The early 2000s were the best time to be a Philadelphia Eagles fan for a number of reasons. Here's another one. Can't forget this either. We fielded one of the most efficient defenses and Donovan McNabb was lit.
Quick roundup: Played in four NFC championship title games straight, a Super Bowl and pretty much hosted 2004's Pro Bowl. Yes, we lost all of those except one NFC championship, but we were top dogs in the conference and the NFL.
The Five Years of Plenty with the One Good Emperor (botched attempt at referencing this) gave way to much more uncertain times, though. And while the Eagles still put together winning records and deep playoff runs, we lost elite status.
We beat teams we were better than and suffered against the league's juggernaut de jure.
To chronicle this change in power, which at times felt like falling off a cliff but mostly just a continuous drift away from the dock, I've built the charts below. These are the weekly power rankings from ESPN. Data only goes back to 2002.
Where’s the silver lining in a continually dropping power ranking? One immediate answer is if you control for anomalies, the Eagles actually produced a high level of football play. Only four of the 15 seasons were losing ones and two of those were really bad finishes, not just pretty bad finishes. But if wishes were fishes, amiright?
So a non-blissful answer really sits in a few insights from the data. The Eagles tend to begin the season stronger than they end it. The historical start is No. 9. The historical finish is No. 12. Look at 2005, 2007, 2012, 2015 – even 2009. A projected top 10 team that often recedes into the average isn’t awesome. It is indicative of that paper tiger feel that followed Andy Reid after Super Bowl 39 and came to define McNabb’s Middle Empire. But 2016 was different. We finished two spots higher than we started. Didn’t cover the 3-point spread set by the average. But we were given a dismal base and were able to say “hey, we’re a little better than that.”
And our ranking last year was volatile. We crept into the top 10 on four occasions. For a kind of sucky team, I think that shows flashes of what could be. Now, I’m probably suffering from an optimism-over-confidence bias here. But the inconsistency of our game is more of a positive wild card considering how poor our initial and final spots were.
Lastly, I would say that as bad seasons go, our breaks into the top 10 and ending stronger than we started were bright spots non-existent throughout the other dreadful years. Some seasons, like 2012, we began at No. 7 and fell to No. 29 by our last loss to the Giants. In 2015, we broke the average twice and peaked at No. 9, but the rest of the year was underwater. 2011 started hot and fizzled out. There was a late run, but our hole was too deep. Everyone either got hurt or embroiled in a contact fight for 2005. So there’s a degree of 2016 that is counting our blessings for calm moments in the storm, which weren’t evident during other losing years.
So this point is basically saying that the earlier two points should be a point. Sorta meta, ya know … or lazy. EITHER WAY IT STANDS.