By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Success is easy. Somebody’s got to win every single year. There’s always going to be a winner, a champion. A top dog. King of the hill. Top of the heap. (Sorry, got Sinatra on the brain.)
Every year, someone’s going to win.
The tricky part is sustaining that success, remaining on top, fending off all of the influences and pressures that work to squeeze the life out of that success as quickly and as heartlessly as possible. In the NFL, when you win, everyone is coming for you. Your focus can be derailed. Your payroll can become inflated. And your luck may run out.
We’re seeing that now with the Philadelphia Eagles. The defending champions were riding high from January through August, following a magical postseason run replete with underdog masks and upset victories that was capped off with a dramatic victory over Bill Belichick, Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. With would-have-been MVP Carson Wentz restoring his health, the sky was the limit for the Eagles in 2018.
Problem was, nobody really wanted to let them keep that run going. And as a result of consecutive losses to opponents that look to be mediocre teams at this point in the season, the Eagles own a 2-3 record. Where they go from here is anyone’s guess. Fortunately for them, they’re in a fairly putrid division that includes zero teams with records better than .500. But there are some difficult games left on the schedule (home dates with the Panthers and Jaguars, road games against the Saints and Rams), and climbing to 10 wins will be quite the steep challenge for Doug Pederson and his Fun Bunch.
This is the point where I could remark at how absurd the sustained success from the Patriots over the past 18 years, how they’ve missed the playoffs just twice since 2001, how they’ve never had a true down year, how they survived a season-ending injury in Week 1 to their starting QB and played a backup who hadn’t started a game since high school, how no matter what happens to everyone else around them, they just. Keep. Winning. That would be a worthwhile angle.
But really, this is more about how the Eagles fit in to the norm of the NFL. You can be as great as you want one year, but that gives you no guarantees for tomorrow. The 2015 Carolina Panthers came within a touchdown of becoming the second-ever 16-0 regular-season team in history; they flopped in the Super Bowl and then went 6-10 in 2016.
The Denver Broncos won that Super Bowl over the Panthers; they’ve gone 16-21 since then, and it looks like they’ll now miss the playoffs for a third straight year.
The Seahawks appear to be in the midst of spiral from “Dynasty” to complete mess. The Ravens have made the playoffs just once in five seasons since winning the Super Bowl in 2012. The Giants, who won the Super Bowl a year prior, have just one postseason appearance over the past six seasons, and they now sit at 1-4 in 2018. It feels safe to say it’ll be one in seven for the Giants in short order.
The past 20 years is full of teams that appeared in or won a Super Bowl and then never made it back. The ’02 Bucs and Raiders, the ’06 Bears, the ’08 Cardinals, the ’09 Saints, the ’12 49ers. Certainly, the ’15 Panthers and ’16 Falcons are in danger of joining that list, and if the Eagles don’t sort out their issues, they may end up there, too.
Obviously, just winning at all in the NFL is extraordinarily difficult to do. But continuing to be good? More often than not, that proves to be next to impossible.
Speaking of things that are impossible to be good at, I finally had a bad week of picks. Hope you’re happy, haters. But I apologize in advance for the forthcoming perfect week.
(Home team in CAPS; Wednesday lines)
NEW YORK GIANTS (+3) over Philadelphia
I don’t know, man. Let’s get weird. The Eagles are struggling, and every team responds to these short weeks differently. The Giants looked like a big ol’ mess last week, with the Odell Beckham interview throwing gasoline on a fire. They also kind of choked away a game that they almost miraculously won in Carolina.
Really, there’s reason to believe both teams can and will flop in this Thursday night clash. Picking which one will flop less involves one thing: guessing.
NEW YORK JETS (-2.5) over Indianapolis
The Jets are really hard to get a grasp on this year. I suppose that’s par for the course when a rookie quarterback is leading the charge. But it’s hard to pick the Colts when they’re just lacking so much talent. Andrew Luck was throwing some perfect passes last week to guys that legitimately nobody has ever heard of. Even Frank Reich must have been saying “who was that?” into his headset every time a receiver clanked a pass off his hands.
Also, before moving on, we must pay our respect to Lenzy Pipkins. I learned who Lenzy Pipkins was last week, because he A) has the single greatest name in sports history, and B) participated in the single greatest celebration in sports history.
Pipkins is No. 37 in those photos. He looks so happy!
Well, ol’ Lenzy Pipkins was released this week. Will he find a job? I sure hope so. But I will say, even if he doesn’t, his participation in this interception celebration (off a dropped pass, while trailing by 14) will live on forever in NFL lore.
So today, we bid you adieu, Lenzy Pipkins. Let’s hope it’s just a “see you later.” The world is too dark, too cruel, to have Lenzy Pipkins taken away from us.
EMERGENCY UPDATE: As I was writing this column, Mr. Lenzy Pipkins got a new job! The world isn’t so bad after all.
Tampa Bay (+3.5) over ATLANTA
We’ve got the 1-4 Atlanta Falcons, fresh off a 41-17 thumping of a loss in Pittsburgh, playing host to the 2-2 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who are coming off a 48-10 loss at Chicago! We’ve got Jameis Winston — he’s average! — making his first start of the year after serving a suspension for groping an Uber driver at a Mexican fast food drive-thru lane! We’ve got several hundred Georgia residents willing to attend this game in person! Don’t miss it!
