As Broad & Pattison Turns NFC Championship Edition: On the Doorstep

playoff pic 2017

In a wild and wacky game, in what has become a wild and wacky season, the Eagles survived and held on to beat the Atlanta Falcons, 15-10.

The win put the Birds on the doorstep of the Super bowl for the first time since the 2008 season and gave their fans their first NFC Championship game at home in thirteen years.

With the fans in a frenzy on every play, this game was a tight, hard fought defensive battle.  The Birds were actually  -2 in turnover differential (2 for the Birds, 0 for the Falcons) which, in the playoffs, usually implies that you’ll be cleaning out your locker and heading for the offseason the following day.

But in this incomprehensible season, perhaps none of that matters.

On the Falcons last drive, which started at their own 24 with just over six minutes left in the 4th quarter, the Falcons faced a 4th & 6 at their own 42, and a stop would have given the Eagles the ball back with just over three minutes left.

Instead, Atlanta QB Matt Ryan hit his #1 target, Julio Jones, for a 20-yd gain, and the agony was prolonged for a little longer.

Believe.

The Falcons eventually got all the way to the 9-yard line, but after two straight incompletions and facing third down, Ryan once again went to his favorite security blanket, Julio Jones.

Had the pass been at chest level, Jones may have been able to muscle his way into the end zone.  But the pass was low, and Jones was forced to dive for the catch, which enabled cornerback Ronald Darby to tackle him at the 2.

4th down & goal from the 2 and the season on the line.

Believe.

On that pivotal 4th down, Ryan rolled to his right, effectively taking away half of the field in the process.  But it didn’t matter…the Eagles defense and all of the 69,000 plus in the stands knew that Ryan was looking at Julio Jones and singing the classic Flamingos hit “I Only Have Eyes For You” in his head.

Ryan floated a pass in the air, hoping that the height of his #1 receiver would enable him to bring in a catch that no one could defend.

But Jalen Mills, who was only a 7th round pick but has become a solid cornerback in only his 2nd pro season, was right there in perfect position and the ball sailed harmlessly overhead.

The Eagles season had been saved, as total strangers began hugging each other as if they had been friends for decades.  Such is the impact the Eagles first playoff win in nine years can have.

The Birds now welcome the Minnesota Vikings to town for the NFC Championship, something no one would have thought fathomable both at the beginning of the season, and again after starting quarterback Carson Wentz went down with a season ending injury.

And if Wentz had played against the Falcons, the Eagles would have likely won with much less stress impact on their fans, as the offense was previously operating like a bullet train.

With Nick Foles, it’s become more like “The Little Train that Could”.  But that’s okay, because this defense has really stepped up its game.

That’s not to suggest that the Birds won in spite of Foles.  He was 23 of 30 for 246 yards, and while the Birds turned the ball over twice on the ground, he did not throw an interception.

The problem is that while Wentz would drive the offense down the field for touchdowns, this team seems to achieve more field goals with Foles, as last week kicker Jake Elliott was responsible for 9 of the Eagles 15 points.

In a tight game, the difference between putting 7 on the scoreboard versus 3 could make all the difference.

The Vikings also come in with a backup quarterback in Case Keenum, who was basically a journeyman until he joined the Vikings this season.  Keenum has been playing since week #2 when starter Sam Bradford got hurt, but while everyone has been waiting for him to screw up and revert to playing like a journeyman, it just hasn’t happened yet.

The irony is that both Foles and Keenum, and the Eagles, Vikings, and Rams, are interconnected in so many ways.

  1.  The Eagles traded Nick Foles to the Rams before the 2015 season for then Rams QB Sam Bradford, who is now the Vikings backup.
  2. Foles was the starter for the Rams in 2015 with Keenum as the backup.  Keenum replaced Foles halfway through the 2015 season.
  3. Right before the start of the 2016 season, the Eagles traded Sam Bradford to the Vikings for a 1st round pick, as a season ending injury to Vikings starter Teddy Bridgewater had them desperately seeking a starting caliber quarterback.
  4. As mentioned above, Keenum only got a chance to start due to Bradford getting injured.

If this chain of crazy events never took place, perhaps the participants in this year’s NFC Championship are totally different.

The Vikings come in with a very stout defense and the ability to muzzle the opposing offense.  It seems unlikely, at least based on paper, that the Birds would be able to garner 20+ points in this game, but the Eagles also have a stifling defense of their own in what looks to be a mostly defensive showdown.

If these two teams played on a neutral field 50 times, they may split the victories evenly.  But this is a perfect example of where the homefield advantage comes into play.

