The Eagles took a giant step forward last week (pun intended) by knocking off New York, and with their Week 11 victory, the Birds remain alive in the NFC playoff hunt, even if just barely. At 4-6, winning the remainder of their regular season games seems to be the one option to garner a realistic chance of making the postseason, but with the 7-3 Patriots coming to town this weekend, the road to the playoffs could very well start out rough. New England, which has provided Philly with a few heartbreakers in recent years, from the Super Bowl XXXIX decision to the Birds' 2007 near-upset of a then-undefeated team, will certainly provide a challenge for the Eagles--a challenge that might ultimately determine whether or not this club is ready to make a deep run toward the promised land.
For a team among the AFC's best, the Patriots have had a horrendous defense for most of the 2011 season, thanks in part to poor personnel decisions and a handful of injuries. The pass rush has been surprisingly effective in recent games, but overall, it's highlighted by aging castoffs, which, in a way, compares to the team's secondary. While corners Kyle Arrington and Devin McCourty have proven to be ball hawks, the cumulative performance of the defensive backfield has been awful. Of course, the Patriots have all but cloaked their defensive woes because of a practically unstoppable offense, which features familiar, albeit productive weapons like quarterback Tom Brady, wide receiver Wes Welker, and young tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.
The Eagles rarely take on the Patriots, but when the two powers get together, there tends to be a thriller. Following the '04 season, New England just edged a loaded Eagles team in the NFL title game, while '07 brought an unpredictably tense clash between Brady and--wait for it--A.J. Feeley, who was filling in for an injured Donovan McNabb at the time. To maintain a realistic shot at the playoffs, the Eagles need to defeat the Patriots this time around, but it's far from certain they'll be able to do just that. In fact, it appears as if the Birds could be relying on backup quarterback Vince Young to work his magic for a second consecutive week with Michael Vick still recovering from a rib injury. Either way, Sunday's anticipated showdown figures to be one of the best of this NFL week, and could go a long way in shaping up the postseason picture for both conferences.
As Week 12's Eagles-Patriots matchup approaches, here are a few key questions and players to watch:
Eagles-Patriots Key Questions:
- Can the Eagles' secondary limit Tom Brady and the Patriots offense? This has to be the most important question surrounding Sunday's game. Brady has been among the league's best quarterbacks as expected, and he has no shortage of weapons at his disposal this season. From Welker and Gronkowski to Deion Branch and Chad Ochocinco, there are a seemingly limitless amount of options for Brady in the passing game, so the Eagles will arguably need to play their best, especially if starting corner Nnamdi Asomugha is sidelined with a sudden knee injury that surfaced in a Thanksgiving Day practice.
- Will the Eagles be able to take advantage of New England's secondary? Up against questionable defensive backfields earlier this year, the Eagles struggled to take advantage of their explosiveness and build on leads, but against the Patriots, they just might have to do that in order to win. With Brady operating a nearly unstoppable offense on the other side of the ball, it would be wise for the Birds to do as much damage to New England's defense throughout the contest. It might be up to Vince Young, LeSean McCoy, and DeSean Jackson to step up if players like Vick and Jeremy Maclin are forced to sit out once again.
- Can the Eagles overcome their horrendous streak of losses at home? For whatever reason, the Eagles have been awful at home as of late, so taking care of business at the Linc against the Patriots should be a top priority. Ever since the decline of the team late in 2010, the Eagles have struggled to come away with victories in Philadelphia, instead finding most of their success on the road. Sunday's game isn't in Foxborough, however, so the Birds must find some way to use home-field advantage and get another must-needed win.
Players To Keep An Eye On:
- QB Vince Young: If he starts in place of Vick for a second straight game, he'll need to put forth another strong performance if he plans to top Tom Brady and Co.
- WR DeSean Jackson: With Maclin potentially sidelined for another week due to a shoulder injury, Jackson's big-play skills might be needed in a likely shootout with the Patriots.
- DE Trent Cole: Tom Brady tends to have tons of time in the passing pocket, so pressuring the quarterback could be huge for Cole and the rest of the Eagles defense.
- OLB Akeem Jordan: Jordan has quietly replaced Moise Fokou in the starting lineup, and he'll have a tough task in coverage against the Pats' dangerous TEs on Sunday.
- CB Asante Samuel: A former Patriot himself, Samuel hasn't been as big of a turnover threat this season as usual, but some key plays against New England would benefit the secondary greatly.
Game Prediction: After topping the Giants in an emotional win last Sunday, the Eagles have some intensity in them, and it's clear they want to make a turnaround after a rough start to the year. Stopping Tom Brady will not be easy, and the Birds might not do it at all, but they have enough firepower on offense to pull out a close victory and boost their momentum even more. Predicted Score: Eagles 31, Patriots 30