(This game stinks.)
Buffalo (+10) over HOUSTON
If Bill O’Brien is going to not only forego field goals as often as possible but also call awful plays on the goal line, then how can you ever trust them to cover a spread of any significance? Even against the Bills? You can’t. You cannot.
Seattle (-3) over OAKLAND (in London)
Remember when Rex Ryan’s Bills forgot to charge the batteries for their headsets in London? Whoops. Classic.
I can only imagine what kind of gaffe Jon Gruden will make on Sunday. I’ll tell you what, man, you got guys driving on the wrong side of the road here it’s crazy, man.
Going to need Marshawn Lynch to really let loose sooner than later, by the way.
Pittsburgh (+2.5) over CINCINNATI
Did you know that the Steelers have won nine out of their last 10 games against the Bengals? Did you know that the Steelers have won six straight against the Bengals? Well, let me tell you: The Steelers have won nine out of their last 10, and six straight, against the Bengals.
Now you know that.
Chicago (-3) over MIAMI
I’m not sure I’m ready to fully buy in on the Chicago Bears being good again. They probably are good again, but when you’re trying to rise out of the ashes of a 19-45 stretch over the past four years, you’re going to run into a few skeptics.
However I’m quite ready to state definitively that the Dolphins’ 3-0 start was a mirage. Ryan Tannehill? He’s bad, folks. The Dolphins’ offense ranks 28th in scoring and 30th in yards. They also rank 29th in third down conversions, and their offensive workhorse is like 53 years old. (Frank Gore, don’t read this, it was a joke! Big fan. Massive respect. Anyway.)
The Bears’ early-season magic may flame out a little, but they may save that for the Patriots in Week 7. The Dolphins may get fully Khalil’d in this one.
CLEVELAND (+1) over Los Angeles Chargers
This season is insane.
MINNESOTA (-10.5) over Arizona
The Vikings could have been included with the Eagles in the introduction to this story, as they went from playing in the NFC Championship Game to LOSING AT HOME TO THE BUFFALO BILLS in the blink of an eye.
But this line would seem to indicate that there is a growing belief that, after a road victory in Philly, the Vikings have figured out their problems. I’m not so sure I’m willing to go that far, not when they’re being aided by one of the weaker roughing the passer calls in history. Going to need to see more.
But against the Cardinals, who have thus far only been able to beat a C.J. Beathard-led 49ers team? Let’s give the Vikings one last chance to prove they can still be somewhat comparable to the 2017 Vikings. You’re on your final notice, Minnesota Vikings.
Carolina (+1) over WASHINGTON
There is absolutely no reason for the Redskins, on a short week, coming off an abysmal road game on Monday Night Football, to be favored in this game. Not one reason. I will hear none of it.
(Of course, Washington will probably win by five scores.)
DENVER (+7) over Los Angeles
Love the Rams, but their early-season explosion is dissipating a bit. (Average margin of victory Weeks 1-3: 22 points. Average margin of victory Weeks 4-5: 4.5 points.) The injuries are mounting a bit. (I’m sorry, but Brandin Cooks should probably not be allowed to play tackle football this week, just seven days after getting knocked unconscious on a football field for the second time in 10 months.)
Denver had some real spunk until recently. And you know what? I’m a fan of spunk. You have got to love spunk.
TENNESSEE (+2.5) over Baltimore
As the world’s last remaining believer in the 2018 Tennessee Titans, I must say: The Titans are winning this game by 10 points. BOOK IT!
Jacksonville (-2.5) over DALLAS
I like the Jaguars. I really do. But they’ve got some focus issues. There’s just no explanation or reason for them laying up two duds in three games since beating the Patriots. It’s frankly unacceptable, and if given the opportunity I would deliver them all a stern talking-to. There is simply no reason I should even have to think about making this pick, yet here I am, tempted to give Dallas a chance.
This is not acceptable. Clean it up, Jaguars.
Kansas City (+3) over NEW ENGLAND
I’m actually entirely enticed by Tom Brady carving up one of the NFL’s worst defenses. That, combined with Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels managing to milk the clock with some seven-minute drives, is probably the recipe for a Sunday night victory for the home team.
But … if you’re passing up free points for the Kansas City Chiefs at this point, aren’t you being criminally negligent?
The Chiefs just put up 30 on the vaunted Jags defense. Technically it was 23 points, as one touchdown was scored on defense, but the defense did finally show signs of life. Sure, they gave up 502 total yards to Blake Bortles’ offense (yikes, buddy!), but they also made up for most of it by picking off Bortles four times and forcing a fifth turnover on a fumble. (A fumble by Blake Bortles. Yikes to you, sir.)
There is, of course, the element of the Patriots playing at home in prime time, at a time when they appear to be clicking on both sides of the ball and are at full strength on offense. Picking against them in such scenarios has a way of making man and woman alike look foolish.
But you’re really going to pick against the Chiefs as underdogs right now? You’re not. You can’t.
(No need to hype this game as a regular-season Super Bowl, by the way. It’s Week 6. Let’s all chill out, at least a little bit.)
San Francisco (+9.5) over GREEN BAY
Don’t overreact to one week. Don’t overreact to one week. Don’t overreact to — ah! Went ahead and overreacted to one week. Whoops.
Last week: 6-8-1