Depending on your point of view, the Philadelphia Eagles’ bye week could have come at either precisely the right time, or the wrong time. The break allowed the Birds to rest up for a potential playoff run over the final five games of the season, but perhaps at the expense of any momentum they built during an ongoing three-game winning streak.
Would the Eagles have benefited from an earlier or simply better-timed recess? There’s a mindset in sports that the worst thing for a hot team can be a day off. It’s not merely a physical breather, but an interruption in concentration and chemistry as well. How will the players respond once they’re thrust back into a live situation?
Fortunately, Chip Kelly doesn’t get caught up in thinking about things his team can’t control. The first-year head coach stressed that the bye would not be a factor moving forward when he met with the media last week. Per PhiladelphiaEagles.com:
Well, I think this bye occurred exactly when the NFL planned it, because we knew about this when the schedule came out. So we've had a schedule in place knowing that we're going to play 11 games and get a break. So everybody in the league has a bye in their thing. So we don't really worry about it. I think when you start to think God, we're really playing well, I wish we didn't have a bye. Things that we don't control, we don't worry about.
We knew it was coming up. We knew how we were going to handle it and we've had the same schedule in place since June, so so be it. If you come out after a bye and don't play well, if you blame it on we were on a roll and had to take a break, you're giving yourself built-in excuses, and that's not what this deal is all about. We don't make excuses.
In other words, if the Eagles fail to take care of business against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 13, don’t blame it on holiday.
And the streaking Cardinals represent a huge game for Philadelphia, by the way. With their win on Sunday, the Dallas Cowboys shifted the pressure back on to idle Philly as the rivals now own identical records. The Eagles can’t afford to fall behind thanks to issues with tiebreakers, while a loss to Arizona would also be extremely damaging to any faint wild-card hopes.
The Birds’ schedule doesn’t get much easier from here, either. We examine all of that and more in this week’s edition of "What You Need to Know," beginning with our look at the NFC East standings.
NFC East Standings
|Team||Record||Division Rec.||Last Game||Next Game|
|Dallas Cowboys||6-5||4-0||W @ NYG||vs. OAK|
|Philadelphia Eagles||6-5||3-2||Bye||vs. ARZ|
|New York Giants||4-7||1-3||L vs. DAL||@ WAS|
|Washington Redskins||3-8||0-3||vs. SF||vs. NYG|
Looks like the Cowboys are gearing up for a fight to the finish—literally. Philadelphia collides with Dallas in Week 17, a matchup that could very well decide the NFC East championship.
With their win over the Giants on Sunday, however, the Cowboys may have clinched a key tiebreaker in the race against the Eagles. Philadelphia can no longer finish with a better record in the division, which means the Birds likely must finish with a better mark overall to earn the East’s playoff berth.
The Eagles aren’t necessarily out of the playoffs if they don’t win the division. They’re only one game back of a wild-card spot and have the opportunity this week to take out one of the teams in front in the Cardinals.
Winning the NFC East is still the easiest road to the tournament, though. Carolina has eight wins and is going strong. San Francisco and Arizona are already up to seven each, and either Detroit or Chicago should be in the mix as well, currently with six wins apiece—maybe even Green Bay at five. That’s a lot of company gunning for two openings.
After feasting on third-string quarterbacks for four straight weeks, New York’s run of good fortune finally came to an end against Dallas. Not coincidentally, so did the Giants’ winning streak, and by extension, probably their season too.
It seems unlikely Washington would retain Mike Shanahan as its head coach beyond 2013. Never mind the team missed the playoffs in three of the past four seasons. Robert Griffin III’s regression in year two must be especially disconcerting.
The organization has three first-round picks and a second invested in RG3 as its franchise quarterback. Shanahan is entering the final year of his contract. Doubt he sees that.
This Week’s Opponent: Arizona Cardinals (7-4)
Don’t look now, but Arizona has amassed a somewhat surprising 7-4 record. The Cardinals will be riding a hot streak of their own into Lincoln Financial Field this weekend, winners of four consecutive. Of course, three of the teams they’ve beaten are still stuck on two wins, while their 40-11 victory on Sunday came at the expense of a depleted Indianapolis Colts squad.
The Cards certainly are formidable, though. The NFL’s leading rusher, LeSean McCoy (91.7 YPG), meets the league’s second-ranked run defense in the Cardinals (81.3 YPG), while Nick Foles’ streak of 185 pass attempts without an interception will be challenged by one of the league’s most opportunistic secondaries, tied for third with 15 picks.
The big difference for Arizona of late—other than a fortuitous schedule—has been Carson Palmer’s renaissance. Over the past four games, the 10th-year veteran has completed 69 percent of his passes for 286.5 yards per game with eight touchdowns to two interceptions. Those numbers are good for an impressive 110.8 quarterback rating.
|S Colt Anerson||Ankle||Did Not Practice|
|S Earl Wolff||Knee||Did Not Practice|
The Eagles received a bit of good news in the form of two injured defensive starters returning to practice last Tuesday. Interior linebacker Mychal Kendricks and cornerback Bradley Fletcher missed Philadelphia’s last game with injuries, but both players assured CSNPhilly.com’s Geoff Mosher they would be ready for the upcoming tilt versus the Cardinals.
Mosher notes Earl Wolff did not practice before the break, however. The rookie was considered week-to-week last we heard, and we should learn more about the starting safety’s status for Arizona when practice resumes on Tuesday.
At his day-after press conference (broadcast on Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia), Kelly informed the assembled media that Michael Vick would be ready after the bye as well. Don’t search too hard for any signs of a quarterback controversy in Philly, though—even Vick believes Nick Foles should remain the starter, per an interview the four-time Pro Bowler gave radio station 94 WIP (h/t CSNPhilly.com's Reuben Frank):
“In all honesty, in all fairness, how can you take a guy out of the game who’s been playing so well?” Vick said.
“I’ve been in this stage before, and I know what it’s like. I understand the position that this team is in, and the one thing I never want to do is be a distraction or put our team or our coaches in a position where they feel like they’re not doing the right thing or I feel like they’re not doing the right thing.
What Must Improve (Down-the-Stretch Edition)
You can’t say enough about the job Kelly and his team has done in the past three games. The quarterback has been lights out, the offense is firing on all cylinders and the defense hasn’t allowed more than 21 points in the past seven games.
There’s only one problem at the moment to be honest.
Strength of Schedule
The Eagles haven’t beaten anybody yet. At 5-5-1, Green Bay represents the best record of any opponent Philadelphia has defeated this season, and the Packers were without superstar quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Everyone else is under .500.
To be fair, a team can only ever beat the opponent that’s on the schedule, and the Birds have been doing just that. If they’re going to make the playoffs, however, they’re actually going to be faced with some playoff-caliber teams along the way.
The only remaining team with a losing record is Minnesota—Arizona, Detroit, Chicago and Dallas are all over .500, all very much in the thick of the NFC playoff hunt. The Eagles still need to prove they belong in the conversation, and they’ll have the chance beginning on Sunday.