When the Eagles embarked on their three game road trip, it was meant to signify as a marker for how they may fare for the remainder of the season.
And two games in, they had failed miserably.
Back to back losses at the hands of the Vikings and Cowboys, in games which were clearly over halfway through the 4th quarter, had left the team in disarray. And while the Eagles did bounce back the following week to salvage the last game of the road trip against what was then a 5-1 Bills team, many felt that Buffalo was nothing more than a “paper tiger” (in the words of a columnist from “The Buffalo News”).
The Eagles returned to the friendly confines of home to face a struggling Bears team, which had also fallen on hard times in recent weeks. Chicago had started the season 3-1, but three straight losses had them reeling at 3-4, with questions squarely placed on whether they had made a huge mistake in drafting Mitch Trubisky with the #2 overall pick in the 2017 draft.
The Birds got off to an 19-0 lead, and it looked for a while like a leisurely day at the Linc. But the 2019 version of the Eagles don’t seem to make anything easy, and what was once a comfortable margin turned into a nail biter after David Montgomery’s 1-yard run cut the lead to 19-14.
To their credit, the Birds went on a 8-minute plus drive, chewing time off the clock before eventually kicking a 25-yard field goal to seal a 22-14 victory. But a two-game winning streak against the likes of Bills QB Josh Allen & the aforementioned Trubisky does not mean you are a contender for the Super Bowl.
Nine games in, what have we learned of this team? For starters, their lack of playmakers at wide receiver is a major handicap.
DeSean Jackson was expected to fill the role of a deep passing threat, but his injury has kept him out for most of the season.
Rookie JJ Arcega-Whiteside, while not a speedster, was drafted as a compliment to Alshon Jeffrey, but he seems to struggle to get on the field with the exception of special teams.
In full disclosure, I initially thought his name was JJ “Ortega” Whiteside, which explains why I was developing a craving for tacos every time his name was called during the preseason. Unfortunately, his lack of catches (only two through nine games) has caused my hunger to completely dissipate.
The Birds also made a mistake, in my opinion, by deciding to keep Jason Peters, Darren Sproles, and Nelson Agholor on their roster. Peters & Sproles seem to be hurt every week, with Sproles now out with a season ending injury. Meanwhile, Agholor is taking up $9 million of cap space for the year and is a constant reminder of why Chip Kelly is no longer with the Eagles.
While the Eagles secondary has improved with the return of corners Ronald Darby & Jalen Mills, it’s beginning to look more and more like Sidney Jones is a soft player and a bust.
The Birds took Jones in the 2nd round of the 2017 draft even though he was injured with the idea that he would turn into a long term starter, but so far that has not materialized and Jones just cannot be counted on, at this point, to be a shutdown corner.
If the Eagles were playing in any other division, they would basically be two games back of the last wildcard playoff spot, with virtually no shot of winning their division. But luckily, they happen to reside in the NFC East, a division that has not had a repeat champion since the Birds themselves won back-to-back titles (2003-04) during the Andy Reid heyday.
More recently, the division, which was a stalwart of talent back in the 1980’s, has become the “NFC Least”. Nine games into the season, the Birds stand a chance of making the playoffs by winning their division only because their only competition, the Dallas Cowboys, seems to be just as inconsistent as they are.
The ‘Boys had the easiest part of their schedule to start the season, playing the likes of the Redskins, Giants, and Dolphins en route to a 3-0 start.
But much like the Buffalo Bills, their winning record was due more to the lack of competition they were facing, and as their schedule has gotten tougher, losses have mounted against the Saints, Packers, and even the lowly New York Jets.
Last week, as the Eagles enjoyed their bye week, their fans were treated to another Dallas loss, this time at home to the Minnesota Vikings, a team that looks like it is for real in the NFC North.
The Birds and ‘Boys both sit at 5-4 and tied for the division lead with seven games left, with their remaining matchup at home on December 22nd looking more and more like it could decide the division.
Luckily, the Eagles last five games are very favorable (Dolphins, Giants twice, Redskins, and Cowboys). Another strange quirk of the schedule is that they will only have to get on a plane one more time this year (Miami), as the other road games are easily accessible via bus or train.
The downside is that the Eagles first have two very tough games at home in consecutive weeks against the Patriots followed by the Seahawks.
Bill Belichick & Tom Brady are still steaming from their loss to the Birds in Super Bowl LII, and with a cold and windy day forecasted for Sunday, expect Belichick to walk around the sideline in full “hoodie” mode, looking like the emperor from Star Wars.
Dougie P (Eagles coach Doug Pederson) and company did not succumb to the “Force” on that cold February day in Minneapolis and exercised the demons of the franchise in beating the Patriots and winning their first ever Super Bowl title. This time around, things may be a little more difficult, even though the Eagles are playing at home.
It certainly didn’t help our cause that the Ravens plastered New England in their last game, and Brady & company will be looking to rebound from that. Eagles receiver Alshon Jeffery is expected to be out as well, which leaves the receiving corps even more paper thin than it already was.
The Birds would do well to run the ball, and run it often. And then run it some more, especially with a wind chill factor in play. And with the injury to Jordan Howard, Jay Ajayi is expected to rejoin the team to fill his spot, though let’s hope that Ajayi’s rustiness and lack of playing football doesn’t result in a case of “fumblitis”.
While this will be a tough game, I actually think the Birds can win. New England has only played two winning teams, and alongside their blowout loss to the Ravens, they struggled against the Bills. Expect the crowd to be amped up, especially with a 4:25 PM start.
I’m expecting a low scoring game with the Birds coming out on top, 20-17. And perhaps a Dallas loss to the Lions as the appetizer in the 1 PM game?
Amit’s Marquee Matchups of the Week (all games on Sunday and in EST unless noted otherwise):
EAGLES vs Patriots 4:25 PM CBS
Texans at Ravens 1:00 PM CBS