Different sports, sure, but Monday night’s Eagles-Redskins game at a raucous, sold-out Lincoln Financial Field and the 76ers-Pistons game at a half-empty Little Caesars Arena may have marked real turning points for the two storied Philadelphia franchises.
How so? Well…
Not only did the Birds’ 34-24 victory over the divisional-rival Redskins help Doug Pederson’s squad open up a 2 ½ game lead atop the NFC East, it also swayed most football experts to move the Eagles to the tippy-top of the NFL Power Rankings (ahead of those cross-state Pittsburgh Steelers and defending league champion New England Patriots) and convinced even the most skeptical Eagles fans – despite the loss of two key players to season-ending injuries – that this year’s team is a legitimate Super Bowl contender. (There, I said those two verboten words: Super Bowl.)
It’s not just that the Eagles are now a league-best 6-1 with a clear path to the post-season. It’s also the fact that Monday night was something of a coming-out party for second-year quarterback Carson Wentz. Already among the leading contenders for this season’s Most Valuable Player Award (with seven touchdown passes over his previous two games), Wentz was perhaps more impressive than ever playing in front of prime-time national TV audience: He threw another four scoring passes, and made a couple of you’ve-got-to-see-it-to-believe-it highlight-film plays against Washington’s defense.
If he’s not a Top 5 NFL quarterback already, he’s very much in the conversation. And why not? He’s getting better game by game, he’s extremely intelligent, he can take hits, he can scramble when necessary, he’s proven to be a terrific leader, and he has put to rest any concerns about his ability to throw a deep ball.
If the Eagles end up being true championship contenders for several years to come, remember Oct. 23, 2017, as the night it began in earnest.
As for the 76ers, an early-season win over a mediocre team in an arena named for a take-out pizza chain might not seem like anything special. But consider this: The 97-86 victory was the first regular-season win with the two guys expected to be the face of the franchise for the next decade, Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, in the lineup together.
While an as-advertised Simmons had notched double-doubles in the Sixers’ three losses that opened the season, a not-yet-in-great-shape Embiid (in the two games he had played) didn’t look like the same dominant guy we quickly fell in love with during the 31 games he played last season when he averaged 20.2 points and 7.8 rebounds.
But in Monday’s road victory in Detroit, the 7’2” center poured in 30 points (on 11-for-15 shooting) and pulled down 9 rebounds, while Simmons recorded his first career triple-double: 21 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists.
Simmons, Embiid and the rest of Brett Brown’s squad also looked to be getting more comfortable with one another offensively and played very good defense throughout, making this writer feel much better about his prediction for a 43-win season and an Eastern Conference playoff spot.
There will no doubt be a lot of hiccups along the way, but if the Sixers turn out to be perennial powers like so many of us believe will be the case, make a note that the first victory with this core group of guys (Embiid, Simmons, Robert Covington, JJ Redick, Markelle Fultz and Dario Saric) was achieved on Oct. 23, 2017.
Don’t be surprised if both the Wells Fargo Center and the Linc play host to a whole lot of playoff contests over the next several years! –Jim “Chet” Chesko