The Philadelphia Eagles may have a long way to go to prove they are among the NFL's elite, much less the NFC's. Yet Eagles fans like myself are waking up on Sept. 18 to see that Philadelphia is among the top teams right now, at least in terms of its record. As unlikely as it has been sometimes, the Birds are still one of six unbeaten teams left in the NFL - with four coming from the NFC alone.
The fact that the Green Bay Packers, New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys aren't among the perfect NFC teams right now is a bit ominous. Perhaps this is proof that the NFC will be quite tight this season, which makes the Eagles' place on top even more tentative. But for now, they and the San Francisco 49ers, Atlanta Falcons and Arizona Cardinals are looking down on the rest of the conference.
This is quite a unlikely collection, even though the 49ers, Falcons and Eagles' perfect records didn't exactly come from nowhere - not like the Cardinals. Yet since San Francisco faced Green Bay and the Detroit Lions in its first two games, while the Falcons played the Denver Broncos on Sept. 17 and the Eagles battled the Baltimore Ravens on Sept. 16, these presumed contenders have already been tested. So far they have all passed, even if some have looked better than others.
The 49ers have distanced themselves as the class of the conference - if not the league - with their wins over the Packers and Lions. This leaves the Falcons and the Eagles scrambling for No. 2, at least among the remaining unbeatens. While Atlanta has been impressive over the Kansas City Chiefs and the Broncos, winning in the regular season hasn't been a problem under Matt Ryan - unlike winning in the postseason.
Long-term doubts also surround the Eagles, given their very close wins, their turnovers and their health. If they have to keep winning like they did against the Cleveland Browns and Ravens, they will fall from the ranks of the unbeaten - and the ranks of the Super Bowl contenders - very quickly.
But the Cardinals are expected to fall from these ranks the fastest - and not just because they play the Eagles in Week 3. Despite beating the New England Patriots, Arizona remains lightly regarded and is being led by a starter-turned backup-turned starter again in Kevin Kolb. And since the Cardinals are in the same division as the 49ers, they still have a few statements they need to make.
Among the last four unbeaten NFC clubs, only the 49ers are a certain Super Bowl contender, given how close they came to the title last year. The Eagles, Falcons and Cardinals all still have doubters to answer, and may not be able to do it for another 14 weeks or so. Plus once the likes of the Packers and Giants heat up, they will be expected to challenge the 49ers the most instead.
While San Francisco, Philadelphia, Atlanta and Arizona have the same records, they are not the same at all. By this time next month, we will have a better idea of how different they are - and whether the Eagles belong in the upper echelon of that group and the NFC after all.
Robert Dougherty is a life-long Philadelphia resident who has followed the Eagles since he was eight years old.
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