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!

 

 

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As Broad & Pattison Turns Week #17: A December Snoozer

The expectation was that Old Saint Nick would bring presents to all of the good little boys and girls on Christmas morning, while a young “Saint Nick” would deliver the #1 seed and homefield advantage to all of the Eagles fans, both naughty and nice, come Christmas night.

But while Old Saint Nick delivered on his promise, young Saint Nick almost delivered a bag of coal instead.

Clinching the #1 seed in your conference is usually a cause for celebration, but as the Eagles trotted off the field last Monday night after a victory over the Raiders, they looked more like they were walking out of a funeral.

And who could blame them?  What we witnessed last week was a less than stellar performance by the offense. What makes it even more concerning was that it was against a team that flew cross country into the cold weather with absolutely nothing to play for save pride.

After the close win against another bad team in the Giants two weeks back, the feeling was that the offense would be fine with Saint Nick at the helm, especially after he threw four touchdowns in the process in his first start this season.

The area of concern was how easily the defense was getting torched against a bad offensive team like New York, but against the Raiders, everything got flipped.

The defense redeemed itself somewhat, but it was the play of Foles and the whole offense which was doing anything but making spirits bright for the 70,000 fans who braved the cold to watch that Christmas Night snoozer.

Foles was hitting them low, hitting them high, but no one was watching the Eagles fly.  More like limp into the postseason.

To be fair, not everything that was happening to the offense was Foles’ fault.  The receivers, who have been quite an improvement from 2016, seemed like they were trying to untangle themselves from a string of Christmas lights, and were unable to get any kind of separation from the defenders.

Two wins in two weeks against two bad teams, yet the way the Eagles played has caused more consternation than optimism.

When the Eagles were blowing out their opponents back in October & November, I made the point that watching the Birds was actually getting somewhat boring.  By the 2nd half, I found myself sitting in my seat at the Linc in a very laid back manner, almost acting more like I was watching one of 162 Phillies game on a lazy summer day at Citizens Bank Park.

But all of the Bird watching boredom (a rarity I know due to all those one-sided contests) has now been replaced by a return to the “mean” for Eagles fans – the teeth clenching, fingernail biting, blood pressure rising is back and here to stay as long as the Eagles are still playing.

Things were just too good to be true back in the fall.  We can’t have it easy – the starting quarterback who seemed to be the golden child of the franchise and who’s play was elevated compared to so many others HAS to get hurt to make things interesting.

The one hit-wonder who once threw 27 touchdowns and 2 interceptions in a single season and who tied a record for most touchdowns thrown in a single game in that same spectacular season, HAS to come down to earth to make things interesting.  Otherwise, it would be just too easy for Philadelphia and we won’t know what to do with ourselves.

No, doing things the hard way is what we’re used to.  It’s what we thrive on, especially with the playoffs approaching.

If the Eagles play their first playoff game in four years at the same level as they did the last two weeks, their playoff push will be short-lived, regardless of whether they face the Vikings, Rams, Saints or Panthers.  And we’re now placing all our hopes with a quarterback who has the ability to throw four touchdowns…or kill a lot of worms while throwing the football.

When Carson Wentz first got hurt, I made the point that while the Eagles “replacement engine” is not as good as the original, it was still capable of doing the job.  And I still feel that way.

But if Wentz was starting last week, the Birds would have looked much more crisp on offense, as he had the ability to mask some of the deficiencies of this team with his play.  Unfortunately, Foles does not have that luxury, so the “wrinkles and grey hair” are starting to show.

The Birds will need to play better in all aspects if they want to make this a season to remember.    But before they embark on that quest, there is the matter of finishing out the string of the regular season first.

The Cowboys will come in with nothing to play for, but will play all of their starters for most of the game (I think) in order to finish the season at 9-7 and with a win.  The Birds would do well to give their starting offense a “tune-up” of sorts before the playoffs begin.

Ideally, the offense comes in and scores 10 or 14 points in its first two drives and is then lifted for the backups.  But if they struggle as they did last week, it will only raise the alarm bells as to whether this team can last even one round in the playoffs.

Hard to predict this game, so I won’t.  But let’s hope that the offense can get back on track and that the defense continues to play as it did last week against the Raiders.   Otherwise, what seemed to be a promising start to 2018 just a few weeks back may be another winter of our discontent.

Amit’s Marquee Matchup of the Week (only one this week):

Panthers at Falcons  4:25 PM  FOX

The Last Word:

Thanks to Amanda Moran for the pic from the Green Legion pregame tailgate at Santa Monica pier prior to the Eagles – Rams game.  With frigid temps in the forecast here at least through next week, I’d go back in a heartbeat.

As Broad & Pattison Turns Week #15: The Wentz Wagon Derailed

On the road to the Super Bowl, even the most fine-tuned automobile can encounter some setbacks.

