What would be a successful season? In our NFL preview, Ron Opher and I both predicted the Eagles would finish 10-6. Ron has them winning the NFC East on a tiebreaker. I have the Eagles advancing to the playoffs as a wild card based on a tiebreaker. Is there any difference?
What if the Eagles go 10-6, but don’t make the playoffs? Would that be less of a success than the two scenarios described in the preceding paragraph? Would a 9-7 record and a playoff berth, as the Giants achieved last season, be considered more successful than a 10-6 or 11-5 record that doesn’t earn a playoff berth?
I suspect the answer relates to what the Eagles do once they get to the postseason. If they follow the path of last season’s 9-7 Giants and win the Super Bowl, the season will certainly be considered a success. If they are one-and-done in the playoffs, extending their playoff winless streak to four years, this won’t be considered a successful season.
Not making the playoffs at all, regardless of the team’s record, will be considered a disappointment.
Optimism was running high as training camp began. Although the excitement always cranks back up for opening week, I sense a bit more trepidation among Eagles fans at the end of preseason than at the beginning.
Maybe the change is due to Vick’s health. We only needed six offensive plays to be reminded how fragile the Eagles’ hopes are, with one injury to Vick drastically altering their chances for success. We were reminded again when Vick injured his ribs on the sixth offensive play of the Eagles’ second preseason game. The Eagles shut him down for the rest of the preseason after the second injury.
At least we won’t have Vince Young at quarterback if Vick gets hurt. That’s looking on the bright side. But the truth is if Vick misses significant time due to injuries, the Eagles will struggle to make the playoffs. They appear better equipped to handle Vick’s absence than last year, but it’s difficult to imagine the Eagles advancing deep into the playoffs with Nick Foles or Trent Edwards at quarterback.
If Vick misses significant time and the Eagles don’t make the playoffs, would that be considered extenuating circumstances, leading us to use different criteria when evaluating whether or not the season was successful? Or will we be in “no excuses” mode? “No excuses” means that missing the playoffs is a failure, regardless of who is healthy.
The other reason for the brakes being put on the unbridled optimism is that the defense might not be as improved as many fans thought during the offseason. Middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans did not resemble the younger, pre-Achilles tendon injury, All-Pro version of himself. The Eagles should still be improved at linebacker, especially if rookie Mychal Kendricks continues his fine preseason play, but maybe that unit isn’t as good as hoped for when the Eagles acquired Ryans.
A third reason for a little pessimism is left tackle. The offseason signing of Demetress Bell took some of the sting off the news of Jason Peters’ Achilles tendon injuries. Bell wasn’t expected to duplicate what Peters accomplished, but he was expected to provide a solid presence at left tackle. Instead, Bell lost his starting job to King Dunlap.
We’ve seen Dunlap before. He’s not bad, but Eagles fans were expecting better. Instead, if feels as if the Eagles have had to settle for Dunlap.
The real question, of course, is not merely what constitutes success. The real question is what constitutes enough success for Andy Reid to coach the Eagles again next season.
Lurie didn’t do Reid any favors with his “8-8 isn’t enough” pronouncement during his annual “state of the team” address. If the Eagles are hovering around .500 midway through the season, surely fans and columnists will be referring back to Lurie’s comments and wondering how many games Reid has to win to save his job.
Reid only has one more year left on his current contract. Lurie has indicated that his long-time head coach will be evaluated after the season, just like everyone else.
What will the Eagles have to achieve for Reid to keep his job?
Will 10-6 and another first-round exit, as Ron and I both project, be enough? Will a playoff victory or is a winning record – better than Lurie’s “unacceptable” 8-8 – be enough for Reid to return?
Those are the big-picture questions for the Eagles as the 2012 season begins. Only Jeff Lurie could know the answers. And I’m not certain even he knows the answers yet.