December 16, 2021
Following a week of rest and rehab, the Eagles emerge from their late-season bye facing a big divisional matchup against Washington with a playoff spot (for now) on the line. A win, and the Birds will pass Washington and move into the seventh and final wild card position with three games left to play. A loss, and well — for reasons we'll get into in a minute — and the Eagles will not only remain on the outside looking in, but will also be left doing some deep reflection on whether or not they even belong in the playoffs in the first place.
That's because on Sunday, they'll be facing a Washington team that currently has 21 players on its COVID list (I actually had to increase that number between the time I wrote my first draft and when I edited it), not to mention the other list of injured players, a list that is typically getting pretty long by this point in the season (and for WFT that's certainly the case). The Eagles, on the other hand, aside from previously known injuries, are relatively healthy coming out of the bye. Compared to the 21 players WFT has on their COVID list, the Birds have just two. And all of their players were at least listed as limited in Wednesday's practice, with guys like Jalen Hurts, Miles Sanders and Jason Kelce all trending in the right direction according to Nick Sirianni.
Of course, that was the case leading up to the Eagles win over the Jets, and Hurts was still a somewhat surprising last-minute scratch, giving way to Gardner Minshew and a mini (and temporary) QB controversy that Sirianni quickly snuffed out. However, if Hurts can't go again and Minshew puts up similar numbers, which isn't out of the question against a decimated Washington roster, then those calling for the former Jags QB to continue as the starter are only going to grow louder. But the assumption here is that the Eagles won't be turning the keys over to Minshew any time soon, no matter how well he plays, so long as Hurts is healthy. Wins over the Jets and this Washington team, no matter how impressive, shouldn't be enough to take the starting job away from Hurts. You know, the guy whose development was paramount to this season, above everything else (including making a one-and-done postseason appearance). Funny how that changes once the playoffs come into focus.
Anyway, the Eagles appear to be in pretty good shape heading into this matchup given Washington's current COVID (and injury situation) and a loss on Sunday would be catastrophic for the Eagles' postseason hopes, not just because of what it would mean in the standings, but also because of how demoralizing it would be to lose to a division rival without half of its roster.
Will the Eagles pick up the big win and move into playoff position (at least for the time being)? Or will Birds fans be left looking for answers on Monday morning? Some of that could depend on who suits up for the Eagles — and how many more WFT players are ruled out. In the meantime, here's a look at how our writers see this Eagles vs. Washington matchup playing out...
TV: FOX (Kevin Kugler and Mark Sanchez)
RADIO: 94.1 WIP (Merrill Reese and Mike Quick)
As of Thursday afternoon, Washington has 21 players on their COVID list, 10 players on their injury report, and a slew of important players on injured reserve, including their starting quarterback and their best defensive player. What more needs to be said?
Washington is — as you have no doubt read — dealing with a ton of COVID issues. They are also banged up beyond that. I can't imagine what kind of chaos and Zoom hell their practices and meetings are right now, but it can't be good for preparing a football team.
This should be a layup for the Eagles and if it's not they certainly have no business competing for a playoff spot. Eagles in a laugher.
Assuming the Eagles don't have a COVID outbreak of their own over the next few days, it's very difficult to pick against them in this one. Washington starter Taylor Heinicke, who is only the starter because of a season-ending injury to Ryan Fitzpatrick, is expected to play, but it sounds like he's going to be less than 100%. Kyle Shurmur would be his backup. They'll also likely be without their best offensive weapon in Terry McLaurin, who suffered a concussion in Washington's loss to Dallas last week. Things only get worse when you look at their defensive side of the ball, with injuries and COVID alike wreaking havoc on their roster. As someone who grew up an Eagles fan, there's always that voice in the back of your head saying to worry about an upset in a game that seems like a lock, but we're not going to overthink this one. The Birds take care of business on Sunday.
Washington being able to simply field a team is in doubt for this weekend, so assuming they are actually able to play this game, I feel okay predicting the Eagles can get a win coming off of a bye against a glorified practice squad. If they can't, I'm not sure why anyone would bother watching this group the rest of the year.
Washington is so decimated by injury and COVID right now that they checked out the athletic-cup sharing South Central Louisiana State Mud Dogs hoping to find the next Bobby Boucher.
If Taylor Heinicke (questionable with a knee) or Kyle Allen (COVID-19 reserve list) can't start, former La Salle star Kyle Shurmur probably will. It's not a great way to make an NFL starting debut.
Shurmur deserves better. By the looks of things in Washington, they're going to have him trying to catch his own passes — after he blocks for himself, and has enough energy left from filling in on Washington's defensive line.
The Eagles win easily, unless the pot-bellied Billy Kilmer can muster up another Washington comeback (remember those days?).
The Eagles are in a tough position to handle a lot of pressure down the stretch. The good news is Washington is down... basically everyone. This is the perfect opportunity for the Birds to prove to themselves how ready they are for the push to the postseason. The first step in making the playoffs down the stretch is not suffering bad losses to bad teams. WFT may have a had a nice stretch before COVID hit them, but without a stable and healthy starting QB, the team is an absolute mess. The Eagles run better than anyone and should blast this defense into the stratosphere. Normally you would take away all the metrics and data and reduce this to a division matchup with two teams under .500. I look at it different in that there is no bigger factor than who is available, and despite the Eagles missing a guy or two, Washington will be putting out a bunch of backups in key starter spots. Eagles win by 10-plus.
The only scoreboard that matters will be the one illuminated at Lincoln Financial Field at about 4 ET Sunday but there is already a tally that gives you all you need to know when it comes to predicting this game: 21-2.
By Thursday, the embattled Washington Football Team had 21 players on the reserve/COVID-19 list to just two for the Eagles as virus cases spike across the country and throughout the league. Things are so dire that the NFL is considering lightning COVID protocols for vaccinated and asymptomatic players to get back on the field easier and lessen some of the competitive balance issues that will run rampant around the league just as the playoff races heat up over the final month.
For this one, however, the Eagles have drawn an inside straight and it doesn't really matter if Jalen Hurts or Gardner Minshew takes the snaps at quarterback. You can talk about next man up and control what you can control all you want but it's inconceivable that Nick Sirianni and the Eagles could lose a game to a team going through the attrition that Ron Rivera and the WFT are dealing with this week.
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