Sometimes the setbacks are nothing more than standard maintenance…an oil change or a tire rotation every now and then to keep the car driving smoothly.

Sometimes it may be something that requires a little more time and effort to fix, but still is nothing more than a temporary delay (a set of new tires comes to mind).

But if there are more serious matters, such as if the engine or transmission goes, suddenly what was a smooth drive to one’s destination suddenly becomes a major hassle, detour, or an altogether cancellation of one’s plans.

Carson Wentz, in only his 2nd year of quarterbacking the Eagles, was the engine of this football team.  And it had been speeding down the “Autobahn” of the 2017 NFL season at warp speed, while others such as Jerry Jones and his car with the star painted on the side were in the slow lane looking on with envy.

At one time, it was Jones and his automobile which was revered on the highway.  But now, while he does his best to keep his Mercedes looking shiny and new, the truth of the matter is that it is old and clunky, and always seem to be in the shop for one reason or another.

But I digress (as I often do).  Surely, there are other key components that have helped to keep the Eagles in the fast lane.  And even after some of those parts were lost for the season (Jordan Hicks, Jason Peters, Darren Sproles), the “replacement parts” all seemed to be of genuine quality, making the car hum without skipping a beat.

But this, my friends, is different.  This isn’t just an ordinary part that can be easily replaced.  The Eagles had been searching far and wide for this part for much of their history, and seem to have finally found it.   But losing it puts a huge damper on what was an exhilarating win on the road against a very determined Rams team.  It was a victory that not only gave the Birds the NFC East championship with three games still left to play, but also catapulted them back into the top spot for the conference, thanks to a Vikings loss to the Panthers earlier on Sunday.

On Wentz’s final play of his season, he stood in the pocket and waited, waited, waited, until he found Alshon Jeffrey  open in the end zone.  The quarterback actually had an opening to run it in for a touchdown…an opening he would have normally exploited and taken the ball in himself.  Thinking back now, it was probably painful for him to move.

So the replacement engine has been installed and is ready to go.  And while everyone is aware that it is not as good as the original, that does not mean that it cannot do the job.

Nick Foles has been here before.  In 2013, it was Foles who led the Eagles to their last NFC East title, and did so while throwing 27 touchdowns and only 2 interceptions.

But much like Thomas Dolby’s  one-hit wonder, “She Blinded Me With Science”, the fear is that Foles could be a one-hit wonder on the football field as well.

After his breakout season in 2013, Foles threw 13 TD’s and 10 INT’s for the Eagles the following year before he broke his collarbone in mid-season and missed the last seven games.  Still not bad numbers, but after he was traded for Sam Bradford before the start of the 2015 season, his stint as the then St. Louis Rams quarterback did not go as well, as he finished with more interceptions than touchdowns (13 INT’s vs. 10 TD’s), and was ultimately benched for Case Keenam, who is having his own career season with the Vikings this year.

The hope is that his lack of success in St. Louis was due to the team around him not being very good.  Foles will now be the maestro for a team that has a lot of quality parts around him.  And while he does not have the ability to elude the rush like Carson Wentz did, he still has good football smarts.

At the end of last week’s game, when the Eagles needed a first down to secure a victory, it was Foles who, on 3rd & 8, threw a pass to Nelson Agholor in a spot that only Agholor could catch it.  And to his credit, he did.  That is where the football smarts of Foles can shine through, especially when he is surrounded by skilled players around him.

Back in 1999, when the Rams lost starter Trent Green for the season in a preseason game, their coach, Dick Vermeil, stood in front of the media and announced, rather prophetically, that the Rams would “rally around Kurt Warner…. and we WILL play good football”.  And they did, winning the Super Bowl for the first time in their history.

Is Nick Foles on par with Kurt Warner?  Absolutely not.  But Eagles coach Doug Pederson was basically relaying the same message to his team this week (minus the crying of course).

Carson Wentz is a huge loss for this team.  But while Nick Foles is no Wentz, he WILL play good football, as the Birds win 31-13 this week against the Giants.

The engine has been replaced and the automobile is ready to go.  And while the road to the Super Bowl just became a little more treacherous, it does not mean that the new engine won’t get them there.

Amit’s Marquee Matchups of the Week:

Chargers at Chiefs  8:30 PM  NFL Ntwrk  (Sat)

Packers at Panthers  1:00 PM  FOX

Rams at Seahawks  4:05 PM  FOX

Patriots at Steelers  4:25 PM  CBS

As Broad & Pattison Turns Week #14: 1) Sloppy in Seattle & 2) He Went to Jared

What was one of the first things Sean McVay did when he became head coach of the Los Angeles Rams?  He went to Jared of course.

No, I don’t mean Jared, the “Galleria of Jewelry”, to buy his girlfriend a ring (sorry to disappoint you ladies).

