Ex-Philly Players: Don’t Overlook Eagles; Patriots Are Done
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Once considered too injured, too erratic and too dysfunctional to be serious playoff contenders, the Philadelphia Eagles reminded their skeptics that they’ve persevered before under similar circumstances.
It was just two years ago when the Eagles lost Carson Wentz to a late December knee injury and labored through the final two regular season games behind a struggling Nick Foles before roaring through the NFC Playoffs and toppling the Patriots, 41-33, in the Super Bowl.
Even last year, the Eagles were 6-7 in early December before ripping off three straight wins to earn a wild card as the sixth seed and knocking off the No. 3-seeded Bears in Chicago.
Eagles coach Doug Pederson has once again found the magic recipe to get his team on track at just the right time, and his remade offense has quarterback Carson Wentz playing his best football in time for Wentz’s postseason debut against the fifth-seeded Seahawks in South Philadelphia on Sunday afternoon.
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“Momentum is a funny thing,” said former Eagles linebacker Ike Reese, who co-hosts the afternoon drive on 94.1 WIP, the team’s flagship station. “It’s hard to pull something off like this in some of the other sports, but in football you can do it.
“If the quarterback is playing good football, you’re definitely going to have a chance. It’s the way that they won the Super Bowl two years ago, the way they got into the playoffs and won last year. Quite frankly, it’s the way they’re doing it this year. You don’t get four straight wins without the quarterback not finding his groove.”
Injuries to significant starters continued to pile up during the four-game win streak, but it’s Wentz’s brilliance in December that’s fueling the belief that the Eagles can overcome another major obstacle — their ominous history against the Seahawks.
The Eagles are 0-5 against Seattle in the Pete Carroll-Russell Wilson era, going back to 2011. Four of the five defeats have come via double digits. Seattle’s most recent win against the Eagles came just six weeks ago, in Philly, a 17-9 triumph that marked the lowest margin of win for Seattle in the five-game win streak.
The Eagles opened as 3-point favorites for this weekend’s game against the Seahawks on DraftKings, but the line moved almost instantaneously, as public money likely came in heavily on Seattle. The Seahawks are currently favored by 2. Seattle is 5-0 against the spread during its five-game win streak over the Eagles, including twice as underdogs.
“At this point, it’s much more even than it was the first game (on Nov. 24) just from a talent standpoint,” said former Eagles offensive lineman Barrett Brooks, who does pregame and postgame analysis for NBC Sports Philadelphia. “The edge goes to Russ just from an accomplishment standpoint already, but Carson is starting to be one of those guys where you can talk about him in that same capacity.”
Although the Seahawks have beaten the Eagles in Philly twice during the last five wins, the Eagles under Pederson and defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz have been extremely difficult to take down at home.
The Eagles have allowed just 16.1 points per game at home since 2016, lowest in the NFL. In the postseason under Pederson and Schwartz, the Eagles have allowed just 17 total points in two home playoff games.
Even in their win earlier this year over the Eagles, the Seahawks lacked their typical offensive punch. Wilson was sacked six times and passed for just 200 yards, his fourth-lowest total of the season. His 13 completions were his fewest this season and his 75.4 passer rating was his third-worst.
“It’s a big advantage in the postseason,” Reese said of playing in Philadelphia. “That’s why the line is as short as it is. I know how great they (the Seahawks) were on the road throughout the regular season, but by all indications, this should be a close one. I think the Eagles have more than a puncher’s chance to win that game Sunday. I don’t know how deep they can go, but getting past this weekend is a definite possibility.”
Demise Of Patriots Dynasty?
Even in the pass-happy NFL, the adage holds true that playoff football games are won by teams that can run the ball and teams that excel on special teams.
The importance of those two aspects of the game could also be the reason that faith in the Patriots isn’t as devout as in prior years.
The Patriots ranked 18th overall this season in rushing yards and 25th in yards per carry. They’ve also run through three different kickers this season since Stephen Gostkowski went on injured reserve Week 4.
A strong running game and clutch kicking have always helped play an understated role to Tom Brady’s greatness in the franchise’s run to six Super Bowl titles.
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“They are absolutely more vulnerable at this point,” said former All-Pro running back Brian Westbrook, who played nine seasons for the Eagles and 49ers. “They are in a place where they haven’t been almost ever (under Brady and Bill Belichick). They are a different team now.”
“The offensive line has struggled during the season. They don’t have the natural mismatch of Gronk. (Julian) Edelman is banged up and Brady is 42 years old. Their defense was great the first seven games but go back to (who) you’re actually playing. They weren’t playing anybody. Then they started playing Kansas City, Houston and Baltimore — better teams. They got a dose of reality.”
The Pats are +1200 to win in Super Bowl betting on SugarHouse and DraftKings, sixth of out of 12 postseason teams.
“They certainly aren’t what people thought they were when they were 8-0,” Reese added. “They are a team that, more than anything, teams just don’t have the same fear for them anymore.
“It happens to the best of us. They ruled the league for two decades. It wouldn’t surprise me if they won this weekend (against the Titans) nor would it surprise me if they lost this weekend. I would be surprised if they represented the AFC in the Super Bowl.”
Keys To Postseason Wins
It’s no surprise that the Seahawks and Ravens, two teams with standout rushing attacks (Seattle was fourth in rushing yards per game, Baltimore first) and head coaches who strongly value special teams play, are viewed as Super Bowl contenders. Although the Seahawks lost their top three running backs over the last few weeks of the regular season, they did sign former star running back Marshawn Lynch to boost their playoff run.
“They understand the importance of that phase of the game,” said Reese, who was a Pro Bowler on special teams with the Eagles, whose special teams were then coached by John Harbaugh, the current Ravens head coach.
“Most coaches do, but some give lip service when it comes to preparation during the week. For John Harbaugh, we had 45-minute, 50-minute special teams practices before we had regular practices. I’m pretty sure that hasn’t changed.”