As distressing as Philadelphia Eagles fans might find that last month-and-a-half of the NFL season as their Birds went into freefall, losing five of six games, history might portend even more dire problems. The collapse befuddled Eagles fans and made PA sportsbooks recalibrate.
More than 40 years ago, an Eagles team that brimmed with promise suffered a similar season. The 1981 Eagles were coming off a Super Bowl loss to the Oakland Raiders. However, the team had a rising quarterback star in Ron Jaworski, one of the NFL’s best defenses with outstanding linebackers and a driven head coach in Dick Vermeil.
The Eagles started the 1981 season as if would storm to another Super Bowl appearance. They won their first six games and were 9-2 in mid-November. Then, the wheels started to wobble. Philadelphia lost four of its last five games to finish 10-6 and then was eliminated from the playoffs in a deflating home Wild Card game against the New York Giants.
The team failed to recover in the 1982 strike-abbreviated season, falling to 3-6, and a drained Vermeil quit, citing burnout. What followed was six consecutive losing seasons as the Eagles went 33-53-1. Jaworski, surrounded by poor talent, had courageous but mediocre seasons. The aging and changing defense had little identity.
The Eagles didn’t return to the playoffs until brash head coach Buddy Ryan revived the franchise with three consecutive trips to the playoffs starting in 1988. Including Ryan’s memorable stay in Philly, the Eagles have been one of the NFL’s most competitive teams over the last 30-plus years with 22 playoffs appearances, three trips to the Super Bowl and one Lombardi Trophy.
However, the current trajectory could portend a repeat of those six dismal seasons following 1981.
The parallels are there.
A vaunted defense has become one the league’s worst. Some of team’s foundational players, such as center Jason Kelce, right tackle Lane Johnson, defensive linemen Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham and cornerback Darius Slay, are all well over 30 years old. The Eagles’ young electrifying quarterback, Jalen Hurts, has looked far from the MVP candidate he was earlier in the 2023 season.
Tampa Bay Looms Monday Night
And no matter what levers head coach Nick Sirianni pulls, such as rearranging defensive coaching responsibilities, the team has stumbled through its recent games as a 10-1 start has unraveled to an 11-6 finish. A Wild Card playoff game against surprising Tampa Bay looms on Monday night.
It's difficult to predict what might happen to the organization should the Eagles -- currently 3-point favorites at BetMGM Pennsylvania, DraftKings, FanDuel and about every other sportsbook – lose to the Baker Mayfield-led Buccaneers.
However, a loss in that Wild Card game could mean a serious overhaul of the coaching staff and certainly the core of the roster. In fact, even a win doesn’t ensure that there won’t be major roster changes because the team is so dependent on its veterans.
However, a defeat in a first-round playoff game could mean far more dire consequences if Sirianni is fired. That sort of outcome signals an uncertain future for the Eagles, where the near-term destination is the bottom of the NFC East standings and a tough climb back to the type of NFL prominence the team’s fans have enjoyed for long.
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