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January 02, 2020

What they're saying: Why (and how) the underdog Eagles can upset the Seahawks on Sunday

On Sunday, the Philadelphia Eagles will host the Seattle Seahawks in the Wild Card round of the playoffs, which will mark the second meeting of these two teams this season after Seattle knocked off Philly at the Linc, 17-9, back in Week 12. 

Since, the Eagles have gone 4-1, including four straight wins to end the season, while the Seahawks have lost three of their last four games and are allowing 27 points per game since that win over the Eagles. Despite that — not to mention that the Eagles are the higher seed and will be playing at home — the Seahawks are 2.5-point favorites in this one, due in large part to all the injuries to Philly players on both sides of the ball. That, however, is not to suggest that Seattle is coming in here fully healthy, as they've had so many injuries at running back that last week they went out and re-signed Marshawn Lynch, who hadn't played since Week 6 of last season and by all accounts had been enjoying retired life. 

From Carson Wentz making his postseason debut to Russell Wilson's undefeated record against Philly, there's no shortage of storylines heading into Sunday's game. As we do from time to time here, let's take a look at what the local and national media are saying about the Birds... 

Starting from the bottom

Robert Mays | The Ringer

Over at The Ringer, Robert Mays ranked the 12 current NFL playoff teams by how likely they are to win the whole damn thing. And, well, someone had to be No. 12 — we promise, it gets better from here. 

12. Philadelphia Eagles

Doug Pederson’s team gutted out huge wins in the past couple of weeks to sneak into the playoff field, but Philly is just too banged up to make a run. The list of injured Eagles is ridiculous. Alshon Jeffery, DeSean Jackson, Malik Jackson, Lane Johnson, Zach Ertz, Jordan Howard, Jalen Mills, Nelson Agholor, and Ronald Darby were all out for Week 17, and that was before both running back Miles Sanders and guard Brandon Brooks left Sunday’s game with injuries. Philly still has plenty of talent, especially in its front four. But even if the Eagles somehow sneak past the Seahawks—who are dealing with their own injury issues right now—next week, it’d be tough to go on the road in the divisional round and beat a talented group like the 49ers. The Eagles are a well-coached team that will be relevant again next season as they bring back most of this roster, but this just isn’t their year.  []

So you're saying there's a chance?

Justin Sayles | The Ringer

May's colleague, Justin Sayles, wrote a piece for The Ringer looking at how "terrible division winner," i.e. teams that won their division at 9-7 or worse, and how they've actually faired pretty well in the postseason. And that may not bode well for the Seahawks... 

Here’s the thing, though: Once those mediocre division winners get to the playoffs, they often play like anything but. Since 2002, when the NFL went to its current alignment, division champs that were 9-7 or worse during the regular season have gone 9-5 in the postseason. And they’ve also been responsible for some of the most memorable playoff wins of this century, including Marshawn Lynch’s fabled Beast Quake run and Tim Tebow’s overtime throw against the Steelers. This Sunday, the 9-7 Eagles will try to add to that tradition against the 11-5 Seahawks. And if history tells us anything, it’s that the seemingly inferior team is perhaps more likely to walk out of wild-card weekend with a win. As a refresher, let’s run through those nine victories chronologically to see what kind of history Philadelphia-Seattle is up against.  []

[It's worth noting that the division winners come in with one major advantage in these wild card games ... they get to play at home.]

Sayles then runs through a list of division winners that fit the criteria, including the 2008 Arizona Cardinals, who won the NFC West at 9-7 and then beat the wild card Eagles in the NFC Championship before losing a close one to the Steelers in the Super Bowl. 

So what does this all mean for the Eagles? The Seahawks are currently 2.5-point favorites on Bovada, but maybe they shouldn’t be. After starting 10-2, Seattle lost three of its last four. That 11-5 record masks a point differential of seven for the entire year. The Seahawks also looked listless at times against the 49ers in Week 17, are facing a number of injuries to key players, and have a litany of other issues they need to address.

Philadelphia, which started 5-7 before winning its last four, is also battling the injury bug, but it showed a lot of heart over the last month of the season, when every matchup was essentially a playoff game. This team has also proved the past two seasons that it can get hot in the playoffs just when you count it out. They don’t have Nick Foles anymore, and Carson Wentz will be making his playoff debut, but would you bet against them? After all, as the Seahawks themselves have shown on a few occasions, sometimes the least deserving playoff teams are the toughest outs.  []

So you're saying there's a chance? Well, history (including the Eagles' own recent history) certainly says so...

Room for improvement

Bill Barnwell | ESPN

So what do the Eagles need to do to make it back to the Super Bowl after losing to the Saints in the divisional round last year? 

Well, ESPN's Bill Barnwell broke down all 12 playoff teams, and provided some more information on each for the casual fan while also painting a bit of a blueprint for what each team needs to do in order to advance all the way into February. After recapping their season and listing why they're better than people think, Barnwell provided a reason why they're worse than people think, and what they need to improve on to keep winning... 

How they're worse than you think: The Eagles have survived by succeeding on both sides of the ball on third down. They rank fourth in the NFL in third-down rate on both offense and defense, and it's not supported by their performance on other downs. Take the offense: The Eagles are 15th in the league in converting for a new set of downs on first down, 25th on second down, and fourth in the league on third down.

