Could the Eagles best the ’72 Dolphins and go 17-0? Breaking down their remaining schedule
PHILADELPHIA — The champagne remains on ice for the undefeated 1972 Miami Dolphins, and by the looks of it, the Philadelphia Eagles might make them sweat this one out.
The Eagles are 8-0 for the first time in team history and have arrived at that mark in impressive fashion, winning their games by an average of 11 points. They have yet to trail at any time in the second half this season and are among the league leaders in most major statistical categories, including turnover differential (first: plus-15), points per game (second: 28.1), total yards per game (third: 391), takeaways (first: 18) and opponent points per game (third: 16.9). They have a legitimate MVP candidate in quarterback Jalen Hurts (18 total touchdowns, 2 interceptions) and lack glaring weaknesses on either side of the ball.
What’s more, Philly has the easiest remaining schedule in the NFL according to ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI), beginning with a home “Monday Night Football” matchup against the Washington Commanders (8:15 p.m. ET, ESPN) in which they’re favored by double-digits (-11). The conversation is heating up about just how far the Eagles can push this undefeated streak — on the outside, at least.
“That’s not an easy thing to do, each week coming out victorious. Our team has done that, and obviously that feels good sitting here,” coach Nick Sirianni said, “but all we’re really concerned about now is how we get better from the last game, how do we get better from our little self-scout again, and then how do we get ready to play this next game. Because yeah, sure, right now 8-0 is fine, but it’s not the goal.”
The current Eagles need to stay grounded, former Eagles running back Brian Westbrook said.
“You just don’t want to be overconfident,” said Westbrook, who gave the nod to this team over the 2004 team that started 7-0 in their level of physicality and dedication to the ground game. “That’s a big-time fear.”
Just how realistic is it for the Eagles to run the table and join the ’72 Dolphins (who remained unbeaten through the postseason) and 2007 New England Patriots (who didn’t) as the only unblemished regular-season squads in the Super Bowl era? Where are the potential stumbling blocks?
Let’s take a closer look.
FPI’s outlook for the Eagles
7%: That’s the Eagles’ chances of winning out. They are projected to be a favorite in every game for the rest of the season with the exception of their Christmas Eve showdown at the Dallas Cowboys. In all their other matchups, FPI currently has the Eagles winning by a touchdown or more. Even so, the odds of perfection aren’t in their favor.
The Eagles are heavy favorites over the Commanders on Monday night but strange outcomes are an every-week occurrence in the NFL. Multiply those strange potential outcomes by eight more opportunities, and the mathematical likelihood gets more difficult with each passing week.
7.6: That’s the Eagles’ expected point margin versus an average opponent, which ranks third in the league behind the Kansas City Chiefs (9.8) and the Buffalo Bills (9.0). In other words, Philadelphia is rated as the third best team in the league even though the Chiefs and Bills have two losses each.
That’s because the FPI model, which accounts for overall roster strength and performance above expectation, is factoring in the Eagles’ rather soft first-half schedule that featured two teams with a winning record: the 7-1 Minnesota Vikings and 6-2 Cowboys, who were operating with Cooper Rush instead of Dak Prescott at quarterback. Their other six opponents have a combined record of 15-35-1.
Sizing up the remaining schedule
Nov. 14 vs. Commanders
FPI: Eagles by 11.3
The Eagles won the first matchup in Washington Week 3 by a score of 24-8, pounding their old friend Carson Wentz to the tune of 17 QB hits and nine sacks. Wentz remains on injured reserve following finger surgery, leaving the duties to Taylor Heinicke, who went 27-of-36 and threw one interception with no touchdowns in a losing effort against Philly last season.
Nov. 20 at Indianapolis Colts
FPI: Eagles by 14.5
First Wentz’s homecoming was spoiled by injury, then the Colts fired Frank Reich, the Eagles offensive coordinator during their 2017 Super Bowl run. Reich could give some pointers to good friend Nick Sirianni about his old squad. Not that Sirianni necessarily needs it: This is the heaviest Philadelphia is favored the rest of the way.
Nov. 27 vs. Green Bay Packers
FPI: Eagles by 7.9
So much for adapting to life without receiver Davante Adams. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers has struggled with a young group of receivers. It doesn’t get any easier here: The Eagles have the best defensive receiving tracking metrics in the NFL, per ESPN, with a rating of 74. The next closest team comes in at 66.
Dec. 4 vs. Tennessee Titans
FPI: Eagles by 8.9
This is the first week defensive tackle Jordan Davis is eligible to return from injured reserve (high ankle sprain). His presence could prove critical with Derrick Henry coming to town. Before he got hurt, the Eagles were allowing 3.9 yards per rush with Davis on the field versus 6 yards per rush with him off the field.
Dec. 11 at New York Giants
FPI: Eagles by 7.3
One of the reasons why the Eagles have the easiest closing schedule, per FPI, is because the model sees the Giants as a below-average team. This will be an excellent opportunity for New York to prove otherwise.
Dec. 18 at Chicago Bears
FPI: Eagles by 8.9
Quarterback Justin Fields is the reigning NFC Offensive Player of the Week, and the Bears offense is averaging 31 points per game over the last three weeks. This could be viewed as a more competitive game by the time it rolls around.
Dec. 24 at Cowboys
FPI: Cowboys by 1.1
Dallas is favored by the slimmest of margins. The Eagles won Round 1 at home 26-17, but that was with Rush at quarterback. This one will be on the road, presumably against Prescott.
Jan. 1 vs. New Orleans Saints
FPI: Eagles by 7.3
There is extra incentive to win this game: The Eagles hold the Saints’ 2022 first-round selection, currently projected to be a top-10 pick. The more New Orleans loses, the more Philadelphia wins.
Jan. 8 vs. Giants
FPI: Eagles by 10.4
A dilemma any team would love and the Eagles would no doubt sign up for: If they’re still undefeated at this point and have the No. 1 seed locked up, do they rest their starters for the playoffs or shoot for perfection?
There are plenty of similarities between this Eagles group and the 2004 team that previously held the mark for best start in franchise history. The ’04 team was strong in the trenches, had a pair of top-end corners in Lito Sheppard and Sheldon Brown (Darius Slay and James Bradberry), a playmaker at safety in Brian Dawkins (C.J. Gardner-Johnson) and a pass rush buoyed by new addition Jevon Kearse (Haason Reddick). Donovan McNabb enjoyed a career year, in large part because of the addition of receiver Terrell Owens (Hurts, A.J. Brown).
They looked untouchable over much of their seven-game stretch before being throttled by the Pittsburgh Steelers, 27-3.
“They kind of ate our lunch in that football game. They were more physical than us, they wanted it more, they were at home. They were out to prove something in that game,” Westbrook said. “And there was a part of us — not that we didn’t work hard, but things had been going so well for us, it was almost like things were just easy, and then we ran into an opponent that was just much more physical than us, and that physicality just takes a lot out of you. And we weren’t up to the match.”
The ’04 Eagles responded to that hiccup, rattling off six straight to move to 13-1 before resting their starters for much of the final two games in advance of a postseason which resulted in a Super Bowl appearance.
It’s not how you start — or how pretty your regular-season record looks — but how you finish, something the players and coaches continue to emphasize as the hype around this undefeated team builds.
“The job is still not done,” Hurts said. “I talk about there never being an arrival and there only being a journey, and that’s something that I embrace and this football team embraces.”
ESPN sports analytics writer Seth Walder contributed to this story.
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