Submitted by Jim Hurley on Thursday, September 29, 2016 at 9:00 AM
The Philadelphia Eagles go into their bye week having completely transformed the betting market’s opinion of them. When the season began, the Eagles were seen as the one NFC East team with no real shot to win a division that would presumably be fought out by the Cowboys, Giants and Redskins. In three short weeks, the Eagles have moved to the 9-5 favorite to win the East.
Much of this reaction is undoubtedly due to the 34-3 dismantling the Eagles put on the Pittsburgh Steelers this past Sunday in a game most of the country saw. It was possible to dismiss Philly’s first two wins, over the Browns and Bears, but there was no ignoring taking down Pittsburgh.
Rookie quarterback Carson Wentz has won rave reviews. We get it—he’s been great for a rookie, but let’s not lose sight of that “for a rookie” qualifier. Wentz is a little bit above average in completion percentage (13th in the NFL) and yards-per-attempt (14th). What he’s excelled at is avoiding mistakes—no interceptions. Which is a way of saying he’s Alex Smith. There’s nothing wrong with that—Alex Smith is pretty good and when you look like him as a rookie there’s reason to be optimistic. But let’s not lose sight of the fact this means the plays are getting made somewhere else in the lineup.
And where it’s started in Philadelphia is on defense. Jim Schwartz might have been awful as a head coach in Detroit, but he’s doing a heckuva job coordinating this unit. The Eagles have given up the fewest points in the league. Two of their games have played to the Under and the other was a push—in spite of the fact the offense ranks second in the league in points scored.
Schwartz’s defense has done it by controlling the line of scrimmage. Fletcher Cox is off to a fabulous start at defensive tackle, tying up blockers and freeing up players like edge rusher Brandon Graham. Philadelphia is getting excellent play at linebacker from Jordan Hicks and Nigel Bradham. They’ve forced six turnovers in a league where the average through three weeks is 4.5.
It’s worth remembering that in spite of the turmoil Philadelphia went through in the offseason with the dismissal of Chip Kelly, that this wasn’t a team at rock bottom. Over the past three years, they’ve averaged nine wins a season and even when things fell apart in 2015 the Eagles still won a game in New England and played for the NFC East title in prime-time the night after Christmas. The turmoil surrounding Kelly’s departure and the uncertainty regarding Wentz created the preseason skepticism. But this success is not coming out of nowhere.
Now it’s about seeing where the Eagles go from here. The market hasn’t gotten carried away—while Philadelphia is the favorite in the NFC East, they’re a nominal one at best, with the Cowboys sitting at 5-2 and the Giants at 10-5. All three teams have the same 10-1 odds to reach the Super Bowl and 22-1 to win it. If Philadelphia stays priced in that range, they have a shot to continue making bettors happy, even as expectations start to change.