As Broad & Pattison Turns: Wild-Card Weekend 2016

The first week of the New Year can only mean three things:

  • The New Years’ “Resolutioners” will clog up your local gym
  • The San Francisco 49ers will fire another coach
  • Eagles tight end Zach Ertz will have his annual “breakout” game

All three occurred this past week as we moved ahead to 2017, but unfortunately for the Eagles, it also represented another season  which will not end in a championship for your local football team.

But keeping with the New Years’ tradition theme, the Birds did continue their three year “tradition” of playing in, and winning, their final regular season game which once again had no impact on their season.  While the Super Bowl continues to evade them, they would easily be distinguished champions of the “Mediocre & Meaningless Bowl.”

What was more disturbing is that, for the 3rd straight season, the Eagles walked off the field acting as if another meaningless win was going to be a stepping stone to a successful season in 2017.  Perhaps they forgot to look at recent history and realize that their prior two regular season finale victories in 2014 & ’15 were followed up by consecutive 7-9 seasons.

But much like the old Sunkist orange soda commercial from the 1980’s, the Eagles seem to be singing along to the tune of  “Good Vibrations” while their fellow NFC East brethren, the Giants and Cowboys, march on to bigger and better things like playoff victories and Super Bowls.  Let’s hope that the Birds made a New Years resolution to still be playing in January next year.  Then again, resolutions are made to be broken – just ask all those new members at your gym who will no longer be around by the time Valentine’s Day rolls around…

So while your Eagles miss the playoffs for the 3rd straight year, and haven’t won a playoff game since the 2008 season, here’s a rundown of the NFL games that make up Wildcard weekend:

Raiders at Texans 4:35 PM ESPN (Saturday) – Go back three weeks ago and the Raiders had not only clinched their first playoff appearance since 2002, but also had a very good shot at a division title and a possible #1 overall seed in the AFC.  But Christmas Eve brought nothing but coal in their stockings, as starting quarterback Derek Carr went down with a season ending knee injury.

The Raiders were forced to start former Penn Stater Matt McGloin in the season finale, who also managed to suffer a shoulder injury, knocking him out of the game.  With rookie Connor Cook having to take his place, Oakland ended up losing to the Broncos, which caused them to fall from their #2 seed all the way down to #5 and having to start the playoffs on the road.

Cook will be the starter in the playoffs, with McGloin most likely the backup, a rather precarious situation when you’re “one and done” in the playoffs.

The Texans situation is not much better, as starter Brock Osweiler, who was signed as a free agent from the Broncos, has not lived up to expectations, forcing Houston to play backup Tom Savage the last few weeks.

But similar to the Raiders calamity, Savage also got hurt last week, forcing Houston to go back to the much maligned Osweiler.  So you basically have a matchup that features a rookie 3rd stringer versus a free agent bust who has lost his job.  This game may be the least anticipated  quarterback matchup in NFL history.  For the Raiders sake, perhaps Connor Cook can do his best Dak Prescott impersonation?

With all the backup QB’s, this game would probably have more scoring if the Oakland A’s played the Houston Astros instead.

Raiders win 3-2 on a sacrifice fly in the 9th inning.

Lions at Seahawks 8:15 PM NBC (Saturday) – Those poor, poor Lions.  Last week, they were a win away from their first division title (and first home playoff game) since 1993, and along comes Aaron Rodgers once again to remind them that he is still their “Daddy”.

The Lions are very much like Charlie Brown trying to kick that elusive football.  Every time you think that they will actually be successful, along comes Lucy to prevent them from doing so.

A Detroit win last week would have had them playing in the friendly confines of Ford Field indoors against the New York Giants.  Instead, they must now venture to the Great Northwest, where a stadium labeled as the loudest in the land awaits them, along with a Seattle Seahawks team that has struggled the last few weeks but is still superior to the Lions.

