The Philadelphia Eagles’ breakthrough wasn’t supposed to happen this season.
The Eagles were supposed to watch the Dallas Cowboys win the NFC East. Maybe the New York Giants (ha!) would challenge the Cowboys. Maybe next year, the building Eagles would take a step. But early in the season, it became apparent the Eagles might actually be the best team in the NFC East.
Now, it’s fair to wonder if they’re the best team in the NFC.
The NFC has a few quality teams, but the Eagles can hang with any of them. On Thursday night they played at the Carolina Panthers, who were 4-1, and the Eagles were the better team. The Panthers made it close at the end, because they’re good too, but Jalen Mills picked off Cam Newton late and the Eagles held on fourth-and-goal in the final two minutes to finish the 28-23 win.
When you talk about the Eagles, you have to start with quarterback Carson Wentz. Some folks weren’t impressed with him coming into the season. You know who you are. It’s hard to believe there are skeptics remaining. The second pick in last year’s draft has everything you’d want. He can stand in the pocket and make throws, or he can throw fastballs on the move. He can run, too. Eagles fans would rather not see him plowing into defenders with his throwing shoulder, as he did near the end zone in the first half on one run, but he has toughness too. It’s probably worth mentioning here that the Cleveland Browns traded the pick that became Wentz.
While Wentz is the headliner, the Eagles have a lot more going for them than a good, young quarterback. They have a physical runner with LeGarrette Blount. They have a few intriguing receiver options, including rejuvenated Nelson Agholor and red-hot tight end Zach Ertz. Unlike last season, Wentz has good targets to throw to.
And Philadelphia’s defense was very good for most of the night Thursday. The Eagles have a menacing front seven, especially now that defensive tackle Fletcher Cox is healthy. Cox is a difference maker, as he showed when he collapsed the pocket and hit Cam Newton’s arm on a throw that intercepted in the first half.
And just as a bonus, they stumbled into rookie kicker Jake Elliott, who the Cincinnati Bengals somehow lost even though they drafted him. Since the Eagles signed Elliott off the Bengals’ practice squad he has been practically automatic. He is 10 of 12 on field-goal attempts with some long makes.
The Eagles have a good, balanced offense. They have a tough, creative and disruptive defense. Their special teams can make plays too. They’re not great at cornerback, but they’ve overcome that so far. There’s no other glaring weakness.
They’re 5-1, having played four road games already, and they check every box you’d want from a Super Bowl contender. Get excited, Philly. The Eagles are legit.
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