I’ve changed my mind about the Eagles this season.
Regardless of how they fare at Carolina on Thursday night — I’m actually picking the Panthers to win by a field goal — I still think the Birds will be in contention to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl this season.
At the beginning of the year, I predicted a 9-7 record, second-place finish in the NFC East and a possible wild-card berth.
Now I’m ready to ride that wave like standout Ocean City surfer Rob Kelly.
Unless the Wentz Wagon gets a flat tire, the Eagles should roll to an 11-5 record, a division title and perhaps even a first-round bye in the playoffs.
Consider that their final 10 opponents have a combined record of 16-27. Only three of those teams — Denver (3-1), Seattle (3-2) and the Los Angeles Rams (3-2) — currently have winning records.
Not exactly a daunting schedule.
True, the Eagles also got off to an encouraging start last season at 3-0. But this team plays and acts differently.
Carson Wentz has improved dramatically as a quarterback and leader. His confidence level is as high as the Jersey Shore tide during a tropical storm. He seems never rattled in the pocket, has shown an uncanny ability to keep plays alive with his feet, and has developed a strong rapport with the entire receiving corps.
The defense has been impressive in its ability to withstand a flurry of injuries. The unit has had to play without its best defensive lineman (Fletcher Cox) and cornerback (Ronald Darby), plus was missing three safeties — Rodney McLeod, Corey Graham, Jaylen Watkins — for a game, yet has still helped the Eagles reel off three straight wins.
The team’s next-man-up mentality has helped in other areas, especially special teams. Place-kicker Caleb Sturgis may never get his job back from rookie replacement Jake Elliott. Kenjon Barner has helped ease the sting of losing dynamic punt returner Darren Sproles for the season.
The team’s most impressive performance so far this season, however, has been delivered by coach Doug Pederson.
His decisions and influence on and off the field have been the biggest keys behind the team’s hot start.
Sure, he still makes that head-scratching play call at least once a game, but his game plans have otherwise been impressive, especially once he realized the value of having a balanced attack instead of making Wentz chuck it downfield 60 times a game.
More significantly, the players both respect him and enjoy playing for him.
Just about a month ago, Pederson was being lambasted by some national experts for a purported lack of coaching acumen.
Now he’s being mentioned as a Coach of the Year candidate.
The main road to the Super Bowl in Minnesota still goes through Atlanta, Green Bay and maybe Charlotte, but the Google Maps on my phone also shows a route that starts in Philadelphia.
The Eagles could eventually wipe out — even Kelly must fall off his board occasionally — but it should still be an exciting ride.
(David Weinberg’s Extra Points column appears Wednesdays and Sundays in The Press.)
Contact: 609-272-7201 DWeinberg@pressofac.com