Losing the Super Bowl is the loneliest destiny. After two weeks of buildup, there is no parade waiting for losing teams upon their arrival, their championship shirts are dispersed in remote locations around the world and the feeling that a ring slipped away can endure throughout the offseason. Even worse, my Deadspin colleagues, Criss Partee and Eric Blum and I have to throw salt in the wound by debating whether said losing team, the Philadelphia Eagles, can bounce back to reach this apex again. They did it before in a similar climate with the Eagles and with their considerable advantage at quarterback in an NFC devoid of upper-echelon passers, they should be a lock to contend again, but we examine how their odds look in 2023 and beyond.
Eric Blum: Has anyone noticed how much easier the road is for the Philadelphia Eagles to get back to the Super Bowl than the Kansas City Chiefs?
Criss Partee: It won’t be. We say that every year about a team and it rarely happens like that. The Bucs were supposed to return... and the Rams... Bengals too... could go on and on. With so much turnover in the league, it’s never as easy as we want to think. We’re still caught up in the moment right now and folks are saying all kinda wild stuff. So I doubt they’ll be back next year. Hell, the Chiefs were supposed to have won three or four more after the first and they just won it again. They’ve been back but it hasn’t been “easy”. So I’m not buying it being all that easy for Philly to just jump right back in and make it again. So it won’t be that easy for either, honestly.
DJ Dunson: In defense of the Chiefs, they have been back to the Super Bowl twice since that 2019 season. It’s only easier for Philly in the sense that they have an all-universe QB. Outside of Aaron Rodgers who may be gone soon, the cupboard is barren in the NFC. Mahomes has Josh Allen, Joe Burrow, Lamar Jackson, Trevor Lawrence, and Tyreek Hill’s new favorite Tua Tagovailoa (who had the best QBR when healthy) I mean, who’s the second-best quarterback in the NFC?
Eric: Justin Herbert is in that group too. But for the NFC, it’s gross, but it’s Kirk Cousins. No one in the NFC South has a shot. As much as Daniel Jones improved this season, he’s still far from a reliable choice. Justin Fields showed potential, but his team has the No. 1 overall pick for a reason. It’s a severe drop, that’s for sure.
Criss: Probably a healthy Stafford.
DJ: Maybe. But that still doesn’t say much about the conference. Jalen was slinging that ball all over the field on the biggest stage all over the field and will get all his weapons back on offense. Elite quarterback play is the best predictor of repeat success.
Criss: Yeah, but I still just don’t think it’s that easy because a team like Philly or Minnesota always comes outta nowhere every year. Meaning a new team we didn’t expect or something like that. I just think there are too many variables. And the Eagles are gonna lose guys because they’re gonna pay Hurts soon. He had a really good team this year. That matters. So I’m not ready to just anoint them automatically knowing the turnover we see every year. And you’re looking just at QB, I’m looking at teams overall. That still matters as we saw last night. Hurts played a phenomenal game and didn’t receive the same support he had all year.
Eric: The only team set up well enough to compete with a mediocre QB is San Francisco. That defense is great, a solid offensive line, Deebo Samuel, Christian McCaffrey, and more? They could succeed with Taylor Heinicke at quarterback, much less someone who could be mediocre.
Partee: He played a little better than mediocre. Purdy wasn’t just handing the ball off and falling back. He made plays when the 49ers called on him and Kyle Shanahan trusted him to make passes he didn’t trust Jimmy G to make. He benefited from a great team but most winning QBs do. So, I can’t say Brock Purdy was only mediocre.
DJ: Elite QB play is 75 percent of the equation and Jalen proved he can rise to the occasion. Mahomes just has a higher ceiling. He also has more comp in the AFC too. Most of Philly’s secondary is returning. Haason Reddick will be back to bulldozing passers this fall and first-round giant Jordan Davis barely played this year. Obviously, nothing is a guarantee, but Hurts puts them in the driver’s seat to get back and they’re a mile ahead of the field. The NFC is weaker than it’s ever been. No Brady, possibly no Rodgers. The 49ers’ QB position is up for grabs. The Rams have a lot of work to do. If anyone is going to sneak up on them, it’ll be those two, but COMPARED to the AFC, Hurts has a red carpet laid out for him.
Criss: The Eagles aren’t invincible. I never thought they were that good honestly. So I can’t say it’s gonna be that easy. They could prove me wrong but I doubt it.
DJ: Invincible? Nice unintentional Vince Papale reference. Philadelphia has a massive head start on the conference because of their quarterback coupled with their high-throttle defense. The Eagles are a Bentley parked in a rough part of town before free agency takes place, at least. The Chiefs are Jay Z at the Roc Nation brunch. It might be their show, but there are other heavy hitters around.
Eric: Philly is rough, but give me the Eagles or 49ers representing the NFC in the Super Bowl next year against the field. It’s either the team with far and away the best quarterback or the team with the only roster that can match the Eagles outside of who is taking the snaps. The Vikings have a whole problem on defense regardless of Brian Flores coming in, Dallas will be Dallas and will regress on offense in ‘23, and who else even is a realistic longshot? The Eagles will no doubt look different next season, but they have enough great pieces that will make them at worst the second-best team in the NFC.
Criss: Remember when the NFC East was considered the least? Oh yeah, that was just last season. That’s all I’m saying. It flips so quickly because of the parity that you can’t say it’s easy for anybody, really.
DJ: You’re exactly right. The NFC East has been a parody. But the Eagles flew away with that division. Their only competition could be the Dallas Cowboys, but the Eagles’ depth chart is vastly superior. Hurts’ rookie contract runs through next season, so the clock is running out on them retaining a majority of their talent, so it could get a bit more complicated after their 2023 run.
Criss: And that’s where I’m going with it — that because of the contract situation coupled with so much turnover in the league overall, it’s never as easy as we like to think it will be for teams to return. It’s hard to repeat as conference or division champs year after year. I don’t think it’s ever easy. We get so ahead of ourselves in crowning folks or giving them “flowers” that we lose track of the competition and how tough it is to be that good for multiple years. There’s a reason we don’t usually see dynasties all the time or even more than one in an era.
DJ: Dynasty talk is strong. I think it’s safe to say they’ll win and lose a few NFC Championships over the next few years. Philadelphia has a bevy of picks including New Orleans’ 10th pick in the upcoming draft. I just have trust in Howie Roseman surrounding Hurts with young, cheap talent like he’s done for the past two decades. And in the immediate future, Hurts is the differentiating factor for me in that conference.