Eagles

Why the Eagles will (and why they won't) finish as NFC's top seed

Why the Eagles will (and why they won't) finish as NFC's top seed

All of you who predicted before the season that the Eagles would open with five wins in six games, raise your hand.
 
Put your hands down, liars.
 
If you made that prediction and acted on it, you're likely not reading this. You're probably taping the next episode of Island Hunters.
 
The Eagles haven't finished the regular season as the No. 1 seed in the NFC since 2004. The landscape can change any one of thousands of ways over the next 11 weeks. While I'm confident the Birds will return to the postseason for the first time since 2013, they're gunning for that No. 1 spot. Here are the reasons why they will, and why they won't, be atop the NFC standings after Week 17.
 
WILL
 
1. Carson Wentz

A little more than 13 months ago, we had no idea what we had in the No. 2 pick in the 2016 draft. Since then, he's shown that not only can he lead an offense, but he has also grown as an NFL passer by leaps and bounds. He's the best QB in the game on third down this season (130.5 rating), and it's no coincidence he's the favorite to win NFL MVP.
 
2. Lane Johnson
Wentz's performance, both last year and this year, can be directly linked to whether or not Johnson is protecting him. During Johnson's 10-game suspension for a second PED violation in 2016, the Eagles went 2-8. With him, they were 5-1 last year, 4-1 this year. It's impossible to undersell his role in the offense's efficiency.
 
3. Doug Pederson
If there are 70,000 fans who signed a petition to ban NFL referee Pete Morelli from working Eagles games, there should be at least three times that many that should write apology letters to the Eagles' head coach. So many wanted to run him out of town for going for it on 4th-and-8 against the Giants, but did you applaud him for calling the perfect play — a 19-yard out-route to Alshon Jeffery with seven seconds left — a play that took exactly six seconds. Since then, how many times have you screamed at your big screen over a Pederson mistake? I'm guessing not many. Give the guy some props.
 
4. The NFC is garbage
Who is going to beat them out for the No. 1 seed? The Giants are done. The Packers are done. The Eagles are two games in front of nearly half of the conference with 10 games left. The way I see it, there aren't many teams that can catch them. Who's gonna do it ... Case Keenum? Jared Goff?
 
5. You guys
If Carson Wentz has been the most pleasant surprise of the 2017 season, Eagles fans are a close second. The team opened the season with four road games in the first six weeks, but thanks to #EaglesNation, the more recent two away from the Linc sounded like home games. I defy you to name a fanbase that travels better than this one.
 
WHY THEY WON'T
 
1. The cornerbacks
For a position group held together by chewing gum and chicken wire, they've been all right. But for every big play the corners have made, it seems like they've allowed two. They had better hope Ronald Darby returns to 100 percent sooner rather than later and that Patrick Robinson continues to find his footing in this secondary, or they'll face an uphill climb.
 
2. Doug Pederson
Yes, I mentioned he's been impressive as a play-caller, as well as the glue that holds the team together. But am I the only one waiting for the other shoe to drop in a close game? He's starting to win me over, but I can't be alone among those not completely sold on Doug.
 
3. The new receivers
Last year, Nelson Agholor couldn't catch. This year, Torrey Smith can't catch. And for all that Wentz has done this season, it doesn't seem like the chemistry is there with Jeffery quite yet. Jeffery and Smith have been thrown to 73 times through six games. They have 38 catches (52.1 percent). That percentage must go up.
 
4. The schedule
To get to 5-1, the Eagles fought through some tough games. But December awaits. (Insert Game of Thrones reference.) They'll play three straight road games, including back-to-back west coast games against the Seahawks and Rams. Throw in a Christmas night tilt with the Raiders and a New Year's Eve against a Cowboys team that could really need a win and the season's final month will be anything but a cakewalk.
 
5. Chaos theory
The same thing that got us here could be a big reason it ends here. No one predicted the Eagles' 5-1 start. No one predicted the Giants' 0-5 start or the Cowboys' 2-3 start. One thing we know is that there's quite a bit we don't know. What I do know is that I'm here for all of it. Eleven weeks to go ... hold on to your butts.

Carson Wentz leading all NFL players in Pro Bowl fan voting

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USA Today Images

Carson Wentz leading all NFL players in Pro Bowl fan voting

Carson Wentz doesn't care about accolades. 

