Here's a look at the first half of the season for the Philadelphia Eagles and a preview of what to expect in the second half:
First-half snapshot: The Eagles caught the NFL off guard by storming to a league-leading 8-1 record. Concerns over the qualifications of coach Doug Pederson and perceived weaknesses at cornerback and running back tempered expectations heading into the season. Quarterback Carson Wentz quickly raised them with standout play that showed he had arrived earlier than anticipated. A recommitment to running back LeGarrette Blount and the ground game following a Week 2 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs eased Wentz's burden and got the offense rolling. Coordinator Jim Schwartz's defense has proved to be a consistent, menacing force. Grade: Near perfection
Midseason MVP: Wentz is not only the team MVP, but arguably the league MVP. He leads the league in touchdown passes (23) through nine weeks, and is fourth in yards (2,262) and quarterback rating (104.1). So much for not being a top-20 quarterback. He has grown in every area of his game, from pre-snap recognition to downfield execution. Surrounded by quality talent (tight end Zach Ertz has emerged as one of the league's best; and the new-look receiving corps is performing at a much higher level), Wentz is taking advantage of weapons that can separate and create. And when they need more time, he is one of the best in the business at extending plays.
Best moment: Tied at 24 with the New York Giants in Week 3, rookie kicker Jake Elliott nailed a 61-yard field goal as time expired and sent the Lincoln Financial Field crowd into a frenzy. That was the first sign this team had some good mojo working. Wentz was miked for the game and was heard telling teammates he would give his game check to Elliott if he made the kick. Instead, Wentz and Elliott agreed to donate money to the charity of Elliott's choosing.
Worst moment: The Eagles lost linebacker Jordan Hicks to a ruptured Achilles on the second play of the game in Week 7 against the Washington Redskins, and left tackle Jason Peters went down with a torn ACL and MCL in the second half of that game. The team has shown resiliency, including after running back Darren Sproles and cornerback Ronald Darby suffered significant injuries earlier in the year, but the absence of Peters and Hicks signifies their biggest test to date.
Second-half outlook: The Eagles acquired former Miami Dolphins running back Jay Ajayi at the trade deadline, signaling they're gearing up for a serious push to capture the winnable NFC. Their second-half schedule is not easy. They have to play the Dallas Cowboys twice and have back-to-back games at the Seattle Seahawks and Los Angeles Rams in December. A big key will be whether Peters' replacement at left tackle, Halapoulivaati Vaitai, can hold his own and protect Wentz's blind side. As long as the young QB stays healthy and is given adequate time, the Eagles will continue to do big things.