The Eagles do face the league's fourth-shortest set of third downs, with an average of 6.6 yards to go, but teams such as the Seahawks, Raiders and Patriots are all in the same ballpark of third-down distance, and they don't come close to hitting Philly's conversion rates. It's asking a lot to keep that third-down success going throughout the postseason.

Where they need to get hot in January: Cornerback has been the weakest position for the Eagles, and while their corners have played better as the season has progressed, the only reason they weren't the story against the Cowboys in Week 16 was because Dallas simply missed the big plays that were there on the table. Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz desperately needs guys such as Rasul Douglas and Sidney Jones to play well. Though Jalen Mills has hardly been a stopper during his pro career, simply getting another professional cornerback to insert in the rotation would be a huge plus. Mills was carted off during the Cowboys game with an ankle injury and missed the season-ender against the Giants.  []

MORE: 10 numbers that explain Eagles 2019 season (and unconventional success)

Why can't they beat Seattle?

Eliot Shorr-Parks | 94 WIP

As we alluded to above, the Eagles have never beaten Russell Wilson, but they'll try to change that narrative on Sunday. Elliot Shorr-Parks of 94 WIP broke down the Birds' four losses to Wilson and the Seahawks and came away with four common threads that have contributed to those defeats. 

Can the Eagles avoid these pitfalls on Sunday?

Slow Starts: Slow starts have been a common theme in almost all of the Eagles’ games recently, but they have been especially slow to start against Seattle. Even in 2017, when the offense was clicking on all cylinders, they scored just three points in the first three quarters. Overall, the Eagles are averaging just 4.3 points in the first half in the last three matchups with the Seahawks, and have not scored a third-quarter point in the last three matchups either. 

Wilson: Most games in the NFL, the team that has the quarterback that plays better will win, and that has certainly been the case between these two teams. In his three games against the Seahawks, Wentz has four touchdowns, five interceptions and six fumbles (three lost). His quarterback rating is 74.4, the second lowest in his career against any team he has played at least twice. Wilson, meanwhile, has seven touchdowns, one interception and just one fumble against the Eagles in four games for a quarterback rating of 98.9.

Offense: Over the last three games the Seahawks are averaging just 22.3 points, which is not great, but not terrible from the defense either. The issue has been the offense, which is averaging only 11.3 points. There have been different personnel groups for each game, but overall, it is fair to wonder if the defensive-minded Pete Carroll simply has Pederson's offense figured out. 

Turnovers: The Eagles have turned the ball over nine times in the three matchups with the Seahawks that have involved Wentz and Pederson, an alarming average of three times per game. Meanwhile, the Seahawks are averaging just over one turnover per game, giving them a 3-1 edge on average in the turnover battle. Needless to say, that won’t get it done and the Eagles won’t win on Sunday if that happens.  []

Behind enemy lines

E.J. Smith | The Philadelphia Inquirer

So, what are the Seahawks saying about the Birds? Well, head coach Pete Carroll was asked recently about the team he'll be facing this weekend and here's a look at what he had to say... 

“They’re a championship team,” Carroll said during a conference call with reporters on Wednesday. “They’ve shown that makeup and I’m sure it comes right from the top.”

With the Eagles and Seahawks set to face off for the second time this season, both sides are rewatching the previous game trying to gain an edge. The only catch: A lot has changed since the Eagles’ 17-9 loss to Seattle on Nov. 24. Greg Ward was getting his first action of the season, Miles Sanders was still developing into a main running back, and Andre Dillard was playing right tackle for the first (and possibly only) time in his career.

What has caught Carroll’s attention is how the Eagles have played during the team’s four-game winning streak to end the regular season, which featured four victories over four division opponents in order to run the table and win the NFC East.

“They’ve really rallied well,” Carroll said. “They’ve played like a championship team down the stretch, and to put together the four games to win it and to ice it with a big win over Dallas, it just shows that their leadership from the coaches on down is really strong. I mean, I really admirably watched them hang tough and put together a great finish to the year.”  []

The unsung hero

Zack Rosenblatt |

Finally, we come to this story from Zack Rosenblatt on how veteran backup quarterback Josh McCown has been a big reason these no-name practice squad wide receivers have been able to step in and immediately contribute. 

Here’s one reality: The Eagles might not be here if not for McCown. Behind the scenes, the 40-year-old backup has played a vital role in the Eagles’ resurgence, both as a confidant for franchise quarterback Carson Wentz and as a leader, mentor and motivator for the team’s younger players, especially at wide receiver. ...

Through those three-plus months of tumult at wide receiver, where production and performance was poor and the players were often injured, McCown was putting in work behind the scenes with the players on the practice squad that have since become the core of the Eagles’ passing offense. In Week 14 against the Giants, actually, he almost had to play wide receiver in an emergency situation.

About that, McCown laughed and said “Well, everybody’s got an Eagle on their helmet. One for all, and all for one. That’s always the mindset: What can I do to help?”

Well, he put in extra work with Greg Ward earlier in the season. Ward has since become the Eagles’ most productive wide receiver over the last six games since signing onto the active roster.

Shortly after Robert Davis was signed to the practice squad on Oct. 7, McCown pulled him aside during practice to demonstrate the Eagles’ route concepts and go over the team’s offensive philosophies.

He’s still doing that now.  []

MORE: A chronological look at the journey of the Eagles' 'practice squad guys' to the active roster

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