Birds, Bills, Bears, Bye, & Boston

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

As Broad & Pattison Turns: From Hapless to Hopeful

Looking back now, it’s hard to believe just how many times this team has been on the verge of playoff extinction.

On Nov. 25th, as running back Saquon Barkley raced down the field en route to a touchdown, the Eagles season was on the verge of playoff extinction.

One week prior, the Birds were throttled by the Saints, 48-7, in a game in which they were never in it from the start and looked totally overmatched.
And while injuries played a big part in the Eagles lack of success that day, it was hard to believe just how hard and fast the defending Super Bowl champions had fallen.

Now, the Birds faced a 19-3 deficit against the New York Giants, with one more Giants score basically ending the game and rendering the last five games meaningless as far as most of the fans were concerned.

It’s hard to say what went through the players’ minds at that point, but the Birds drove down the field to score a touchdown and then, with the Giants driving once again, Malcolm Jenkins made what may have been a season saving interception.

Stepping in front of Odell Beckham at the 2-yard line, Jenkins interception not only prevented New York from going back up by two scores, but catapulted the Birds to a comeback victory.

A win the following week against the Redskins put the Eagles at 6-6 for the season, but a loss in Dallas the following Sunday, in a game in which both Lady Luck and the referees seemed to conspire against the team, made their playoff chances a precarious one at best, especially with tough games against both the Rams and the Texans looming.

But the Birds surprisingly defeated the Rams on the road, and then, facing a one point deficit against Houston with 2:04 left and starting a drive at their own 11-yard line, drove down the field with Jake Elliott kicking a 35-yard field goal with no time left to give the Eagles the victory.

Elliott seems to miss the kicks that any good kicker should regularly make. Yet, he is as clutch as they come when it counts, and his game winning field goal had, once again, prevented the nail from being driven into the Eagles coffin.

With one week left to go in the regular season, and facing the Washington Redskins, a team that was now on its 3rd string quarterback, most had no doubt that the Eagles would be victorious.

But a victory alone would not be enough, as the Birds needed a Bears win over the Vikings in order to keep their season going into January.

Luckily, Chicago still had a shot to earn a bye on the final week of the season, should the 49ers upset the Rams. But what if the Rams got off to a big lead? Would Bears coach Matt Nagy decide to rest his players in the 2nd half, knowing that he had nothing to play for?

The Eagles did their part, and the Bears played most of their starters in the 2nd half, even when it was evident that their victory would be for naught.

Perhaps it was because Eagles coach Doug Pederson and Bears coach Matt Nagy are friends, having both worked on Andy Reid’s staff in Kansas City?

Whatever the reason, the Birds and the Bears had hooked up and conceived a playoff birth for the City of Philadelphia. Who needs those bees anyway…

The Eagles knew that to reach the Super Bowl again, they would have to take a much more difficult path this time, needing three straight victories on the road. And the first stop was, ironically, Chicago, to face the same team that helped them get an invite to the playoff party in the first place.

And once again, the Birds faced a one score deficit late in the 4th quarter with Nick Foles needing to drive them 60 yards for the go-ahead score. And once again, the team was one play away from their season ending when they faced 4th & Goal at the 2.

Enter Golden Tate, who had been acquired in a mid-season trade, which many questioned as a bad move. But on this day, it was Foles pass to Tate that resulted in the go-ahead touchdown.

But a short kickoff gave the Bears a great opportunity to drive down the field from their own 42, and with 10 seconds left it was up to Bears kicker Cody Parkey to win the game.

And as the kick went up and straight down the middle, the Eagles season seemed to finally have come to an end. But wait…Doug Pederson had called a timeout to ice the kicker right before the kick took place. Surely, that stuff never actually works does it?

But as Parkey kicked again following the timeout, this time, the ball did not go straight down the middle but started to slice to the left. And as a tri-state area watched with bated breath, the ball hit the goalpost and started to make it’s way downwards.

There was still the chance that the ball could fall in, away from the end zone side of the lower post, resulting in a Bears win. A few inches here and there would make the difference, but as the ball bounced back toward the end zone, Philadelphia exhaled.

Once again, the Eagles had avoided the nail in their coffin and had survived to see another day. And a fan base which had finally witnessed its first Super Bowl victory in amazing fashion just last season started to wonder if lightening could strike twice.

