Sunday, December 4, 2016

Eagles and Bengals Set to Battle it Out at Paul Brown Stadium

The Eagles' postseason plans are on life support right now with just two wins in their last six games following a promising 3-0 start. They fell prey to Green Bay this past Monday night in a game that they never really had a chance to win. This Sunday they face the Cincinnati Bengals, who are trying to snap a three-game losing streak as part of a very disappointing 3-7-1 record on the year. The good news for the faithful fans of both teams is that someone has to win this game (unless there is another tie). We are all hoping it will be our beloved Birds since one more loss would probably be the final stake in the heart of any possible playoff run.

I have been rather complimentary of the job that first-year head coach Doug Pederson has done so far, but the honeymoon is over following a couple of sketchy performances the past two weeks from a team that did not appear to be ready to play. Even when they lost games earlier in the season the Eagles were always competitive, but they had that 'deer in the headlights' look on their faces in back-to-back losses to Seattle and Green Bay. A lackluster effort this Sunday against the floundering Bengals would surely have to cast a shadow of doubt on Pederson's ability to be a head coach at this level.

There is still enough talent on this team to go toe-to-toe against any other team in the league including Dallas, but slow starts, bad penalties and inconsistent play on both sides of the ball are not traits of a team headed in the right direction. I still remain confident that Philly can make a run at wild card spot in the NFC, but it is pretty obvious that its margin for error is now razor thin. I am going with the Birds to start that run with a win at Cincinnati this week to set up a huge showdown at home against Washington next Sunday in a NFC East division battle that could have major playoff implications if the Redskins cannot get past Arizona on the road this week.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Playoff Hopes On the Line this Monday Night in Philly

Before this NFL season got underway, I had the Green Bay Packers winning the NFC as the best team in the conference and I had the Eagles finishing at 7-9 in Doug Pederson's first season as Philadelphia's head coach. I am obviously dead wrong in my first prediction and I am praying that I am also wrong with my previous prediction for the Birds.

It has not always been a pretty ride this season on the way to an even 5-5 mark through the Eagles' first 10 games, but all-in-all this team has been able to exceed most fans' expectations. Carson Wentz is still going through some major growing pains as a rookie quarterback in the NFL, but I think it is safe to say that he is on the right path to becoming a very good franchise quarterback in this league. Pederson has made some questionable calls that may have cost his team a win or two along the way, but for the most part I do think he has what it takes to be a head coach at this level.

The Packers are in trouble after losing their last four games while giving up 153 points and I do not see them turning things around this Monday night at the Linc. As far as Philly's future this season, a win against Green Bay would put the Eagles just a half game behind Washington for the final wild card spot in the NFC as far as making it into the playoffs. I know I should not be talking about the playoffs with a team that has now lost five of its last seven games, but a favorable schedule over the final six weeks of the season does make a trip to the postseason a distinct possibility.

I will concede the NFC East title to Dallas following this past Thursday's win, but the Redskins and the Giants are not as good as their current record might indicate. Philly has the tie-breaker against Minnesota and I also cannot see Tampa Bay staying in playoff contention all the way to Week 17. A 9-7 mark could be good enough to snag one of those two wild card playoff spots and if the Eagles were to be one of those two teams that would add up to a very successful season in my book.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Can the Eagles Clip The High-Flying Seahawks' Wings?

The Eagles are 5-4 on the year heading into arguably their toughest game of season this Sunday on the road against 6-2-1 Seattle. The Seahawks have all the momentum in the world on their side following last Sunday's stunning 31-24 upset of New England on the road. The general consensus is that they will stay on a roll this Sunday with a relatively easy win at home as touchdown favorites.

I personally believe that the Eagles have Seattle right where they want them. Going back over Philly's first nine games, it has closed as an underdog in five of those contests. Doug Pederson's crew won as underdogs on the road in Week 2 against Chicago before we knew just how bad the Bears really were. They took on the Steelers as underdogs when everyone still thought that Pittsburgh was headed to the Super Bowl this year and went on to hammer their in-state rivals 34-3. When Minnesota came to town on Oct. 23 as a road favorite, the Eagles made short work of the 5-0 Vikings in a 21-10 victory that was the springboard to that team's fall from grace in its current four-game losing streak. Last Sunday as a home underdog against the Atlanta Falcons, they held the NFL's highest scoring team to just 15 points in a much-needed nine-point win. The two losses as underdogs came against Dallas on the road in overtime and to the New York Giants on the road when a furious fourth-quarter rally came up just short.

What this all means for this Sunday's game is the Eagles should be thankful that nobody expects them to win. They tend to play their best football when their backs are up against the wall and given the fact that they are still in last place in the NFC East despite having a winning record makes just about every game they play from here on in a 'must win' affair.

I am not going to try and argue that Seattle is not one of the top teams in the NFC this season, but I still think the Seahawks are overrated given some of their weaker performances this season. Going back just a few weeks ago, the tied 4-4-1 Arizona before losing to New Orleans. Seattle's offense is ranked 30th in the league in rushing yards and it is 21st in the NFL in scoring with 21.4 points a game. The strength of this team still lies in its defense, but this unit did not live up to its lofty rankings two weeks ago at home in a 31-25 win against Buffalo.

