— With exactly half the season in the books, it's no surprise that the rebuilding Philadelphia Eagles, with a brand-new coaching staff, revamped front office and even a new-look stadium still can go either way.
Normally, when you have a team that lost its last two games to fall to 3-5 while scoring just three points with its offense, you pretty much know exactly what you have: an incomplete project that's at least a year away from being a year away.
Not so with this squad, for so many reasons, but mostly because the division in which it competes is so darned lousy.
The Eagles are still in play to win the NFC East, which would actually land them a home playoff game.
With that said, here are the top five signs that things will turn around quickly to get them back into the postseason after a two-year drought; and the top five signs that things will continue to get worse, adding more uncertainty to what already promises to be a fascinating offseason.
The five positive signs:
5. The weak division: Somebody has to win it. And the Eagles, who already have beaten two of the other three teams, could well be the default non-losers. In fact, if they win their remaining division contests — against Washington and Dallas — the chances of them continuing into January are very strong. Some of their other games are at Minnesota and home against Arizona, Chicago and Detroit.
4. Head coach Chip Kelly's offense: Yes, things are bad now. Couldn't be worse, actually. But even in these last two horrendous losses, dozens of plays with no design flaws have been there to be made. They've been off by a hair on some that could have turned each of those losses around.
3. A defense that's now well-connected: Through the first four games, this was one of the all-time historically bad units. But in the last four, it's been among the league's best this year. In fact, undefeated Kansas City is the only other team that has limited opponents to 21 points or less over its last four games. The drastically improved play of safeties Nate Allen and Earl Wolff has been a huge factor. And defense and a good running game (the Eagles are still second in the league in rushing yards per game) not only travel well but perform better in the nasty weather of late fall and early winter in the Northeast.
2. Kelly's philosophy of winning now: The coach sure didn't sound like he was just blowing a bunch of hot air when he unleashed what amounted to his NFL mission statement in his Wednesday news conference. "We're trying to win the game we're playing this week," he exclaimed, "and if we start planning long-term, I may not be here long-term. You know what I'm saying?"
1. A cohesive locker room: Last year, you could sense a disconnect from the moment you entered — even after defensive line coach Jim Washburn and his top capo, Jason Babin, were gone. Even the loyal ones didn't know what was next, except that Andy Reid was at the end of his run as coach. In other words: a lame duck. This group seems to fit together, even if it's still finding its way.
The five negative signs:
5. Ineffective pass rush: Defensive coordinator Billy Davis has had some success when dialing up blitzes, but pretty much only when dialing up blitzes. When the Eagles send just four, it's rare that the quarterback is made to feel uncomfortable for as long as it takes him to find a receiver. This puts a restricter plate on how fast this group can operate and doesn't allow it to ever be great.
4. Kelly's NFL inexperience: He doesn't have a sense on how to handle big moments in these kinds of games yet, and it shows with the plays he calls and the decisions he makes to kick or punt or not to kick or punt. He's smart enough to figure things out, but maybe not in time to salvage this season.
3. Too much, too soon, too young: Turning over so much of the roster, albeit an ineffective one, along with bringing in a brand new coaching staff and changing the defensive scheme without most of the personnel required to do it has led to the Eagles literally playing catch-up in every game this season. In fact, they've trailed in each of their last 24 games dating to the start of last season. That's almost an impossible feat in today's mediocre NFL.
2. Poor offensive line play, particularly by tackles Lane Johnson and Jason Peters. With Johnson, a rookie who's also basically new to the position and still adjusting to his recently inflated body, it's a little easier to understand. But Peters' poor play has been alarming. He used to be all-pro caliber. Now he's just another guy. The play of the tackles has been the biggest factor in the decline of the running game, which in turn puts too much strain on the quarterback du jour.
1. Unsettled quarterback situation: It's officially a circus now, although the feeling here is that we've seen the last of Michael Vick on game days, which would at least add some clarity. But Nick Foles and Matt Barkley? Foles is the man for now, but is coming off one of the all-time worst games in league history two weeks ago against Dallas. Barkley has yet to put a point on the board in 10 series — four of which ended with interceptions or fumbles.
This truly is a season on the brink for the Eagles with eight games left. Which way does it turn?
Let's have a beer or three and start the debate.