As Broad & Pattison Turns: The Birds, the Brits, and the Bye Week

20181028_092857

First, our Jubilee Line train stalled right before it reached Wembley Park station last Sunday.

Then, in what seemed like a bad omen, the Eagles offense seemed to stall as well late in the 4th quarter.

Luckily, both made it to their desired destination in time.

The London “Underground” train, after halting for about 10-15 minutes, made it to Wembley Park, and the Eagles managed to not give up another late lead and lose the game.

After the Eagles took a 24-15 lead with 9:55 left in the 4th quarter, they allowed the Jaguars to go 69 yards on 10 plays before stopping them at the 6-yard line and forcing a field goal, which cut the Birds lead to 24-18.

But regardless of which city or continent they are playing in, the Eagles have been prone to giving up late leads over the first half of the season. So when the team went three and out on its next possession and punted to Jacksonville, thoughts of another late game collapse must have been permeating through the minds of all those who had made the trip to London to watch their beloved Birds.

Those thoughts came to the forefront when, on 4th & 1 at their own 36, the Jaguars converted and kept their drive alive.  Somehow, the Eagles seem unable to stop anyone on 4th down, and this only solidified that opinion especially in this writer’s mind.

But when the Jaguars reached 3rd & 2 at their own 48, they were unable to convert on two straight passes, and the Birds offense garnered two more first downs to run out the clock and seal the game.

If the Eagles were playing a quality opponent, the outcome could have been different.  But this was the Jaguars, a team that was still trying to find the magic that got them 15 minutes away from reaching the Super Bowl last season.

With the win, the Birds got to 4-4 and more importantly, did not send their faithful out into the jam packed line waiting to board the train asking themselves why they made this trip to see another devastating loss.

While I expected throngs of Eagles fans to make the trip to London, the one thing that surprised me was how many British football fans there actually are.

If one wanted to gauge the heavy attendance of the Brits at Wembley Stadium last Sunday, the evidence could be found when the singing of the Star Spangled Banner was followed by the singing of  God Save the Queen.  As soon as the song began, one could hear thousands in attendance at Wembley singing along, signaling that American football is not only a game followed by those who live on American shores.

And while, on my many visits to other cities to watch the Eagles, I’ve always been surprised at how many Birds fans I’ve met who’ve never lived in the Delaware Valley, I was also equally amazed to see how many Eagles fans there were who reside in the U.K.

For example, my father, while waiting in the concession line during the game, met a young man in his 20’s who drove from Manchester to Wembley on the morning of the game just to watch his favorite NFL team, the Eagles, play.  His girlfriend, who was in attendance with him, was a Redskins fan because…well because she found a Redskins hat at a young age and started wearing it.

Everyone has their reasons for becoming a fan of a team I suppose (ironically, my brother-in-law is also a Redskins fan, but that’s because he grew up in Northern Virginia, not because he found a hat).

On the train leaving the game, we spotted an older British gentleman wearing a Carson Wentz jersey.  Curious, I asked him how he became an Eagles fan.  He replied that while he had lived in the U.K all his life, he got hooked to the NFL, and became a Philadelphia fan, while listening to game broadcasts on Armed Forces radio back in the 1970’s.  He explained to us, in delight, how he had the chance to visit Philadelphia and experience a game back at the “Vet” in the 80’s.

It’s stories like these that make Eagles road trips just as memorable as watching the game itself, and I’m glad that, in the case of the London game, we could make a memorable family trip out of it.

With the Birds having their bye this week (a.k.a “Rake your leaves” Sunday), there is no game to preview, so instead let’s take a look at this week’s marquee matchups:

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

Steelers at Ravens 1:00 PM CBS   – I keep hearing how good of a team the Ravens are, but with a record of 4-4, they have been inconsistent thus far.

The Steelers always seem to be in play for a playoff spot, though some of their fans (namely, my friends who are Steelers fans) would like to see a change at the head coaching position.  Being a battle between two division rivals, this should be an intriguing contest, and represents the only marquee matchup in the 1 PM EST time slot.

Chargers at Seahawks 4:05 PM CBS – The Chargers hope to take that next step and become an elite team in the AFC.  But time is running out for quarterback Philip Rivers, who is now in his 15th NFL season, to reach that elusive Super Bowl.

The Seahawks defense is no longer the “Legion of Boom” team they were just a few years ago, but they have been playing well as of late.  And while the Los Angeles Rams, barring a collapse, will run away with the NFC West, Seattle is hoping to get an invite to the NFL playoff dance via one of the two wildcard spots.

Rams at Saints 4:25 PM FOX – This game is the best one on the docket this week, as it pits the top two teams in the NFC against each other, and could determine who gets home field advantage in the NFC playoffs.

