(Sports Network) - With impressive wins over the playoff-bound Arizona Cardinals and New York Giants in their past two games, the Philadelphia Eagles have picked up an important measure of momentum in their own charge toward the playoffs.
Philadelphia was left for dead by many of the pundits during a disastrous three-week stretch prior to Thanksgiving, when the Eagles lost to the Giants (36-31), tied the one-win Bengals (13-13), and were drummed by the Ravens (36-7), with the final game in that trio appearing to signal the fall of the Birds as a relevant NFC contender.
The benching of longtime franchise face Donovan McNabb in favor of second-year man Kevin Kolb in that defeat made national headlines, as did the revelation one week prior that McNabb was unfamiliar with the NFL's long-standing overtime rules.
Following the Baltimore loss, it was difficult to envision the then-last place Eagles picking themselves off the mat and making a run toward the postseason, but that is exactly what Andy Reid's squad has done during an encouraging two- game stretch.
McNabb, re-inserted as the starter for the Thanksgiving night win over the Cardinals, has responded by completing 46-of-69 (66.7 percent) of his passes for 451 yards, five touchdowns, and zero interceptions in his last two games, as Philly has climbed out of the NFC East cellar and onto the doorstep of the conference Wild Card race.
At the same time, oft-injured Eagles running back Brian Westbrook has suddenly looked like a new man, shaking off ankle, knee, and rib injuries that had diminished his performance earlier in the year to rush for 241 yards, catch nine passes for another 92 yards, and score six touchdowns in his past two games combined.
Clearly, the Eagles are waking up at exactly the right juncture in the season, just as the Browns are being put to bed.
A season that began with such promise for Romeo Crennel's club has now descended into a 4-9 abyss, with injuries, misfortune, and just flat-out poor play conspiring to send the Browns to their eighth losing season in 10 years since returning to the league.
Last Sunday's 28-9 loss at Tennessee saw the Browns use their third starting quarterback - the ex-49er and Miami Hurricane Dorsey - after injuries knocked both Derek Anderson (knee) and Brady Quinn (finger) out for the season.
Predictably, Dorsey's first start since 2005 was less than memorable, as he completed 22-of-43 passes for just 150 yards with no touchdowns and an interception on the day. Only one of Dorsey's completions against the Titans went for longer than 15 yards, he led Cleveland to only 12 first downs on the afternoon, and none of his three scoring drives (all of which resulted in field goals) was longer than 33 yards.
There is hope for Dorsey and the Browns on Monday, however, and that glimmer comes in the form of another chance under the primetime lights.
The Browns are 2-0 in Monday night games this year, owning wins over the Giants and Bills, and Dorsey can become the third different Cleveland quarterback to lead the team to a Monday night win this season, joining Anderson and Quinn.
Cleveland leads the all-time series with Philadelphia, which dates back to 1950, by a margin of 31-14-1. The Eagles have a two-game win streak in the series, however, including a 34-31 overtime victory in the last such meeting, in C-Town in 2004. The Browns' last victory over the Eagles took place in 1994 at Veterans Stadium.
Reid is 2-0 against Cleveland in his career, while the Browns' Crennel will be facing both Reid and the Eagles for the first time.
WHEN THE BROWNS HAVE THE BALL
The Browns head to Philadelphia on Monday having not scored a touchdown in 12 quarters, with their most recent trip to the end zone coming when running back Jerome Harrison (246 rushing yards, 10 receptions, 2 TD) crossed the goal line on a 72-yard run in the fourth quarter of the Buffalo win way back on Nov. 17th. At this stage of the year, there is very little to recommend a once- proud Cleveland offense. The running game has dropped to 24th in the league (100.1 yards per game), with top rusher Jamal Lewis (800 rushing yards, 4 TD, 20 receptions) reverting back to the form that made him expendable in Baltimore. The passing game is being run by Dorsey (150 passing yards 0 TD, 2 INT), who has some experience as an NFL starter but was a fringe player for a reason, and is also minus one of his potential top targets in Kellen Winslow. Winslow is unlikely to play Monday due to a badly sprained right ankle, and Steve Heiden (23 receptions) will once again get the start in his place. At wideout, Braylon Edwards' (45 receptions, 3 TD) disappointing 2008 season continues, as the former Pro Bowler had just three catches for 38 yards in Tennessee last week. Ex-Eagle Donte' Stallworth (14 receptions, 1 TD) has largely been a non-factor this year as well, but might be able to rouse himself against his former team. The Browns o-line is probably the strength of the offense at this stage, having allowed just 16 sacks all year.
