The Philadelphia Eagles are one win and some help away from clinching a playoff spot entering their matchup with the Washington Football Team. These two NFC East rivals played just two weeks ago on a Tuesday night with Philly taking the matchup 27-17.
It was a slow start for the Eagles in that game, as they were down 10-0 at the end of the first quarter before tying things at halftime. After that, the home team took control. Of course, Washington's roster had been decimated by COVID-19 (one of the reasons why the game was moved from Sunday to Tuesday) with Garrett Gilbert, who had just signed with the team that Friday, as the starting quarterback. Presumably, Taylor Heinicke will get the call on Sunday.
The Eagles (8-7) have won three straight and five of their last six after last week's 34-10 home victory over the Giants. Jalen Hurts had two touchdown passes, including one to offensive lineman Lane Johnson. Philly's defense was smothering; it only allowed a field goal until Evan Engram caught a touchdown pass with 3:50 left. New York had two turnovers and managed just 192 yards of offense. There was a cost, though, as both Miles Sanders and Jordan Howard were injured. Sanders broke his hand and won't be able to play on Sunday.
Washington (6-9) is simply glad to be home after a 56-14 pasting in Dallas on "Sunday Night Football." The team got a few players back from the Reserve/COVID-19 list, but Heinicke was just 7-of-22 for 121 yards and a touchdown with two interceptions. The run game barely was a factor and the once-vaunted defense allowed nearly 500 yards and four touchdown passes to Dak Prescott (before he took a seat on the bench), who also hit an offensive lineman for a TD.
Philadelphia (8-7) at Washington (6-9)
Kickoff: Sunday, Jan. 2 at 1 p.m. ET
Spread: Eagles -3.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Didn't I just see you?
Because of the aforementioned COVID-19-related complications, this is the second time these teams will have played each other in 12 days. The good news is that both teams are in better shape roster-wise this time around, although Washington added running back Antonio Gibson to the Reserve/COVID-19 list on Friday morning. He's joined by four offensive linemen and punter Tress Way. For Philadelphia, starting defensive end Derek Barnett was put on the list earlier this week.
The Eagles already know they will be without Miles Sanders (hand) for this game, and fellow running back Jordan Howard (stinger) is no guarantee to play, so depth in the backfield could be a concern. For Washington, with Gibson's status very much in doubt (may not have enough time to get cleared to play), Jaret Patterson figures to see an increased role. The running game in general has been a sore spot for this team recently. Washington has totaled just 148 rushing yards in its last two games, 63 of those in the first meeting with Philadelphia.
As division rivals, there's already a degree of familiarity for these two teams, but now there's the added factor of just playing each other less than two weeks ago. However, both teams were nowhere near full strength because of COVID protocols and injuries, with Washington being significantly more impacted, so it's tough to know what all can be taken away from that first game. What is known is this: the Eagles are fighting for a playoff spot and have a chance to make next week's home game with Dallas moot if they can win on Sunday and get some help (need San Francisco and Green Bay to both win too). Washington hasn't been officially eliminated from postseason contention yet, but the odds are stacked against Ron Rivera's team. But that doesn't mean WFT can't relish playing the role of spoiler.
2. Fast start?
Even with how well the Eagles have played as of late, they've gotten off to some awful starts. Last week it was 3-3 at halftime against the lowly Giants, and the game prior it was 10-0 Washington after one quarter with its just-signed, third-string QB running the offense. Philadelphia also found itself trailing in the second quarter to both the Giants (in Week 12, lost that game) and Jets (Week 13, won) in the two contests leading into its bye week, so this discouraging trait is nothing new. Washington is licking its wounds after getting thumped by 42 points on the road in prime time and it's gotten to the point where they are fighting amongst themselves. WFT also has given up 55 points in the first half during this current three-game losing streak, so a quick start by the Eagles may be all that's needed to put this one away.
3. QB play
Washington head coach Ron Rivera said earlier this week that Heinicke will play, but Kyle Allen also will see some time on the field. Both quarterbacks missed the first meeting against Philadelphia, but it's not like either has been lighting it up recently either. Heinicke has as many touchdown passes as interceptions (five each) over his last four games. Allen is 12-for-19 for 120 yards and a touchdown in two games (both against the Cowboys). It may seem odd to play both signal-callers, especially since Allen has gotten minimal time on the field, but this offense needs a spark, averaging 17 points and 239 yards per game during this losing skid.
On the other side, Hurts is playing his third game since missing one with an ankle injury. He's only run the ball 10 times for 45 yards over those two games, showing he may still not be at 100 percent. Prior to the injury, he was averaging 10.2 carries for 57.9 yards (12 games). Luckily, the team hasn't needed his mobility, and that's because of his massive offensive line. Even with the COVID-19 issues, Washington's defensive line was almost at full strength in the first meeting, and they barely touched Hurts or the Eagles' running backs (238 rushing yards allowed). That can't be the case on Sunday, even with Sanders sidelined.
The Eagles have been winning games, but a lot of that has been a product of poor opponents and certainly poor quarterback play. Washington is a team that may be ready to call it quits as fading playoff hopes flicker away. The problem is if Philadelphia can't start fast, then WFT may hang around a game it has no business doing so. I don't know if this is the fatalistic Eagles fan in me or not, but I think Week 18 is going to matter following a tough loss on Sunday.
Prediction: Washington 24, Eagles 20
— Written by Matt Josephs, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @MidMajorMatt.