philly.com
Marcus Hayes

Eight months ago Jeffrey Lurie cautioned against saddling his Eagles with outsized expectations, and harped on the “holes” in the roster. Eight weeks ago, a few days before the season’s first game, Lurie said he only wanted an improved team that would “compete strongly” but declined to make the playoffs a goal for this season.

He was young then, and maybe a little foolish. We all were. How could he know that, half a season later, he’d own the best team in the NFL? How could any of us have known?

Now, there should be no caution. Now, there are no “holes.” Now, anyone connected with the team, whether by ownership share, paycheck or ticket stub, should expect Philadelphia host the NFC championship game. Buy some extra long johns, too. The Super Bowl will be played indoors, but Minnesota’s cold in February.

It seems a little crazy, right? But after eight games the Eagles stand at 7-1, and they’re 7-1 with a bullet. They’re going for it, as they should.

Unless you believe you have a chance to run this streak all the way to Minneapolis you don’t, on Tuesday, make a deadline trade for a slightly damaged malcontent; not after the coach said, on Monday, that he didn’t want any malcontents in his locker room, damaged or otherwise. In fact, the coach said it twice. Still, the Eagles acquired Jay Ajayi, who has a history of knee problems and who came to personify the dissent among the Dolphins. Certainly, Ajayi upgrades a modestly proficient bunch of running backs, but there is such a thing as chemistry, and Doug Pederson didn’t want his meddled with.

Then again, Doug Pederson also wants a Lombardi Trophy, so Doug Pederson will put on his lab coat make it all work.

The last trade Howie Roseman made, when he sent receiver Jordan Matthews to Buffalo for cornerback Ronald Darby during training camp, more clearly reflected Lurie’s let’s-stay-patient refrain. It was a strong indication that the Eagles believed themselves at least a season away from contention; if you consider your team a contender then you don’t trade the young franchise quarterback’s mentor, favorite target and best friend. You just don’t. But you might trade Matthews if you believe your young quarterback will have at least a year to get used to it.

It turns out Carson Wentz didn’t need a year. He needed about 20 minutes.

Wentz is so much more talented, so much more developed and so much smarter than even his most bullish advocates expected that he makes the Birds viable immediately, especially when you consider the immediate competition.

The NFC East is the Eagles’ for the taking, whether or not Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott is granted an injunction next week that staves off his six-game suspension (a brief stay was issued Friday that allows him to play this weekend). Seattle’s defense isn’t what it was when the Seahawks were fearsome, and it’s remarkably ordinary on third down. The Packers lost Aaron Rodgers. The Vikings’s defense is stout and the offensive line is elite, but … Case Keenum? The Saints seem complete, and they’re hot. It won’t be hot in Philly on Jan. 21, when the conferences decide their champions.

And here’s the most enticing news of all, if you like January ball:

The Eagles are getting better.

It begins with Wentz, of course, but it travels down the roster.

Nelson Agholor, in his third season, replaced Matthews in the slot, and Mack Hollins, in his first, is on his way to replacing Torrey Smith on the outside. The rapport between Wentz and No. 1 receiver Alshon Jeffery is growing, best demonstrated by last week’s 53-yard touchdown connection. It’s taken two months to blossom mainly because Wentz has never played with a receiver with all of Jeffery’s tools. The offensive line has lost its entire left side to injury or ineptness, but the line remains efficient. Stefan Wisniewski unseated Isaac Seumalu at guard after Game Two. Halapoulivaati Vaitai is not nearly as much a liability as it seemed he would be when tackle Jason Peters’ knee collapsed two weeks ago. Ajayi, explosive through the hole, adds a home-run dynamic that LeGarrette Blount, Wendell Smallwood and Corey Clement simply didn’t provide in the first half of the season.

Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod remain among the better safety pairs in the NFL but, out of nowhere, Mychal Kendricks and Nigel Bradham both are playing at a Pro-Bowl level. Combine that with the unforeseeable proficiency at cornerback from Jalen Mills, rookie Rasul Douglas and free-agent Patrick Robinson, whose preseason struggles prompted the trade for Darby, who has been hurt since the first half of Game One. He’s practicing at nearly full steam and his return after next week’s bye seems imminent.

All of that, without mentioning that strength of the team – the defensive line –should be reason enough for unbridled optimism. Want more? OK.

The most important numbers this season are 7-1, of course, but those number never materialize if not for these numbers: 19-5.

That’s Wentz’s touchdown-to-interception ratio. No player has thrown for more scores.

Had we known those numbers lay in the future we all would’ve wiser eight weeks ago.