As frustrating as it may sound to Eagles fans ready for this year's mess of a season to be done with, Philadelphia's abominably slim playoff hopes remain alive thanks to a disastrous performance from the rest of the NFC over the weekend. Eight losses through 12 games have not killed the Birds, despite a number of evident issues both on and off the field (Andy Reid, anyone?) and extremely inaccurate expectations, but the surging Dolphins will likely have a chance to put a final nail in the Eagles' coffin this Sunday, when Philly travels to Miami for a cross-conference matchup of lowly teams headed in opposite directions. The Eagles have seemingly faced "must-win" scenarios for over a month, but this week's showdown with the 'Phins figures to be an authentic determination of whether or not the Eagles continue fighting for their desperate postseason hopes.
The Dolphins have the same record as the Eagles at 4-8 through 13 weeks of regular season action, but there's no reason to believe Philadelphia is any better than Miami. In fact, it would arguably be a stretch to say that the Eagles are even worthy of the same record. The Birds, despite Super Bowl aspirations after years of playoff success and a frenzied post-lockout offseason that included the addition of, oh, a hundred or so big-name free agents, have won back-to-back games just once in 2011 and have been inconsistent since Day One. The Dolphins, meanwhile, opened up with seven consecutive losses, but have rebounded in a big way with four wins over the last five weeks, but perhaps more importantly, a true sense of unity moving forward.
Perhaps the Eagles could learn from the Dolphins on Sunday afternoon when the two teams get together for a Week 14 battle. The latter organization has turned its season around, and while reaching the playoffs is probably out of the question for Miami, the 'Phins have shown an ability to come together and persevere when the going gets tough--something the Eagles have failed to prove to their determined and frustrated fan base this season. At this point, the Eagles will need both a complete turnaround themselves and help from their NFC East rivals to have any shot at cracking the postseason, but Sunday's game could give them a chance to at least show there remains a "fight" in the team--a desire to make things better and overcome an immensely rocky start.
As Week 14's Eagles-Dolphins game approaches, here are a few key questions and a game prediction:
Can Michael Vick provide a much-needed spark for the offense? For the first time since Week 10 against Arizona, Michael Vick is set to start at quarterback for the Eagles after finally recovering from a pair of broken ribs. Unable to practice for nearly a month following his injury, the speedy passer is fully expected to be back on the field after participating in preparations this week, and his presence could be needed to provide the offense with a spark. Vince Young was effective in his first game as a replacement for Vick, but turnovers haunted the backup afterwards, while the receiving corps has also been hit-or-miss without Vick's cannon of an arm to rely on.
Will the Eagles offensive line be able to hold up against Miami's defense? Just because Michael Vick will make his return to the lineup doesn't mean the Eagles offense will immediately revert to its consistent explosiveness, however. The offensive line could face a tough task keeping Vick out of harm's way on Sunday, especially with the Dolphins playing admirably on the defensive side of the ball as of late. Miami's pass rush and linebacker corps, led by productive veterans Kevin Burnett and Karlos Dansby, has stepped up in the team's recent turnaround, so the men in the trenches could have to step up for Philadelphia, especially if the Dolphins dial up a number of blitzing packages this weekend.
How will the defense's adjustments fare against Reggie Bush and the Dolphins? Reggie Bush has never been known as a full-time, heavy-workload running back, but the Dolphins have taken advantage of his athleticism as of late, getting him the ball in space and allowing him to take pressure off replacement quarterback Matt Moore. Shutting down or at least limiting Bush could be crucial for the Eagles defense, and the Birds' recent adjustments on that side of the ball could come into play. At middle linebacker, Jamar Chaney will remain in the starting lineup, but rookie Casey Matthews, who opened the year as a first-stringer, but was quickly pushed to the bench, has been inserted as one of the team's nickel LBs.
Game Prediction: The Eagles have been embarrassed for two weeks in a row, dropping big games to Tom Brady and the Patriots...then, of all people, Tarvaris Jackson and the Seahawks. This might be stretching it, but with Mike Vick back along with Jeremy Maclin and the rest of the team working off 10 days of rest, Philly should be able to show some life and just barely get by the 'Phins this Sunday. Predicted Score: Eagles 24, Dolphins 21