Saturday, December 31, 2016

Eagles Look to End Their Season on Strong Note Against Big D

The Eagles' 2016 season will come to a close on Sunday regardless of the outcome of their game against Dallas in what was a thrill ride on a roller coaster that started with some really big highs before cascading downward into the lowest of lows.

A perfect 3-0 run to start this ride raised expectations through the roof and heading into a Week 8 showdown against the Cowboys at 4-2 it all started to unravel. One can only speculate how things might be different if Philly could have somehow managed to win that overtime game against Dallas as opposed to coming up on the wrong end of a crushing 29-23 loss. From there things only got worse with just one more win in the Birds' next seven games and by the time they did manage to upset the New York Giants last Saturday at the Linc the damage had been done.

This Sunday's home game against the Cowboys is completely meaningless for either team as far as the final standings. An Eagles' victory would get them to a more respectable seven wins on the year to match Chip Kelly's record last season in his final year as head coach. Dallas has already locked up the top seed in the NFC so its main goal in this NFC East clash in keeping everyone healthy.

The oddsmakers have Philly listed as a 4.5-point favorite in this game given the fact that its motivation to end the season on a winning note will be much higher than a Cowboys' team that will simply try and get out of the hostile environment at the Linc in one piece. It does not look like first year head coach Doug Pederson's job is on the line, but a strong showing on Sunday would not hurt his job status heading into another long offseason.

There is no doubt that some big changes need to take place over the next several months to get Philadelphia on the same level as the rest of the competition in the NFC East. Even Washington can qualify for the playoffs with a win against New York this week, so it is painfully obvious that the current gap is way too wide.

The Eagles' offense is in desperate need of a few playmakers at the skill positions and there are some big holes up front that need to be filled. Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz did a decent job with his unit on that side of the ball, but there were still far too many stupid mistakes, bad penalties and mental breakdowns along the way to successfully compete with the stronger competition Philly faced this year.

All-in-all, to quote the words of former NFL head coach Denny Green, "They are who we thought they were....". The highlights were far and few between, but we still have fond memories of those two dominating wins against Pittsburgh and Atlanta. Carson Wentz struggled through his rookie growing pains, but you would have to believe that, at the very least, he did demonstrate the skills to be a legitimate starting quarterback in the NFL. There are some solid pieces in place on both sides of the ball that set the foundation for a turnaround in the coming years, but there is still quite a bit work to be done for team vice president Howie Roseman come free agency and the upcoming draft.

For now, we will have to be content with a two-game run to close out the 2016 season against the top two teams in the division, assuming that Philly gets past Dallas on Sunday. Another loss to the Cowboys would be hard to endure given how us tortured fans were forced to watch our arch rivals turn things around in a big way from just four wins the season before.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Eagles Play the Role of Spoiler in Win Against New York

Eagles' fans have been waiting patiently since early November to see this team end up on the winning side of a final score during its recent five-game skid, but everything finally came together in Thursday's night's 24-19 victory against the rival New York Giants. The offense got off to a hot start and the defense sealed things with a few key turnovers at the end of the game in what was a total team effort. We have gotten too use to the Birds coming up short on both sides of the ball during their recent slide, so it was good to see this team find a way to win with all three phases playing at an elevated level. The best part of Thursday night's victory was that it came against a division rival that needed to win that game to clinch a spot in the playoffs. It is highly likely that the Giants still get in as one of two wild card teams in the NFC, but they might have been exposed as pretenders as opposed to contenders in the race to Super Bowl LI.

Philly has a great shot at ending the season with another division win at home against Dallas next Sunday since the Cowboys have already clinched the top seed in the NFC as far as the postseason. A victory against the Dallas would match a projected win total of seven games. It is hard to take any comfort in that rather dubious achievement after the Eagles jumped out to an encouraging 3-0 start on their way to a 4-2 record through their first six games. Unfortunately things went downhill from there to set up another long offseason for Philly fans that are starved to see our team return to the ranks of being a legitimate playoff team in the NFL. Maybe Thursday night's win was a preview of better things to come in 2017, but I for one am getting pretty tired of looking forward to next the NFL Draft before the current season is even over.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Should Doug Pederson Be on the Hot Seat in Philly?

