Week 7 gets started with a primetime matchup featuring two unlikely NFC East contenders
Instead, they're squaring off in a game that could potentially decide the division winner. Only in 2020, right?
The raging dumpster fire that is the NFC East offers no teams that currently have a winning record. The Cowboys lead it, but their putrid 2-4 mark also comes with the loss of their starting quarterback, Dak Prescott, for the season with an ankle injury. A 38-10 blowout at the hands of the Cardinals on Monday night inspired little confidence they'll be able to rally behind backup Andy Dalton.
The Eagles come next, at 1-4-1, followed by the Giants and Washington at 1-5. That means a win by either of these teams Thursday night could leave them, at minimum, tied for first place in a division that might legitimately produce the first 6-10 playoff squad in NFL history. Even a loss doesn't completely take either one out of the equation. It's a weird situation where two teams closer to a massive rebuild instead find themselves in a position to, technically, contend for a Super Bowl? Yup, keep scratching your head. 2020 is that kind of year.
Can each of these teams fix their laundry list of problems in time for Thursday night? For the Eagles, injuries keep piling up on offense while their defense has disappointed for long stretches. The Giants have their share of banged-up players, too, with an offense that's tied for last in the NFL without Pro Bowl running back Saquon Barkley. And they'll have to overcome history after dropping seven straight to the Eagles.
Thursday Night Football: New York at Philadelphia
Kickoff: Thursday, Oct. 22 at 8:20 p.m. ET
TV: FOX/NFL Network
Spread: Eagles -3.5
Three Things to Watch
1. The Eagles' injury report. Constantly.
It seems like the Eagles should set up a field hospital for every game this season. Week after week, their starting lineup has been pummeled with injuries that leave them a walking M*A*S*H unit in real-time. The damage runs so deep with this team we literally need to go position by position.
Running Back: Starter and No. 1 spark for the offense Miles Sanders is likely out for Thursday's contest with a knee injury. That leaves little 5'7" Boston Scott handling the majority of backfield carries complemented by Corey Clement. Considering Scott has a grand total of 67 yards this season on 21 carries... that's a problem.
Wide Receiver: DeSean Jackson, the team's main deep threat, has missed three straight games with a hamstring injury. Chances are improving he'll get on the field this week, but I'd believe it when you see it with the oft-injured 33-year-old. His partner in crime, Alshon Jeffery, hasn't played a down all season while recovering from a foot injury. Their absence has allowed Travis Fulgham to have a coming-out party, posting a whopping 284 yards receiving and three touchdowns in the past three weeks. But keep in mind that Fulgham was on the practice squad a month ago; he can't do it alone.
Tight End: Zach Ertz, according to multiple reports, will miss several weeks with an ankle injury he suffered Sunday against the Ravens. His talented sidekick, Dallas Goedert, was already sidelined with an ankle injury. That duo combined for 1,523 yards as a 1-2 punch for a depleted Eagles offense in 2019. Some guy named Jason Croom will struggle to make up for that.
Offensive Line: Three linemen (Isaac Seumalo, Pro Bowler Jason Peters, Andre Dillard) are already on injured reserve. Pro Bowler Brandon Brooks suffered an Achilles injury and won't be back until the tail end of 2020, if at all. Tackle Lane Johnson is hurt and his replacement, rookie Jack Driscoll, went down on Sunday with an ankle injury. His status for Thursday remains questionable, as does Matt Pryor, who was on the COVID-19 list.
You get all that? It's enough to make your head spin... and that's just the offense. Now, imagine quarterback Carson Wentz having to navigate through a hot mess of hobbled players, switching in and out the entire game. It gives background as to why he's struggled throughout the course of 2020 and brings Thursday night's main matchup into focus.
2. Can Wentz carve through the Giants' defense?
As the Giants struggle offensively without Barkley, their defense has needed to pick up the pace. Against Washington, there was progress; only 19 points allowed while holding them to 1-of-3 conversions in the red zone. They sacked quarterback Kyle Allen three times, intercepted him once, and hassled him throughout the game with a maturing defensive line. Leonard Williams and linebacker Kyler Fackrell each already have three sacks on the year.
The Giants' 15 sacks rank tied for 10th in the NFL; their eight takeaways are tied for 13th. That's key when facing a quarterback in Wentz who's got a makeshift offensive line struggling to pass protect. Already, Wentz has nine interceptions through six games, more mistakes than he made in an entire season's worth of games in 2019 (7 picks). He's been sacked 25 times and is constantly hurried out of the pocket, looking for a limited group of targets to throw to.
How the Giants break through that line — and how often — will determine their success Thursday night.
3. Can the Giants figure out a ground game?
With Barkley suffering a torn ACL, the leading rusher for the Giants is now quarterback Daniel Jones (27 carries, 204 yards). No offense to Jones... but he's no Lamar Jackson. That's not going to win you football games, as the Giants are averaging a putrid 87.8 yards on the ground, third-worst in the NFL. (And consider some of that was with Barkley in the lineup).
The Eagles, meanwhile, have taken a step back with their rushing defense, dropping from tied for third in the NFL last year to 20th-best in 2020. So can the Giants step up and find a way to make something happen? Barkley replacement Devonta Freeman averaged just 3.4 yards per carry Sunday and hasn't had longer than a 14-yard run all season.
Someone's got to find some holes through a porous offensive line that struggles almost as much as the Eagles' group. (Combined, the two teams have allowed 42 sacks through six games.) No run game means the Eagles defense has the ability to pressure Jones into mistakes. And there's just enough in the secondary (think offseason pickup cornerback Darius Slay) to add to Jones' six-INT total for the season.
As with many games between two bad teams, the winner may simply be the one who makes the fewest mistakes. If Wentz gets just one or two of his injured players back, there’s enough for him to patch together in order to make the difference in the ballgame.
Keep in mind that while the Giants were struggling to beat Washington last week, Wentz engineered a comeback with half his team on the stretcher to come within a 2-point conversion of tying up the Baltimore Ravens (ultimately losing 30-28). Scoring 28 second-half points after being down 17-0 at the half against a potential AFC champion, all with chaos happening around him, is a sign Philly might have figured out some offensive spark. Look for more appearances from Jalen Hurts in a Taysom Hill-like role as the Eagles do just enough to start asserting themselves in this division.
Prediction: Eagles 17, Giants 13
— Written by Tom Bowles, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @NASCARBowles.