By Don Banks | November 27, 2017 2:00 pm PT
These are heady, giddy days in Philadelphia, with what has amounted to a season-long party atmosphere enveloping the City of Brotherly Love. The Eagles are 10-1, have won nine in a row, and are a decent bet to clinch their first NFC East title since 2013 at some point in Week 13, a full month before the regular season ends.
Philadelphia has a strong MVP candidate in second-year wunderkind Carson Wentz at quarterback, a ferocious defensive front that makes opposing passers miserable and stuffs the run, and the blowout wins just keep rolling in — three in a row now by exactly 28 points, and four by at least 23.
There has been a Super Bowl-bound vibe to this Eagles team for weeks now, and with the No. 1 playoff seed in the NFC currently in its possession, Philadelphia has the following history on its side:
- In the past four NFL seasons (2013-2016), teams with the top seeds have made it to the Super Bowl in seven of a possible eight chances (88 percent), the only exception being last year’s No. 1-seeded Dallas team that lost in the divisional round.
- The last two times the Eagles started a season 10-1, in 2004 and 1980, they went to the Super Bowl. The third time it happened, the 1949 Eagles won the NFL championship, giving the franchise back-to-back titles.
- The 2004 Eagles were the most recent NFC East team to earn the conference’s top seed and use it to punch their Super Bowl ticket. Since then, Dallas has failed twice with that opportunity (2007 and 2016) and the Giants once (2008). Can you say Minneapolis and Super Bowl LII is their destiny?
With so much good karma and so many fun-filled game days for the Eagles this charmed season, what could possibly go wrong in the 10 weeks between now and Super Bowl Sunday?
Plenty, as any experienced Eagles fan probably knows. This is the NFL. Stuff happens all the time to teams that were seemingly on a season-long magic carpet ride. It’s cruel and shocking and usually leaves a psychic scar on a team and its fans, but it’s hardly rare. Before anyone pencils in Philadelphia for the NFL’s grandest stage just yet, consider how many times the football fates have been unkind.
As someone who covered the 15-1, record-breaking Minnesota Vikings as a beat writer for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, I can tell you first-hand that no team has ever been a bigger mortal lock for the Super Bowl all season long, without making it. An overtime 30-27 loss at home to the 11-point underdog Atlanta Falcons in the NFC Championship Game was as gut-wrenching as any NFL outcome I’ve witnessed, and kicker Gary Anderson missing his only attempt of the entire season with just more than two minutes remaining in regulation was an epically bitter twist.
The 2011 Green Bay Packers can tell you something about heartbreak at the end of a once-in-a-lifetime kind of season as well. They went 15-1, averaged 35 points per game, and had the game’s best quarterback in MVP Aaron Rodgers. Oh, and they lost badly to the fourth-seeded 9-7 New York Giants, 37-20, in the divisional round, never even getting to play for a Super Bowl berth.
The same basic fate befell the top-seeded 2006 Chargers (14-2), the No. 1 2005 Colts (14-2), and the 2004 Steelers, who went 15-1 and lost to New England at home in the AFC title game. That was the year we were supposed to have a Steelers-Eagles all-Pennsylvania Super Bowl pairing, remember Philly fans?
Eagles fans have their own recent enough memory of what can wrong and ruin four-plus months of great work in one lousy afternoon. Before Philadelphia made the Super Bowl with its 2004 team, it lost three consecutive NFC title games from 2001-2003, the final two as the No. 1 seed, falling at home by double-digit margins to big underdogs from Carolina and Tampa Bay. It was an excruciating stretch in Eagles history.
So enjoy the ride, Philadelphia, but don’t assume to know how it’ll all end. The Eagles are clearly the NFC favorite and look unstoppable for now. But let’s see if the next two weeks and tough road games at still-proud Seattle Seahawks (7-4) and the surging Los Angeles Rams (8-3) change our view of these high-flying Birds. This is the unpredictable NFL. Dominance in late November turns to dejection in January all the time.