It is coming down to this again.
Are the Philadelphia Eagles better off making the playoffs? Or are they better off missing the postseason?
Both scenarios are still possible, even after the Eagles’ demoralizing 13-7 loss to the New York Giants on Sunday.
After all, the Eagles have four of their five remaining games against sub-.500 teams in the Jets (3-8) on Sunday, Washington (5-6) on Dec. 19 and Jan. 2, and a rematch with the Giants (4-7) at Lincoln Financial Field.
Here, then, is a look at four scenarios for and against the Eagles making the playoffs:
It would be hard to question quarterback Jalen Hurts becoming the franchise quarterback if the Eagles were to make the postseason.
Hurts had an awful game against the Giants, throwing three interceptions. But Hurts had thrown just five in the first 11 games.
If he were to lead the Eagles to the playoffs, which most likely would require a 4-1 finish, then Hurts will have proven that the game against the Giants was an aberration.
Coach Nick Sirianni, meanwhile, has transformed the Eagles’ offense into a run-first attack, mostly out of necessity. The Eagles have rushed for at least 175 yards in five straight games, something they haven’t done since 1950.
Sure, Sirianni’s play calling against the Giants, up until the midway point of the second quarter, left something to be desired, especially when Hurts was struggling to throw the ball.
Sirianni himself admitted this.
“We saw some things in the play-action game and a couple of things in the drop back game that we wanted to try to expose,” Sirianni said. “I think as we went on, we did a little bit more (running), but some of it was situational.
“But sure, when you’re in a rut (like Hurts was), I’m always going to look at myself first and be critical of myself first.”
It’s safe to assume that Sirianni won’t get fired if the Eagles miss the postseason. Not when Eagles chairman and CEO Jeffrey Lurie himself called it a “transition period” when Sirianni was hired last winter.
But Sirianni could be on the hot seat in Year 2 if there isn’t improvement. As for Hurts, it’s possible that the Eagles will look for a new quarterback in 2022, whether in the draft or via trade.
That’s because missing the playoffs would be an indictment on Hurts, especially if the Eagles lose more games like they did Sunday.
Sure, the Eagles will have a later pick in the first round if they make the playoffs, beginning at No. 19.
But this would be a good year to make a run considering that the Eagles also have the Dolphins’ first-round pick, and they will pretty much guarantee getting the Colts’ first-round pick as soon as this Sunday if Carson Wentz makes it through the entire game.
As of now, the Eagles would be picking 9th (theirs), 10th (Miami’s) and 14th (Indianapolis’), according to tankathon.com. But it’s possible that all three picks will end up later in the first round. Both the Dolphins and Colts are in playoff contention in the AFC.
Still, even if that happens, the Eagles can package two of those picks to trade up if there’s a difference-maker they want, or trade for a premium player on another team.
Obviously, missing the playoffs would guarantee a better draft slot in the first round.
If the Eagles’ goal is to get a top defensive end like Michigan’s Aidan Hutchinson or Oregon’s Kayvon Thibodeaux, a better draft position would be essential.
Howie Roseman, the Eagles’ general manager, has had mixed results in his recent drafts, to put it mildly. We saw that Sunday when 2020 first-round pick Jalen Reagor dropped two balls on the final drive that could have enabled the Eagles to win the game.
But we have also seen the Eagles’ 2018 five-man draft class shine, led by left tackle Jordan Mailata and tight end Dallas Goedert. In addition, 2021 first-round pick DeVonta Smith has been as good as advertised, with 48 catches for 686 yards.
And Hurts, the second-round pick in 2020, could become the first Eagles quarterback to rush for 1,000 yards.
If the Eagles are make a playoff run, it’s going to be because of young players like them, as well as contributions from others like running back Miles Sanders (second round, 2019), defensive tackle Milton Williams (third round, 2021) and left guard Landon Dickerson (second round, 2021).
That would mean the above-mentioned young players didn’t come through when it mattered most.
And while it’s likely that Lurie won’t fire Roseman after this season, you can expect that the 2022 draft could be Roseman’s final chance.
It never hurts to make the playoffs. For the Eagles, a playoff run enables the younger players to experience what the postseason is like.
This would be a different experience than the Eagles teams of 2018 and 2019, who were 6-6 and 5-7, respectively, after the 12th game and managed to get into the playoffs.
Those were veteran-laden teams trying desperately to keep alive the 2017 Super Bowl season. A playoff berth for this Eagles team would be something to build on next season and beyond, rather than trying to hang on to a magical season.
It doesn’t always work out that way.
During Chip Kelly’s first season as coach in 2013, the Eagles were 3-5 at the midway point, then went 7-1 the rest of the way to make the playoffs. The Eagles lost their first-round game and didn’t get back to the postseason until 2017.
Kelly was long gone, having been fired with one game remaining in the 2015 season.
Last season, Washington won the NFC East last season with a 7-9 record. The Football Team is no closer to Super Bowl contention this season.