"Stakes is High" - Birds thoughts & prediction on today's BIG Eagles-Cowpatties game
NFL games in the regular season don't get any bigger than this. The winner of today's Eagles/Cowboys game (in Dallas, 4:15PM) will win the NFC East and host their first playoff game. If the Eagles win, they get a first round bye. I think some other things have to happen for Cowboys to get a first round bye (if they can at all); not sure. While still in holidaze-recovery mode, I haven't been able to stay up on every detail.
Additional stakes? Momentum, "peaking at the right time," confidence, and more. Both teams are playing well. Eagles have won six straight games, and Dallas, after having lost 3 straight thru mid-Dec, have won their last two games, both on the road, including the upset of the year in beating the Saints (and ending their undefeated season), and last weekend shutting out Redskins.
In the Eagles 6-game stretch (and it must be stated, all these games were against average or below average teams, none, I think are going to the post-season), something unprecedented has taken place: after 11 years as Head Coach/King of the Empire, Andy Reid (or is it really someone else?) has engineered the most balanced offense this Eagles team has ever executed. 53% passing, 47% running (see more on these details and Hall-of-Fame writer Ray Didinger's analysis here). And our offense has NEVER looked so good, and run so smoothly. Now for those friends of mine, and followers of this blog who have paid attention, you know, this has ALWAYS been Reid's biggest weakness, and my biggest frustration with him: he outright fails to see what is working and what isn't as a head coach. That's precisely why I've wanted him fired for years now. The most he has ever committed to the run and this type of balanced attack, until this point, in his decade(+) as Head Coach here has been two games. Two.
For whatever reason, we're going on 6 straight games now. The reason it's so tough to predict Eagles games and Eagles seasons, is not because of the teams we're scheduled to play, or match-ups and everything else, it's because you never know when Reid is going to pay the fuck attention and do what he always talks about doing but almost never does: putting his players in the best position to succeed. There is absolutely no method to his madness at all. It's what frustrates Eagles fans so much.
Eagles fans/amateur football analysts: don't chalk this "run-heavy" offense up to having the lead, and killing the clock. For one, Reid kills the clock with PASSING. Seriously. Last weekend's Denver game is the most recent example of this. He almost never runs to kill the clock. Secondly If you've ever watched an Eagles game where Reid actually does commit and stay w/ running, even when it's not highly effective, it's WAY obvious to see him doing it. It happens from the get-go, early in the game and the offensive linemen are smiling. You are seeing things he almost never does in this case: calling two running plays in a row; running on 2nd and short and (gasp!) 3rd and short; handing the ball off to the full back (gasp again!), and sometimes, when the planets are aligned, he decides to run THREE TIMES IN A ROW!
I could go on about Reid's highly-dysfunctional, moderately successful, and yet, quite honestly, still underachieving career here (1 win, 4 losses in conference-championship games), but there's only so much I can take during the holiday season. I WANT Reid to prove me wrong. I WANT Reid to prove to me he has what it takes to get a team to the SuperBowl and win. So far he hasn't, and his own deficiencies are the reason. He's a really good coach. And he's responsible for all the success this team has had in his 11 years here. He's also responsible for all of the team's shortcomings.
Prediction on today's game:
I wouldn't bet on this game if you gave me money. It should be very close and no team winning it is a big surprise, although I'd be more surprised if Eagles won. On paper, all the match-ups are even enough, to discard them. Players on both sides of the ball, for both teams, have roughly the same amount of strengths and weaknesses. Game-day coaching is even (really, though, does anyone think Andy Reid could've gone down to New Orleans two weeks again and engineer a win like Wade Phillips mustered?). Look, If Reid can continue the balanced offense, and "run-committing" that he has the last 6 weeks, I think we will win. 26 called rushing attempts or more, I would say. I think today is the day he moves on from this winning philosophy. We'll see.
The" intangibles" are what stick out to me a little more in this game, and will make the difference I think. Dallas already beat us this year, here in Philly. Today, they're playing at home. I DEF consider this an advantage for them, and you can count on seeing at least one BIG call going their way (undeservedly) from the Refs today. Revenge: last year, we beat them 44-6 in Philly, if memory serves (also the last regular season game), and knocked them out of the playoffs. I am confident this will translate to them being more aggressive on both sides of the ball than us, and give them a little more explosiveness/incentive. Their confidence is high. When you beat the Saints like they did, followed by a shutout last week - as putrid as the Redskins are - you are confident you can do anything. This will no doubt be the toughest team the Eagles played in almost two months.
I think Dallas wins today. But like I often say, "I hope I'm wrong." I hope Eagles CRUSH them by 30 points. Or even beat them by one point. I just don't see it happening today.