Happy New Year, Eagles fans. The Eagles lost a forgettable season finale to the Dallas Cowboys in what looked at times like a preseason game considering many of the Eagles starters were sidelined before halftime. The playoff schedule is set, and on Saturday, Jan. 13 at 4:35 p.m. the top-seeded Eagles will host the lowest-seeded NFC team to advance out of this week’s wild-card round. The opponent will be the Falcons if they beat the Rams on Saturday; or if the Rams win, it will be the winner of Sunday’s Saints-Panthers game.
This is a Monday edition of the Early Birds newsletter. It’s free for anyone to sign up here to receive in your inbox every weekday. I want to know what you think, what we should add, and what you want to read, so send me feedback by email or on Twitter @ZBerm. Thank you for reading.
— Zach Berman
Nick Foles is better than this, and other thoughts on the playoffs
- Nick Foles‘ performance on Sunday didn’t inspire confidence. If Torrey Smith made the catch on his third-down drop on the opening drive, Foles’ game looks different this morning. But that’s football, and it’s hard to rationalize how he played on the next three drives — especially with the interception. So his approval rating in Philadelphia is not high right now, although I’m not as down on Foles as others in this city might be. I’ve always thought Foles was a high-variance player — capable of both the outstanding and the dreadful. His worst game in 2013 came before his seven-touchdown performance. He’s never been the most consistent player, which is why he’s no longer a starter. The problem is you don’t know which Foles will show up — will it be the one from the Giants game or the one from the Raiders game? It’s not expected to be as bitterly cold in two weeks and the Eagles will have time to work things out. That will be in his favor. He’s a better quarterback than what you’ve seen the past two weeks and he’s capable of winning them a game. But can he win them two games against good teams to get them to the Super Bowl? It’s all about matchups…
- … and speaking of matchups, if the Falcons upset the Rams on Saturday, the defending NFC champions will come to Philadelphia. The Falcons have talent, but they’re not nearly as prolific as last season. They haven’t topped 24 points in any of the past five games. Jim Schwartz‘s defense got to Matt Ryan last season, sacking him twice and hitting him six times. It’s a different season, of course, and the Falcons have experience, but don’t rule out the Falcons being the Round 2 opponent. (The Rams-Falcons point spread is the lowest of the four wild-card round games.) More likely, the Eagles play the winner of the Panthers-Saints game. If the Rams win on Saturday, Eagles fans should root for Carolina because the Saints would be the toughest matchup of the three potential opponents. The Eagles already beat Carolina, albeit with Carson Wentz. The Panthers have won seven of their past nine games, although they have a plus-36 point differential — the worst of any of the NFC playoff teams. The Saints have a plus-122 point differential. There’s a reason the Panthers and Falcons are the lower seeds and the underdogs in both their games, and it’s hard for road underdogs to win in January. Whoever the Eagles play, it sounds like they’ll stick to an old formula…
- … which came straight from Doug Pederson‘s mouth after the game: “You get into the postseason and have to play great defense and be able to run the football. That’s been our formula pretty much all season long. We have to get back to that, and I’ve got a lot of confidence moving forward.” The Eagles aren’t going to try to win shootouts in the postseason. They know they need to commit to the running game, with Jay Ajayi likely taking on a big role in two weeks. And they’ll rely on a defense that allowed only 16 points in the final two regular-season games. It’s possible for the defense to have an ugly game — remember against the Giants? — but I heard others mention the defense-and-running game formula in the locker room after the game. It’s important that they’re at home, where they’re allowing only 13.4 points per game. And a steady running game will help the Eagles with the play-action, which Foles does well.
What you need to know about the Eagles
- The Eagles lost, 6-0, in a game without playoff implications. But why should you be confident in this team for the playoffs?
- Nick Foles is still confident, Bob Ford writes. Mike Sielski looks at the Nate Sudfeld hype.
- The Giants are expected to interview Jim Schwartz this week, and Jeff McLane looks at the coaching future of the Eagles’ defensive coordinator.
- Sidney Jones made his debut. Les Bowen tells you all about it.
- The Eagles will need to rely on their defense, Paul Domowitch writes.
- The Eagles need it to be cold, Marcus Hayes writes, and he uses hand size as a reason.
- Donnie Jones forgot to take his pants off — that, and more, in these notes.
- Who’s up and who’s down? McLane tells you. Domo gave out his grades.
- The playoff schedule is set. EJ Smith has the details.
- Hayes offered five quick post-game observations.
- Check out all the photos from the game.
3 Questions With | Offensive lineman Isaac Seumalo
Zach Berman: How was it to finally play center and how was it different for you?
Isaac Seumalo: “It was fun, man. Just a different set of challenges and different position, but it was fun. …You just have to think a little more pre-snap and be real vocal out there so everybody hears. That’s the biggest thing.”
Zach Berman: In getting the snaps you did, does it give you any more confidence going forward?
Isaac Seumalo: “Oh yeah, man. Obviously, I wish we would have won. But it was great to be out there playing and flying around. But experience always helps.”
Zach Berman: What’s the biggest difference between you now and the beginning of the season?
Isaac Seumalo: “Man, I’m having a lot more fun. Even though we lost and that [stinks], the room we got and the guys we got and the season we’ve had, football is just so much more fun now. We’re going to carry it into the postseason, for sure.”
Elsewhere in the NFL
- The Cowboys’ disappointing season came to an end in Philadelphia. [Dallas Morning News]
- Will the Giants build around Eli Manning in 2018?. [New York Daily News]
- Washington couldn’t even reach .500, losing to the lowly Giants. [Washington Post]
- Former Eagles assistant Sean McDermott led the Bills to the playoffs to end a 17-year drought. [Buffalo News]
- The coaching changes are adding up around the league. [theMMQB.com]
From the mailbag
How short will Fole’s leash be on the 13th? #sudfeld
— cj hood (@therealcjhood) January 1, 2018
Long. I’d be shocked if they benched Nick Foles in the playoffs for a player (Nate Sudfeld) who started the season on the practice squad and has played only three quarters in his NFL career. Foles has a track record. He’s played in big games. He’s coming off two poor showings, but it would be foolish to have a quick hook for Foles in a home playoff game when the other option is a player with no experience. I’m not defending the way Foles played the past two weeks. But he’s a better option than Sudfeld. It’s that simple.
If Foles does not get the job done in 2 weeks, any chance the Eagles move on from him as the back up QB and go with Sudfeld?
— Matthew Christy (@Matthew672682) January 1, 2018
You mean for next season? If Foles struggles in the playoffs, it’s not out of the question that the Eagles consider a change at No. 2 quarterback for next season. I’m not sure if they’d go to Sudfeld or someone more established. They like Foles and made a significant investment in him. My guess is they’d stick with Foles regardless. Carson Wentz‘s injury doesn’t guarantee he’s ready for Week 1, so the Eagles need a reliable backup quarterback. If Foles ends the season with three bad games, though, that could leave a bad taste.
Do you think the Eagles come out with a hurry up offense to confuse opposing D and get Foles in rhythm? The Giants did it to us twice & compensated for their bad O-line
— SteveChernoski (@nsjersey) January 1, 2018
I think the Eagles should use more tempo to help Foles — he’s comfortable with it and it’s a way of catching defenses in bad personnel. But the Eagles must make sure they can rush from tempo and set the right protections. The Eagles know they need to run the ball in the postseason. There’s an argument to be made that the Eagles should actually slow the game down and try to control the clock. So my guess is they mix in tempo in certain situations. But I agree they need to get Foles into a rhythm early in the game.