Through five weeks of the 2020 NFL season, the Eagles have been an abject disappointment. Sure, they’ve had injuries but they have failed to overcome them on the way to a 1-3-1 start.
In any other division, they’d be in the basement with little chance to escape, which is a point I sort of failed to bring up gracefully to Doug Pederson on Monday afternoon following the Eagles’ 38-29 loss to the Steelers on Sunday.
“Great observation,” Pederson quipped.
It is, however, a salient — albeit obvious — point. The NFC East is the worst division in football and it’s not particularly close. Through five weeks, the Cowboys are atop the division with a 2-3 record and the Eagles are right behind them at 1-3-1. Even the Giants at 0-5 are still in this thing. It’s the first time in NFC East history a team with a losing record is first in the division this late into the season.
So how should the Eagles look at the rest of the 2020 season? And how should fans look at it?
Those answers might be somewhat different. The Eagles have to look at it like they have a real chance to get into the playoffs … because they do. The only team that’s really in their way is the Cowboys and they just lost their quarterback, Dak Prescott, to a season-ending ankle injury.
On the other side, some fans might actually be rooting against the playoffs. After all, this isn’t what anyone really wants, for the Eagles to scrape their way into the playoffs only to find an early exit. The thought here is that maybe it’ll take a complete implosion to elicit any significant changes. I understand that next-level thinking as do many in the city that once endured The Process.
I sort of remember talking about that exact thing last season before the Eagles won their final four games to get into the playoffs. That it wouldn’t excuse all the work that was left to be done and the poor start.
And I still feel that way.
Because the Eagles should be able to go on a decent run at some point to win this dumpster fire of a division and still realize they are not the team they need to be and that major changes are needed. Generally, it’s better to be in the playoffs than playing golf. And even though this team certainly doesn’t seem poised for a deep playoff run, I didn’t think so in 2018 either and they were a few plays from getting back to the NFC Championship Game.
The crazy thing is this: Even though the Eagles lost on Sunday and the Cowboys won, the Eagles’ chances to win the NFC East and get into the playoffs improved significantly.
Here’s the latest NFC East playoff chances from FiveThirtyEight:
The Eagles were at 32% before Week 5, so their playoff chances saw a 15% percent bump this weekend despite the loss.
The obvious reason for the change was the gruesome injury to Prescott. The Cowboys have been bailed out by their offense so far this season and now they’re without their starting quarterback for the final 11 games.
Without the QB adjustment feature, the Eagles would have just a 33% chance to win the division, according to FiveThirtyEight.
None of this is to say the Eagles are a good team. They certainly are not right now and they have earned every bit of their 1-3-1 record. But maybe they’re the least awful of the teams in their division, which still gets you into the playoffs.
“I don't care about the rest of the league,” Pederson said on Monday. “I care about the Philadelphia Eagles. Our division, what are we, still a half game back? Look, it is what it is. I'm going to pull out my inner Bill Belichick and say I'm focused on Baltimore.”
That’s the approach the Eagles should have. Because the fact is, even if the Eagles lose to Baltimore (which seems likely), they’re still going to have a very good shot at winning the division.
If nothing else, it’ll give everyone a reason to keep watching on Sundays.