The Eagles have created a new NFL reality

Tuesday, 17 October 2017, 08:21:45 PM. The schedule that was once considered an opponent for the Eagles has turned into a teammate.

Eons ago, when we wandered in darkness and doubt, which is to say somewhere around the first week of September, almost everyone agreed that not only was an 8-8 record a reasonable expectation for the Eagles season, but also one that would indicate the Doug Pederson-Carson Wentz era was headed in the right direction.

The parlor game of running a finger down the schedule and ticking off wins and losses came up with that result, or something very close to it, nearly every time. After all, Wentz was still developing, even though some rent-a-receiver transactions were promising; the running game was still a large question mark; and the defense was so leaky in the backfield that the team had to make a training-camp trade for an emergency fix.

Then there was the small matter of the schedule itself, one of the most difficult in the league based on results from the previous season, which can be a faulty measure, but is the best one available before the next set of real games is played.

It was hard enough just on face value, but, oh man, the last 10 games on the schedule had a chance to become a long slog toward January.  The stretch featured two games against Dallas (13-3), one each against the Giants (11-5) and the Redskins (8-7-1), a road game at Seattle (10-5-1), and home games against tough AFC opponents Denver (9-7) and Oakland (12-4). There were anticipated wins sprinkled in against San Francisco, Chicago and the L.A. Rams, but even that last one, played at the back end of a week-long, two-game trip to the West Coast, could be dangerous.

If the figuring was correct on the first six games of the schedule, the best-case scenario was a 4-2 record there. (I mean, really, the Eagles weren’t going to win in Carolina. Everybody knew that.) Pick your way through those final 10 games and an 8-8 record was an understandable assessment and not bad at all, assuming they competed, hung in there, and all that get-’em-next-year stuff.

Well, so much for then. Now is a little different.

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If the Eagles were playing the 2016 versions of the teams on the schedule rather than the updated ones, maybe things would be turning out more as expected. Nothing stays the same, though, and that includes the Eagles, who have shown themselves to be greater than the sum of their parts through six games. They are 5-1 on merit, including that supposedly impossible win over the Carolina Panthers, which looked very possible on a night in which Cam Newton was harassed into three interceptions and Wentz managed an efficient game in which only one play gained 25 or more yards.

Even more unexpected, however, is that the perception of the remainder of the schedule has also been drastically altered by the first six weeks of the season. Only four of the 10 remaining games will be played against teams that have winning records right now, and three of those teams are just 3-2. The best of the bunch by record is the Rams at 4-2, and they have been the beneficiary of a forgiving schedule.

Run a finger down the schedule now and what do you get? A 10-6 record looks like a layup, requiring just a split of the games, and 11 or 12 wins seem more likely based on how the Eagles have played and how the remaining opponents have played.

There was no indication the Cowboys would fall from the top of the division as they have, and that’s before the six-game suspension of running back Ezekiel Elliott, which looks likely to begin this week and run through the Eagles game in Arlington on Nov. 19.

Some of the same can be said for the downturns suffered so far by the Giants and Raiders. Not shocking perhaps, but not necessarily expected, either. And where is the team that has risen up and made itself more daunting than anticipated? If you want to say it is the Rams, go ahead, but it’s a long way to Dec. 10 and if either the Eagles or the Rams are going to prove themselves to be mirages by then, my money would be on the Rams.

Of course, the lens through which we look at the NFL could be altered as much by the next six weeks as it has been since the start of the season. The truths we hold to be self-evident now might all lie in tatters at our feet. But the Eagles haven’t gotten to this position with mirrors or good luck. They’ve won despite injuries that should have set them back. They’ve won five times even though four of them were still one-score games in the fourth quarter. They’ve won by doing the things that were most suspect  —  running the ball and defending the pass.

What the Eagles have done is no longer remarkable  —  it is the new reality. They deserve to be in this position. The problem is that reality changes every day. As long as the Eagles don’t change with it, however, a schedule that has quickly turned their way doesn’t have to turn against them again.

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