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How the Eagles went from last place in 2016 to clinching NFC East crown in 2017

Philadelphia becomes the first team to clinch a spot in the NFL playoffs.

NFL: Chicago Bears at Philadelphia Eagles Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Between 2004 and 2016, the NFC East has never had a repeat champion. With a 43-35 road win over the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday, the Philadelphia Eagles have extended that streak to 13 years.

Philadelphia is the first team to qualify for this year’s playoffs after an impressive revival and the best record in the NFL.

Unfortunately for the Eagles, the win may have come with a high cost. Quarterback Carson Wentz left the game with a knee injury, and according to reports, the team fears the MVP candidate has a torn ACL.

And it’s mostly on the shoulders of a second-year quarterback from North Dakota State.

Carson Wentz has developed from talented-but-overmatched rookie into MVP candidate as he’s directed the league’s top-ranked scoring offense. Through 12 games, he led the league in passing touchdowns while emerging as one of the league’s most explosive quarterbacks. His sterling 29:6 touchdown-to-interception ratio is rewarding the faith the franchise put in him after trading up to select him with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft.

Nick Foles is the next man up at QB for the Eagles. He’s a big step down from Wentz, and it remains to be seen how the team will respond if the quarterback is out for any length of time.

On the other side of the ball, a revitalized front seven has produced a fearsome pass rush that’s been the cantilever that allows Wentz to stretch out into the sky. Brandon Graham leads an explosive pass rush that’s recording nearly three sacks per game. A rising secondary has helped limit opposing passers to a 77.0 quarterback rating — the fourth-lowest mark in the league.

The Eagles will make their first playoff appearance since 2013 and just their second since 2010. Last week’s loss to the Vikings dropped them into second place in the race for home-field advantage during the postseason, but at 11-2 they remain in excellent shape to secure one of the NFC’s top two seeds and a coveted bye to escape the first week of playoff action.

What does this mean for the Eagles?

The club’s turnaround is far from complete, but winning a division title is the first of what fans hope will be many accolades this winter. 2017 marks the 10th time Philadelphia has won the NFC East and the first since 2013. It also sets a precedent for Wentz’s future. A successful season from the former Bison starts with a division title — and only goes up from there.

What does this mean for the rest of the NFC East?

The NFC East was one of the league’s toughest divisions in 2016. It’s been the opposite in 2017. Last season, three teams finished with winning records and the seven-win Eagles took last place.

Now, only the Eagles have a winning record. Dallas knocked off Washington on Thursday night to keep its playoff hopes alive and is now 6-6 after posting the NFC’s top record in 2016. The Giants have free-fallen out of the playoffs and into a spot where they had to fire their head coach and general manager after benching Eli Manning at the end of a lost season. Washington remains stuck in between contending and rebuilding, and may have to face 2018 without starting quarterback Kirk Cousins on the roster.

That gives Philadelphia a strong opportunity to become the first team to repeat as NFC East champions in more than a decade. Wentz, prior to his injury, was proving to be a franchise passer — though Dak Prescott’s up-and-down 2017 is proving how volatile that can be. With a ferocious defense and high-powered offense, the Eagles could soar in 2018 and beyond.

What does this mean for the NFL?

For the 14th time in the past 15 years, a team has gone from last place in its division to first. The Eagles may not be the only ones to lock down this accomplishment; three other teams are in position to join them in 2017.

The Jaguars, now holding down first place in the AFC South after handling the Seahawks at home, are bouncing back from a three-win 2016. The Chargers, at 7-6, are currently tied with the Chiefs for first place in the AFC West but on the wrong side of the tiebreaker for a division crown. The Panthers, fresh off derailing the Vikings’ winning streak, are also a tiebreaker away from leading the NFC South.

If all four teams pull off their worst-to-first Cinderella stories, it would set a new NFL record.