No NFL coach with a 5-6 record will ever relent that his team is dead in the hunt for a playoff spot.
As devastating as it is for Eagles fans to watch their team start 3-0, and fall — by any reasonable logic — out of playoff contention before Week 13, it is much worse for the players. They've been in nearly every game and a few plays could have made a monumental difference.
But Doug Pederson's club is in last in the NFC East, and though they are just 1.5 games out of a Wild Card spot, an unfavorable schedule and logjam in the standings ahead of them leaves Philly with, according to fivethirtyeight.com, just an 8 percent chance of making the playoffs.
“Look at the effort," the coach said after Monday's 24-13 loss to Green Bay. "I think you might look at wins and losses. I've got to look at the potential of the football team and the guys that we have. Are we there yet? No. Are we heading in the right direction? Yes. Again, it may not show up right now in wins and losses, but I see that potential. I see that there is no quit in this team. Everybody's fighting to the end. That's a sign that things are heading the right direction.”
A coach preaching that results aren't showing up in the win-loss record is more or less conceding defeat. And though they could run the table, finish 10-6 and have an outside chance, they'll have to thwart the 10-1 Cowboys, 8-3 Giants, 6-4-1 Redskins and 6-5 Ravens in four of their last five games.
"Teams in our situation right now, even though you are still maybe on the edge of getting to where you want to be at the end of the season, you can kind of go the other way," the coach said, a day after the Week 12 loss in his Tuesday afternoon news conference. "It's not to put any added pressure on anybody, but at the same time I don't want people to just start tanking it in the last month of the season. And then you jeopardize injury, you jeopardize injury from another teammate. We all have pride in this and we still want to compete and go out and win football games."
With or without the playoffs as a reasonable goal from this point forward, there are reasons to watch the team. The young core will need to get experience and confidence as they prepare to compete in a division surely to be stacked in years to come.
"Carson [ Wentz ], with a Wendell Smallwood , with a [CB] Jalen Mills, we've got pieces," Pederson said.
"We keep adding to, and down the road, as I mentioned, these games go in our favor and that's what you want."
Veteran players know this feeling all too well, having fallen short toward the end of the regular season in two recent seasons at 10-6 and 7-9 in 2014 and 2015 respectively.
“It’s tough because in the NFL you invest so much every week to win games and unfortunately we haven’t been able to do that the last couple of weeks," tight end Zach Ertz said. "We still feel like we have a good team. That’s the most frustrating thing because if we were a bad team getting blown out of these games it would be one thing. But these games have come down to a possession here, a possession there. We just haven’t executed in those games, so it’s frustrating obviously.”
Philly travels to Cincinnati next week for its easiest remaining game.
“We need to win next week," defensive end Fletcher Cox said. "I think that’s the most important thing. We can’t look ahead about the rest of the season — we have to win next week and start 1-0 from there.”