The Seahawks advance and the Lions are left to ponder what could have been…

Dolphins at Steelers 1:05 PM (Sunday) – Once upon a time, a Dolphins-Steelers matchup featured two of the top teams in the NFL.  But while the Dolphins have struggled to regain that status in the millennium, the Steelers keep chugging along, winners of five division championships and two Super Bowls in the last eleven years.

Miami has played well under first year head coach Adam Gase, who led them to a 10-6 record.  But much like the Raiders, the fish will have to go with backup Matt Moore and hope for the best with starter Ryan Tannehill being injured.

This is also a revenge game for the black and gold, who lost 30-15 to the Dolphins in Week 6 down in Miami.  My predictions:

1) There will be no fish or shrimp served at Heinz Field on Sunday.

2) The Steelers get their revenge and move on to the divisional round.

Giants at Packers 4:40 PM FOX (Sunday)

In the most intriguing matchup of Wildcard weekend, the Giants travel to the “Frozen Tundra” to face the Packers.  And the tundra, which was practically balmy and above freezing two weeks ago, will be back to its normal self, with temperatures expected to be around 14 degrees at gametime.

The Pack were left for dead after a 4-6 start, but a six game winning streak that started by beating the Eagles on a Monday night at the Linc has turned them into NFC North winners and a chance to host a first-round playoff game.

Ironically, when the Giants won the Super Bowl in both the 2007 & 2011 seasons, they had to beat the Packers on the road in the playoffs to advance.  But while they are hoping that such a winning tradition continues, the 3rd time will be a charm for Green Bay.

No victory for the G-Men this time, and no sight of Tom Coughlin on the sideline with his nose glowing like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer from the cold.

2016 Week #12: Packers at Eagles

“They are who we thought they were, and we let them off the hook!”

Such were the words of a disgruntled Dennis Green, then coach of the Arizona Cardinals, after a 2006 loss to the Chicago Bears in which his team led by 20 points.

And while Green’s tirade became one of the most well known postgame outbursts in NFL history, the same phrase he made so famous could also be used in explaining the Eagles loss to the Seahawks last Sunday.

The Birds knew going into the game that they would need to play mistake free football to beat a dominant Seattle team at home.  But knowing and doing are two distinctly different things, and there were two plays that took place in the 2nd quarter that turned the tide in Seattle’s favor.

With the Eagles leading 7-6 and the Seahawks faced with a 3rd & 16, defensive lineman  Brandon Graham was called for offsides on a play which resulted in an incomplete pass.   His offsides was totally unrelated to the play and would have resulted in Seattle having to try a long field goal or punt.  Instead, on the very next play, Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson, while scrambling to avoid being sacked, hit tight end Jimmy Graham  on what turned into a 35-yard touchdown to give the Seahawks a 13-7 lead.

On the Eagles next drive, the offense responded with a Carson Wentz to Zach Ertz 57-yard catch and run touchdown pass (and miraculously, Ertz never fell down while running with the football) which should have tied up the game.  Instead, wide receiver Nelson Agholor (or more appropriately, “Awful-or”) was flagged for an illegal formation penalty, nullifying the touchdown.  Once again, his penalty, like Brandon Graham’s before him, had nothing to do with the play itself, but those two plays in the span of three minutes turned a close game into a 14-point swing for the Seahawks, and the game was basically won right there.

If one did not watch the game and only saw the final score (a 26-15 Seahawks victory), they may have had the impression that the Eagles hung in till the end. But that was not the case at all…the Birds were manhandled after those two plays, and with ten minutes left in regulation, ending the misery to watch Bruno Mars on 60 Minutes seemed like a much better alternative.

But in keeping this Eagles season in perspective, and especially considering the holiday we are celebrating this week, we should be thankful that the Birds are 5-5, in a season in which not much was expected.

While Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz looked lost at times and played his worst game of the year, he will have days like that as a rookie, especially against a foe like Seattle.  Personally, I am thankful to not have to see Mark Sanchez playing quarterback in midnight green again.

