Worst Might Be Over for Eagles' Defense

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Eagles -9.5

The 12-2 Eagles can check off the final box on their holiday season wish list and clinch the top playoff seed in the NFC Monday night. All they need to do is contain a 6-8 Oakland Raiders squad with nothing left to play for.

The Raiders were eliminated from postseason contention Sunday, so if they look listless after flying across the country to Lincoln Financial Field for Christmas Day, holiday travel is probably the least of their issues.

The Eagles already received most of their gifts for 2017 - a division championship and a first-round bye in the playoffs - but there's still one more present waiting, and it's the best of them all. A win puts a bow on the season, which will make for some happy holidays across the Delaware Valley.

The worst might be over
The Eagles' defense has taken its share of criticism after the past few contests, and particularly Sunday's performance against the Giants, and justifiably so. This team isn't going to last very long in January surrendering 29.3 points per game the way it has the last three weeks.

To many, the Giants' hanging 29 points on the Eagles, with 434 yards of passing and three touchdowns from Eli Manning, was a sign the defense, specifically the secondary is broken. That was one of the worst offenses in the NFL, and a quarterback who was benched just two weeks prior.

Yet upon closer inspection, things may not be as bad as they seem. Manning now owns the two most prolific passing performances against the Eagles this season and is one of only three signal callers to throw for three scores against this unit. In other words, the Eagles may have an Eli problem, not a defense problem.

Manning completed 69.2 percent of his passes for 400.0 yards and 3.0 touchdowns per game in two meetings. All other QBs have completed 59.3 percent for 210.5 yards and 1.1 touchdowns.

It's possible the Giants simply had the Eagles' number this season. Good thing they're finished.

To put it Blount-ly …
As the weeks go by, the Eagles look smarter and smarter for pulling off the trade for Jay Ajayi. Not only has Ajayi brought a different dimension to the running game, averaging 6.4 yards per carry since his arrival, but so-called starting running back LeGarrette Blount has begun to fade.

Blount still leads the team with 717 yards rushing on the season. However, his effectiveness has rapidly decreased since the calendar rolled over to December. The 31-year-old running back has just 59 yards on 22 carries over the Eagles' last three games, for a meager 2.7 average per carry.

Considered a "volume back," Blount has an issue that could be a decrease in attempts, from 12.5 per game over the first 11 to 7.3 since. Then again, the decline was also predictable. Age aside, Blount averaged 3.4 yards per carry in December and January for the Patriots in 2016.

Ajayi has emerged as the Eagles' primary back in recent weeks, and with good reason. He's seven years younger than Blount and looks it based on the way the two are playing.

Blount looked ineffective for stretches early in this season, too, so it might be unwise to write him off after two or three quiet games. Regardless, the addition of Ajayi may have solved a potential leak before the flood.

Extra Cole in your stocking
Nice to see Trent Cole signing a one-day contract to retire as a member of the Eagles. Though the news seemingly came out of nowhere, and right in the thick of the holiday season, it's a well-deserved honor that deserves more attention.

Cole spent 10 seasons with the Eagles, and his 85.5 sacks during that span are second only to Reggie White in franchise history. He only earned two trips to the Pro Bowl, yet Cole was one of the most consistent pass rushers in the league from 2006 through 2011 with 63.0 sacks - only DeMarcus Ware and Jared Allen had more during that span.

Though he became a cap casualty in 2015 and spent his final two years in the NFL with the Colts, Cole made good with the Eagles and his career is well worth remembering. He'll serve as the honorary captain on Monday and will be recognized on the field at the conclusion of the first quarter.

Consider it a little holiday bonus.

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