2014 Playoffs Not a Gimme for This Season's Birds

The Eagles just wrapped up a pretty good season, as a team that was predicted to finish last in its division finished first. But was what we saw in 2013 the real thing or simply fool’s gold? Will the Eagles be legitimate contenders in 2014 and beyond, or was the success under first-year coach Chip Kelly merely a short-lived fluke?

Eagles fans – not to mention Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie – are making the assumption that next season will be even better and the Eagles will take a big step forward in Kelly’s second season. But there’s no guarantee that will happen. Look at teams like Atlanta, Minnesota, Houston and Washington – all of them made the playoffs last season and took it for granted that they would return to them again this year and advance even further in the postseason. But none of them made the playoffs this season and three of the four are looking for new coaches. And let’s not forget last year’s Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens, who dreamed of repeating and then also failed to make the playoffs.

So, in the wacky world of the NFL, one plus one doesn’t always equal two.

“We’ve got a great young team, but you’ve got to jump on your chances,’’ Eagles linebacker Connor Barwin said. “Look at Houston.’’

Barwin played for the Texans last season when they went 12-4 and emerged as a Super Bowl contender and watched from afar as they went 2-14 this season and eventually benched their quarterback and fired their coach.

So, there are no guarantees and there’s no question the Eagles were very fortunate this season, starting with the fact that they were members of perhaps the worst division in the league, NFC East. They were the only division team with a winning record in 2012 and if they had played in any other division except NFC North, they wouldn’t have even made the playoffs and certainly wouldn’t have won 10 games.

Plus the Eagles were lucky that several star players on other teams were injured when they played the Eagles, including Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, who missed the Eagles’ division-clinching win on the final week of the season. The Eagles barely beat backup Kyle Orton and the odds are that they would not have beaten Romo.

And perhaps the most fortuitous thing that happened to the Eagles this season is that nothing happened to the Eagles. They were remarkably injury free except for a season-ending knee injury to wide receiver Jeremy Maclin and a lingering hamstring injury to quarterback Michael Vick — but even that proved to be a stroke of luck for the Eagles, since that opened the door for Nick Foles to emerge as the Eagles’ QB of the future.

Other than that, the Eagles had to deal with a few minor injuries, but nothing serious. In fact, 13 of their 22 starters on offense and defense started in all 17 games, including the entire offensive line. That continuity up front was a huge reason the Eagles were so good on offense in 2013 and is a marked contrast 2012, when only one o-lineman, guard Evan Mathis, played in all 16 games and three starters missed most or all of the season – tackle Jason Peters, center Jason Kelce and tackle Todd Herremans.

There is no way to predict if the Eagles’ luck with injuries holds, but the odds are against it. As they say, what goes around, comes around.

But at least the Eagles won’t have to go through the growing pains they did last year, when Kelly took over a team that had lost 12 games and was in transition after 13 seasons under Andy Reid.

“We’re at a different level now,’’ Kelly said this week, after his team was eliminated from the playoffs by the New Orleans Saints.

“Literally, last year at this time I wasn’t here — I wasn’t an employee of the Philadelphia Eagles,’’ Kelly said. “When I did get the job on January 16th, I had to put a staff together and we spent a lot of time — that was extremely important to me, finding the right fit and putting all those guys in place. And then, at the same time, we’re looking at free agency, putting in offensive and defensive and special teams systems and then preparing for our first off‑season with our players and deciding what to teach them on Day 1 when we get here on April 1st.

“Everything was a first‑time thing for us,’’ Kelly added. “It was our first mini‑camp, our first OTA, our first free agency, our first draft.  All those things are different.  Now that we’ve got at least a year of experience it’ll be a little bit different here in the off‑season.  We’re all not living in a hotel and spending basically 20 hours a day here because we’ve got nowhere else to go.  There are a lot of differences to it.

“I think for a first year standpoint I think we have laid a foundation, but we’ve got a whole lot of work to do.’’

Contact Kevin Noonan at knoonan32@aol.com.

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