longer way to go before they’re truly considered Super Bowl contenders.
Good teams beat good teams. Looking back at 2013, the Eagles really didn’t beat anyone.
The 10 teams the Eagles beat had a combined record of 59-84-1. The combined record of the six teams the Eagles lost to were 53-42-1. The Eagles beat one playoff team, Green Bay, sans All-Pro quarterback Aaron Rodgers. The Eagles were a combined 1-3 against playoff teams and were outscored in those four games 124-93.
In crucial games against Green Bay and Dallas, those teams were without difference-making starting quarterbacks (and I know it’s Philly, but Tony Romo is still an impact player that can win a game).
Nick Foles improved beyond anyone’s expectations, possibly even his own. His 27 touchdowns against two interceptions may never be touched by another Eagles’ quarterback. But can Foles break free of his self-imposed cautious cast? Can he or will he free comfortable with an impulsive twinge to be a gunslinger on occasion?
Super Bowl champion quarterbacks take risks. In time, Foles hopefully will know when to choose those times
We still don’t everything about Foles. He can win in the NFL. But is he a Super Bowl-caliber quarterback? He showed great poise in bringing the Eagles back from a 20-7 deficit in a playoff game to go ahead, 24-23, with 4:54 left to play. He also struggled against Dallas in the last game and had issues letting the ball go for three quarters against New Orleans.
There are still more glaring holes that need to be addressed. The necessity for an outside pass rusher has been broached ad nauseam (and rightfully so), so has a safety (or two), and further depth at wide receiver and on the offensive line may be needs as well.
Will the Eagles go another entire season almost injury free? Not likely. Left tackle Jason Peters and right guard Todd Herremans turn 32 this year. Left guard Evan Mathis, coming off another fine season and who seems to actually be getting even better with age, will turn 33 during 2014.
Defensively, the Eagles improved. But in big games, namely the playoff loss to New Orleans, they stumbled. And who knows if the Eagles would have even been in that position had they faced Romo in the regular-season finale?
Are the Eagles really just a few players away from where the San Francisco 49ers, New England Patriots, Seahawks and Broncos arrived this year? Or are they really a bloated 8-8 team that received some fortuitous breaks?
Next season will provide the ultimate answers. Though the Eagles made vast improvements, they’re still quite a bit away from being Super Bowl contenders.
Joseph Santoliquito is a contributing sports blogger for CBS Philly.