Two NFL teams that have playoff hopes are set to meet in Philadephia as the Eagles host Washington on Tuesday night. This game was originally scheduled for Sunday but was one of three moved due to COVID-19 concerns across the league.
The change also means that these teams are now slated to play three divisional games in a span of 12 days, including two against each other (also Week 17 at Washington).
Last year, WFT swept both meetings, which snapped a six-game losing streak in the series. The more memorable of the two matchups was the second one on Jan. 3 when a Philly team that was only down 17-14 made a change to quarterback Nate Sudfeld in the fourth quarter, openly deciding to tank the game in order to improve their draft status. Alex Smith threw two touchdown passes in that one and got the victory despite two interceptions and three sacks.
Washington (6-7) saw its four-game winning streak end last Sunday in a 27-20 loss to the Cowboys. It was a horrific effort from the offense in which Taylor Heinicke threw for only 122 yards on 25 attempts and Antonio Gibson had 10 rushes for 36 yards. The team was down 24-0 before closing the gap in the fourth quarter when the contest was well in doubt. The defense forced two turnovers and held Dallas to four field goals, but it wasn't enough to get the victory.
The Eagles (6-7) are coming off a Week 14 bye, so they should be fresh and ready for this one. The last time we saw them was Dec. 5 when they beat the Jets 33-18 in New York with Gardner Minshew under center to win a fourth straight game. The former Jaguars QB hooked up with tight end Dallas Goedert plenty but was helped out by 120 rushing yards from Miles Sanders.
Although both teams are three games back of the division-leading Cowboys, they are in a virtual five-way tie with Minnesota, Atlanta, and New Orleans for the final NFC wild-card spot.
Washington (6-7) at Philadelphia (6-7)
Kickoff: Tuesday, Dec. 21 at 7 p.m. ET
TV: FOX (regionally)
Spread: Eagles -6
Three Things to Watch
1. Who is available for Washington?
Washington has been one of the hardest-hit teams during this latest league-wide COVID-19 outbreak. On Friday afternoon (when the schedule changes were announced), Washington had 23 players on the Reserve/COVID-19 list. This includes starting quarterback Taylor Heinicke and backup Kyle Allen. Because of this, WFT signed free agent Garrett Gilbert earlier on Friday. The team also has Kyle Shurmur and Jordan Ta'amu on its practice squad. Moving the game back a couple of days could increase the chances of either Heinicke or Allen getting cleared, but it's highly likely the starting QB won't be announced until right before kickoff.
But the COVID-related news for Washington isn't all bad. On Saturday, four defensive linemen, including Jonathan Allen, were activated and restored to the active roster. Additionally, Montez Sweat, who has been on injured reserve, was removed from the COVID list and designated to return to practice. He is expected to be activated in time for Tuesday's game.
That still leaves plenty of key players, including linemen Matt Ioannidis and Tim Settle, as well as defensive backs Kendall Fuller and Kamren Curl, on the Reserve/COVID-19 list but things are beginning to improve. Additionally, wide receiver Terry McLaurin appears to be progressing and could be cleared from the concussion protocol, although the same can't be said for running back J.D. McKissic. Wideout Curtis Samuel (hamstring), guard Brandon Scherff (ankle), and linebacker Cole Holcomb (ankle) are other injured players who may or may not be available for Tuesday. This is clearly a team that is limping down the stretch and needs everyone available to try and make a late playoff push.
2. Minshew or Hurts?
When at full strength, Washington's defense has been pretty good, although it's been highly susceptible to the pass this season. WFT enters this game 30th in the NFL at 259.1 passing yards per game allowed. Meanwhile, the question for Philadelphia is who will be in at quarterback. Jalen Hurts is dealing with an ankle injury that is still limiting him in practice, even though he had a week off. Gardner Minshew filled in for him two weeks ago and he played very well, completing 20 of 25 passes for 242 yards and two touchdowns in a 33-18 walkover against the Jets. Hurts' mobility is a key part of his game and Washington has done a decent job against running QBs. Daniel Jones (95 yards), Cam Newton (46), and Patrick Mahomes (31) are the only signal-callers to gain more than 30 yards on the ground against WFT. With Hurts not at 100 percent and Minshew showing to be more than capable of running this offense, not to mention Washington's issues against the pass, the Eagles may play it safe and stick with the mustachioed one for another week, although the scheduling change buys Hurts a little more time to heal up.
3. Staying grounded
Last week, Miles Sanders ran for a season-high 120 yards on 24 carries. But he also suffered an ankle injury late in the game, which limited him in practice. However, he doesn't carry an injury designation for this game (the schedule change may have helped him in that respect), so he will play. The question will be what kind of workload he will get. Jordan Howard (knee) is banged up, so that leaves Boston Scott and Kenneth Gainwell to complement Sanders. Scott has been effective (4.7 ypc, 4 TDs) when given an opportunity while Gainwell has made more of an impact as a receiver (8.5 ypr, TD). Washington is fifth in the league in rushing defense (93.6 ypg), but remember this unit is likely going to be nowhere near full strength. As for WFT, Antonio Gibson is the lead back but he's averaging just 3.9 yards per carry for the season and has only one 100-yard game. Gibson has been dealing with his own injuries. The Eagles are 13th against the run (109.4 ypg), but have held the last two teams they faced (Giants and Jets) to just 70 rushing yards in each game. Washington needs to establish the run to help out its emergency quarterback and what is shaping up to be a depleted defense. Philadelphia would like to establish the run to wear down the aforementioned defense (and help out either a gimpy quarterback or one that's not as mobile).
Moving the game to Tuesday buys Washington more time to clear up its Reserve/COVID-19 list, and things have already started to improve in that respect. Getting Allen and three other defensive linemen back (and possibly Sweat too) is critical as Philadephia is likely to try and pound the ball. But there are still plenty of key guys whose availability is less certain. That starts at quarterback, which could be manned by either a practice squad member or someone just signed on Friday. Meanwhile, the Eagles are coming off of their bye and even though their starting quarterback isn't completely healthy, they seem to be just fine when it comes to a Plan B. Even with the scheduling change, Philadelphia's roster is in better shape. That doesn't mean it will be a blowout, and it probably won't look very pretty at times, but look for the home team to get the job done.
Prediction: Eagles 24, Washington 20
— Written by Matt Josephs, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @MidMajorMatt.