Minnesota is used to the friendly and climate controlled confines of it’s retractable dome stadium.  But put them outside in the elements, and even though temperatures should be in the 40’s for the game, the outdoors and the grass field should help to crimp the Vikings style.

Some other stats that bode well for the Eagles:

  • The Birds are 4-0 as home underdogs in the playoffs
  • The Vikings, since 1982, are 3-13 in road playoff games
  • Two of the Vikings three losses this season have come on the road on outdoor, grass fields
  • The two previous times the Eagles faced the Vikings in the playoffs at home, they went on to the Super Bowl (1980 & 2004 season)

None of the stats above guarantee an Eagles win of course.  For that evidence, every Eagles fan can look back to the final game at Veterans Stadium, which was supposed to be an easy Eagles victory against Tampa that propelled them to the Super Bowl.  Because, as we all know, Tampa could never win when the temperature was below 40 degrees right?  Right???

This will be another tough, hard fought game in which Eagles fans, who are waiting to erupt at the thought of their Birds making it back to the Super Bowl for the first time in 13 seasons, will be biting their nails for 3+ hours while watching this game.

But this Eagles team was built with this game in mind.  And while they have gotten there way ahead of schedule, there is no reason to think they cannot extend their season for one more game.

The opportunity to make it to the Super Bowl and give themselves a chance to play for the trophy is right before them.

Today is the reason why the #1 seed is so important.  Play this game in Minneapolis, and the Eagles probably have no shot.

But in South Philadelphia, where “Broad & Pattison Turns”, the Eagles shall turn the page on another chapter in their history.  No “Dilly, Dilly” today, just “Philly, Philly”.

Birds win 16-13.  And the Enchanted season continues.

Believe.

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As Broad & Pattison Turns – Divisional Playoff Weekend: And So It Begins…

If things had gone according to form of even the most optimistic prognosticators, the Birds would have finished their 2017 season at 9-7, which would have earned them the title of  NFC East Division winners in a weak division or an invite to the playoffs as a Wildcard team. And whether they would have played a home playoff game last week in the friendly but frigid confines of Lincoln Financial Field or not, a playoff birth for the first time in four years is something that most fans would have been ecstatic about, as it would have signaled that this team was trending upwards and making great strides to becoming a contender in the near future.

But somewhere around Halloween, all those predictions were thrown out along with that deformed pumpkin sitting on your porch.

Somewhere along the way, a team that most expected to go 8-8, 9-7, or 10-6 as a stretch, started out 7-1.

Somewhere along the way, the steady improvement that we hoped to see in a 2nd year quarterback from a state most Eagles fans knew very little about turned into a franchise quarterback blossoming before our very eyes.

In 2017, Carson Wentz became the kind of quarterback that we had previously watched and envied from afar, as the kind of rare talents he displayed were always found on other teams, but never our own. And his play made those around him look better as well.

But saying that all of this team’s success was strictly due to the quarterback would be an injustice.

The general manager definitely deserves a good amount of credit as well.  And his story his one of persistence.

Howie Roseman was sending letters to various NFL teams in the hopes of getting his foot in the door any way he could.  And when the Eagles finally gave him that opportunity in 2000, he started his Eagles career as an unpaid intern who had to share the side of a desk as his workspace.

But the kid from Marlboro, NJ, who grew up a Jets fan and eventually moved up the Eagles ladder to the general manager position, had to move up not once, but TWICE in the 2016 NFL Draft to acquire the quarterback he coveted.

And not only does it seem that he got the right guy, but he got his franchise quarterback some help in areas that were vastly deficient just a year ago.

While the Eagles finished 7-9 just a year ago, it was fairly evident that the areas of wide receiver, the secondary, and the defensive line needed to be vastly improved in order for this team to make a playoff run.

It was Roseman who signed Alshon Jeffery & Torrey Smith, and traded a reliable receiver in Jordan Matthews to acquire cornerback help in Ronald Darby.

It was Roseman who traded for Tim Jernigan, who has become a stalwart on the defensive line.

It was Roseman who traded for running back Jay Ajayi, who is expected to be the workhorse against the Falcons and help take the pressure off of Nick Foles.

But while the Eagles were flying high after a tough December win on the road against a quality playoff opponent in the LA Rams, that win was tempered by the knowledge that the Birds had lost their franchise quarterback for the remainder of the year.

But while the loss of Wentz was a huge blow to the Eagles Super Bowl chances, the “lucky” part to what was an unlucky situation was that the injury took place so late in the season.

