Can the Eagles clinch the NFC's top seed and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs?
The Philadelphia Eagles are headed to the playoffs, that much we know. One more win on Christmas night against the Oakland Raiders and the Eagles will have clinched the NFC’s No. 1 seed, earning home-field advantage throughout the postseason.
What an easy scenario, right? Win and you’re in?
Compare that to the Christmas miracle the Raiders are seeking. The only way in which the Silver and Black make the playoffs is to win out and get to 8-8. To do so, they’ll need to beat these Eagles on the road, handing the NFL’s lone remaining undefeated home team their first loss at Lincoln Financial Field.
THEN, the Raiders would need to beat the Chargers on the road in their season finale, a team that’s gone 7-3 in their last 10 games. That would get them to a .500 record, putting the Raiders in position to sneak into the playoffs if ALL of these other scenarios play out...
- The Bills go 0-2, losing to the Patriots and the Dolphins.
- The Ravens win at least one game, against the Colts or Bengals.
- The Titans go 0-2, losing to the Rams and Jaguars.
- The Dolphins go 2-0, beating the Chiefs and the Bills.
It sounds like Oakland would be better off trying its luck in one of the casinos in its soon-to-be home. But if you’re a Raiders fan, you got to believe, right? If this team doesn’t, putting up the white flag early against the Eagles could Christmas night into a slaughter.
Oakland vs. Philadelphia
Kickoff: Monday, Dec. 25 at 8:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Eagles -9
Three Things to Watch
1. Can Nick Foles back up last Sunday’s performance?
For all those worrying about life after Carson Wentz, Foles had them breathing easy against the Giants. Foles threw for 237 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions, looking completely in control against a leaky defense.
Most importantly, Foles was sacked just once, the offensive line holding up for a guy who’s far less mobile than Wentz.
"I thought he played really well," head coach Doug Pederson said earlier this week. "I'm sure there's some things he'd like to do over obviously, each game is going to be that way, but I thought he handled himself extremely well."
Foles also spread the ball around; eight different Eagles caught at least one pass. That’s a good sign for the “team” mentality on offense that Pederson is trying to preach with Wentz out. No single player stood out: there was a touchdown pass apiece to Alshon Jeffery, Zach Ertz and Nelson Agholor.
If Foles can keep those good vibes going he’ll feast upon an Oakland defense that is a middling 23rd in the NFL against the pass. The Raiders also are tied for the fewest interceptions in the league (four), which bodes well for a backup still adjusting to the starting role.
2. Can David Carr clean up his act?
For Carr (above, right), Sunday night’s loss against the Cowboys was devastating. He was running toward the goal line with 31 seconds left, in position to put the Raiders in front when he fumbled the ball. Instead of a go-ahead score, the loss dropped the Raiders to 6-8 as their playoff hopes may have floated away the moment that football floated out of the end zone.
“I will try and do too much,” Carr told NBC Sports after the game. “I think that’s my biggest weakness. I try and do too much, think too much, try and make the perfect situation a little bit more perfect.”
It feels like Carr is throwing too much on his shoulders with Oakland's other offensive weapons, namely running back Marshawn Lynch and wide receiver Amari Cooper, flat-out underachieving. But Carr needs to work within the system he has, the players available and also be aware of in-game scenarios.
Had Carr run out of bounds at the 1-yard line, not taking that extra step to stretch the football the Raiders would have had plenty of time to score. There was 30 seconds left, a yard or two to go and a game-tying field goal was easily within reach. It’s the type of situation Lynch was signed for.
Instead, that extra bit of risk cost last year’s star quarterback, who this season has looked decidedly average in an Oakland uniform. It’s a year of regression after the Raiders were looked at as a sneaky Super Bowl dark horse entering the 2017 season.
Now, Carr is facing a stiff Eagles defense responsible for 25 turnovers on the year. He needs a bounce-back, zero-mistake game in order to keep his team in it on the road.
3. Will the Eagles' defense turn it up a notch?
With Wentz out, the pressure ramps up on an Eagles defense ranked sixth in the NFL (and first against the run). It’s also held opponents to just 19.9 points per game all season (eighth).
But against the 2-11 Giants last week, this unit surprisingly fell apart. They allowed a season-high 504 yards to a team that sits 30th in the NFL in scoring. Despite allowing just 75 rushing yards a porous secondary was letting journeyman Tavarres King waltz up and down the field on them. Despite safety Malcolm Jenkins getting named to the Pro Bowl the passing defense has looked average at best since a rough performance against Seattle three weeks ago.
Now, a trip home allows the Eagles to regroup. Foles and the offense saved this group against the lowly Giants; they won’t be so lucky against the Raiders or, even worse, a quality NFC playoff opponent with a list of quarterbacks that include Drew Brees, Russell Wilson, Cam Newton or Matt Ryan. The last two games need to be an opportunity for this part of the defense to reinvent itself.
The Eagles have yet to lose at home this season. The Raiders simply look lost. Put those pieces of the puzzle together and it looks like a Christmas rout.
Prediction: Eagles 31, Raiders 7
— Written by Tom Bowles, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @NASCARBowles.