NFC East division rivals square off for second time this season
They didn't play.
The Eagles' bye week coincided with losses by the Washington Football Team and Dallas. A New York Giants win over Washington, while a nice momentum boost, still left them 2-7 and tied for the worst record in the entire NFC.
It means the Eagles, despite a 3-4-1 record, find themselves with 1.5 games of breathing room. A win against the Giants would boost them to .500, clinch the tiebreaker over their division rival and provide some cushion considering a brutal schedule ahead. A road game against the Browns follows this one before they play the NFC's current top three seeds in succession: the Seahawks, Packers and Saints.
That means for the Giants there's still hope, even at 2-7! A victory here puts the division back in play although their remaining schedule is just as brutal: they have only one opponent left (the Bengals) with a losing record. But the New York offense seems to be taking shape at the right time, adjusting to the loss of running back Saquon Barkley while welcoming the development of second-year quarterback Daniel Jones.
Can Jones ride the momentum of last week's win to an upset? Or will Carson Wentz correct his shaky first half start and lift the Eagles up in MetLife Stadium.
Philadelphia at New York
Kickoff: Sunday, Nov. 15 at 1 p.m. ET
Spread: Eagles -3.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Can the Giants' running game keep building momentum?
The last Eagles-Giants matchup, a 22-21 Eagles win just a few weeks ago in Week 7 (Oct. 22), is etched in the history books forever by Daniel Jones tripping over his own two feet in the open field.
It's easy to forget that run was still 80 yards; in fact, the Giants racked up a season-high 160 rushing yards against the Eagles. Since then, they've totaled 101 yards on the ground against Tampa Bay, nearly pulling the upset before posting a season-high 166 against Washington.
Through it all, Barkley replacement Wayne Gallman Jr. has been steadily improving. Splitting carries with Alfred Morris last weekend, he ran 14 times for 68 yards and scored a touchdown for a third straight game. The Giants' rushing offense is now averaging a respectable 4.5 yards per carry on the season, good enough for 10th in the NFL. Who needs Barkley at that torn ACL?
OK, maybe that's a little extreme. But Gallman can certainly get the job done.
"Wayne, I tell you, he's an explosive guy," Eagles head coach Doug Pederson said Wednesday. "He's also good out of the backfield. It's a good mix of backs that they're using."
That group also includes Dion Lewis, expected to snag a few carries with Devonta Freeman likely out with an ankle injury. Add in an offensive line gelling with the addition of 2020 first-round pick Andrew Thomas and this unit is starting to come together.
So can the Eagles' defense step up to the challenge? They've allowed at least 116 rushing yards in five straight games. A unit that ranked third against the run last season has fallen to 24th halfway through 2020. Pro Bowl linebacker Fletcher Cox and defensive end Brandon Graham keep finding their way to the quarterback; on Sunday, they'll need to rally the Eagles' front seven and keep those Giants backs behind the line of scrimmage.
2. Daniel Jones vs. Carson Wentz
Jones is beginning to show signs of growth in his second season. He played a turnover-free game against Washington, throwing for 212 yards and a touchdown as the Giants racked up 20 first-half points. It's one of just two games this year he's been able to rise above a 90.0 quarterback rating, posting a season-high 94.2.
That other game, in case you're wondering, came against the Eagles three weeks ago. Jones played well, 80-yard stumble aside, until a late-game sack and fumble cost the Giants any hope of a comeback. His 28 sacks are tied for second-worst in the NFL and nine interceptions are third-worst. Jones needs to play a clean game against an Eagles team that's racked up seven sacks in two career matchups while picking him off twice.
At least the man Jones is playing against, Wentz, is actually worse than Jones in almost all those categories. It's almost unfathomable a 2017 candidate for NFL MVP has fallen to last in the NFL in sacks (32) and interceptions (12) while slumping to 32nd in quarterback rating (73.2). We're now halfway through the season; what started out as a slump has evolved into a sustained period of inferior play.
Wentz has been working with a patchwork offensive line and just a handful of offensive weapons. Still, the great quarterbacks playing through bad stretches know how to keep from turning the ball over.
Check out what an opposing coordinator had to say about Wentz anonymously this week.
"[Wentz] needs to hit rock bottom because his decision-making is just atrocious," this coordinator told The Athletic. "He doesn't know when to say when. Everything is trying to extend the play like it's the last play of the game every play. They have all these coaches, all these analytics guys, but there isn't anybody holding him accountable."
Ouch. But if there's any team Wentz can heal up against, it's the Giants. He hasn't lost against them since November 2016 and passed for a season-high 359 yards in the victory last month. Now, coming off a bye week, a plethora of offensive linemen, receivers and running backs will be activated for Sunday's game. On paper, it should be a breakout moment for Wentz in a topsy-turvy 2020.
3. How many Eagles will be healthy?
The M*A*S*H unit that has been Philadephia this season got a chance to heal up during the bye week as a number of offensive starters are set to return for Sunday's matchup. Star running back Miles Sanders (knee) practiced in full Thursday and is set to play. The week before the Giants matchup in October, he ran nine times for 118 yards, his best game of 2020 against the Ravens defense before injuring his knee. Just that activation alone could give the Eagles 7-10 more points on the board.
A smaller, welcomed addition will be wide receiver Alshon Jeffery (Lisfranc injury). He'll be active for the first time since Dec. 9 and slot into a group that includes developing Greg Ward, red-hot Travis Fulgham, and rookie Jalen Reagor, who also spent several weeks on injured reserve because of a thumb injury.
On the offensive line, Pro Bowler Jason Peters looks set to return. Tackle Lane Johnson, still nursing an ankle injury, is 50/50 to start. Guard Nate Herbig (finger) is more likely to be on the field along with rookie tackle Jack Driscoll (ankle).
Putting the pieces of the puzzle back together for this line should substantially improve the Eagles' offense. Defensively, cornerback Cre'Von Leblanc (quad) is expected to return along with defensive tackle Malik Jackson. Their presence is crucial for a team suffering through a mediocre minus-seven turnover margin.
The Eagles barely survived in a home game against the Giants three weeks ago. Since then, they've gotten healthy-ish and their position in this division has vastly improved. It's the type of must-win game that, on paper, skews heavily the Eagles' way.
My thought is the Eagles will come out of the box flying, threatening to put this game away in the first half. There's too much talent here to have a 3-4-1 record at halfway and it's clear how important this game is to their playoff chances. Expect them to take care of business.
Prediction: Eagles 31, Giants 20
— Written by Tom Bowles, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @NASCARBowles.