The Eagles’ open week provided the opportunity to check out the rest of the NFL via the Red Zone Channel — the best invention in TV history since the remote control — on Sunday.
Don’t book that hotel room in Minnesota just yet.
The Eagles (8-1) are still the favorites to reach the Super Bowl for the first time since 2004. And a win over the crippled Dallas Cowboys on Sunday night will just about clinch the NFC East title.
But there are other teams in the conference that are legitimate threats to knock off the Birds in the playoffs.
The Los Angeles Rams (7-2), Minnesota (7-2) and New Orleans (7-2) earned decisive victories that stamped them as serious contenders.
Start with the Rams, who continued their amazing turnaround with a 33-7 thumping of Houston on Sunday. They may have a more balanced team than the Eagles.
Quarterback Jared Goff, running back Todd Gurley and wide receiver Robert Woods head the league’s most potent offense. Defensive end Aaron Donald is among the best pass rushers in the NFL. I’m happy for ex-Eagles linebacker Connor Barwin, who’s also playing well for the Rams. Place-kicker Greg Zuerlein and punter Johnny Hekker are the best in the league.
Most of the credit belongs to rookie coach Sean McVay. Like Eagles coach Doug Pederson, McVay has formed a bond with his players, probably because he’s the same age as most of them. At 31, he’s four years younger than Rams tackle Andrew Whitworth.
The Saints might be the Eagles’ biggest rivals. After opening the season with back-to-back losses, their 47-10 beatdown at Buffalo was their seventh straight win. Ageless quarterback Drew Brees, running backs Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara, coach Sean Payton, and company have also shown they are more than a team that needs a roof over the field to succeed, having posted a 4-1 road record this season.
And as they showed in 2013 when they knocked the Eagles out of the playoffs with a 26-24 upset, they will not be intimidated by playing at rowdy Lincoln Financial Field.
You could also make a Case (Keenum) for the Vikings, who are vying to become the first team in the LII-year history of the Super Bowl to play the game at home. The Vikings were hit with season-ending injuries to key players such as quarterback Sam Bradford and rookie running back Dalvin Cook, but showed their mettle with a 38-30 win at Washington Sunday.
We should have a clearer picture about the NFC over the next few weeks. The Eagles’ upcoming schedule features back-to-back road games at Seattle (6-3) and the Rams, plus two contests against the Cowboys.
Besides the Eagles, the Rams also play the Vikings, Saints and Seahawks. Minnesota faces a tough test with four straight games against the Rams, Detroit (5-4), Atlanta (5-4) and Carolina (6-3). The Saints play the Rams, Panthers and Falcons twice.
The Lions, Falcons, Panthers, Green Bay (5-4) and even the Cowboys (5-4) are among teams that could also become factors down the stretch.
If I was a betting man, I’d still pick the Eagles to be the team that plays New England or Pittsburgh at Minnesota’s U.S. Bank Stadium on Feb. 4, 2018.
But it’s far from a done deal.
Don’t make plans to visit the Mall of America or go ice fishing for another few weeks.
(David Weinberg’s Extra Points column appears Wednesdays and Sundays in The Press.)
Contact: 609-272-7201 DWeinberg@pressofac.com