January 03, 2021
The last time we were rounding up predictions for an Eagles game against Washington, there was nothing but optimism. The Birds were about to embark on a new season in which they were expected to make the playoffs, if not as division winners then certainly as a wild card — what, with the expanded playoffs and everything.
Philly was the only team in the division that was returning its coaching staff — and not only that, they had added to it in the offseason, bringing in some key offensive minds who were guaranteed to take Carson Wentz and the offense to the next level. Speaking of Wentz, he was entering his fifth season in the NFL and there was no reason to believe that his best wasn't ahead of him. Miles Sanders and Dallas Goedert, both a year older, while the team also brought in speedy receivers to make up for what the team was clearly lacking on the other side.
On defense, the team traded for Darius Slay, giving them a shutdown corner on at least one side of the ball. And sure, Malcolm Jenkins was gone, but the team still had Rodney McLeod and the addition of Slay allowed for Jalen Mills to move to safety. The defensive front was as stout as it had ever been, and while we all knew that linebacker was an issue, it seemed the the strength of the Eagles up front coupled with solid secondary play should cover that.
It was 17 weeks ago. The Birds were heading into a Week 1 matchup against Washington. Everyone was picking them to win.
In other words, who in their right mind would have thought this is where the Eagles would be in Week 17, hosting Washington as a home underdog, mathematically eliminated from the postseason, and facing an offseason of change while the other three teams in the division will be playing for their playoff lives on Sunday? Not this writer, and certainly not the majority of the Delaware Valley.
But we've arrived here nonetheless, and over the next few weeks and months, many words will be written and takes offered on what exactly went wrong this season and, more importantly, what the Eagles need to do to get back on track. We'll have plenty of time for that in the coming day, but first, the Birds still have a game to play. And, believe it or not, it's actually quite important, as a loss would go a long way to help the Eagles' draft position, while a win, well, that would do the exact opposite.
The 4-10-1 Birds appear to be resting quite a few starters, including Sanders, Goedert, Fletcher Cox and Derek Barnett (among others), so that's a good start for those hoping tonight's Sunday Night Football game adds one more loss to Philly's ledger. Meanwhile, Washington will have everything to play for as a win — regardless of what else happens today — guarantees them an NFC East title, and that would be something in a season many were picking them to finish at the bottom of the division.
Will they pull it out, and help the Eagles in the draft in the process? Here's a look at how the local and national media sees Sunday night's game between Philly and Washington playing out...
[NOTE: It's worth pointing out that many of these picks were written before the injury reports came out and it was clear that the Birds were resting several of their starters. It was also unknown whether or not Alex Smith, Terry McLaurin and Antonio Gibson were playing, which it appears they are. The Eagles have gone from 1.5-point underdogs to 4-point underdogs, according to TheLines.com. Had all that been known, some of the picks likely would be different.]
• PhillyVoice staff: Three of our six writers are picking the Eagles to play spoiler on Sunday night. Here's what yours truly, who picked a 26-23 Eagles' loss, has to say about tonight's game...
The Eagles ripped the Band-Aid off in Dallas last week to prevent us from another week of worrying about them potentially winning a worthless division title and costing themselves some premium draft position. Of course, there’s still some work to be done as they could be picking anywhere from as high as 3 (with a loss and some help) to 10 (with a win and some “help”). Washington could be without Alex Smith for another week, and after letting Dwayne Haskins go earlier this week, that means the start would go to Taylor Heinicke. Would there be anything more 2020 than the Eagles winning the one game they need to lose and falling down the draft order thanks to a quarterback you’ve never heard of before?
Wait, what’s that? It’s not 2020 anymore? Then give me Washington in this one. They have something more than just their own pride to play for — and if Smith and Terry McLaurin are both healthy, the Eagles secondary could be in trouble once again. On top of that, Washington’s defensive front crushed the Birds offensive line back in Week 1, and that was with a few more healthy pieces out there. Let’s just say it’s a good thing Jalen Hurts can run, because he might be running for his life on Sunday.
I know Jim Schwartz promised a “No Hats Game” at the Linc this week, but I’m leaning toward Washington taking the division crown.
• Inquirer.com: Three of their four Eagles writers are picking Washington. Here's more from Jeff McLane, who is predicting a 24-16 win for the Football Team.
While many fans would prefer that the Eagles lose the season finale to improve their draft position, the team has other intentions. Doug Pederson could still be coaching for his job. Players with uncertain futures are still playing for jobs. The Eagles don’t want Washington to win the NFC East on their account.
So I expect the same full effort we’ve seen throughout this disappointing season and throughout Pederson’s tenure. That doesn’t mean it will be mistake-free. The Eagles are who they are, and it’s unlikely they’ll put together a clean 60 minutes of football, especially with a number of starters injured.
Washington should be in better shape at quarterback with Alex Smith likely back from injury. He isn’t flashy, but he knows how to get the job done, and I imagine he will here against a defensive secondary that is battered and bruised. Jalen Hurts gets his fourth straight start at quarterback and could be facing his toughest test against a sound defense with a ferocious front.
Could the Eagles be spoilers? I guess. Does it really matter if the six-win Cowboys or Giants are the division champs? But you play to win, and anyone can in the wretched NFC East. I just don’t think the Eagles will in this case.
• NJ.com staff: Four of their six writers are picking the Birds. Here's more from beat writer Mike Kaye, who among those predicting an Eagles win.
