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Receiving yards for Cowboys’ Amari Cooper during Sunday’s 29-23 win over Eagles

Great(er) expectations

Posted by Eric Fisher On November 3

It’s one thing for fans to stir up Super Bowl talk.

It’s quite another for the team to stir up Super Bowl talk.

When the Eagles acquired running back Jay Ajayi from the Dolphins for a fourth-round draft pick on Tuesday, they clearly did so to improve their chances of reaching the Super Bowl.

Running back wasn’t a huge position of dire need for the Eagles. They certainly could have won the NFC East with the running back trio of LeGarrette Blount, Wendell Smallwood and Corey Clement. The move to get Ajayi indicates the Eagles have their sights set higher than a division title.

It has been nine seasons since the Eagles won a playoff game. It has been four seasons since they qualified for the postseason. That makes any thoughts of reaching the Super Bowl seem a bit audacious.

But the Eagles enter Sunday’s game against the Broncos with a 7-1 record, the best in the NFL. Sure, the Eagles have some flaws, but so does every team.

Look around the standings. Which teams are better than the Eagles? None. There aren’t any elite teams.

The Seahawks (5-2) could be dangerous, especially after acquiring left tackle Duane Brown from the Texans earlier this week. Seattle is outstanding at home, so it’s important that the Eagles remain ahead of the Seahawks in case they meet during the postseason.

The Rams (5-2) shouldn’t scare Eagles fans, although the Eagles could have a rough day on Dec. 10 while visiting the Rams one week after traveling to Seattle to face the Seahawks. The Saints (5-2) have an explosive offense, but there are still questions about their improved defense.

The team with the second-best record in the NFC is the Vikings (6-2). But the quarterback matchup is Carson Wentz vs. Case Keenum. That’s a mismatch of epic proportions. Even if Teddy Bridgewater returns from the major knee surgery he had during the summer of 2016, or Sam Bradford shakes off his injuries and returns to action, the Eagles will still have an edge at quarterback.

The edge at quarterback is what puts the Eagles over the top. Wentz is vastly improved over his rookie season. More importantly, he keeps getting better.

Wentz was named the NFC Offensive Player of the Month for October. Wentz completed 89 of 148 passes for 1,247 yards and 14 touchdowns, the most touchdown passes in a month in franchise history. Most importantly, Wentz guided the Eagles to a 5-0 record in October.

The Eagles have the edge at quarterback in every game the rest of the season. The edge at quarterback against the Broncos and Bears is ginormous. For the NFC East games, Eli Manning is past his prime and only Cowboys fans still believe Dak Prescott is better than Wentz. Raiders quarterback Derek Carr’s effectiveness has been hindered by injuries, and Wentz still has an edge on the much-improved Jared Goff, selected by the Rams first overall – one pick before Wentz – in the 2016 NFL Draft. The Seahawks’ Russell Wilson is more accomplished than Wentz, but a strong argument can be made that Wentz is the better quarterback this season.

Wentz’s performance sparked some Super Bowl talk. But that talk has heated up with the addition of Ajayi.

Ajayi has had an up-and-down season this year, but he gained 1,272 yards last season and was selected for the Pro Bowl. He’s only 24 years old, which means he could be wearing Eagles green (or black) for many more seasons.

For now, though, let’s focus on Ajayi’s impact this season. He could be a true No. 1 running back. He could be the difference between postseason success and another disappointing finish.

Without an elite team in the NFC, and with Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers likely lost for the rest of the season due to a broken collarbone, the Eagles are justified in thinking this could be the year they return to the Super Bowl.

There are certainly reasons for thinking they won’t make it to the Super Bowl. Injuries to left tackle Jason Peters and linebacker Jordan Hicks leave the Eagles precariously thin at two crucial positions. And the Eagles already had lost running back/return specialist Darren Sproles and special teams ace Chris Maragos.

But their chances were good enough for executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman to make a bold move at the trade deadline, acquiring Ajayi.

Perhaps Roseman looked at the other NFC contenders and, considering the Eagles’ Super Bowl chances, thought, “Why not us?”

 

 

 

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