Pressuring Dorsey from all angles figures to be among the directives for the Eagles, who rank third in the league with 39 sacks, on Monday night. Philly did not have a sack of the quick-triggered Eli Manning last Sunday, but ends Darren Howard (22 tackles, 8 sacks, 1 INT), Trent Cole (65 tackles, 7 sacks), and Juqua Parker (40 tackles, 5 sacks, 1 INT) have all been consistently impactful pass rushers this year. On the back end, Asante Samuel (29 tackles, 3 INT) and Sheldon Brown (43 tackles, 1 sack) will have responsibility for preventing Edwards and/or Stallworth from making a big play, and safeties Brian Dawkins (61 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 INT) and Quintin Mikell (81 tackles, 3 INT, 2 sack) will help out over the top. Mikell had a team-high-tying nine tackles in New York last Sunday. The Eagles come into Monday's contest ranked seventh in the league against the run (93.1 yards per game), and did a terrific job in limiting the Giants' top-ranked rush game to just 88 yards on 24 carries a week ago. Tackles Mike Patterson (33 tackles, 1 INT) and Brodrick Bunkley (39 tackles, 2 sacks) set the tone at the point of attack, while linebackers Stewart Bradley (90 tackles, 1 sack), Akeem Jordan (37 tackles), and Chris Gocong (46 tackles, 2 sacks) have done a nice job behind them for much of this year.
WHEN THE EAGLES HAVE THE BALL
As usual, the Philadelphia offense on Monday night will be about the effectiveness of McNabb (3221 passing yards, 19 TD, 10 INT) and Westbrook (788 rushing yards, 43 receptions, 14 TD), who have taken it upon themselves to revitalize the team's playoff hopes in recent weeks. But the Eagles do possess other weapons, and the team will want to utilize players like rookie wideout DeSean Jackson (53 receptions, 4 TD) and tight end L.J. Smith (28 receptions, 3 TD), given the Browns' likely preoccupation with McNabb and Westbrook. Smith had six catches for 44 yards at the Giants last week, but Jackson did not have a reception for the first time this year and will be seeking to bounce back. Wideouts Hank Baskett (30 receptions, 3 TD) and Jason Avant (25 receptions, 2 TD) will factor into the mix as well, but the Eagles may rest Kevin Curtis (28 receptions, 1 TD) due to a concussion. The Birds are seventh in NFL total offense (354.8 yards per game), fifth in passing offense (249.8 yards per game), and 22nd in rushing offense (104.9 yards per game) as Week 15 begins.
There's little reason to expect the Philadelphia offense to have much trouble on Monday night against a Cleveland "D" that ranks just 27th overall (359.3 yards per game), including 28th against the run (148.5 yards per game) and 30th in sacks (15). The Tennessee running game went through Cleveland's front seven like a hot knife through butter last week, with Chris Johnson and LenDale White combining for 235 ground yards in the game. The run-stopping group, led by nose tackle Shaun Rogers (64 tackles, 4.5 sacks) and including inside linebackers D'Qwell Jackson (130 tackles, 3 INT, 2 sacks) and Andra Davis (68 tackles, 1 INT), will have to do a better job this week. The Browns are a more respectable 15th against the pass (208 yards per game) this year, and a team that has posted a high total of interceptions (19) is capable of a big play despite the lack of help from the team's pass rush. Jackson had two interceptions of Tennessee's Kerry Collins last Sunday, and cornerback Eric Wright (54 tackles, 3 INT) and safety Brodney Pool (55 tackles, 3 INT, 1 sack) have also been impact players in the secondary. Rogers is the team leader in sacks from his spot on the interior.
Given that the Browns have scored 21 points in their past three games combined and don't have a touchdown over that span, you can pretty much forget about using any Cleveland players in fantasy this week. The most reliable fantasy players on the team have been Winslow and kicker Phil Dawson, but the former is likely out for Monday and the latter might not get many chances with Dorsey running the offense.
Meanwhile, the Eagles' renaissance gives you a reason to start several members of the team. McNabb and Westbrook figure to keep on rolling on Monday, the defense is an excellent play, and people like Jackson, L.J. Smith, and inconsistent kicker David Akers are worth taking a flier on as well.
The Eagles have not always answered the bell against weak opponents, but a Monday night game that also ranks as a must-win in terms of the team's playoff possibilities should capture their attention. In addition to having better focus and more to play for, Philadelphia is a superior team to Cleveland in just about any personnel area you want to list, so this does not figure to be a game in which the result will be in doubt beyond the first half. Look for the Birds to come out firing in a game they simply must have, for defensive coordinator Jim Johnson to dial up some pressure on the still-rusty Dorsey, and for Philly to head into a monumental showdown at Washington next week as an eight-win club.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Eagles 31, Browns 7