Expectations suddenly raised high for Eagles
For a team that was supposed to be rebuilding this season, the Philadelphia Eagles have raised expectations.
A three-game winning streak that vaulted the Eagles (6-5) into first place in the NFC East at their bye has everyone thinking playoffs in Philadelphia. Fans now expect the team to complete their worst-to-first journey, win the division title and already are looking ahead to first-round opponents.
Not so fast.
''Just because we're in first place right now doesn't mean that we're automatically in the playoffs,'' linebacker DeMeco Ryans said. ''We still have a lot of work to do and we're not going to let that allow us to relax as a team. If anything, we are just going to push to get better.''
Coach Chip Kelly's way of ignoring the standings until Dec. 29, the day when the regular season ends, has clearly influenced players.
''It really doesn't matter what place you are in now,'' center Jason Kelce said. ''It only matters where you are when you finish. All we really are concentrating on is that we are playing really good football. If we play the way we have been playing, it's going to be very hard to beat us. That's what we are focused on right now.''
Few people outside the locker room could've expected the Eagles to be in the playoff mix less than a month ago. They had lost consecutive home games to the Giants and Cowboys while scoring no offensive touchdowns.
An offense that started off on record-setting levels suddenly couldn't do anything. After racking up at least 425 yards total offense in each of the first six games and averaging 27.7 points, they combined for just 379 yards and 3 offensive points in the two games.
Still, they weren't out of it in a mediocre division. Players knew they could turn things around.
''I feel like this team is a good team,'' said LeSean McCoy, the NFL's leading rusher. ''I don't really get caught up in the record because looking at 3-5, I wouldn't be sitting here if I thought in a negative way. We are a good team. Good coaches want all the players to get better and we are rolling. We have to have a positive attitude.''
Quarterback instability was a major part of the problem last month. Nick Foles played an awful three quarters against Dallas before leaving with a concussion. Michael Vick lasted less than one half against the Giants before re-injuring his hamstring. Rookie Matt Barkley had to finish both games, which were winnable when he entered. He threw four interceptions and lost a fumble in 10 series.
Foles returned to throw an NFL record-tying seven touchdown passes at Oakland, three more at Green Bay and ran for a score in the latest win against Washington. He's solidified the position and has taken over as the clear No. 1, though Kelly won't appoint him the title.
''I feel like we've put ourselves in a good position,'' Foles said. ''That's all you can ask for, especially heading into the bye week. Especially with winning our last game at home, moving in the right direction and just continuing to change the atmosphere here. The coaches here are doing a great job and the players are doing a great job of buying in, so I think that we have to keep going in that direction and keep leaning on each other, and we'll see what happens.''
By the time they return from their mini-vacations, the Eagles might not be alone atop the standings. The Cowboys (5-5) could move into a tie with a win vs. the Giants (4-6) on Sunday. A victory for New York would put all three teams in the hunt going into the final month.
The Eagles play three of their last five games at home, starting with Arizona (6-4) on Dec. 1. Their game at Dallas in Week 17 could decide the division.
''We're on a roll, and we just have to keep it going and finish the season strong,'' wideout DeSean Jackson said. ''We're 6-5, but we have some tough games ahead of us. That's the interesting thing about the division right now. We're just excited to be at the top, and hopefully we can finish strong and get that first seed.''
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