Friday, January 19, 2018

Eagles Flying High as Underdogs

The minute that Carson Wentz went down with a season-ending knee injury in Week 14 of the regular season, the Eagles were destined to play the role of underdogs in any postseason game they played with his backup Nick Foles in the starting role at quarterback. Even when Philadelphia clinched the top seed in the NFC to guarantee that it would have home field advantage throughout the playoffs, the word out of Las Vegas from the folks that set the betting odds for the games confirmed this notion.

Last Saturday against Atlanta in the Divisional Round, the Eagles used their bruising ground game combined with some high-percentage pass plays to score just enough points (15) to win that game to move to 14-3 on the year. The real credit goes to a defense that held the high-powered Falcons’ offense to 281 total yards and more importantly to just 10 points on the scoreboard. I would expect head coach Doug Pederson to rely on the exact same game plan to launch the Birds into their third Super Bowl appearance in franchise history.

Apparently, there was a run on dog masks this week in advance of this Sunday’s NFL Championship matchup against the Minnesota Vikings after Lane Johnson and Chris Long donned a dog face for the postgame celebration at Lincoln Financial Field in last week’s win. The entire team appears to relish the role of underdogs which can be a powerful motivational tool when you have the talent to fully utilize this high level of emotion on the field of play.

I am not discounting what the Vikings have been able to accomplish this season with an identical 14-3 run through their first 17 games, but I would also be quick to point out the way they won their Divisional Round matchup against New Orleans on a miracle 61-yard touchdown with no time left on the clock. Some football experts might suggest that this improbable victory gives Minnesota an edge in momentum coming into Sunday’s game as a three-point road favorite. I would suggest that the memory of how the Vikings blew a 17-point halftime lead while getting completely outplayed in the last two quarters of that game has to creep into this team’s suddenly fragile psyche.

The biggest edge that Philadelphia has in this conference title showdown along with playing the role of underdog is the game being played at the Linc. Other than a garbage loss to Dallas in Week 17, the Eagles have been dominant on their home field all season long. There is a reason why earning the top seed in the conference carries so much weight in the NFL playoffs.

My guess is that Minnesota gets too caught up in playing the Super Bowl in its home stadium that it forgets that it must get there by beating an extremely hungry pack of dogs on the road.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Falcons at Eagles Game Preview & Pick

I am really surprised that the NFL did not cancel Saturday's Divisional Round playoff game between the No. 6 seed Atlanta Falcons and the No. 1 seed Philadelphia Eagles since just about every so-called football expert with a published opinion has already advanced the Falcons into the NFC Championship Game as a lock to win this game.

Ever since Carson Wentz was lost for the season with a torn ACL and Nick Foles took his place at quarterback, the Eagles were destined to be a 'one and done' team in the postseason even if they were the top seed in the NFC. When you add in the fact that Atlanta had little problem last Saturday on the road knocking the Los Angeles Rams out of the playoffs, it is pretty obvious that Philadelphia is bound to suffer the same fate this Saturday afternoon at Lincoln Financial Field.

I picked the Falcons to beat the Rams, but it was more about Los Angeles not playing up to expectations as opposed to Atlanta being an unbeatable force heading into these playoffs. Last time I looked, the Falcons were 10-6 in regular season with losses to Buffalo and Miami at home early in the year and to Carolina and New Orleans on the road in the second half of their schedule. Atlanta ended the regular season ranked 15th in the NFL in scoring with an average of 22.1 points per game and it was tied for 23rd in turnovers with 12 interceptions and six fumbles.

On the other side of this matchup is an Eagles' defense that was ranked fourth in the NFL in both yards allowed (306.5) and points allowed (18.4). There is no doubt that Atlanta's Matt Ryan is one of the better quarterbacks in the league, but this game could fall squarely on his ability to move the ball down field through the air against a defense that was first in the league at stopping the run.

When it comes to the Eagles' offense, you cannot expect Foles to fully fill the shoes of a quarterback that was on his way to winning league MVP. However, he also has the luxury of handing the ball off to a trio of backs that were part of a ground game that averaged 132.2 rushing yards per game, which was the third-highest total in the league this year.

It is going to take a total team effort from Doug Pederson's squad to prove all those experts wrong, but if I had a team that could run the ball and play shutdown defense while playing in the luxury of one of the most hostile environments in the NFL in mid-January against a dome team, I would like my chances of getting it done.

