The NFL Network’s early Christmas present on Saturday pits the slumping Philadelphia Eagles against the dysfunctional Washington Redskins. The Eagles (9-5) are in must-win mode following last week’s disappointing 38-27 home loss to the Cowboys. The Redskins (3-11) are merely playing the string out with the beleaguered Robert Griffin III back in at quarterback.
Currently a game behind Dallas (10-4), Philadelphia’s playoff hopes are centered around beating Washington this week and the Giants the following with the Cowboys losing either to the Colts on Sunday or these Redskins in Week 17. This is by far the easier path, as the Eagles trail the Lions (current NFC North leader), Packers and Seahawks (all 10-4) for the NFC’s two Wild Card spots.
Philadelphia has beaten Washington three straight times, the most recent coming at home in Week 3. The Eagles won 37-34 behind 325 yards and three touchdowns from Nick Foles, who hasn’t played since Week 9 because of a broken collarbone. Kirk Cousins threw for 427 yards and three scores (with an interception) in a losing effort, but he was benched in Week 7 and hasn’t gotten back on the field since.
Philadelphia Eagles at Washington Redskins
Kickoff: 4:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: NFL Network
Spread: Philadelphia -8.5
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Philadelphia’s Key to Victory: Clean it Up
Since a convincing 33-10 win in Dallas on Thanksgiving, the Eagles have dropped back-to-back games at home to the Seahawks and Cowboys. Seattle’s defense dominated Philadelphia in Week 14 and the Eagles couldn’t get out of their own way against the Cowboys last week. While the offense has struggled recently, rushing for 132 yards in the past two games combined, a more concerning trend has been the sloppy play. Entering Week 16, Philadelphia is No. 1 in the NFL in giveaways with 33. Twelve of these have come in the past five games alone, and the Eagles have gone just 2-3 during this stretch. The defense made a living earlier this season on takeaways, but that production has tapered off. Philadelphia’s turnover margin is minus-three over its last five games. Fortunately for the Eagles, Washington has not done a good job protecting the football (25 giveaways) or taking it away from the other team (16 turnovers forced). Everyone knows that quarterback Mark Sanchez is prone to the occasional mistake, which is why it’s critical that the rest of the team does its part when it comes to ball security. Philadelphia’s margin for error is already razor thin based on its position in the standings. The Eagles can ill afford any mistakes, especially of the self-inflicted variety.
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Washington’s Key to Victory: Win the QB Competition
Colt McCoy was placed on injured reserve because of a neck injury, so head coach Jay Gruden is (begrudgingly) going back to Robert Griffin III at quarterback. No matter how you slice it, it’s been a lost season for RG3. Whether or not this is the beginning of the end of his time with the Redskins remains to be seen, but there’s no question he could really use a strong finish. A good first step towards that goal would be to post some nice numbers against a Philadelphia defense that has been kind to QBs this season. The Eagles have allowed two or more TD passes to 12 different QBs in 14 total games. While this list is fronted by names like Aaron Rodgers, Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson, it also includes “lesser” signal-callers like now-backup Chad Henne, rookie Zach Mettenberger and Kick Cousins, Griffin’s teammate who tossed three TD passes against Philadelphia in Week 3. As bad as Griffin’s season has been, he couldn’t have asked for a much better matchup to fuel a strong finish. It’s now on him to execute the offense and take advantage of a generous pass defense. The Redskins also could win the QB battle if Mark Sanchez’ production continues to slip. The Eagles are 3-3 since Sanchez replaced an injured Nick Foles, and his numbers have failed to impress. As the starter, he has thrown eight touchdown passes compared to seven interceptions while completing just 61.2 percent of his passes. He has really struggled recently, with more picks (3) than TDs (2) in his last two games combined (both losses), along with just 348 yards passing and a 56.3 completion rate. Sanchez has a reputation for being somewhat turnover-prone, but the onus is on Washington’s defense to take advantage. Simply put, the Redskins needs to force Sanchez into some mistakes or else pin their hopes on a re-occurrence of the infamous “butt fumble.”
For Philadelphia, it’s pretty simple. The Eagles need to win their next two games and hope that the Cowboys slip up at least once, as the NFC East will likely send just one team to the playoffs. Washington just wants this season to end, as the Redskins have some serious soul-searching to do and some tough questions that must be answered this offseason. Robert Griffin III wants to make a good impression these last two games, but there’s absolutely no reason to believe that he can be the miracle elixir for a team as bad as this Washington squad. A motivated Philadelphia team takes care of its pre-Christmas business by dispatching with a Redskins team that’s already checked out for the holidays.