The Philadelphia Eagles have gone from an 0-2 start to the verge of a division title and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
That can happen when a team matches the longest winning streak in its history.
The Eagles can break that record and wrap up the NFC East for a third straight year when they host the San Francisco 49ers, who are looking to avoid their first winless season on the road in 24 years.
“We’re opening up some eyes,” Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb said. “We’ve gotten better and better each week.”
McNabb has helped Philadelphia become the ninth team in history to win 11 games after starting 0-2. The Eagles have won nine in a row to equal the franchise record set in 1960, when Philadelphia won the last of its three NFL championships.
“We knew from the beginning what type of team we had so we ignored those who as the season moved along jumped off the bandwagon,” Eagles linebacker Carlos Emmons said. “We have known all along what we are capable of doing and that is win.”
The Eagles could use the final week of the regular season to simply rest up for the playoffs if things go their way Sunday.
They could clinch the division crown and a first-round bye before taking the field if Dallas loses at home to the woeful New York Giants in an early game. If the Cowboys win, the Eagles still can wrap up the division with a victory Sunday and would also lock up home-field advantage throughout the playoffs for a second consecutive year if St. Louis loses to Cincinnati.
“There’s certain things at stake and our guys understand that,” Eagles coach Andy Reid said. “Also, we need to keep improving as a football team. That’s the mentality that this group has taken on. They understand that they haven’t reached their peak.”
The offense appears to be close to peaking. The team’s 34 points and 401 yards in Monday night’s 34-27 win over Miami were the most allowed by the Dolphins’ defense this season.
The Eagles have averaged 32 points in the last five games, a stretch during which Brian Westbrook has 478 yards from scrimmage and seven touchdowns. He keys a three-headed rushing attack, along with Duce Staley and Correll Buckhalter, that has run for 1,469 yards and totaled 720 receiving yards with 24 touchdowns.
Monday’s win, however, was McNabb’s first game without a TD pass since mid-October. He did run for a score and finished 15-of-27 for 236 yards with an interception, receiving a boost from a ground game that had 140 yards.
McNabb, the NFL’s worst-rated passer through six games, has thrown for 1,749 yards, nine TDs and only two interceptions in the last seven games.
“Donovan continues to play at a MVP level,” Reid said. “He’s just doing a heck of a job commanding the offense. He is playing very confident football.”
The Niners’ offense is also playing some of its best football of the season, totaling a league-best 88 points over the last two weeks.
However, another offensive outburst was not enough to end San Francisco’s road woes in last week’s 41-38 setback at Cincinnati. The defeat dropped San Francisco to 0-7 away from home, meaning a loss Sunday will mark the first season since 1979 the team has failed to win on the road.
“One of the things we’ve always been able to do around here is play well on the road,” said defensive tackle Bryant Young, a Niner since 1994. “I can’t quite put my finger on one reason we’re not doing it this year.”
Four of the seven road losses have been by three points or fewer. The team’s only home loss came by one point.
“I’ve never been in a season when we’ve lost this many close games,” said Dennis Erickson, who’s been coaching since 1971. “Hopefully, we never will again.”
The Eagles will likely be without standout defensive back Troy Vincent on Sunday. Vincent, a four-time Pro Bowler, suffered a hip flexor in Monday night’s win and is listed as doubtful.
“It would be a rough stretch for Troy to play. Most likely, he won’t play,” Reid said. “We’re fortunate enough to have a couple of corners that can step right in and play.”