The Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles are off to a 2-3 start. Their odds of repeating have soared to 20-1 with bookmakers, and they have only about a 36 percent chance of even making the playoffs, according to The New York Times’s Upshot playoff simulator.
Is this a disastrous beginning for a Super Bowl winner? Or does it fit into a wider pattern of post-championship hangover? It turns out that the Eagles are, at least at this early stage of the season, an outlier — in the wrong direction.
Since the Patriots repeated as champions in the 2004 season, there have been 13 Super Bowl champions that failed to do so. Though all fell short of the top prize, none were terrible.
In their Super Bowl seasons, the teams won an average of 12 regular-season games. The next year, that number fell, but only to 11. To match that average and come up one short of last year’s 13-win total, the Eagles would have to go 10-1 over the rest of this season, a tall order.
Eight of the 13 Super Bowl winners made the playoffs the next season, and the five that did not were respectable, winning eight or nine games each. The Eagles look like clear favorites in four of their games — against the Cowboys, the Giants, the Redskins and the Texans at home — and clear underdogs in two — at the Saints and the Rams. That takes them to 6-5, if form holds. The other five games are close, so they could be looking at eight or nine wins as well. That is usually not enough to make the playoffs.
Once those recent Super Bowl teams got to the playoffs, their record was poorer. Only two of the eight made the Super Bowl again, and one more made the conference championship. The other five fell in an early round. Even if the Eagles do make the playoffs, they look very likely to be a third or fourth seed, at best, meaning they could also be in for a short run.
But the Eagles may not even get that far. Playing with the Upshot’s calculator, we see that the team is in a difficult spot. Give them a sweep of the Giants and splits with the Cowboys and the Redskins. Give them the Texans game, but not the Rams and Saints road games. That outcome would improve their chances to about 45 percent, from 32 percent, and would not give them any chance of a top-two seeding.
The Eagles’ slow start to the season is also disquieting. The last 13 Super Bowl champs averaged 3.5 wins in their first five games, and only one other, the 2006 Steelers, started as badly as the Eagles’ 2-3. Those Steelers wound up 8-8 and out of the playoffs.
And one of those three Steelers losses was eminently forgivable, a road game against the Chargers, who finished 14-2. The Eagles’ losses are to the Buccaneers, the Titans and the Vikings, who have a combined 7-6-1 record. While all three teams are decent, none are playoff locks. And none are top 10 teams in computer rankings. The Eagles’ two wins are against the Falcons and the Colts, who are a combined 2-8.
On the plus side, the Eagles are in a weak division: Despite their poor start, they are only one game behind the first-place Redskins. Philadelphia’s point differential is not terrible, at minus-1; actually, it is the best one in the division.
The Eagles could start to bounce back in the next three weeks before their bye: All three games look winnable, though none is a lock: at the Giants, the Panthers at home and at the Jaguars. Win all three and their playoff chances climb to 66 percent. Even two of three could creep their chances up to about 50 percent.
But as Super Bowl champions go, the Eagles’ start is concerning.
Victor Mather is a general assignment sports reporter and editor.