The keys to a second-half surge for Carson Wentz, Eagles

The Philadelphia Eagles finished the first half of the season with a 4-4 record. Here’s a look at how they have fared and what’s ahead:

First-half rewind: If 2017 was like gliding on ice, the first half of this season was more like trudging through mud. The offense, which in Week 3 welcomed quarterback Carson Wentz back from offseason knee surgery, exceeded the 24-point mark once after doing it a league-high 12 times in 2017. That put extra pressure on the defense. Sometimes Jim Schwartz's group was up for it, like when it came up with a goal-line stand in the opener against the Atlanta Falcons, and sometimes it wasn't, as evidenced in second-half meltdowns against Tennessee and Carolina. There were plenty of injuries and hair-graying moments, but also some positive signs -- mainly emanating from the trio of Wentz, Alshon Jeffery and Zach Ertz -- that offered promise of things to come. Grade: Average

What has to happen for the Eagles to make the playoffs? The trade-deadline addition of receiver Golden Tate should help the offense turn it up a notch, as will the expected return of running back Darren Sproles (hamstring). The key for the Eagles will be to avoid serious injury down the stretch. They currently have eight players on injured reserve -- including four starters -- and plenty of others who are ailing. If they have better health in the second half, they should remain right in the thick of the NFC East race, with a good chance of finishing on top.

MVP: Wentz. His completion percentage (70.7) has jumped more than 10 points from last season, the biggest increase in the league, and he's on pace to throw 30 touchdowns to five interceptions. Did we mention he's 10 months removed from a serious knee injury? Wentz should only get better over the second half.

Biggest surprise: Running back Wendell Smallwood. He was viewed as a player on the fringe this summer after two inconsistent seasons to start his career. Injuries to Jay Ajayi and Sproles provided opportunity, and Smallwood has made the most of it. He leads the team in rushing (257 yards) and has found the end zone three times -- once on the ground and twice through the air, including a key 36-yard catch-and-run to open the second-half scoring against the Jaguars in Week 8.

Hurdle to overcome: Both offensive tackles are banged up. Lane Johnson suffered a Grade 2 MCL sprain and a high-ankle sprain but has been known to play through injury. He was already dealing with a high ankle sprain. Jason Peters, meanwhile, is playing through a torn biceps and a quadriceps injury. No one argues the importance of consistency along the front -- especially when your QB is in his first season back from serious injury. The depth of this group will be tested.