So what are the Eagles playoff chances with six games left in the regular season?  Here is everything you need to know about the playoff picture as it stands right now (but were afraid to ask):

The Dallas Cowboys sit at 9-1 and hold a four game lead over the Eagles for the NFC East division lead.  The Birds have about as much chance to win the division as Melania Trump and Michelle Obama duking it out in a sanctioned boxing match on inauguration day.

The Eagles best chance to make the playoffs is by earning one of the two NFC wild-card spots, currently held by the New York Giants and Washington Redskins.  The “G-Men” hold a 2-game lead over the Birds while the ‘Skins hold a 1.5 game lead due to having one of their games end in a tie.

The Eagles would have to do no worse than 4-2 just to have a CHANCE at a playoff spot (to quote Jim Carrey from the “Dumb & Dumber” movie – “So you’re saying there’s a CHANCE??”).  Even that would require the Redskins to do no better than 2-4 and other teams to falter as well, so a 5-1 finish might be more realistic of what the Birds need to get in.

There are currently four teams on the “outside, looking in” for those two wildcard spots: 1) The Lions OR Vikings at 6-4 (one of them would currently win their respective division, 2) The Eagles at 5-5, 3) Tampa at 5-5, and 4) the Cardinals at 4-5-1 (perhaps it’s time for the NFL to just abolish tie games?).

The Eagles would greatly help their cause by winning their four remaining home games against the Packers, Redskins, Giants and Cowboys.  Doing so would not only cut the Giants and Redskins lead for the wildcard, but give the Eagles a 3-3 division record, which could factor in as a possible tiebreaker should the teams be tied with identical records at the end of the season.

The Eagles should root for the Cowboys to win their next five games.  This is not a typo….I repeat, this is not a typo.  Yes, an Eagles fan rooting for Dallas is about as likely as Bernie Sanders campaigning for Donald Trump, but in this case it is warranted.

Should the Cowboys do that, their last game of the season against the Eagles would be rendered meaningless from their standpoint.  They would probably end up resting most of their starters and play some guy named Romo at quarterback, giving the Eagles an easy shot at victory, and perhaps securing a playoff birth in the process.

Today’s Thanksgiving games will factor heavily into the playoff picture, with the Lions hosting the Vikings and the Cowboys hosting the Redskins.  Eagles fans need to root for both “hosts” (Detroit & Dallas) to secure a victory…got all that???  There will be a pop quiz right after you’ve inhaled your third piece of pumpkin pie.

As for the Eagles, they will look to rebound this Monday night at home against the Packers, who are playing themselves out of the playoffs due to various injuries on their defense.  The Eagles are a perfect 4-0 at home this season and will continue that this week, keeping the playoff race interesting with a 30-20 victory.

Amit’s Marquee Matchups of the Week (all times in EST and on Sunday unless noted otherwise):

Redskins at Cowboys 4:30 PM FOX (Thurs) – Game of the Week

Vikings at Lions 12:30 PM CBS (Thurs)

Chiefs at Broncos 8:30 PM NBC

The Last Word:

Be thankful for what you have.  You may not think your life is ideal, but there is someone out there who would gladly trade places with you in a heartbeat. Happy Thanksgiving!

As Broad & Pattison Turns Week #14: Lions at Eagles

Like a cheetah, they move faster and in short bursts than anyone else on the field, lining up quickly after the last play has ended.  Fleet of foot, much like the Road Runner in those “Looney Tunes” cartoons, they leave the opponent gasped and often in the wrong place at the wrong time, moving up and down the field at will.

And then, suddenly, after three quarters of football has ended, like Cinderella at the stroke of midnight, they transform, not into a pumpkin, but into a little old lady (or old man so that I’m not being gender-biased) driving 25 miles per hour in the left lane of the highway with frustrated motorists honking their horns and shouting obscenities  at them.

