Eagles vs. Washington 2014: Philadelphia hits the road with season on the brink
The Eagles were once flying high atop the NFC East, but a two-game losing skid has left them fighting for their postseason lives.
After a promising 7-2 start, the Philadelphia Eagles have fallen to 9-5 and face the very real possibility of missing the playoffs. They travel to FedEx Field on Saturday afternoon for a matchup against a Washington team that has long since been eliminated from postseason contention, but would love nothing more than to spoil the playoff chances of their NFC East rival.
Back-to-back losses to the Seattle Seahawks and Dallas Cowboys have dropped the Eagles out of the NFC East lead and the current playoff picture. No longer in control of its own playoff destiny, Philadelphia’s only hope is to win its remaining two games and pray that the Green Bay Packers, Detroit Lions or Cowboys stumble down the stretch. The silver lining for Chip Kelly’s team is that it finishes with two winnable games against Washington and the New York Giants, who are a combined 8-20 this season.
The Eagles’ margin for error the rest of the season is razor-thin, and they could easily become the rare 11-win team to be left out of the postseason party. Since the playoffs expanded in 1990, the only team to miss the postseason with at least 11 wins was the 2008 New England Patriots. Football Outsiders gives them just 35.3 percent odds to make the playoffs, the worst probability among the six NFC teams with at least nine wins entering Week 16.
Washington’s playoff hopes died long ago, but it still has a chance to have a real impact on the outcome of the NFC East race and the playoff picture down the stretch. In the final two weeks the team faces the Eagles and Cowboys, who are both fighting for the division title and jockeying for position in a crowded NFC playoff field. Washington lost to the Eagles earlier this season — by a narrow 37-34 margin — but pulled off a stunning road upset of the Cowboys in Week 8.
The fact that the Eagles are even in the playoff conversation this late into the season is shocking, given that they rank dead last in the NFL with 34 giveaways. The only teams with a worse turnover differential than the Eagles (-9) are the 2-12 Oakland Raiders, 3-11 New York Jets and 2-12 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who are three of the league’s bottom-dwellers. The good news for Philadelphia is they are facing a Washington team that has forced just 16 turnovers all season (tied for 26th in NFL) and has the same -9 turnover margin as Philly.
Another concern for the Eagles heading into the final two weeks is a porous secondary that has given up the fifth-most passing yards per game this season. Philadelphia also ranks 24th in opponent passer rating (93.4) and has allowed 29 passing touchdowns, tied for the third-most in the NFL. Bradley Fletcher has really struggled in coverage and was exposed last week against the Cowboys, surrendering all three touchdowns caught by Dez Bryant. He is allowing a passer rating of 103.8 when targeted this season, ranked 55th out of 68 qualifying cornerbacks.
If Washington is going to take advantage of Philadelphia’s weak pass defense, it will be with the arm of Robert Griffin III. RG3 was named the team’s starting quarterback for the game after Colt McCoy was placed on injured reserve earlier this week with a neck injury. His return to the lineup adds a ton of intrigue to these final two games in our nation’s capital. If Griffin shows tangible improvement, he could regain the confidence of the coaching staff and solidify his standing within the organization. If he regresses or struggles, it could make an already cloudy off-season even murkier for the team and their franchise quarterback.
Since Griffin’s Rookie of the Year campaign in 2012, he is just 4-14 as a starter and ranks 23rd out of 31 qualifying quarterbacks in passer rating (84.0) over the last two seasons. The key to him turning around his fortunes in the NFL could hinge on Griffin’s decisiveness in the pocket. When he releases the ball in 2.5 seconds or fewer, he has a passer rating of 99.6 and completes 82.5 percent of his passes this season; however, when it takes him more than 2.5 seconds, his passer rating is 73.8 and his completion percentage falls to 54.3 percent.
Who to Watch
DeSean Jackson – The former Eagle had five receptions for 117 yards — including an 81-yard touchdown catch — in the first meeting between these teams, but duplicating that effort could be a challenge. Jackson is battling a leg injury, which forced him to miss one game and limited him to just three catches for 15 yards last Sunday versus the Giants. Regardless of his health, the Pro Bowl wideout remains the league’s best deep threat — ranking first in yards per reception (19.1) — and has caught all 10 of his targets thrown to him at least 20 yards downfield this season.
Connor Barwin – The fourth-year linebacker is enjoying one of the finest seasons of his career, totaling 14.5 sacks and 58 tackles. Barwin excels as a pass rusher — with the sixth-most total pressures (49) among 3-4 outside linebackers — but has struggled when dropping into coverage. He is ranked 48th out of 49 qualifying players at his position according to Pro Football Focus’ pass coverage grades, and has allowed a passer rating of 131.7 in 14 games this season.
FedEx Field opened in 1997, replacing Robert F. Kennedy (RFK) Memorial Stadium as Washington’s home stadium. Built on a 200-acre site in Landover, Md., it is the NFL’s largest stadium in terms of land area. It has undergone numerous expansions and millions of dollars in renovations under owner Daniel Snyder, most notably adding an Owner’s Club Suite Level, new HD video/scoreboards in each end zone, and other amenities. The stadium has also been recognized for its environment-friendly features, including the installation of 8,000 solar panels and 10 electric vehicle charging stations after the 2010 season.
How to watch
Where: FedEx Field, Landover, Md.
When: 4:30 p.m. ET
TV: NFL Network
Announcers: Kevin Harlan, Rich Gannon and Stacey Dales
The Eagles are 7.5-point favorites on the road with an over/under of 50.5 points, per OddsShark.
The experts are in near-unanimous agreement on the outcome of this game — that the Eagles will cruise to a road win on Saturday afternoon. The only guy at SB Nation picking Washington to upset Philly is PFT Commenter, and everyone at CBS Sports is going with the Eagles.
For more on the Eagles, check out Bleeding Green Nation.
To learn more about Washington, head over to Hogs Haven.