I thought I was pretty bold in predicting earlier victories against the Vikings and the Falcons after a very shaky start in my official picks for Philly's first few games. I am probably picking with my heart instead of my head for this Sunday's contest, but I honestly believe that the Eagles will come away with a win at Seattle with the Seahawks getting caught reading all their own press clippings from last week's improbable upset on the road.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Eagle's Second Half Run Starts with a Battle of the Birds

A perfect 3-0 start gave way to a 1-4 run in their next five games so our beloved Birds find themselves at 4-4 on the year and at a crossroads in their season. A loss to Atlanta this Sunday at home will probably signal an end to any plans that involve a trip to the playoffs in Doug Pederson's first season as head coach and Carson Wentz's first campaign as the Eagles new franchise quarterback. However, a victory against another quality NFL team as underdogs at home could spark a run that might land the Birds in the postseason for the first time since Chip Kelly was a first-year head coach back in 2013.

That is just the way things go in the NFL this time of the year. One key victory here and there can quickly define the entire direction a mid-level team like Philly takes over the rest of its season. Like I mentioned last week, the future is so bright I have to wear shades; however another loss on Sunday could put me in the dreaded position of having to root for a team that might be forced to simply ride out the string in a NFC playoff race that should remain fairly wide open all the way to Week 17.

If the Eagles can somehow get past Atlanta this Sunday and go on to win four more games between next week's road matchup against Seattle and Dallas at home on New Year's Day, they would be 9-7 on the year and still in contention for a possible wild card spot in the playoffs. There is still a chance that the over-achieving Cowboys implode over the second half of their season to keep the race for the NFC East wide open. The fact that Philly still has three home games against each division rival on the slate over the final four weeks of the year could set the stage for a dramatic run to a division title.

Hope springs eternal as a die-hard Philly fan and the only reason why I think the Eagles can still make a run to the postseason is the few glimpses of success we have enjoyed over their first eight games. There is a solid argument that they should be 6-2 with added wins against both Detroit and Dallas. There is also some definitive proof that Carson Wentz could be a perennial Pro Bowl caliber quarterback in the very near future. Playing stout defense is once again a top priority and overall I honestly believe that the Eagles are only a few players away from being a legitimate Super Bowl contender.

The last time our Birds' backs were against the wall was against the then-undefeated Minnesota Vikings and I predicted a big win (after going 0-3 with my picks in their previous three games). A high-flying 6-3 Atlanta team is coming to town this Sunday and I am once again making a bold prediction that the only wings getting clipped in this Battle of the Birds will result in a pile of Falcon feathers on the turf at the Linc when the smoke finally clears!

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Eagles Aim for a Four-Quarter Effort Against the Giants

The Eagles close out the first half of their 2016 NFL regular season schedule this Sunday with a trip to MetLife Stadium to square off against the division rival New York Giants. They have gone 4-3 in their first seven games and if they knew how to finish games they would be 6-1 at the very least. A late fumble sealed their fate with a loss in Detroit and last Sunday night in Dallas they could not hold onto a 10-point lead heading into the final quarter.

I get the fact that this is a young team under first year head coach Doug Pederson. Philly has a rookie at quarterback and its entire defense has received a complete makeover under the guidance of Jim Schwartz as the new coordinator. We have already seen complete efforts on this side of the ball when this unit rose to the occasion to hold Pittsburgh and Minnesota to a combined 13 points. However, the loss to Washington and last week's late-game collapse tells us that this defense cannot be trusted to carry this team. Unfortunately, that is what Philly needs while Carson Wentz and Co. try and improve an offense that is ranked 29th in the NFL in passing yards per game (208.3) and 28th in total yards (317.7). The defense and special teams have helped to pad a 25.6 point scoring average that is ranked 10th in the league.

The big problem is that the Birds teased us with that 3-0 start followed by the upset over the previously undefeated Vikings. At closer examination, the team's first two wins were against Cleveland and Chicago, who are now a combined 2-14 and Pittsburgh and Minnesota are both highly overrated to take a bit of the luster away from those two wins. On the flip side, the Lions are a much better team than expected and winning division games on the road is always a tall task.

This Sunday's game against New York should go a long way towards pointing which direction Philly takes over the second half of the season. The remaining schedule is not in its favor with Atlanta and Green Bay at home sandwiched around a West Coast trip to Seattle over the next three games. A road game against Cincinnati is no picnic and the Eagles still have to get by Baltimore on the road. The other three games are all against division opponents at home to possibly set the stage for a fantastic finish.

Do not get me wrong, I love the new look of this team under Pederson and Schwartz and the future with Wentz at quarterback has never been brighter. That being said, I am just like all the other Eagles fans out there in my desire to watch a winning team now as opposed to waiting until these young Birds grow some feathers that can really make them fly.