— A relatively easy schedule, the surreal play of Nick Foles and ability of their defense to pull together and cover up its limitations has helped the Philadelphia Eagles make it to where they are today: at the top of a weak NFC East and in control of their playoff destiny with five weeks to go in the regular season.
Suddenly, they've become the odds-on favorite to hold on and win it, according to the professionals in Las Vegas. Bovada has them at 5/6 odds of winning it, followed by Dallas at 7/4, the New York Giants at 15/4 and Washington at 25/1.
What the Eagles must do to manifest this predicted destiny is complicated but not unrealistic.
• First, they must keep getting at least decent production from its quarterback, which everyone knows by now (even if coach Chip Kelly isn't saying) will be Foles the rest of the way, unless he gets hurt again.
And even though the process continues to slow down for the second-year player, who will make just his 12th career start next Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals, he's still at the phase in his development where the games themselves can get increasingly difficult as opponents continue to probe for vulnerabilities and adjust to what he's shown so far.
Unless Foles proves to be the second coming of Johnny Unitas, which is highly unlikely, the pace he's established this season cannot possibly be maintained much longer.
The Eagles will have to withstand the inevitability of Foles, who leads the NFL with an average of 9.59 yards per attempt, a 128.0 passer rating and a 16-0 touchdown-to-interception ratio, coming back to earth.
• Second, the defense will have to do better on third-and-long. Too many times it allows opponents to convert, which has contributed to the Eagles leading the league with 824 defensive snaps and on pace to set a league record with 1,198.
Their philosophy is to bend to prevent from breaking, but the sheer volume of plays could eventually take a toll. Either way, it puts more pressure on the offense to maintain its ridiculously high efficiency in the short time it does possess the ball each week.
"The statistics can go 100,000 different ways," defensive coordinator Billy Davis said. "You can make those things kind of what you want it to say a lot of times. Points are the points. That's what dictates the wins or the losses.
"... If you asked me early on, would I take where we are right now with the points, I'd say yes."
Kelly is happy too.
"This game has been about 'do you score on offense and do you not let them score on defense?' " he said. "I've said it before, and I'm not being facetious. We don't play fantasy football, we play real football. If it's at the end of the day, did you not give up points? That's what this game has always been about.
"The statistical part, you're chewing on things I don't think you need to be chewing on. You need to stop people from getting the ball in the end zone. And I think we're getting better at that."
Fair enough. But it is valid to wonder if the players will wear down eventually.
• Third, they have to beat the teams they're supposed to beat. That includes coming out of the break next Sunday and slamming a warm-weather/dome team.
The Cardinals are playing surprisingly well but still are a good matchup for the Eagles in Philly at this time of year, particularly because their offensive line is vulnerable and Carson Palmer is not an elite quarterback.
The Eagles have two other very difficult home games left after that: against Detroit, which features a killer defensive line, and Chicago, which will have quarterback Jay Cutler back by then. They must take care of business at Minnesota on Dec. 15.
If they cannot achieve at least a split in their next four games, the fifth and final one, at Dallas, likely won't mean a thing.
• Fourth, they need to pressure the passer better with their four-man rush. The soft coverage schemes on the back end make this very important.