The Philadelphia Eagles (8-7) are looking for one more win over the Washington Redskins (7-8) on Sunday afternoon (4:25 p.m. ET, FOX) and some help from the Chicago Bears to clinch a playoff berth in the NFC playoffs.
The defending Super Bowl champions are coming off their second consecutive upset victory, defeating the Houston Texans, 32-30 on a game-winning field from kicker Jake Elliott. Since their Week 11 debacle against the New Orleans Saints in November, the Eagles have won four of their last five games.
When these two teams played each other earlier this month, the Eagles came out on top with a final score of 28-13 on Monday Night Football. In that game, Philly received solid performances from quarterback Carson Wentz (306 yards, 2 TDs, 1 int), wide receiver Golden Tate (7 recs, 85 yards, 1 TD) and the defense.
However, things will be slightly different this time around as Nick Foles is under center for the Eagles, while Josh Johnson is taking snaps for the Washington Professional Football Team.
Speaking of Foles, can he continue his hot play and get the Eagles into the playoffs? Or will Johnson pull off an upset and send Philly back up I-95 disappointed?
To answer those questions and more, here are three things to watch for in the regular season finale:
1. Force Josh Johnson to win the game
Over the last couple of weeks, the Philadelphia Eagles’ defense has done a good job of forcing quarterbacks Jared Goff and Deshaun Watson into mistakes.
Against the Los Angeles Rams, the battered and bruised defense intercepted Goff once, forced a fumble, and sacked him twice. Those takeaways were instrumental in the Eagles pulling off the upset on the road.
In last week’s game against the Texans, Philly’s defense forced a fumble on Watson early in the fourth quarter to set up a scoring drive for Foles and offense. The defense also sacked Watson four times and had nine quarterback hits.
Therefore, the Eagles’ defensive line needs to continue to apply pressure to Johnson on Sunday but also cut off his running lanes. Johnson did a solid job last week against the Tennessee Titans to not take off and run after his first read was unavailable. But when he had to run, the 32-year-old signal caller made it count.
Also, it would help the Eagles tremendously if they can slow down Adrian Peterson, making Washington’s offense one-dimensional.
2. More air yards
Ever since it was announced that Wentz would be out with a fractured vertebra, the Eagles’ offense has surprisingly been more vertical.
In their last two games, Foles and the offensive coaching staff have not shied away from taking deep shots. Against the Texans last Sunday, the reigning Super Bowl MVP found a lot of success between 10-20 yards out from the LOS, completing 6-of-8 passes.
According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Foles’ average completed air yards (CAY) this season is 5.2, which is better than Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (5.0) and Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford (4.6).
Therefore, should we expect another 400-yard passing performance this Sunday? I would not count on it, despite Washington giving up 237.5 passing yards per game.
If the Eagles show a commitment to running the ball with Josh Adams, Wendell Smallwood, and Darren Sproles, it will open up down the field opportunities for wide receivers Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor.
3. The scoreboard
As I mentioned earlier, the Eagles will need some help on Sunday, if they want to make it back to the playoffs. Philly will be playing at the same time as Bears-Vikings and Rams-49ers, meaning there will be a ton of scoreboard watching.
The Eagles need the Vikings to lose to the Bears, who still have a shot at the second seed in the NFC playoffs. At the same time, the Rams are trying to hold on to the second seed, after losing to the Bears a few weeks ago on the road.
All signs out of Chicago, seem to point to the Bears playing their starters and winning on Sunday. This is great news for Eagles fans as Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins has a record of 1-7-1 in his last nine starts against teams that entered the game with a winning record.
Nevertheless, it should be interesting to see how everything plays out in real-time as a lot is at stake for multiple teams involved on Sunday.