Backup Nick Foles, who ironically was the starting quarterback for this team the last time they made the playoffs in 2013, not only played admirably in the 2nd half of that game, but the win had the Birds at 11-2 and NFC East division winners.

With only two games remaining against subpar competition, the team was able to play just well enough to secure the #1 seed and homefield throughout the playoffs.

But with Foles and the offense looking mediocre over the last few weeks, naturally questions have arisen as to whether the backup has what it takes to get this team to the Super Bowl.

Everyone knows that Nick Foles is not Carson Wentz.  But the good news is that he does not need to be.

And Foles does not need to replicate his 2013 season either…a season where he threw 27 touchdowns and only two interceptions. He just needs to manage the game and let the other pieces around him do their job.

The most important aspect of the Eagles chances to win their next two games and advance to the Super Bowl is that both games will be played in the friendly confines of Lincoln Financial Field.

At approx. 4:25 PM this Saturday afternoon, right around the time that the Eagles players are introduced on the field, the excitement at the Linc will start to build.  And by the time the coin toss is completed and Adrian emerges from her coma on the big screen to tell Rocky that the only thing she wants him to do is “WIN”, the noise level will have reached a crescendo.

 

Four years is a long time to wait for a playoff game, especially for a fan base that is on 57 years and counting for a championship.  And just as Adrian emerged from her coma, this team, whose offense has played in a comatose state for the last two games, will have to emerge and fight for their playoff lives.

Most outsiders do not expect them to succeed.  The Eagles are the first #1 seed in history to be considered underdogs in the playoffs against a #6 seed, which is what the Atlanta Falcons are.

Much like the City of Philadelphia is treated like an illegitimate stepchild that sits in between the glitz & glamour of New York and the omnipresent lobbyists of Washington, DC, the 2017 Eagles and their city are the NFL’s version of  Rodney Dangerfield – they just get “No Respect”.

One would think that coach Doug Pederson has hammered this point home to his team.  At least it certainly seems that way based on his rather curt press conferences this week.  And that’s all good in my opinion…a “chip on their shoulder” mentally is just what this team might need.

As pointed out by 97.5 morning show host Anthony Gargano, it was Phillies fans who, in the 2008 National League Division Series (NLDS) against the Brewers, got into their ace pitcher C.C Sabathia’s head to the point where he walked starting pitcher Brett Myers, which led to Shane Victorino following that up with a grand slam.

At that point, even though it was only game 2 of the NLDS, you knew that the Brewers were done, and the Phillies went on to win the World Series for the first time in 28 years.

Today, on what will be a cold, windy day with temps in the 30’s, Eagles fans will be more crucial to the outcome than any other game in recent history.  This is a game where the fans will not only have to play the role of the “12th man”, but they will essentially have to make up for the loss of talent at the quarterback level by getting into the psyche of the opponent.

The Eagles have had two weeks to prepare for this game and are playing a team that is used to the comforts of a climate controlled dome.

Two weeks to digest and dissect what went wrong.

Two weeks to figure out how to put their backup quarterback in the best position possible to succeed and move on to the NFC Championship.

And with their fans in a frenzy, there is no reason why they can’t do so.

Eagles win and sit on the doorstep of a Super Bowl in this enchanted season.

And so it begins…

Divisional Playoff Schedule:

Falcons at EAGLES  4:35 PM  NBC (Sat)

Titans at Patriots  8:15 PM  CBS (Sat)

Jaguars at Steelers  1:05 PM  CBS (Sun)

Saints at Vikings  4:40 PM  FOX (Sun)

As Broad & Pattison Turns: Wacky Wildcard Weekend

For the majority of NFL teams, the commencement of a new calendar year also represents the end of a long, grueling NFL season.

A season which began with so much promise back in the dog days of summer has unfortunately ended too early for 20 of the 32 NFL teams.  And along with the harsh cold weather that Mother Nature can provide this time of year, the harsh, cold reality has also set in that their dreams of hoisting a Super Bowl trophy come February 4th will remain unfulfilled.

Then there are the remaining twelve that have withstood…those that proved on the field that they deserved an invite to the playoff dance.

Of course, there are always the usual suspects such as the Patriots, Steelers, and Chiefs receiving an invite.  Including 2017, both Kansas City & Pittsburgh have made the playoffs in four of their last five seasons, while this season marks the 14th out of the last fifteen that New England has been in the postseason.

But what sticks out about the 2017 playoffs are the “newbies”.