But the next hurdle to be overcome for the Birds will not be easy. The Saints may be the toughest test the Eagles will face should they continue this amazing journey, and the crowd inside the New Orleans Superdome will do everything in its power to make sure the Eagles next game is their last.

The Birds are an improved team, and a healthier one, from when they faced New Orleans back in Week 11. But the Saints are well rested having earned a bye last week, and motivation will not be a factor in playoff time.

If the Eagles 2018 party were to end down in the “Big Easy”, no one would be surprised. This team, after all, has been playing with house money for some time now.

But just as Bill Belichick and Tom Brady needed some good fortune bestowed on them on the way to three Lombardi trophies in four years (2001-2004), perhaps it is Doug Pederson and Nick Foles that are now riding the wave of good fortune?

If anyone can pull off an upset, it is this Eagles team that somehow, someway, always seems to escape elimination.

A team that looked hapless just a few weeks back is now hopeful that this amazing journey will continue.

E-A-G-L-E-S EAGLES.

As Broad & Pattison Turns Week #11: Difficult task in the Big Easy

The Philadelphia Eagles, one year removed from their first ever Super Bowl title, have been doing a lousy job of defending their status as champions.

A record of 4-4 halfway through the season, with three of their four losses coming in excruciatingly painful fashion, have the faithful pulling their hair out and wondering if 2017 was simply a mirage that never really happened.

With the team opening up the 2nd half of its season against the Dallas Cowboys, a team that has been mired in mediocrity not only this season but basically since the turn of the century, this matchup seemed like the perfect tonic for whatever has been ailing the Birds.  And the oddsmakers must have felt the same way, as the Eagles were seven point favorites going in.

But when Philadelphia went on offense to start the game and promptly went three and out, I couldn’t help but think of Han Solo in those classic Star Wars movies looking over at Chewbacca and stating, “I’ve got a BAD feeling about this”.

That bad feeling continued for the first thirty minutes as the Eagles went into halftime down 13-3.  This team’s ineptitude at the beginning of games is puzzling, as they have now scored a total of 21 points during the 1st quarter all season, with 14 of those points coming in one game against the lowly New York Giants.

The Birds did manage to crawl out of their hole to start the 3rd quarter and eventually tied the game at 13-13.  But on the two occasions that they clawed their way back into a tie, Dallas’s offense, which was held in check for most of the first half, would drive down the field without much resistance to retake the lead. 

Down 27-20, the Birds reached the Dallas 30 yard line at the two-minute warning of the 4th quarter.  But on 3rd & 2, a swing pass to Corey Clement was sniffed out for a 5-yard loss, and the following play, a pass to tight end Zach Ertz, fell just one yard short of the first down. 

And while the Eagles did get the ball back with 38 seconds left, it was too little, too late.  That’s the kind of season it’s been my friends.

This team, instead of resembling a Super Bowl champion, looks very much like the 7-9 team of two years ago.  That was Doug Pederson’s first year as head coach, and that team also had the habit of losing close games that they could have won had one or two plays gone the other way.

Sitting at 4-5, the Eagles now find themselves heading to New Orleans to face the Saints, who just happen to be the top team in the NFC, a spot that the Birds held for most of last season.

Add to that the fact that the New Orleans Superdome is not an easy place to play, and the Saints feature one of the best current coach/quarterback combinations in Sean Payton & Drew Brees (second only to Tom Brady & Bill Belichick in my opinion), and one can see why the Eagles started off as nine-point underdogs.

The good news (if there is any) is that the Birds should be able to score on this defense.  The bad news is, can they actually stop the Saints offense?

Both starting cornerbacks for the Eagles (Ronald Darby & Jalen Mills) are out, with Darby out for the remainder of the season.  2nd year man Sidney Jones will return this week, and will have to earn his paycheck as the starting outside corner for the first time since his college days against a dangerous Saints offense.  Opposite him will be his fellow 2017 draft pick Rasul Douglas, who allowed eight catches last week in his first starting gig.

For some reason, I think that the Eagles will play with a lot of pride, and actually keep it close.  The question is, is this team good enough to win?

Birds lose this game, 28-24.  And let’s hope the Redskins & Cowboys do as well.  Otherwise, we may be throwing the 2018 Eagles season out with the trash on Monday morning.

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

Texans at Redskins 1:00 PM CBS

Vikings at Bears 8:20 PM NBC

Chiefs at Rams 8:15 PM ESPN (Mon.)