The Philadelphia Eagles caught a huge break before their game against the Super Bowl champion Giants when it was announced that Pro Bowl wide receiver Hakeem Nicks would be listed as doubtful for the contest.
Since he was drafted in the first round in 2009, Nicks has been a top 10 receiver, and he’s coming off of consecutive 1,000-yard seasons in which he's averaged 78 receptions for 1,122 yards and nine touchdowns.
Last year in the playoffs, Nicks was a terror for opposing defenses, torching the Atlanta Falcons for 115 yards and two touchdowns and the Green Bay Packers for 165 yards and two touchdowns. In the Super Bowl win over the New England Patriots, Nicks hauled in 10 passes for 109 yards, finishing the postseason with 28 receptions for 444 yards and four touchdowns.
In his last 12 games (including the postseason), Nicks’ numbers projected over a full season are the following: 100 receptions for 1,588 yards and 11 touchdowns. That’s ridiculous production from a guy who helped Victor Cruz emerge as a breakout player in 2011.
If Nicks can’t go, the Eagles will likely see Ramses Barden playing in his role. Barden was a third-round pick the year the Giants selected Nicks, and he hasn’t done much so far in his three-plus seasons with the team. He had a huge breakout game against the Carolina Panthers last week with Nicks out, catching nine passes for 138 yards.
The Panthers do have an atrocious pass defense, that rated 27th in scoring defense last year, 28th in total defense and dead-last in net passing yards allowed per attempt. The Eagles have a substantially better defense in terms of all-around production: The defensive line is one of the NFL’s best units and should dominate the Giants’ extremely subpar offensive line.
The Eagles have a strong group of linebackers (two of them, anyway), and they currently lead the NFL in defensive passer rating (57.03). But they will see a strong test when they face Eli Manning and the Giants, Nicks or no Nicks.