The Rams held off the Packers at home last week, but should have a tougher time on the road in the New Orleans Superdome.  L.A is the lone undefeated team left in the NFL, which could change by Sunday night.

Packers at Patriots 8:20 PM NBC – Aaron Rodgers vs. Tom Brady…need I say more?  Ironically, these two have yet to face each other in a Super Bowl, and I don’t see that changing this season.

 

 

Advertisements

As the Jubilee Line Turns Week #8: The Birds & the Brits

For three quarters, things were going so well.

For three quarters, Eagles fans were watching the team they remember so fondly from last year…you know, the team that got off to a big lead and won so easily.

For most of this season, it seemed that the Eagles were in a funk.  But in last week’s Giants game, and for three quarters of the Carolina game, Philadelphia looked like it had finally ate the snickers bar and become “themselves” again.

And then it all unraveled before you could say “Piccadilly Circus”.

In one of the most bizarre quarters of football I ever recall, Carolina scored 21 unanswered points in a 21-17 Eagles defeat that left most of the 69,000 plus fans who had ventured to the Linc on an unseasonably chilly and windy day, understandably despondent and confused.

Perhaps the Eagles were thinking ahead to visiting Big Ben, Windsor Castle and the London Eye, instead of keeping an eye on Panthers wide receivers Devin Funchess & ex-Eagle Torrey Smith, who torched the Birds for a combined 10 catches for 123 yards and one touchdown?

Perhaps defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz started reading the London Underground “tube” map, thinking it was his defense’s play calling sheet?  That would explain why his defense seemed like it was underground and stuck in a tub for the whole 4th quarter.

But the Eagles offense is not without its share of blame either.  Just as the defense, which had played so well for three quarters, completely fell apart, the offense, which had done the same for most of the contest, decided to match the defense’s 4th quarter ineptitude.

The same Eagles offense which managed 19 first downs through the first three quarters only managed two in the final 15 minutes, and Carson Wentz’s decision to throw to a double covered Alshon Jeffery instead of opting for a short pass to a wide open Wendell Smallwood on 3rd & 2 on the Eagles final drive sealed the game.

Wentz’s stats for the day were simply amazing  – 30 for 37 passing for 310 yards with 2 touchdowns and no interceptions.  But his numbers masked that he, just like the rest of the team, were abysmal when it came to closing out the game.

The Eagles now sit at 3-4 and are a defensive stop on 4th & 10 against Carolina and 4th & 15 against the Titans, respectively, from being 5-2 instead.  But as ex-Giants coach Bill Parcells once said, “You are what your record says you are”.  And the Eagles are simply average at this point.

The Birds travel to London this week to try to erase the bad taste that still permeates after a bad loss to Carolina.  And while the Eagles 4th quarter collapse did deflate my London trip balloon somewhat, it will be the first time that the Birds will play a regular season game overseas, which will make it all the more exciting for their fans who travel almost as well as Steelers fans.

The Eagles opponent for their inaugural international game will be the Jacksonville Jaguars, who have played a home game in London every year since 2013.  The Jags made it to the AFC Championship last season, and were a quarter away from facing the Eagles in last year’s Super Bowl.

Since starting the season 3-1, however, the Jags have lost three straight and have been outscored 90-28 during their losing streak.  They benched their quarterback, Blake Bortles, during last week’s 20-7 loss and replaced him with journeyman Cody Kessler, though Jacksonville coach Doug Marrone did state that Bortles would start against the Eagles on Sunday.

Before the season, I saw this as a loss for the Eagles, with the thought that facing a good Jacksonville team that was used to playing annually in the U.K would be a tough task for the Birds.  But the Jags have turned to pussycats as of late, and this is a great opportunity for Philadelphia to forget about the Carolina game and right the ship heading into their bye.

A win would put the Eagles at 4-4, which is not where the defending Super Bowl champions expected to be at this point.  And while there is still half of a season remaining to be played, the schedule only gets tougher from here, with road games against the Rams & Saints still looming.

Luckily, the NFC East is weak this year, which still gives the team a chance at a division title and a first round home playoff game.  But we should forget about any hopes for a first round bye and home field advantage in the playoffs at this point.

While we were looking forward to drinking Chimay when the season started, we may have to settle for Coors Light.

But regardless of the Eagles record, I plan to enjoy my time in the U.K with the “Birds & the Brits”.  Eagles win 24-17.

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

Dolphins at Texans 8:20 PM FOX/NFL Network (Thurs)

Ravens at Panthers 1:00 PM CBS

Buccaneers at Bengals 1:00 PM FOX

Packers at Rams 4:25 PM FOX

Saints at Vikings 8:20 PM NBC

 

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!