The numbers are overwhelming.
At least one team every year that has participated in the Super Bowl since the format expanded to four rounds in 1979 has had a first-round playoff bye. Since 1990, teams with a first-round bye have accounted for 44 of 56 Super Bowl spots, a percentage of 78.5. Of the 56 conference championship games played in the current format, 54 of them have been hosted by teams that had a first-round bye that year.
In the 2017 season, the Eagles learned firsthand how important securing the No. 1 seed was for their ultimate playoff success. They used the bye week between the end of the regular season and the playoffs to reconfigure the offensive approach, and we saw how it benefited quarterback Nick Foles as he led the Eagles to the win in Super Bowl LII.
The lesson: The Eagles were facing an uphill battle as the No. 6 seed in these playoffs. In fact, only three teams (the 2005 Steelers, the 2007 Giants, and the 2010 Packers) reached the Super Bowl – and won it – as a No. 6 seed since the current format took hold.
“Part of my messaging to the team on Monday was to reflect back on 2018 and say, ‘OK, you can actually point at a couple of games this season where if we had just taken care of our business, finished the game a little bit better, maybe we have that third seed or maybe even the second seed, whatever it might be, where we’re playing a home playoff game at the Linc in front of our fans instead of being on the road for three games,’" head coach Doug Pederson told me after his press conference on Tuesday at the NovaCare Complex.
What did we learn from the joint Howie Roseman/Pederson press conference on Tuesday at the NovaCare Complex? 1. The Eagles are committed to Carson Wentz at quarterback. 2. They would like to keep all of their players for 2019, including Nick Foles (we know that they can’t keep all of their players. 3. They’re going to be aggressive as they improve the roster. The Eagles have tough decisions to make up and down their roster as they address their personnel and they’ve got a slew of draft picks – including compensatory picks the Eagles could have 10 draft picks in the spring – to provide depth and young, front-line talent.
Other than that, there are not many answers to give at this point. The Eagles begin their offseason preparations this week with organization-wide meetings as they begin their planning process first for free agency and then the NFL Draft. While it seems like a long way away, it really isn’t. The Senior Bowl practices take place next week. Every NFL team must be at or below the 2019 salary cap at 4 p.m. on March 13. The NFL Draft? Mark it down for April 25-27 in Nashville.
Ultimately, the Eagles are going to have a lot of roster turnover. Roseman estimated it at 15 to 20 percent, the annual roster turnover rate. That’s, what, roughly 10-11 new players on a 53-man roster. It could be more this year with all the draft picks the Eagles have and all of the delicate contract decisions that need to be made. The goal for the Eagles in the 2019 regular season is to return to the top of the NFC East and, with the facts what they are, to secure a No. 1 or No. 2 seed in next year’s postseason.
Ahead, the Eagles are looking for players who love the game and who want to be coached the right way and who have heart and desire and who want to be Philadelphia Eagles.
“You want guys that are going to fit into your culture,” Pederson said. “Quite frankly, I want football players. I want guys who love football and they’ve got to be smart and intelligent and all that, but listen, you want football players. Guys who have love and passion for the game. I could sit here and go through every position and give you criteria – height, weight, speed, and all that – at the end of the day, it’s hard to coach heart. If somebody has that and they have the will and the desire to be coached, to be coached right and to be coached hard, and then fit in with your culture, those are the guys we want.”
The offseason is here, as much as it hurts. After having warp-speed workdays here at the NovaCare Complex, the faucet has been shut off. The 2018 season is in the books. There were plenty of lessons learned, and certainly understanding what it takes to repeat as a Super Bowl Champion is one of them, but the overarching reinforced mission is this: The road to the Supe is much easier as a No. 1 or No. 2 seed. Everyone knows it. That’s the goal for every team.
As close as the Eagles came on Sunday in New Orleans, they faced another huge challenge had they won with a long road trip to Los Angeles next. For 2019, the decisions made in the offseason will be important to determine just how fast the Eagles can start and how strong they can finish. Playing in front of the home crowd at Lincoln Financial Field makes all the difference in the world as the Eagles learned in the 2004 season and then again in 2017. Home is, indeed, very sweet in the NFL postseason.