The only good news for the Eagles heading into a Week 15 matchup on the road against the Baltimore Ravens is that the Philadelphia Flyers are riding a 10-game winning streak into their road game this Saturday against the Dallas Stars to help deflect some attention away from their dismal play over the last four games. Even the lowly 76ers have won more games than the football team in town lately with a 2-2 record in their last four outings.

I have been touting the Birds as a legitimate playoff contender all season long based on what I saw from this team when the leaves were still green and on the trees. Playoff teams win games in November and December while the league's pretenders continue to work their way into a better position for next year's draft. The race to the postseason in the NFC is one of the best in years, unfortunately with an ugly four-game losing streak Philly is now officially on the outside looking in.

Earlier this week I read an article about which NFL head coaches are in jeopardy of losing their jobs in the wake of the Los Angeles Rams' decision to part ways with their embattled head coach Jeff Fisher. Eagles' head coach Doug Pederson was mentioned, but thought to be safe considering that it was just his first year on the job. The simple fact that he was mentioned raises a red flag in my book. On the surface, a 5-8 record for a team that was projected to win just seven games does not appear to be all that bad, but it is the way that this team has collapsed down the stretch that raises my level of concern. Rookie Carson Wentz is headed in the wrong direction after a strong start as the team's new starting quarterback on an offense that is extremely predictable. Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz had his unit playing at a very high level earlier in the year, but now this defense is not all that much better than the one that finished last season at or near the bottom of the league in most major statistical categories.

I am not jumping ship on the Eagles after still believing in them all the way up to last week's loss against Washington, but something has to be done about all the water this ship has taken in over the past month or so. Pederson needs to show that he can motivate this team to finish strong. Philadelphia can win in Baltimore this Sunday and it also has a chance to get a win at home this upcoming Thursday against the New York Giants. The best opportunity to show team owner Jeff Lurie that he does have what it takes to be a head coach at this level would be to knock off Dallas on New Year's Day if there is anything still on the line for the Cowboys as far as their postseason plans.

If Philly can get to seven wins this season then Pederson should keep his job. However, if this current four-game losing streak reaches seven games by year's end, I think Lurie might want to seriously think about cutting his losses and find a capable head coach that does have what it takes to guide his team.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Playoffs? Don’t talk about — playoffs? You kidding me? Playoffs?

I just Googled "Jim Mora Playoffs Rant" and found that there is a whole website dedicated to that oh so famous tyraid way back in 2001. His actual statement when asked if the Colts could still make it into the playoffs that season was:

"What’s that? Ah — Playoffs? Don’t talk about — playoffs? You kidding me? Playoffs? I just hope we can win a game! Another game."

Turning to 2016 and our beloved Birds, it is painfully obvious that their backs are firmly against the wall when it comes to any dream of playing past New Year’s Day following last week’s dismal performance on the road against a Cincinnati. The really sad part is that the Bengals had only won three games this season prior to that thorough 32-14 pounding Philly endured in that crushing loss. The harsh reality that the Eagles are not all that good is beginning to overshadow the wild notion that they can win out over their last four games to stay alive in the NFC wild card race.

I am still willing to hold out hope until all hope is lost starting with a predicted win at home this Sunday against Washington. From there, the Eagles would have to beat Baltimore on the road before getting past New York and Dallas at home in two final division matchups.

Bleak yes, but impossible no.

Philly has been a much better team at home this season with the exception of that Monday night loss to Green Bay and the fact that they are playing three division foes in their own backyard actually works in their favor. When it comes to getting past the Ravens you cannot ignore the fact that they are playing much better lately, but this is still a beatable team if Joe Flacco has an off day throwing the ball.

If I am not the biggest homer when it comes to this team, then I do not know who is. My memory of those three dominating wins against Pittsburgh, Minnesota and Atlanta are pretty feint by now given just how bad the Eagles have played in their last three games against Seattle, Green Bay and Cincinnati, but until they are dead and buried for the season I will continue to believe that they can return to that winning form.

To be honest, I actually had all of those last three games penciled in as losses before the season began. I also had the Eagles sitting at 5-7 at this point of the season when I went through their first 12 games so trust me, everything is still going according to plan. Just to refresh everyone's memory, my preseason prediction was 9-7 which I believed would be good enough to win the NFC East. Little did I know that both Dallas and New York would still finish higher in the standings. For now, bring on the Redskins, we will worry about those other three wins a bit further down the road.

Bleak yes, but impossible no!

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.