He just better get used to them. 

The NFL announced Wednesday afternoon the Eagles' quarterback is leading all players in Pro Bowl fan voting. 

"I honestly didn't even know that," Wentz said to NBC Sports Philadelphia while sitting at his locker after Wednesday's practice. "I guess that's cool and all but you know how I am about that stuff. At the end of the day, we're 9-1 and that's what we like. You know me, I don't get caught up in that stuff."

Wentz has 273,367 votes, well ahead of the second-place player, Tom Brady (239,989). He has over 30,000 more votes than perhaps the best quarterback of all time. 

Fan voting is open until Dec. 14 and the Pro Bowl teams will be announced on Dec. 19.  

This season, Wentz has thrown for 2,430 yards and leads the NFL in touchdown passes with 25. He has just five interceptions. Wentz, in his second pro season, is a big reason why the Eagles have the best record in the NFL at 9-1. 

If Wentz makes the Pro Bowl this season, it would be the first of his career. He admitted it would mean something to be named to the team. 

"I mean, obviously, that's recognition and that's something cool," he said. "But that's for down the road. We still have six games here to take care of business. We'll see what happens." 

In addition to Wentz, his favorite target Zach Ertz is closing in on his first Pro Bowl appearance. Ertz leads all NFC tight ends with 156,183 votes. In nine games this season, Ertz has 536 yards receiving and a career-high six touchdown catches. 

The Eagles are hoping neither of these two will be able to play in this year's Pro Bowl even if they make it. They're hoping both will be preparing for the Super Bowl that week. 

Carson Wentz's numbers have dipped, but Eagles keep winning

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USA Today Images

Carson Wentz's numbers have dipped, but Eagles keep winning

Carson Wentz's declining production probably isn't a sign of trouble on the horizon for the Eagles. Quite the contrary, the quarterback's down numbers may be at least in part a reflection of the scheme and how well the team is playing.

With 2,430 yards passing and 25 touchdowns, Wentz might be the front-runner to be named the NFL's Most Valuable Player at season's end. He's among the top two or three candidates, anyway. But the second-year player's once eye-popping statistics have notably dropped off in recent weeks, begging some question as to whether the magic is wearing off.

Over the Eagles' last three games, Wentz has completed 47 of 86 pass attempts (54.7 percent) for 192.7 yards per game (6.7 average) with eight touchdowns — far from MVP-caliber.

Perhaps the most concerning of those numbers is Wentz's completion percentage. At 59.7 percent for the season, he's fallen well below his mark of 62.4 as a rookie.

Wentz concedes he could be more accurate. The 24-year-old signal caller also believes some of the dropoff in his completion percentage is due to the offense pushing the ball vertically with more frequency in 2017.

That, and stats are meaningless as long as the Eagles are winning.

"That's definitely a number that I'd like to get higher again," Wentz said before Wednesday's practice. "I'm not crazy about stats. What really matters is wins and losses, but I'd like that to get higher.

“I do think it's a product of taking more chances down the field, taking more shots, being aggressive. I'm not going to get too hung up on that.”

There is certainly something to what Wentz is saying. While his completion rate is sub-optimal, his yards per attempt are over a yard higher compared to last season — 7.6 to 6.2. That's good for ninth in the NFL among qualifying quarterbacks.

More incompletions or not, Wentz has still managed to play more efficient.

The Eagles are also 3-0 during Wentz's ongoing funk, so to speak, and he's only turned the football over once. He's obviously doing something right.

In fact, Wentz and the Eagles have been so successful in the last three games, that's actually had a negative impact on his individual numbers as well. The team jumped out to big second-half leads in contests against the 49ers, Broncos and Cowboys, reducing the need to put the ball in the air. Wentz even sat out portions of the fourth quarter twice.

Those types of game scripts will obviously put a damper on volume totals such as yards and touchdowns, and possibly Wentz's MVP chances along with them. From the team's vantage point, they're overwhelmingly positive.

With the Eagles chugging right along at 9-1, there doesn't seem much need to perform an autopsy on Wentz's season at this point. But if critics are searching for holes in the ship, the quarterback doesn't appear to be the place where this squad is going to spring a leak.