The Eagles remain a very good team. They were the league’s best and most balanced team for much of this season. They still will be in the NFC playoffs, perhaps as the No. 1 seed. They have the conference’s best record, at 11-2, and they clinched the NFC East title Sunday. They remain capable of eking out a postseason victory.
But not three of them. Probably not even two of them.
They cannot beat three good teams in a row — which would be required for them, as a team with a likely first-round playoff bye, to secure a Super Bowl title — without Wentz. Nick Foles takes over at quarterback. He’s simply not good enough, given that it’s not 2013 and Chip Kelly no longer is the Eagles’ coach. The Philadelphia defense is good, but not good enough to carry a team quarterbacked by Foles to a Super Bowl triumph.
The Eagles will say the right things about being confident in Foles, about being certain they remain capable of being the final NFL team left celebrating in February in Minneapolis. Pederson, at his news conference Monday, listed the injuries the Eagles already have overcome this season and said: “You can’t lose faith. This has been a resilient football team all season.”
Eagles defensive end Chris Long wrote on Twitter: “[Wentz] is the man. Pure and simple. He will be missed and we will support our brother!! But I believe in Nick. Played with him in [St. Louis]. Also saw him have an historic year in Philly. Everyone’s just gotta take it up a notch!!!”
But it’s simply not realistic.
It takes an all-time-great defense to win a Super Bowl in today’s pass-happy NFL without a standout at quarterback. It takes a defense like that of the 2015 Denver Broncos or the 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers or the 2000 Baltimore Ravens.
Those defenses won Super Bowls for quarterbacks Trent Dilfer of the Ravens, Brad Johnson of the Buccaneers and Peyton Manning (the just-before-retirement version, after his body had betrayed him and he no longer could produce like Peyton Manning) of the Broncos.
Otherwise, the list of Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks this century looks like this: Tom Brady (five times), Ben Roethlisberger (twice), Eli Manning (twice), Kurt Warner, Peyton Manning (the Colts version), Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Joe Flacco and Russell Wilson.
The outliers are Eli Manning and Flacco, based on their regular season results. But they were able to summon postseason magic. Can Foles do the same? It seems like quite a long shot.
Playing in Kelly’s fast-break offense in 2013, Foles had 27 touchdown passes and two interceptions. There is no greater testament than that to the fact that Kelly was not a terrible NFL coach as much as he was a terrible NFL general manager following his power grab in Philly. In fact, Kelly may have been something of a quarterback whisperer. In the rest of his NFL career, Foles has 29 touchdown passes and 25 interceptions.
The Eagles can put a good team around Foles. They have overcome the loss of left tackle Jason Peters to play reasonably well along the offensive line. They can run the football with LeGarrette Blount, Jay Ajayi and Corey Clement. They have good-enough receivers with Alshon Jeffery, Torrey Smith and Nelson Agholor, especially with tight end Zach Ertz figured into the equation. They can play defense. They are ranked fourth in the NFL in total defense and sixth in scoring defense.
But it’s not a defense of the caliber of those Ravens or those Broncos. And while it remains a good all-around team, it’s not nearly the same without Wentz. There’s a reason Wentz and Brady have been the league MVP front-runners.
Wentz not only has been a marvelous pocket passer with 33 touchdowns, seven interceptions and a passer rating of 101.9. He also has been an improvisational master, using his size, strength and athleticism to avoid sacks, cover for some mistakes by his blockers and turn bad plays into good ones. His teammates seem to like and respect him. His toughness was on display Sunday when he remained in the game temporarily after suffering his knee injury.
It was a Sunday when most of the NFC’s other top contenders suffered setbacks. The Rams lost to the Eagles. The Minnesota Vikings lost at Carolina. The Seattle Seahawks lost at Jacksonville. That came after the New Orleans Saints lost Thursday night at Atlanta.
Even so, every other NFC contender saw its Super Bowl chances improve. There no longer are enough reasons to believe the Eagles can emerge from this deep field of very good but perhaps not great teams.