8:30 PM EST, NBC – Line: Eagles -5.5, Over/Under: 47.5
Entering December, the race for the Playoffs is heating up as the red-hot Philadelphia Eagles look to extend their winning streak to ten games as they travel to the Pacific Northwest to face the wounded Seattle Seahawks, who are in contention for one of the Wild Cards in the NFC. Winners of nine consecutive contests, the Eagles (10-1, 1st in NFC East) enter the final quarter of the campaign as arguably the hottest team in the NFL, owning a comfortable Five-Game Lead in the NFC East, along with a Two-Game Advantage for the No. One Seed in the Conference, which would grant them Home Field Advantage throughout the Postseason. Needless to say, Doug Pederson’s charges are ahead of schedule, vastly improved over the group that stumbled to a 7-9 finfish a year ago. Of course, this quantum leap has had a lot to do with the meteoric rise of Carson Wentz (6.2%, 241.5 Y/G, 6.68 NY/A, 28 TD, 5 INT), who in just his Sophomore Season has established himself as a bonafide MVP candidate, if not the front-runner for the award. It’s hard to fathom that just two years ago, this kid was taking snaps at North Dakota State of a places, only to be selected Second Overall in the 2016 NFL Draft en route to enduring an uneven Rookie Campaign. A year after struggling with his decision-making, Wentz is leading the league in Touchdown Passes (Twenty-Eight), while only throwing Five Interceptions. When last we saw him, he was shredding the Chicago Bears’ beleaguered Defense on 23-of-36 Passing for 227 Yards and Three Touchdowns in the 31-3 rout. Philadelphia has done a masterful job of surrounding him with quality talent, from the Receiving Corps where the additions of Alshon Jeffery (43 REC, 619 YDS, 7 TD) and Torrey Smith (22 REC, 279 YDS, 2 TD) have provided versatility and verticality, to the Offensive Line where the return of Right Tackle Lane Johnson has galvanized a solid unit, to the Backfield where the additions of LaGarrette Blount (137 CAR, 658 YDS, 2 TD) and most recently Jay Ajayi (20 CAR, 197, YDS, 1 TD) has added a wealth of depth and most importantly balance. As a result, Pederson’s Offese has transformed into a juggernaut, scoring a league-high 31.9 Points (1st Overall) on 394.1 Total Yards (3rd Overall), including 246.6 through the air (15th Overall) on 6.7 Net Yards per Attempt (9th Overall), along with another 147.5 Yards o the ground (2nd Overall) on 4.6 Yards per Carry (3rd Overall). Furthermore, they’ve been among the best in the league when it comes to Situational Football, converting a healthy 45.5% of their Third Downs (3rd Overall), and scoring a Touchdown on an NFL-best 71.8% of their trips to the Red Zone. The Defense has also been a pleasant surprise, allowing 17.4 Points (3rd Overall) on 291.6 Total Yards (6th Overall), particularly the Pass Defense which began the season with a rash of injuries that left the Secondary short on both Depth and Experience. However, this group has performed admirably throughout the term, racking up the second-most Interceptions in the league (Sixteen), while permitting just 5.4 Net Yards per Attempt (4th Overall), despite the fact that opponents have attempted more passes against them than any other team in the NFL (38.9 A/G). Sophomore Cornerback Jalen Mills (51 TKL, 3 INT, 1 TD, 11 PD) has been solid, while the return of a healthy Ronald Darby (14 TKL, 1 INT, 5 PD in 3 Games) only further solidifies a unit with a wealth of potential. Of course, it sure helps having a quality Pass-Rush, which is what Defensive Coordinator Jim Schwartz has cultivated with one of the deepest Defensive Fronts in the league; the Eagles have amassed Thirty-One Sacks thus far (T-7th Overall), largely on the strength of a deep rotation that has seen eight different Linemen register a Sack. This is definitely something worth keeping an eye on in this matchup with Seattle, whose Offensive Line has struggled immensely over the past few years now. Opponents are only converting 28.6% of their Third Downs against these guys, which is the second-lowest mark in the league, primarily due to the Defensive Line’s ability to create negative plays in the Backfield, creating longer Down and Distance.