The Jacksonville Jaguars & Tennessee Titans received an invite to the playoff party for the first time since 2007 & 2008, respectively, while the Los Angeles Rams will be making their first appearance since 2004.  But that still pales in comparison to the Buffalo Bills, who have not made the playoffs in 18 years, which was, until last week, the longest current playoff drought not only in the NFL, but in all of sports.

And while only the Rams, out of those four, look like they have a chance to be Super Bowl bound this season, a playoff appearance at least represents some success and an important stepping stone to the other three organizations, and something for their fans to get excited about.

So while the Eagles have the week off and are preparing for their divisional playoff game next Saturday against  what is a yet to be determined opponent, here is a look at the four games that will make up the NFL’s Wildcard weekend:

Titans at Chiefs  4:35 PM  ABC/ESPN  (Sat)

The Chiefs began their season as gangbusters, starting 5-0 before faltering and losing six of their next seven, before ending the season on a 4-game winning streak.

But while 10-6 won Kansas City the AFC West, their midseason slump prevented them from getting a bye and made their playoff path much more difficult.

The Titans also limped to the finish line, ending the season 9-7 after being 8-4 at one point, which prevented them from winning the AFC South and playing at home this weekend.

Kansas City wins at home today and stays alive at least for one more week, while the Titans go home and their coach’s future hangs in the balance.

Kansas City coach Andy Reid dressed up as Santa Claus two weeks ago after the Chiefs won their division.  I predict that he will be dressed like a snowman after today’s game.

Falcons at Rams  8:15 PM  NBC  (Sat)

The Falcons are this year’s recipient of the “Super Bowl blues” hangover, given annually to the loser of the previous year’s Super Bowl.  But what made it even worse for Atlanta is that they suffered the worst collapse in Super Bowl history.

While their offense has remained mostly intact, they have not played up to par when compared to last season.  Ten wins is still a pretty good season though, especially considering they were 4-4 at the midway point.

Rams coach Sean McVay has not only turned the fortunes of his 2nd year QB, Jared Goff, around, but the Rams look to be a team that will be in the playoff picture for many years to come.

Atlanta has a chance only because they represent the team with playoff experience, while most of the Rams players have not experienced much postseason success.  The Rams also are a surprise 4-4 at home versus 7-1 on the road.  Having said that, I still think the Rams are the better team that will advance to the 2nd round.

Bills at Jaguars  1:05 PM  CBS  (Sun)

It is rare when two teams are facing each other in the playoffs, and yours truly hasn’t watched a single one of their games all season.  But that is exactly the case with Buffalo & Jacksonville.

With neither team coming off a successful 2016 season and both in relatively small markets (Jacksonville being the smallest in the NFL), seeing these two teams on a Sunday night or marquee late Sunday afternoon game is a rarity.

The Bills had to beat the Dolphins on the road last Sunday and then watch the Cincinnati Bengals defeat Baltimore in the closing minutes, knocking the Ravens out of the playoffs and sending Buffalo in.

Bills fans were so excited, they started partying like it was 1999 – which makes sense since that was the last time that Buffalo had actually made the playoffs.

While 2008 represented the year of the last major financial crisis, it also represented the start of a “football crisis” for Jacksonville, which went nine straight years without a winning record until 2017.

The good thing is that at least one of these teams will advance to the next round of the playoffs after suffering from losing for so long.  But that’s only because they are facing each other, not because they are Super Bowl material.

If I were a betting man, I’d place my bets on Jacksonville.

Panthers at Saints  4:40 PM  FOX  (Sun)

The Saints rebounded from three straight 7-9 seasons to go 11-5 and win the NFC South, while the Panthers are another team that has made the playoffs in four of their last five seasons.

New Orleans defeated Carolina  in both of their regular season meetings this season, but doing so three straight times is no easy feat, as the third time is usually a charm for the loser of the first two.  For that reason, I’m picking the Panthers as the only road team to win on Wildcard weekend.

Assuming the Falcons lose tonight, the winner of this game would come to Philadelphia next Saturday to face the Birds.  I’ll gladly take the Panthers as our opponent (or the Falcons preferably), as the Saints, with Drew Brees, would give us the toughest test in my opinion.

While Thanksgiving was two months ago, I’m thankful that the Eagles earned a bye.  Otherwise, I would be freezing my butt off in 5 degree weather at the Linc today to watch the Birds play.  Instead, I look forward to a balmy 38 degree Saturday next weekend.

But whether that will result in Nick Foles playing any better remains to be seen.

Enjoy the games everyone!