It’s rare in the NFL the first two picks in the draft develop into Pro Bowl candidates within their first two seasons. It’s even rarer they both play the same position. But that’s what has NFL fans drooling for Sunday, a matchup between quarterbacks Jared Goff and Carson Wentz, who have both developed into quality players leading their respective programs into playoff contention.
For Wentz and the Eagles, the stakes involve an NFC East title. They earn it with a victory or a loss by the Cowboys, wiping out the stench of Sunday night’s loss in Seattle. A loss leaves them 10-3, still in position for the playoffs but in jeopardy of losing the top seed to a rapidly surging Minnesota team.
The Rams, meanwhile, know the Seahawks loom as their opponent for Week 15. That game will likely be for the NFC West title no matter what. But a loss Sunday could put the playoffs in jeopardy, too, considering the quality of the NFC field. The Rams' comeback year will be defined by whether Goff and running back Todd Gurley can conquer the Eagles’ third-ranked defense.
Philadelphia at Los Angeles
Kickoff: Saturday, Dec. 10 at 4:25 p.m. ET
TV Channel: FOX
Spread: Los Angeles -1.0
Three Things to Watch
1. Goff vs. Wentz
Both quarterbacks affect their team in different ways. Carson Wentz, mentioned with Tom Brady and Russell Wilson as a MVP candidate, has become the centerpiece of the Eagles' offense. His 29 touchdown passes lead the league, his 102.0 QB rating ranks sixth, and he’s thrown just six interceptions.
Wentz has a number of pieces of the puzzle to keep happy, from tight end Zach Ertz to recently traded-for running back Jay Ajayi. Somehow, they balance it all with a team that has three different players with seven touchdown catches — Ertz, Nelson Agholor and Alshon Jeffery.
The Eagles' QB finds a way for all to be involved in the offense and he can run. His 283 rushing yards are sixth among quarterbacks and provides an added dimension Goff (55 yards) cannot match.
But Goff, the rapidly rising star on the Rams, does not get enough credit. Todd Gurley’s rushing success hides the fact he’s been able to create monster plays by throwing deep. Goff’s 8.1 yards per attempt ranks third in the league as he’s utilized one-on-one matchups with speedy receivers Sammy Watkins, Robert Woods and Cooper Kuppto break open games. It’s why Goff has the edge over Wentz on total passing yards (3,184 to 3,005).
Goff’s made an impact with weapons that, on the whole, are less talented than the Eagles' multi-faceted offense. And he’s been able to minimize mistakes. Sacked just 20 times, tied for 20th among NFL starting QBs and he’s lost a fumble only once.
Compare that to Wentz, who’s fumbled nine times (tied for fifth in the NFL) and has a leakier offensive line with Jason Peters out. So in many ways, while it’s Wentz who’s gotten all the pub, these two enter Sunday evenly matched.
“As a secondary, you’ve got a guy like Carson who can go out there and hit every throw,” Eagles cornerback Jalen Mills told SI. “No matter what hash he’s on; no matter what route it is. You watch [Goff] on film, you see him doing the same type of things. You see him hitting the deep ball, you see him hitting the short route, you see him hitting the intermediate route.”
Sunday’s a chance to see which one can outdo the other one-on-one.
2. Can Gurley set the pace?
While Gurley (right) continues to have a monstrous season, third in the NFL with 939 rushing yards, he’s cooled off a bit on the ground in recent weeks. Gurley’s last 100-yard rushing game? That came Oct. 22 against the Cardinals. Now, he’ll face the league’s No. 1 defense, which is allowing just 68.1 yards per contest.
Gurley also may have motivated the Eagles a bit with a comment about the NFL’s relaxed touchdown rules. Late last week, he was asked about why the Rams have more subdued celebrations, a big difference from how the Eagles handle each score. His response?
“We get in there so much, we don’t have to do it every time,” he told the Ventura County Star. “I don’t have all day to do a whole cha-cha slide, electric slide.”
That appeared by many to be a veiled jab at the Eagles. Expect the Eagles to be fired up to shut down the Rams’ top weapon, putting the pressure squarely on Goff to deliver.
3. Injury concerns
Each team has plenty of weapons but the tipping point could come based on two Questionables on the injury report. Woods, a diamond in the rough for the Rams this year, is battling a shoulder injury. The offense has still hummed along in Woods’ absence, scoring an average of 29 points the last two weeks, but if he doesn't play that's one less target the Eagles’ secondary has to worry about.
The same goes for Ertz of the Eagles, who remained in the concussion protocol as of Saturday morning. He’s likely to be a game-time decision. Without him, his team still put up 51 points against the Broncos a month ago.
But it was clear against a quality team like the Seahawks that the Eagles’ offense was out of sync with Ertz not on the field. After his injury, Wentz could not spark the offense while the Seahawks pulled away in the second half.
It’s unlikely both players will suit up on Sunday. If one does and the other does not, adjust your outcomes accordingly in this game that could go either way.
Expect one of the most competitive games from two of the NFL's most impressive teams thus far. Both teams have something to prove; Jared Goff and Carson Wentz have been electrifying for their respective fan bases.
In the end, special teams could actually make the difference. Remember how Jake Elliott kicked a 61-yarder for the Eagles to win against the Giants in Week 3? Don’t sleep on him now that the kicker is healthy from a concussion. And Greg Zuerlein is even better, making 36 of 38 field goals while leading the NFL with 143 points scored.
I have Elliott pulling out the win in a last-second thriller. But this one could honestly go either way.
Prediction: Eagles 27, Rams 24
— Written by Tom Bowles, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @NASCARBowles.