Week 17: Before the season I wrote the following about the Eagles’ chances in 2012:
“I see a 9-7 record at best. That’s better than 8-8 – the low bar Jeffrey Lurie set for Andy Reid– but it’s not a “substantial improvement.” I’ve felt all along that Reid needs to get to the playoffs and win at least one game, perhaps two, to be back in 2013. I know there are a lot of skeptics that think Lurie doesn’t have the stones to cut the cord. A 9-7 mark and missing the playoffs will make it easy.”
I was off on the record, but sensed that the Eagles weren’t a very good team. If I felt then that Lurie would fire Reid with a 9-7 finish out of the playoffs then I certainly believe now that he will do what needs to be done. And yet, I don’t know what’s going on in Lurie’s head. He keeps his thoughts to himself and has probably only told one (Howie Roseman) or two (Don Smolenski) people what he plans to do.
Lurie is a man that has a hard time making very difficult decisions. I’ve heard this about him from multiple sources. It’s one reason why he didn’t pull the plug on Reid when he had a few opportunities before. But he has been frustrated by this season and could see his team end 4-12, which would be the Eagles’ worst record since 1998 (3-13), the year before Reid was hired.
Some thought before the season that Sunday’s game against the New York Giants would decide the NFC East crown. Instead, it will decide very little. The Giants still have an outside shot at clinching a wild card berth in the playoffs, but they need to win and have the Cowboys, Vikings and Bears also lose to get in.
The 1 p.m. start will ensure that the Giants give full effort. The Eagles haven’t given up on their coach over the last two months, but that hasn’t stopped them from playing some rotten football. There have been some strong individual performances from defensive end Brandon Graham, running back Bryce Brown and quarterback Nick Foles, but the Eagles just haven’t been able to avoid turnovers and miscues.
The team could get a jolt from the return of Michael Vick. He hasn’t played since Week 10 and will likely be rusty, but he did have his best game of the season back in September when the Eagles squeaked by the Giants, 19-17. The Eagles moved to 3-1 with the victory. They’re 1-10 since.
Vick, like Foles, who fractured his hand last week, will be playing without a full deck. The offensive line is still struggling even though the current five have been playing together for seven games now. The Eagles got running back LeSean McCoy and tight end Brent Celek back last week, but wide receiver DeSean Jackson is done for the season.
McCoy gained only 45 yards on 13 carries last week, but he caught nine passes for 77 yards against the Redskins and didn’t look that he missed a beat. He should aid the Eagles’ chances up at the Meadowlands where they have won five straight. The Giants are allowing nearly 400 yards on defense, although they’ve forced 34 turnovers – not a good sign for an Eagles team that gives the ball away like it’s a hot potato.
On the other side of the ball, the Eagles are likely to be without rookies Fletcher Cox and Mychal Kendricks. Both suffered concussions on Sunday. The Eagles have been healthy on defense for most of the season, but not having their top defensive tackle and a three-down linebacker will hurt.
Eli Manning and the Giants offense were ineffective in losses to the Falcons and Ravens over the last two weeks. The offensive line has allowed only 19 sacks all season, but it has been inconsistent of late. Manning hasn’t had much time in the pocket, and there haven’t been many holes for running backs Ahmad Bradshaw and David Wilson.
I still don’t think the Eagles’ linebackers and defensive backs will be able to keep the Giants’ combination of tight end Martellus Bennett and wide receivers Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks (questionable with a knee injury) and Domenik Hixon in check for the entire game.
Prediction: Giants 28, Eagles 27.
What goes right: Vick has a very good game and makes some fans forget about Foles – at least for one day.
What goes wrong: Brown gets a few more carries than last week, but fumbles again.
Week 17: Yes, the Eagles will play with added emotion because of the circumstances of the coaching staff. Yes, Vick’s addition will provide an intriguing variable in this game. And it’s also true that the Giants are reeling. But when a team is 4-11 entering Week 17, it’s a sign that they’re not a good football team. The Eagles are not a good football team, a reality that has revealed itself throughout the season.
The Eagles will be able to score on Sunday. The Giants surrendered at least 27 points during the past three games. Vick is a proud person, and he’ll play better Sunday than he did before his concussion. McCoy and Jeremy Maclin will also have strong games. But the Eagles are bound to turn over the ball, and that will be what cripples them … again.
It’s hard to get a read on the Giants’ offense. Frankly, their struggles in recent weeks validate how good Nicks is. Nicks isn’t healthy, and that’s stunted his rhythm with Manning. Without Nicks’ steadiness, the Giants’ passing game has declined. One player who can bother the Eagles is Bennett. The Giants need a better performance from its running game, and look for rookie Wilson to thrive on Sunday. Losing Cox hurts the Eagles, and they might need to count on Antonio Dixon to get snaps and help against the run.
The one factor difficult to gauge is the intangible that both teams are playing for on Sunday. The Giants need help to make the postseason, but it’s not entirely unrealistic. They’re still playing for the playoffs, so it’s clear they’ll be motivated. The Eagles are playing for a coach that still has their loyalties, and Vick is playing for his future. Unfortunately for the Eagles, that might not be enough in the final game Reid will likely coach in an Eagles hat and Vick will likely play in an Eagles uniform.
Prediction: Giants 31, Eagles 27.
What goes right: Maclin gets his third 100-yard receiving game in four weeks -- but not enough to finish with 1,000 yards. Vick plays well enough for a coach around the league to think a revival is possible.
What goes wrong: The Eagles run defense struggles without Cox and Kendricks. Reid clinches the most losses in his Eagles career.