America’s most popular sports league had a match-up of bitter division rivals Sunday — both playoff-bound teams — with first place in the conference on the line for one of them.
This should have been a match made in TV heaven. The Eagles and Giants meeting for the 180th time. Two old-school franchises, star players, star power. Big cities tied into their team’s successes and failures.
It was a match-up of a potential MVP quarterback against, well, a guy starting his *first* NFL game.
The Eagles needed to win to claim the NFC bye. Their resistance was the Giants’ back-ups. San Francisco and Dallas each had a chance to earn the bye but had no say in what the Giants did.
Davis Webb started at quarterback for the Giants. In a shaky performance, Webb could have had four or five passes intercepted by butterfingers Eagles defenders.
Webb wasn’t the only unknown quarterback to start this weekend. Check out this list of NFL starters. Know any of them?
- Nathan Peterman, Bears
- Sam Howell, Commanders
- Skylar Thompson, Dolphins
- Jarrett Stidham, Raiders
- Joshua Dobbs, Titans
- David Blough, Cardinals
- Anthony Brown, Ravens
One-quarter of NFL teams started no-names in their glamour position. Is this any way to run a league?
Thompson and Dobbs needed wins to get their teams in the playoffs; Thompson got it with Miami winning in a boring, 11-6 decision over the Jets.
Compare that game with what happened in Buffalo, where less than a week after Damar Hamlin nearly lost his life on the field, a roaring crowd got the thrill of the season — a 96-yard touchdown return on the opening kickoff by Nyheim Hines. Then, astonishingly, a second kickoff return touchdown by Hines.
Such is the duality of the NFL.
QUIRKY SIDE OF NFL
Week 18 consistently is a quirky downside of the NFL. When playoffs berths are locked in, teams usually rest starters and the product resembles a preseason game, when the real starters can show up in sweatsuits and Jordans.
What could be the season’s best weekend of games — with playoff berths and seeding on the line — turns into glorified scrimmages. All 16 games of Week 18 were division match-ups, by definition the fiercest games on a team’s schedule.
Of the weekend’s 16 games, only four had no bearing on the playoffs. Twelve games meant something, which is one of the secret powers of the NFL — incentive in nearly every game on the schedule.
In Denver, the playoff-locked Chargers unapologetically played starters. Wide receiver Mike Williams injured his back and was carted off the field. His playoff availability against the Jaguars is unknown.
- Chargers coach Brandon Staley felt some heat but said: “They’re not easy decisions and hindsight is perfect for everybody on the outside, but these games are not easy to manage. They’re not, because you don’t have that many players and we did it to the best of our ability.”
The game meant nothing to the Chargers’ playoff situation. Nothing.
WHAT ABOUT HURTS?
The Eagles were in a different situation Sunday. They had to play their starters in the season’s biggest game. The Giants had nothing to play for, so we saw quarterback Daniel Jones, running back Saquon Barkley and many of the starters enjoying the view from the sideline.
We don’t know how close we came to not seeing Jalen Hurts on Sunday. He sat out the previous two games with a SC sprain in his throwing shoulder. Gardner Minshew replaced Hurts and went 0-2.
The news that Hurts would play came out Friday. The Eagles’ risk-reward was simple: Is Hurts healthy enough? Could they beat the Giants without him?
Hurts played and the Eagles defeated the Giants, 22-16. So, the Eagles have two weeks off before their divisional playoff game against either the Cowboys, Giants, Bucs or Seahawks.
Eagles coach Nick Sirianni admitted that Hurts played in pain. With Hurts, the Eagles’ franchise quarterback, the concern was immediate and long-term. Could he further hurt himself, perhaps jeopardizing his availability for the playoffs? Was there a greater risk that we didn’t know? (And still don’t know.)
Hurts seemed to get through the game without further injury.
- “It’s been a great ride this year but the job isn’t finished,” Hurts said. “You keep on going.
- “Now, it’s 0-0 and we have a new goal in front of us …
- “I felt like coming into this game that I’ve really been pushing myself beyond measures to try to be available.”
THE BEST PRODUCT
NFL teams and fans want to get the best of the best every week. It’s healthy for the sport, if not necessarily the players.
That we see back-ups is either by circumstance or by design. It’s justifiable that teams don’t want to risk injuries.
Pro football players play in pain. They always have. By the third week or so, all of the players are hurting in some ways. It’s the nature of the sport.
Teams have been in camp since July. They’ve played 17 games. What they really want is still ahead of them — the Super Bowl. Team goals go beyond that week’s TV ratings.