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Points by Ben Simmons during Game 3 victory over Nets

Fish ‘n Chips

Posted by Eric Fisher On January 16

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In last week’s Fish ‘n Chips column, I argued against the notion that the Eagles are on the verge of being a contender. I cited the insignificance of winning the final two games, the numerous areas of need and the age of some of the team’s better players.

To be fair, today I’m going to present the opposite view.

Those who believe the Eagles aren’t far from being a contender have received additional support during the postseason.

The first piece of supporting evidence is the playoff field. Half of the Eagles’ games were against teams that qualified for the NFC playoffs. The Eagles were 3-5 against the NFC playoff field, which isn’t too shabby. (I’ll ignore how meaningless the season-ending victory over the Cowboys was – for now.)

That means that five of the Eagles’ nine losses came against NFC playoff teams (Cowboys, Packers, Seahawks, Packers and Lions). Members of the “we’re extremely close” camp would point out that the Eagles would have beaten the Cowboys and Lions if not for some late-game self-inflicted wounds. Three of the Eagles’ other losses were against the Redskins (twice) and Ravens. The Redskins were eliminated from playoff contention on the final day of the season. The Ravens were eliminated by the Steelers in Week 16.

Following this thought process, the Eagles’ only “bad” loss was to the Bengals. Considering the Eagles could have won a few of those games against contending and playoff teams, it’s possible that if they eliminate a few mistakes, they could be 10-6 instead of 7-9.

Adding fuel to this argument is the presence of the Steelers and Falcons in the conference championship games. The two most impressive Eagles victories this season came against these two teams, a 34-3 decimation of the Steelers in Week 3 and a solid 24-15 triumph over the Falcons on Nov. 13.

Judging by all of the evidence presented thus far, it would appear that the Eagles are on the verge of being a playoff contender. With a few breaks, they could have been a contender this season.

But that’s only part of the story. The victories over the Steelers and Falcons need some context.

After destroying the Steelers, the Eagles only won two of their next 11 games. One of those wins was against the Falcons, the Eagles’ lone victory during a nearly two-month span from late October to late December. Yes, the Eagles were terrific against the Steelers and Falcons. But it’s disingenuous to cherry-pick that date and ignore all the defeats.

A case could also be made that the Steelers, who have won nine straight games, are a much better team than they were during the first half of the season. Not only do they have Le’Veon Bell, who was suspended for the season’s first three games, but their defense and offensive line are significantly better than they were during the first half of the season.

For those hanging their hats on having an easier schedule, please note that although the Eagles get a last-place schedule next season, they will face the AFC West next season instead of the AFC North. The Chiefs, Raiders and Broncos aren’t a picnic. They get the last-place teams from the NFC North and South (Bears and Panthers) instead of the first-place teams (Packers and Falcons) the Cowboys will face, but the Panthers might be poised for a bounce-back season.

The Eagles’ improvement next season will be tied to Carson Wentz and the pieces put in place around him. If Wentz makes significant strides and executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman finds some suitable receivers and cornerbacks, the Eagles could take a big step in the right direction.

But that’s a big “if” in terms of personnel. And that’s a heavy burden to put on a second-year quarterback who was fortunate enough to stay healthy for 16 games this season.

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THANK YOU: Eagles fans should thank the Packers and Steelers for quickly disposing of our nightmare scenario.

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POSTSEASON DROUGHT: For those keeping track – and I know many of you are – the Cowboys haven’t won a playoff game in 21 years.

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TIME’S YOURS: Time management issues continue to plague Andy Reid. The Chiefs had to use two timeouts to avoid delay of game penalties, leaving Reid with just one timeout to use during the Steelers’ final possession. A full complement of timeouts, in addition to the 2-minute warning, would have changed the equation and likely have altered the Steelers’ play-calling. The Chiefs drew a costly delay of game penalty on third-and-2 on an earlier second-half possession.

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CAPTAIN OBVIOUS: This won’t come as an amazing revelation, but Aaron Rodgers is really, really good.

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MISSING ON LEWIS: During the Patriots’ 34-16 victory over the Texans, Dion Lewis became the first player in NFL playoff history to score rushing, receiving and return touchdowns in the same game. Lewis returned a kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown.

Lewis was an Eagle a few years ago. Former Eagles linebacker Emmanuel Acho noted on Twitter that the Eagles traded Lewis for him in 2013.

There’s no guarantee, of course, that Lewis would have developed into a valuable player with the Eagles. The Patriots have Patrick Chung and Eric Rowe in their secondary. Chung was awful with the Eagles. Rowe couldn’t stand out among the Eagles’ undistinguished group of cornerbacks. Maybe, to quote Andy Reid, their success is about the coach putting players in position to succeed. In Lewis’ case, playing with Tom Brady doesn’t hurt, either.

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GETTING YOUR KICKS: How important are kickers in the postseason? Even with Aaron Rodgers’ heroics, the Packers wouldn’t have defeated the Cowboys if Mason Crosby hadn’t made two field goals of more than 50 yards during the final few minutes, including the game-winning 51-yarder as time expired. Crosby has made 23 consecutive postseason field goals. That’s remarkable.

But Mason wasn’t the kicker who set an NFL playoff record on Sunday. The Steelers’ Chris Boswell became the first kicker in playoff history to make six field goals, enabling the Steelers to beat the Chiefs, 18-16, without ever reaching the end zone.

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HOT, HOT, HOT: All four participants in the conference championship game ended the regular season with winning streaks. The Steelers won seven straight games at the end of the regular season, a streak matched by the Patriots. In the NFC, the Packers won their final six games to win the NFC North. The Falcons, with less pressure than the Packers, won their final four regular-season games.

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THE LATE, LATE SHOW: Clemson’s 35-31 victory over Alabama in the national championship game was one of the most exciting games in college football history, although some might prefer USC’s 52-49 triumph over Penn State in the Rose Bowl one week earlier.

The problem with the national championship game is it was on too late. The game didn’t end until after midnight, meaning many fans didn’t see the awesome conclusion. The NCAA should start the national championship game an hour earlier next year.

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CALIFORNIA EARTHQUAKE: There is a seismic shift going on in the AFC West. And it has nothing to do with the standings.

The Chargers are moving from San Diego to Los Angeles. There will be two teams in Los Angeles, which had none until the Rams moved there this past season. Not to be outdone, the Raiders filed relocation papers to move from Oakland to Las Vegas. You have to feel bad for the loyal and passionate Raiders fans who have supported their team through good times and bad.

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MCDERMOTT MOVES UP: Congratulations to Sean McDermott on being named the head coach of the Buffalo Bills. McDermott, who moved up the coaching ranks with the Eagles, eventually becoming defensive coordinator, has worked hard to attain his well-deserved first shot at being a head coach.

McDermott’s local roots run deeper than his time with the Eagles. He was a standout football player and wrestler at La Salle High School.

Eric Fisher, who has been covering sports for more than 28 years, is always pleased to see an athlete he covered in high school, such as Sean McDermott, achieve success on the big stage of professional sports.

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