Meanwhile, as the Eagles continue to fly to new heights, the Seahawks (7-4, 2nd in NFC West) are in a proverbial dogfight for the final Wild Card in the NFC. At the moment, Pete Carroll’s charges are o the outside looking in, since they would lose the tiebreaker with the Atlanta Falcons (also 7-4), whom defeated them two weeks ago in a 34-31 thriller on Monday Night Football. However, as convoluted as the Wild Card may be, this team still has one card left to play, and that’s the Division Title; Seattle currently trails Los Angeles by one game in the NFC West, though will play them in two weeks, which combined with their previous 16-10 victory over the Rams back in early October would grant them the advantage to usurp them in the standings. With all that said, the path to a sixth consecutive Postseason Appearance will not be an easy one, for there are a number of things working against this team. First and foremost, the Defense must carry on without a number of prominent figures, with the likes of All-Pro Defensive Backs Richard Sherman (Achilles) and Kam Chancellor (Neck) out for the season with respective injuries. The Defense has been the foundation of the Seahawks’ success over the past five years, ranking tops in the league in Points Allowed for three consecutive years from 2013 to 2015. Furthermore, it’s where this team’s attitude comes from, and without half of their vaunted Legion of Boom it’s hard to fathom them being able to consistently play at such a high level. And to make matters worse, it’s not just those two stars that are on the shelf, for top Edge Rusher Cliff Avril (Neck) and fellow Cornerback Deshawn Shead (Knee) are also on Injured Reserve, while All-Pro Free Safety Earl Thomas (49 TKL, 2 INT, 1 TD, 4 PD, 1 FF) has been playing with a nagging Hamstring for over a month now. So now it’s up to Russell Wilson and the Offense to carry Seattle into the Playoffs, which could lead to disaster for Carrol and Co. To his credit, Wilson (62.3%, 275.4 Y/G, 6.56 NY/A, 23 TD, 8 INT) has done an admirable job carrying the attack, particularly when you consider the fact that he’s been their leading rusher with 401 Yards and Three Touchdowns on Sixty-Five Carries, but anyone with a pulse can tell you that that’s not how Carroll and his staff would prefer them to function. No folks, Wilson’s play has been absolutely out of necessity for the Running Game has been beset by injuries, with Tailbacks Chris Carson (Knee) and CJ Prosise (Ankle) on Injured Reserve, while both Eddie Lacy (68 CAR, 176 YDS) and Thomas Rawls (49 CAR, 125 YDS) have missed a number of games with ailments of their own. As a result, Seattle been marginal on the ground, rushing for 102.9 Yards (19th Overall) on just 3.9 Yards per Carry (23rd Overall), which has really hurt them in the Red Zone where they’ve scored a Touchdown on just 50.0% of their appearances in that area of the field (20th Overall). And then there is the play of the Offensive Line, which certainly hasn’t helped matters. Virtually every Offensive Snap appears to be on the verge of disaster as Wilson drops back with the Rush already hot on his tracks, with the elusive Quarterback having to improvise constantly; it’s a wonder he’s only been sacked Twenty-Six times, for any other Signal-Caller that wasn’t as fleet of foot wouldn’t fare nearly as well. It’s very much sandlot football for this unit. The Tackle position in particular is on Red Alert this week, with a wealth of their number dealing with a variety of ailments; Luke Joekel (Knee), Oday Aboushi (Shoulder), and Duane Brown (Ankle), who was acquired midseason in a trade with the Texans, are all listed as Questionable after each Lineman was held to limited participation in practice this week. As we stated earlier, this is not a positive situation with the Eagles’ ferocious Pass-Rush coming to town, for Offensive Line Coach Tom Cable will certainly have his work cut out for him.