The strangeness of 2020 seems to have carried over into the New Year. This Sunday, January 3, the Philadelphia Eagles will host the Washington Football Team, and the winner will dictate which team takes home the NFC East championship.
For the first time in four years, the Eagles are not playoff contenders. If they pull off a victory in Week 17, the champion will either be the New York Giants or, do I dare say, the Dallas Cowboys. However, if the Eagles lose, that game won’t matter, and Washington will celebrate all their glory in the Linc.
But, if I learned anything about the Eagles this year, it’s that nothing has gone according to plan, and this week will be nothing less.
WASHINGTON’S QUARTERBACK SWITCH-UP
The fact that Washington could walk away with the NFC East Championship on Sunday is wild. Earlier in the season, I predicted their record to be 5-11, and while not far off [currently 6-9], Washington could do the unexpected.
Washington had a new head coach with Super Bowl experience, a second-year quarterback still learning his lay of the land, and a skilled defense.
Their second-year quarterback, Dwayne Haskins, started the first four games of the season, later to be benched after a 30-10 loss to Baltimore. He became third-string behind Kyle Allen and Alex Smith, with Smith entering the game in Week 5 when Allen endured an arm injury.
Smith entered again in Week 9 when Allen left for a dislocated ankle and started as Washington’s quarterback until Week 14 until he suffered a calf strain. Enter, Haskins.
Haskins played the following two weeks, was benched again for Taylor Heinicke [signed to Washington’s practice squad one month prior], and lost both games for Washington. He was released from the team earlier this week for poor performance and violating two Covid-19 protocols throughout the season.
Smith is now back to play Philadelphia. In the six games he has played this season, Washington has lost half of them, but Smith started in four of them, taking only one loss.
A DOMINATING DEFENSE
With a struggling offense, Washington’s defense has become the heart of their team. They rank fifth in the league with 44 sacks. Nine of them alone were against Philadelphia earlier this season.
Rookie Chase Young has become unstoppable with 6.5 sacks and 42 total tackles. Young and the defensive line have become the third-best pass defense in the league, averaging 198 passing yards allowed per game. This could cause much trouble for Philadelphia’s run game.
A DEPLETED FLOCK OF BIRDS
With the Eagles already out of the playoffs, the team will enter Sunday’s game with less familiar players as they plan to sit a handful of starters.
As the season comes to a close, the Eagles have an important offseason ahead of them; therefore, they must avoid further injury. This includes the likely absence of running back Miles Sanders, wide receiver DeSean Jackson (wow, shocking!), tight end Dallas Goedert, left tackle Jordan Mailata, defensive end Derek Barnett, and defensive tackle Fletcher Cox.
Relying on younger back-ups at this point can work either one of two ways — Philadelphia fans will watch a bunch of inexperienced players run erratically around the field, or they may see eager men trying to plant their feet into a starting role next season.
PHILLY TEAM SPIRIT
When all else fails for Philadelphia, team spirit takes precedent — take the underdog masks, for instance, just before Super Bowl LII. Philadelphia does not like to lose, period. Well, the reality of it is, we already lost, but the Eagles do not need to lose this week.
Sadly, many fans would rather the Birds fail, so they obtain a higher draft pick, but pride means much more than that to this team.
Earlier this week, defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz announced the team’s “no-hat rule.” He said, “We can’t let opponents put division win hats on at the Linc. There’s a lot of pride in that, and all our focus has to be [on] accomplishing that this week”.
This game may also mean the end for some Eagles players. Uncertainty for another season with Philadelphia lies with Corey Clement, Vinny Curry, Zach Ertz, and Alshon Jeffery, to name a few. There have also been rumors that Jason Kelce may announce his retirement.
If it can be avoided, no player will want to say they ended their Philadelphia career as the worst team in the worst division… losing their very last game.
The Eagles will know their draft pick standing prior to kick-off, and the winner of the Dallas-Giants game will be awaiting their fate.
Despite all odds, Philadelphia will win Sunday’s game against Washington. They play primetime.