Instead, he went to Jared as in Jared Goff, the Rams quarterback who had become somewhat of an enigma, to discuss what had taken place in his rookie season.

Goff, and Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz, were both taken as the #1 & #2 overall picks, respectively, in the 2016 NFL draft.  And while rookie quarterbacks generally go through some growing pains in their first year, the general feeling around the Eagles at the end of last season was that the drafting of Wentz was the right decision.  Unfortunately, the same could not be said of Goff.

The Rams were dead last in the league in scoring last season,  with Goff starting the last seven games and throwing 5 touchdowns and 7 interceptions with a passer rating of 63.6, which did nothing to inspire confidence that he was the bona fide future QB of the team (ironically, the starter for the first nine games was Case Keenum, who is leading the Vikings to a 10-2 start this year).

As for Sean McVay, he is not just another rookie coach, but was the youngest coach in NFL history at 30 years old when he was hired (he is 31 now) after spending the last three seasons as the Redskins offensive coordinator .  And while experience can be a big advantage in the NFL, McVay has proven that it can be overrated, as the Rams are tied with the Eagles for the #1 scoring offense in the NFL.

But to make sure that McVay has some quality experience around him, his defensive coordinator is Wade Phillips, who at 70 years old is old enough to be McVay’s father, and was the defensive coordinator for the Eagles from 1986-1988 during the Buddy Ryan years.

As for the Birds, I don’t know about sleepless, but their movie should be aptly named “Sloppy in Seattle”.

Perhaps it was the four consecutive blowout victories that preceded the Seahawks game that had them thinking they just needed to show up to win.

Or maybe there was too much attention paid to whether the defense would be doing the 1) Cha-Cha Slide or the 2) Cupid Shuffle as a follow up to the “Electric Slide”.

Whatever the reason may be, last Sunday’s game could best be described in three words:  SLOPPY, SLOPPY, SLOPPY.

But have no fear Eagles fans…there is no reason to jump off the bandwagon or cancel your flight to Minneapolis in February just yet.

The silver lining in all of this is that no team, in a 16-game schedule, comes fully prepared to play every week.  And it wasn’t a case of the Eagles being overmatched by a veteran Seattle team.  Even with all the sloppy play, the Birds had chances to win the game.

In the 1st quarter, Carson Wentz overthrew Nelson Agholor on a pass that may have resulted in a touchdown.  He usually makes that play.

Later in the game,  another pass to Agholor is caught but underthrown.  That same pass thrown in stride may have resulted in a touchdown.

In the 3rd quarter, Wentz, while going in for the tying score, fumbles the football, which results in a turnover and a huge opportunity lost.  Funny how, when you fumble the football while heading for the end zone against the “Bad News Bears”, the ball stays in bounds and is recovered by one of your teammates for a touchdown, but when you do the same thing against a good team like the Seahawks, it goes out of bounds and results in a touchback.   Good teams create their own luck it seems.

One pass overthrown, one underthrown, and a fumble at the goal line.  Twenty-one points left on the field right there.    Good teams like the Eagles don’t make those kind of mistakes.

The good news about this Sunday’s game against the Rams is that, while it is technically a road game, it may not actually feel like such.  Much like the game against the Chargers two months ago, it may be a stadium filled with rabid Eagles fans (including yours truly).

The Rams seem to think so, as they have been practicing with a silent count this week, which is usually only needed when playing on the road in a hostile environment.

The fact that the Eagles may have a home-field advantage out in LA is both a blessing for them, and a sign of how pathetic the idea of keeping an NFL team in Los Angeles really is.

The Eagles will gladly take all the help they can get, as after last week’s loss, they now find themselves playing in a game this Sunday that will have HUGE playoff implications.

Win, and they will keep their #2 conference seed with a chance to move back up to the #1 spot, should the Vikings slip up on the road against the Panthers on Sunday afternoon.

A first round bye comes with a week of rest and relaxation and the comforts of possibly never having to leave home.

Lose, and the Eagles will fall to the #3 and maybe even the #4 seed, if the Saints can defeat the Falcons on the road Thursday night.

Lose, and the result could mean a more precarious route to take on the road to the Super Bowl, with land mines at every turn.  That’s how important a win is this Sunday, even with four games left in the regular season.

The Eagles will win this Sunday because Carson Wentz will not repeat the same mistakes he made last week.

The Eagles will win this Sunday because their Prince Harry look-alike QB will carry this team on his shoulders.

Birds win 38-20.  And the Enchanted Season WILL continue.

Amit’s Marquee Matchups of the Week:

Saints at Falcons  8:25 PM  NBC/NFL Ntwrk  (Thurs)

Vikings at Panthers  1:00 PM  CBS

EAGLES at Rams  4:25 PM  FOX

Seahawks at Jaguars  4:25 PM  FOX

Ravens at Steelers  8:30 PM  NBC