The link below to is my complete game preview and official pick for Saturday's NFC Divisional Round tilt.


Friday, January 5, 2018

Unexpected Matchup for Eagles in Divisional Round

While the top-seeded Eagles enjoy the week off during the opening Wild Card Round of the NFL playoffs, the only thing that we know for sure is that they will face a team from the NFC South at home next Saturday in the Divisional Round.

The logical matchup would be against New Orleans assuming that the Saints beat Carolina at home on Sunday in their wild card matchup after the Los Angeles Rams knock the visiting Atlanta Falcons out of the playoffs with a win on Saturday.

The Rams (-5.5 points) and the Saints (-7 points) are solid home favorites to win and advance to the next round. They are both overwhelming picks to win outright among any number of NFL experts. I just so happen to think that too many of these so-called experts are getting way ahead of things, especially when it comes to a team that posted its first winning season since 2003.

I would tend to agree that New Orleans should be able to get past the Panthers after beating them twice in the regular season by a combined 31 points, but when it comes to the NFL, one team beating any other team three times in same season can be a very tall task, especially when the two division rivals are extremely familiar with one another.

The boldest prediction of the day is that the Panther/Saints matchup will have no bearing on next week’s Eagles game. I happen to think that Atlanta can go into Memorial Coliseum on Saturday night and beat Los Angeles as a road underdog.

The Rams are the better overall team on paper behind an offense that was first in the NFL in scoring complementing a defense that was 12th in points allowed, but there is something to be said for experience on the elevated stage of the playoffs.

Atlanta qualified for the postseason six times over the last 10 seasons highlighted by a trip to last year’s Super Bowl. The result of that game withstanding, this team has a veteran quarterback in Matt Ryan that has recently played on the NFL’s biggest stage. You would have to go all the way back to 2004 to find the last time that the Rams played past the final game of the regular season.

Los Angeles is just one season removed from winning a grand total of four games and while I am not taking anything away from this year’s amazing turnaround, there have been quite a few ‘worst to first runs’ in the NFL that have resulted in a ‘one and done’ in the playoffs. There is a reason why home field advantage is so important in the postseason, but there is also a reason why they play the game.

The Eagles are going to have a tough game on their hands next Saturday regardless of what happens this weekend, but do not be surprised if we are left with a “Battle of the Birds” in Philly’s long-awaited return to postseason play.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Eagles Aim for Most Wins in Franchise History

Anyone who reads my blog on a regular basis knows I am an Eagles' homer that would rival Merrill Reese as the longtime radio voice for the Birds. When he is calling an Eagles game along with famed wide receiver Mike Quick, every penalty flag thrown is against the opposing team, every turnover is recovered by Philadelphia and if a close call goes in the Eagles' favor it was right and obviously wrong if it goes the other way. That is why I love listening to the radio broadcast of the games. If you are going to be a homer, go big and bold or go home!

In a previous post on Eagles Lincs in early November, I made the big and bold prediction that Philadelphia would earn the top seed in the NFC at 13-3 or possibly 14-2, which would be the best record in franchise history. Getting that 14th victory against bitter rival Dallas at home on New Year's Eve would be the icing on the cake.

As much as I would love to say that Sunday's win is a lock, I actually went with Dallas in this game as a slight favorite on the road. My main rational for this pick is the uncertainty surrounding head coach Doug Pederson's game plan when it comes to playing his starters. While I do not expect the bulk of the first team on either side of the ball to sit this one out, there will come a point on Sunday when he does start to send his best players to the bench for good.

Flash back to last season's finale at the Linc when Dallas was 13-2 with the top seed in the NFC in hand and the Eagles were trying to close things out with back-to-back division wins coming off a brutal five-game losing streak. Philly walked away with a rather easy 27-13 victory as part of a 7-9 record overall.

There is a small chance that Pederson does play to win as opposed to playing it safe given how sketchy his team has looked the last few weeks on both sides of the ball. While it is great to have that bye next week, it would be even better if the Eagles looked sharp going into it.

For what it is worth, the link below to is my full game preview and pick for Sunday's divisional tilt.


