Feeling like the Eagles have no shot Sunday? Worried about that 8 ½-point line? Intimidated by the notion of Tom Brady on the opposite sideline?
We’re here to help.
The Eagles may not be favored in their wild-card game against the Buccaneers Sunday in Tampa, but we came up with 10 reasons for hope. Ten reasons for optimism. Ten reasons to believe the Eagles have a chance to pull off the upset.
THE NFL’S BEST RUNNING GAME: The Eagles go into Tampa with the NFL’s best running game – 160 yards per game. But over the last 10 weeks of the season that number increased to 190 yards per game. Running backs got only nine carries in the first Eagles-Bucs game. But this is a different team now. The last 10 games Eagles RBs have averaged 30 carries per game. Then there’s the Bucs’ rush defense. Through the first Eagles game, the Bucs were No. 1 in the NFL in rush defense (55 yards per game, 3.4 yards per carry). In 12 weeks since, they’re No. 16 in yards allowed per game (113) and 28th in yards per carry (4.6). If the Eagles can establish the running game and stick with it, they can control the clock, move the chains, extend some drives and keep Brady off the field.
COMMON OPPONENTS: Believe it or not, the Eagles and Bucs have the same record against common opponents. They’ve faced seven teams in common – the Cowboys, Falcons, Saints, Washington, Giants, Panthers and Jets. They both handled the Falcons, Panthers and Jets, the Bucs beating Atlanta and Carolina twice each. The Bucs beat the Cowboys, who beat the Eagles twice. And the Eagles split against the Giants, who the Bucs beat once. But the Eagles swept Washington, who Tampa lost to, and the Eagles also beat the Saints, who the Bucs lost to twice. Both are 7-3 against common opponents.
DALLAS GOEDERT: Goedert missed the first Tampa game on the COVID list, and at that point in the season he was sharing reps with Zach Ertz. Goedert averaged only 43 yards per game the first month and a half, but from Week 7 through Week 17 he was the fourth-most productive TE in the league (behind Mark Andrews, George Kittle and Travis Kelce), with 61 yards per game, and the No. 1 option on the Eagles. This offense is clearly more effective with Goedert than without him.
CHRIS GODWIN, ANTONIO BROWN: With Godwin suffering a torn ACL and Brown walking off the field in the middle of the Jets game two weeks ago, the Bucs lost two of their top three wide receivers. Godwin caught 98 passes for over 1,100 yards and Brown caught 42 passes for 545 yards in just seven games. The Bucs still have Mike Evans, coming off his eighth straight 1,000-yard season, and Gronk – who didn’t play in the first Eagles game - but without Godwin and Brown, Brady’s outside and down-the-field options are limited.
DOWN THE STRETCH: Seven games into the season, the Bucs were 6-1 and the Eagles were 2-5. But over the next 10 weeks, the Eagles actually had a better record than Tampa. The Bucs went 6-3 – with losses to the Saints twice and Washington once – and the Eagles went 7-2, losing only to the Chargers and Giants. Even if you include the meaningless loss to Dallas Saturday night, the Eagles still had the same record as Tampa over the last 2 ½ months of the season.
EAGLES RUSH DEFENSE: The Cowboys ran for 171 yards against the Eagles’ backups, which skews the stats a bit, but still, the Eagles finished with the 9th-best run defense in the league in terms of yards per game (108) and 6th-best in yards per carry (4.0). The Patriots will throw the football a lot, but they do like to get Leonard Fournette involved in the offense. In the first game against the Eagles, Fournette ran 22 times but for only 81 yards, a 3.7 average. And the Eagles’ run defense is a lot better now. If they can shut down Fournette, it will make the Bucs one dimensional. That’s a really good dimension, but it will still help.
HEALTHY: The Eagles were decimated by injuries the last few years and went into the 2018 and 2019 postseason far below full strength. But this team goes into the postseason with only three projected opening-day starters missing – Brandon Graham, Brandon Brooks and Isaac Seumalo. The Eagles certainly miss B.G. – they were 31st in the NFL in sacks without him. And they miss Brooks, a three-time Pro Bowler at right guard. But Landon Dickerson has actually played better at left guard than Seumalo, who isn’t bad. So with Miles Sanders expected back for Sunday, the Eagles are very close to full strength going into the biggest game of the season.
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ROAD RECORD: The Eagles don’t seem to mind playing on the road. They went 6-3 away from the Linc this year, the 5th-best road winning percentage in the NFL. They’ve only won more road games twice – 7-1 in both 2001 and 2003. They did play nine road games, but even on a percentage basis, .667 matches the 11th-best road record in franchise history. The only teams with better road records this year were the Cards (8-1), Rams (7-2), Cowboys (7-2) and Patriots (6-2). So playing in front of a hostile crowd shouldn't bother this team. They've been doing it all year.
SUPER BOWL NUCLEUS: There are a lot of players on the Eagles who’ve never been to the playoffs. Of the current 53-man roster, 24 players have never played one snap in a postseason game. That’s nearly half. So there’s tremendous value in guys like Rodney McLeod, Fletcher Cox, Jason Kelce, Lane Johnson and even Graham – who you know is still around the team – who have not only been part of a Super Bowl championship but toppled Brady along the way. There is so much wisdom and experience those guys can share with the younger guys about how to go about your business in the postseason, and that’s invaluable.
JUST ANOTHER GAME FOR JALEN: We’ve all seen quarterbacks shrink in games with the most at stake. Not thinking of anyone in particular. When the moment is too big for you, then the biggest arm in the world and all the running ability in the universe won’t matter. Jalen Hurts is only 23, but he’s about as calm and poised as they come. Nothing bothers him. Nothing phases him. This is a kid who played for Alabama in the 2016 BCS Championship Game against Clemson (at Raymond James Stadium) as an 18-year-old true freshman. And put up 31 points against the national champions. Hurts has been playing in big games in front of big crowds on national TV since he was a teenager. He can handle this.