Is this one of those Snickers commercials where someone is acting different when they’re hungry?   No, this is your Philadelphia Eagles during their recent 4-game winning streak, which they will try to extend this Sunday when the Detroit Lions visit the Linc.

While the Birds have given life to their season and hope to their fans, going from a 3-5 start to a current 7-5 record, the team has been unable to score a single point in the 4th quarter during their last four games, which makes it even more remarkable that they were all victories.

Against the Raiders, the Eagles held a huge lead and had no reason to score any points and run up the score.

Against the Packers, they controlled the ball and ran out the clock to conserve a 27-13 victory.

But the last two weeks, against both the Redskins and the Cardinals, the Eagles have managed to let what was a comfortable lead slip away into a one score affair, before holding on and winning thanks to their defense, which bends constantly in yardage but doesn’t break and allow points.

But while the winning ways have continued as of late, the Eagles inability to put the opponent away in the 4th quarter is a disturbing trend which could come back to haunt them as they enter, ironically, the 4th quarter of their season.

What is the answer, short of giving coach Chip Kelly a snickers bar at the start of the quarter?  For starters, I don’t think the Birds slowing down the game and letting the play clock run down is throwing off their rhythm.  The opposing defense still can’t change personnel due to the fact that the Eagles never huddle so there still remains a possible mismatch in formation.  The difference is that teams are now lining up to stop the run in those situations, leading to LeSean McCoy carries on 1st & 2nd down that generate little or no yards.

On 3rd down, with the Eagles in a sure passing down, they either play conservative and run the ball or are forced to try to get too many yards through the air on one play.

Perhaps the Eagles need to take a risk and throw the ball downfield on 1st & 2nd down to keep the defense honest while still allowing the play clock to bleed down to 5-10 seconds as they have been doing?  If the Birds throw an incomplete pass on 1st down, that would stop the clock to their disadvantage, but they could then start the next play right away, leaving the defense unprepared for what could be a big gain on 2nd down.

While no one will be anointing me as the offensive coordinator based on my advice above, I had to put in my two cents yo!

While the Birds had it tough last week facing Arizona’s Larry Fitzgerald, this week, they will face even a tougher receiving threat in the form of Lions receiver Calvin Johnson, who’s 6 ‘5 height and frame will give defensive coordinator Billy Davis some sleepless nights heading into the game.

If this game was played on a sun-splashed Sept. day, the Detroit offense may give the Eagles defense some fits, but the possible wintry mix in the forecast for Sunday will help to disable the Lions somewhat, who are used to playing in the friendly confines of Ford Field.

Of course, that same wintry mix may disable the Eagles passing game as well, forcing LeSean McCoy to run the ball more against a Lions defense that is prone to stopping the run.

The Birds would do well to protect Nick Foles as well, as Lions defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley could make things difficult for the 2nd year passer, who has 19 touchdowns and no interceptions, and is two touchdown passes away from breaking Peyton Manning’s record (set last season) of 20 TD’s and no INT’s to start the season.

The Birds win this week 27-20, if only for the fact that the Lions always struggle playing in Philadelphia.   Of course, we made that same statement about the Tampa Bay Buccaneers once, and it didn’t seem to play out in the NFC Championship….

Amit’s Marquee Matchups of the Week (all times in EST and on Sunday unless otherwise noted):

Lions at Eagles  1:00 PM FOX – The Eagles are a marquee matchup for the 2nd week in a row.  At the start of the year, didn’t think they would have any in 2013…

Colts at Bengals  1:00 PM CBS – A battle of two teams both leading their respective divisions.

Seahawks at Niners  4:25 PM FOX – The Seahawks have their sights on home field advantage throughout the playoffs.  An Eagles win coupled with a Niners loss and the Birds would be holding the final wildcard spot for the time being.

Panthers at Saints  8:30 PM NBC – The winner of this game would lead the NFC South and hold the #2 seed in the NFC playoff picture.