The Eagles laid a massive egg against Dallas last week, and change is on the horizon. However, while change is definitely coming, Doug Pederson’s crew is likely to battle for him in the season finale and Washington might be starting Taylor Heinicke at QB. I just get the sense the Eagles are going to play spoiler here…
PICK: Eagles 20, Washington 16
• NBC Sports Philadelphia: Four of their five football experts are picking Washington to take care of business and earn the division crown, including the legendary Ray Didinger, who sees a 20-16 loss for the Birds.
Alex Smith took first team reps on Thursday so it appears he will be at quarterback for Washington on Sunday. If so, I think Washington will win the game and claim first place in the feeble NFC East.
Smith missed the last two games with a strained calf and Washington lost both games, but the team is 4-1 in Smith's starts this season. He doesn't put up big numbers but unlike the recently deposed Dwayne Haskins he doesn't make the kind of mistakes that lose games. I don't expect Smith to scorch the Eagles with big plays the way Andy Dalton did last Sunday, but I don't think he will have to. Washington's D-line should feast on what's left of the Eagles offense and allow the WFT to win a low scoring game.
The recent trend in this division series is for the team that wins the first game to also win the second. The Eagles swept the series the last three years, Washington swept the two years before that. This season opened with a Washington victory, I think it will close the same way.
• Bleeding Green Nation staff: Six of their nine writers are picking the Eagles to pull off the upset.
• ESPN staff: Four of their nine NFL experts are picking the Eagles.
• Tim McManus, ESPN.com: Washington 24, Eagles 23
• John Keim, ESPN.com: Washington 21, Eagles 17
• Gregg Rosenthal, NFL.com: Washington 23, Eagles 20
The Eagles are nearly out of cornerbacks and running out of linemen on both sides of the ball. Washington, which recently said goodbye to Dwayne Haskins, is possibly out of quarterbacks, with recent practice-squader Taylor Heinicke taking first-team reps on Wednesday while Alex Smith tries to recover from a calf injury that has kept him out since Week 14. Heinicke looked capable in spot duty last week, but this pick is mostly about the Washington defense. This has been the best unit in the NFC East all season, and that should be just enough to take the Football Team over the finish line, no matter who is throwing the ball.
If Washington wins this game, it is the division champ. It won't be easy. Alex Smith is banged up and could be a game-time decision. That means it could be Taylor Heinicke. The Eagles have played much better on offense as of late with Jalen Hurts. The Eagles would love to spoil Washington's playoff party, and I think they will.
• Mike Florio, ProFootballTalk: Eagles 24, Washington 21
It’s win and in for Washington, but Washington is too banged up — and Eagles, who have absolutely nothing to lose, will be loose and dangerous.
• Michael David Smith, ProFootballTalk: Washington 20, Eagles 17
Washington wraps up a wacky season in the NFC East by winning the division in the last game of the regular season.
• USA TODAY Sports staff: Four of their seven NFL experts are picking the Eagles to pull off the upset.
• SB Nation: Six of their 10 experts are picking the Eagles over Washington.
• Bleacher Report, NFL staff: Eagles 23, Washington 20
All the Washington Football Team has to do in Week 17 is beat the four-win, depleted Philadelphia Eagles, and it will be off to the playoffs for the first time since 2015. But the majority of our analysts just don't trust this Washington team enough.
Not after back-to-back brutal losses to Seattle and Carolina. Not on the road against a rival that has nothing to lose and an exciting replacement quarterback in Jalen Hurts. Not with Washington quarterback Alex Smith fighting to get back from an ankle injury.
"Like any NFC East game with a near-pick'em line, this could go either way," Gagnon admitted. "But Jalen Hurts has injected nice energy into the Eagles, and Washington's miserable quarterback situation has become a big problem. Remember, even before he got hurt, Smith had thrown more interceptions (six) than touchdown passes (four). Fletcher Cox's injury could help Washington's cause, but I still think the Eagles show their resiliency and win a close finale at home to spoil everything for their rival."
Appropriately, though, we end the regular season with a decision that is not unanimous.
• The Athletic Eagles staff: Just one of their three Eagles writers are picking the Birds to win on Sunday. That's Sheil Kapadia, who sees a 24-23 win for the Birds.
For Washington, the scenario is simple. Win and it is in. If Smith can’t go, they’ll rely on Heinicke. For Eagles fans, this is a no-win situation. Lose this game and Washington gets in. Win this game, and it’s the Giants or Cowboys. However, winning also means forfeiting draft position. In a season where they’ve screwed just about everything up, it feels like that would be the outcome that would make Eagles fans the angriest.
• Bill Bender, Sporting News: Washington 24, Eagles 21
Washington needs a road victory here, but the question remains whether Alex Smith will be healthy enough to start at quarterback in a must-win situation. Jalen Hurts has a chance to play spoiler, and with the Cowboys watching closely, it will be close. Washington, however, comes up with a late turnover to clinch the division.
• Vinny Iyer, Sporting News: Eagles 23, Washington 20
There's a good chance Alex Smith returns at quarterback to start over Taylor Heinicke, but Washington will likely be without Terry McLaurin. The Eagles came down to earth offensively with Jalen Hurts in Dallas and their defense fell apart, too. Philadelphia needs a strong all-around showing at home for the sake of coach Doug Pederson. Washington will keep playing hard defensively for Ron Rivera but the offensive shortcomings keep hurting it as Philly plays spoiler in prime time.
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