Friday, December 15, 2017

Eagles' Title Hopes Now Rest on Foles' Shoulders

Anyone who follows my EaglesLincs blog even on a casual basis already knows that I am one of the biggest homers among the Bleeding Green knuckleheads that consider themselves die-hard Eagles' fans. I was truly stunned and saddened when Carson Wentz went down with a torn ACL in a season where he was on tract to be named the NFL's 'Most Valuable Player' in just his second year in the league.

My main concern for our franchise quarterback is the full recovery of that knee in what has the potential to be a Hall of Fame career given what we have seen from Wentz this season. I may be getting way ahead of myself with that one and I am about to get way ahead of myself with the bold prediction that Philadelphia returns to its first Super Bowl since 2004 under the guidance of backup quarterback Nick Foles. The path to Minnesota for Super Bowl LII on Feb. 4 is rather manageable even without Wentz under center in light of all the other teams the Eagles might have to get past to make their third Super Bowl appearance in team history.

Given that my father was a season-ticket holder from 1961 until the last year at Veterans Stadium in 2002, my entire family grew up big Eagles fans. This undying devotion to the home team has been extended to the next generation with many of my relatives still residing in the Philadelphia area.

Below is an example of that passion in an email that was sent out to my entire family by my nephew (and godson) Kevin in response to Wentz going down and Foles stepping up.

Hi All,

There's no denying it's been a bittersweet 24 hours in Eagles' Country. We won the division but lost our field marshal . . .

Alas, all hope is not lost - a familiar face from the not so distant past is aiming to finish what Wentz started.

I will be the first to admit I am not crazy about Foles and not so much for who he is but for who he was not. He had moments of brilliance with us leading some to believe he was our next franchise quarterback.

Instead his star faded and after a season-ending injury in 2014, he was traded to St. Louis for Sam Bradford (another false pre-season savior). One year with the Rams, which involved a benching in favor of a current NFC foe (Case Keenum), was all there would be to that story. During the 2016 off-season, Foles requested a release when the Rams drafted their QB of the future, Jared Goff.

Foles went on to spend 1 year with Big Red in Kansas City before quietly returning to Philadelphia to play essentially the same supporting role he turned down with the Rams - backup for his old franchise's new franchise QB, Carson Wentz.

Now, reunited with his rookie year QBs coach (Doug Pederson) and paired with the QB responsible for the largest playoff comeback in NFL history (Frank Reich) - Foles is out to make a comeback for himself. He will likely need to slay some dragons from his past (a la Case Keenum and/or Jared Goff again) but if this team is anything, it's resilient - so don't count them out.

This may not be how we imagined the end playing out after our storybook beginning but that's life - seldom picture-perfect and often unexpected. Over the next few weeks, though, I want you to keep these three thoughts in mind:

Be thankful for the amazing and fun season we have had so far

Seek not for our load to be lighter but for our backs to be stronger

"You gotta have a positive atty-tude and a good sense a humor to make it in life" - Gramps

K.O. Kelly

The following is a copy of my response to his email. I decided to share it will all the Philly Phaithful as the journey continues to the Super Bowl glory that has eluded this team since my Dad was sitting in the bleachers at Franklin Field.

Hey Kev,

Great job at summing up the collective thoughts of the Eagles faithful in light of such a bittersweet victory in a must-win game. The bottom line in my book is that the Eagles are good enough to win the NFC with Foles at the helm with the lack of another truly dominant team to get past in the playoffs. Can they win Super Bowl with Foles?....that remains to be seen, but the tape of how Miami made New England look pretty average on Monday night along with the tapes from three very shaky Pittsburgh wins in the past three weeks could be enough of a blueprint to get the job done.

A solid running game and a shutdown defense wins games this time of the year and the Eagles have both of these weapons in their arsenal. Add in the motivation of winning one for the Gipper, or in this case the Wentz could be a very powerful factor in this postseason run. One of the main reasons why Philly is 11-2 right now is every player's understanding that there is no I in team. In the infamous words of Bill Belichick..."Know Your Role, Do Your Job"

I personally am expecting a fun ride all the way to Super Bowl LII with you and your Dad the Deacon high-fiving each other at the Linc on Jan. 21 in the NFC Championship win against Minnesota (or maybe New Orleans). I am going to stop just short of predicting a win in Super Bowl LII until I have a better chance to evaluate the actual matchup.

Nick Foles might just end up front and center on the lead float in the Eagle's parade down Broad Street in early February, but this is still Carson Wentz's team now and hopefully for many years to come.