December 10, 2020
Unless you've been living under a rock for the last few days — let's be honest, we wouldn't blame you if you were — you likely already know the big news surrounding the Eagles heading into their Week 14 matchup against the New Orleans Saints. Jalen Hurts, and not Carson Wentz, will get the start for the Birds.
The rookie took over for Wentz in the team's Week 13 loss to the Packers at Lambeau Field, and played well all things considered. He was responsible for the Philly's most explosive offensive plays, including a 34-yard touchdown pass to Greg Ward on 4th and 18. It was also hard to ignore the spark Hurts provided for the defense and special teams as well. Is it really a coincidence that the Eagles biggest special teams play of the season — Jalen Reagor's punt return touchdown — came shortly after Hurts' first NFL touchdown?
The Eagles still came up short in that one, but the former Heisman finalist turned a game that was looking like a blowout into a more competitive matchup (until, of course, Aaron Jones' 77-yard touchdown run). And as a reward, he earned the start against one of the best defenses in the NFL. No pressure.
The Saints have handed the Eagles some crushing losses in recent years, but for most Eagles fans, this game won't be about the final score, but rather about seeing what they have in the rookie quarterback. But with jobs at stake in Philly, the final score will matter to some. Will the Birds be able to snap their four-game losing streak, at home against the NFC's top team? Or will it be yet another loss for one of the most disappointing teams of the year?
Here's what you need to know about the game and how our writers see Sunday's matchup playing out...
TV: FOX (Kevin Burkhardt & Daryl Johnston)
RADIO: 94.1 WIP (Merrill Reese & Mike Quick)
|DraftKings||NO -6.5||PHI +260|
|FanDuel||NO -6.5||PHI +250|
|UniBet||NO -6.5||PHI +260|
|Bet Rivers||NO -6.5||PHI +260|
The Eagles switched out Carson Wentz for Jalen Hurts, but it won't matter much. The Eagles' receivers and their offensive line remain issues, and more importantly, the offense is broken schematically. Surely, it'll look a little different with Hurts at the helm instead of Wentz, and it might even be exciting watching a quarterback with more athletic ability, but the expectation here is that it won't result in much of a difference on the scoreboard, especially against a stingy Saints defense.
If Drew Brees plays, he should be able to carve up the Eagles' defense, like he usually does. It's forecasted to be 60 degrees and sunny on Sunday, so there will be little benefit to facing Brees outdoors. If Taysom Hill starts, running quarterbacks have done damage against the Eagles this season.
Ultimately, the Saints are a really good team that has won nine straight games. The Eagles are a really bad team that has lost four straight games. Let's not overthink it.
The Saints are better, and they will win. I am not going to be “that guy” this week and make a stupid pick just to be different. But, there is a path for victory this week.
Sure, we heard guys like Jason Kelce and Fletcher Cox speak out in support of Carson Wentz, but what we saw on the field in Green Bay last weekend is undeniable — Jalen Hurts provides a spark and the younger guys look like they play hard for him. I expect to see an offense that can move the ball and a quarterback who takes far fewer negative plays than Wentz did.
There might be some hiccups, but I expect that the Eagles offense will do enough to win the game. The defense, on the other hand, will be the Achilles heal in Week 14 — and I think that if Saints backup Taysom Hill is able to connect with Michael Thomas often enough, there is no way Philly can contain him. Hill will use his legs and Alvin Kamara to keep the ball out of Hurts’ hands and New Orleans will ultimately win, but I do think the Eagles walk away from this one with a little more confidence in the road ahead.
We don't officially know who will be starting at quarterback for the Saints, but it's looking more and more likely that it's going to be backup Taysom Hill as Drew Brees continues to recover from his rib injury. The belief here is that while that former may make for a closer game, the outcome of the game won't be dependent on the Saints' starting quarterback. Running quarterbacks have given the Eagles some issues this year, and Alvin Kamara can still win a game all by himself, especially against a team that's likely going to struggle to score.
This Saints defense is no joke, and Malcolm Jenkins is going to have them fired up as the former Eagles defensive back is coming back to the Linc with a chip on his shoulder after the Birds got rid of him in the offseason. They'll also be going up against a quarterback making his first NFL start. Doug Pederson said this week that he's going to try to simplify things for the rookie and will lean on the ground game to help him get settled in, but it's still a tall task for a player who had a limited training camp and no preseason action.
Still, Hurts will be going into battle with essentially the same weapons that Carson Wentz had. So while the rookie may provide a spark and likely can't play worse than Wentz has this season, it's difficult to expect him to light the world on fire with that offensive line and a limited wide receiver corps. It might be closer than some are expecting, but it would take a dominant defensive performance for the Eagles to steal a victory from the Saints.
If the Eagles were switching quarterbacks in a week where they were up against a mediocre opponent, the bump from Carson Wentz to Jalen Hurts (at least in the short term) might be enough to convince me to bank on the Birds this week. It seems they won’t have to deal with Drew Brees as he continues to recovery from injury, and winning a battle with Taysom Hill sounds doable.
But that Saints defense is legit — they rank near the top of the league in defending both the pass and the run. This is no cupcake for the rookie starter to debut against, and it would have been tough sledding for Philly even if they had a vet leading the way. Expect some nice flashes but a whole lot of pain.
Poor Jalen Hurts inherits a fractured, broken-into-pieces team against a possible Super Bowl contender. What a way to start your NFL career. The Eagles and Hurts could only benefit from learning and growing from this. Because, Eagles fans, whether you like it or not, these next few years will be about learning and growing. Contending will have to come later. The rebuilding process should have already been underway. The Eagles had to go 3-8-1 to get the message. Whether or not the next steps are with Carson Wentz doesn't matter this season. What does is finding out if Hurts can play at this level.
I really want to take the Eagles and the points. But the Saints have been cover machines recently, and that's enough for me. I love the move to Hurts but it's not enough for me to take the Eagles to win. The biggest issue is that nothing has changed around the QB position — and now Malcolm Jenkins is all fired up. The Saints win the game, 24-13, despite a good day from Hurts.
At least there is a bit of intrigue in the seemingly lopsided matchup between the 3-8-1 Eagles and the NFC-leading New Orleans Saints.
Consider that Jalen Hurts' first professional start with the Eagles comes under the weight of a four-game losing streak, the benching of a player the fan base once thought was a superstar, and against the No. 1 defense in the NFL.
Welcome to the NFL Mr. Hurts.
Now go fix the Philadelphia Eagles.
The key numbers are 22 and 128, as in the 22-year-old Hurts, the youngest quarterback to start for the Eagles in the Super Bowl era, in favor of Carson Wentz, unceremoniously demoted after signing a $128 million contract extension in June of 2019.
Whether Hurts' opportunity lasts a half, a week, or the next decade, the former Alabama and Oklahoma star has been afforded an opportunity and the ability to stay in the mix moving forward by simply playing well.
It's almost ludicrous to assume Hurts will be able to beat the 10-2 Saints with the same offensive line, receivers, and running backs that have failed Wentz so consistently this season but the path to handling adversity a little bit better is not exactly a difficult one, nor is staying withing earshot of New Orleans with the limited Taysom Hill expected to continue at quarterback for the injured Drew Brees.
If Brees, who is trying to recover from 11 fractured ribs, brought the more consistent big-play passing threat back to the Saints you could surmise that this would be an ugly one but while New Orleans has been winning with Hill, offense has been tougher to come by with the only 30-point game, an outlier win over COVID-crippled Denver a couple of weeks ago.
The Eagles can't win this one but are likely to stay closer than most think due to the Saints' offensive deficiencies without Brees.