8:15 PM EST, FOX – Line: Eagles -7.5, Over/Under: 48
The Divisional Round of the 2023 Playoffs rages on as bitter rivals clash for the third time in little over a month, as the top-seeded Philadelphia Eagles look for a three-peat over the surprising New York Giants, fresh off their triumphant upset of the Vikings last weekend. Indeed, there have been great stories around the NFL this season, but the resurrection of the Giants (9-7-1, 3rd in NFC East) should be among the most notable, for after years of being lost in the proverbial wilderness, they have returned to not just relevance, but the postseason at large. After enduring a miserable decade in which they posted a nauseating 61-100 record (.378) with just two winning seasons, including only one playoff appearance with nary a victory to show for it, New York hit the reset button hard in the offseason, poaching the tandem of (Head Coach) Brian Daboll and (General Manager) Joe Schoen from crosstown rival, Buffalo, to remake a historic yet floundering organization. These two individuals were instrumental in ending the longest postseason drought in the league, while developing the Bills into a perennial Super Bowl contender, and have brought that blueprint to the Meadowlands, where they should be commended for the job that they’ve done. Many coaches struggle in their first season with their new charges primarily due to stubbornness, as they struggle to find personnel to fit their system instead of adapting said scheme to fit the talent at their disposal. Well, that notion doesn’t apply to Daboll, who has gone out of his way to take some Big Blue’s longest standing weaknesses and turn them into strengths. So, what in the name of Phil Simms has happened to the G-Men, you ask? Well, first and foremost, the 47-year-old fixed the Offensive Line, taking a unit that ranked twenty-fourth in both rushing yards (99.3) and yards per carry (4.0), along with dead-last in the red zone (44.7%), to finish his first season in charge at fourth overall in rushing offense (148.2), fifth in yards per carry (4.8), and seventh in the red zone (63.3%). Hell, after totaling just eight rushing scores a year ago, they’ve racked up twenty-one this season! (Third year Left Tackle) Andrew Thomas really improved this year, while the addition of (2022 7th overall pick) Evan Neal has cemented a place on the opposite flank, while the addition of (veteran Center) Jon Feliciano from Buffalo has brought a cohesion and leadership to a unit that had lacked it for years. It also certainly helps having a healthy (Pro-Bowl Tailback) Saquon Barkley in the mix, who behind a solid Offensive Line has returned to his playmaking ways. Slowed by injuries over the last two seasons and facing a contract year, the 25-year-old became the fulcrum of the attack, rushing for a career-high 1,312 yards and ten touchdowns, while reeling fifty-seven receptions for another 338 yards. However, the biggest surprise of this new regime has been the strides made by (young Quarterback) Daniel Jones, who has been a revelation in 2022. Simply put, the much-maligned Jones (pictured below) was on the verge of being thrown out of the Empire State prior to Daboll’s arrival, primarily due to a troubling knack for turning the football over, with nobody in the league committing more turnovers (49!) over the previous three years. However, just as he did with Josh Allen, Daboll has worked wonders with Jones; the 25-yaer-old has posted career-highs in a slew of categories, including completion percentage (67.1%), yards per attempt (6.8), passer rating (92.5), and QBR (60.6), along with game-winning drives (5) and fourth quarter comebacks (4). The key is that he has refrained from giving the ball away, with a career-low five interceptions and just three lost fumbles. Utilizing his mobility has been a huge factor to his success, for while he may not invoke images of Lamar Jackson or Kyler Murray, the guy that some in the Big Apple are referring to as “Vanilla Vick” has been sneaky good with 708 rushing yards and seven scores on 5.9 yards per carry. With the train of thought that he has done enough to keep his job moving forward, particularly after eliminating the Vikings last weekend (much more on that watershed moment shortly), the question is if he can keep the ball rolling in Philadelphia? Like many of his teammates, Jones didn’t participate in the season finale, but he did take the field in their previous meeting with the birds three weeks prior, a 48-22 drubbing at MetLife Stadium. On that day, the Eagles raced out to 21-0 lead, while the hosts could manage just ninety-two total yards on their four possessions during the first half. Jones finished that afternoon with 169 yards and a touchdown on 18-of-27 passing, while rushing for a short score before eventually giving way to (veteran Backup) Tyrod Taylor. The two passers were under fire throughout the affair, suffering seven sacks, twelve hits, and fourteen pressures in the lopsided defeat.
When we last saw the Giants, they earned their first playoff victory since winning Super Bowl XLVI over a decade ago, finishing off the Vikings in a 31-24 upset on Wild Card Weekend. After falling short of defeating the Northmen just three weeks prior, New York was a trendy favorite to knock off the NFC North Champions, primarily due to their atrocious Defense, which Daboll’s troops were prepared to exploit. After relinquishing a 12-play, 75-yard touchdown drive to open the evening, Big Blue responded with seventeen unanswered points, highlighted by a 28-yard jaunt into the end zone by Barkley, before Jones hit (Sophomore Receiver) Isaiah Hodgins for a 14-yard score. The hosts would strike back to cut the deficit to three points before halftime, but they were unable to retake the lead the rest of the way. The visitors hit paydirt shortly after intermission, with Jones swiftly guiding them seventy-five yards downfield in six plays, finding () Daniel Bellinger for a 9-yard touchdown. The Vikings would tie it at 24-24 early in the fourth quarter, but Jones & Co completely took the air out of the football with a 12-play, 75-yard drive ending with another Barkley touchdown to reestablish the lead, which they would not relinquish. When it was all said and done, the G-Men amassed 431 total yards on twenty-eight first downs, rushing for 142 yards on thirty carries, leading to a stellar 7-of-13 showing on third down and a commanding advantage in time of possession (33:36). Jones was nothing short of excellent, becoming the first player in NFL history to throw for 300+ yards and a pair of passing touchdowns, while rushing for 75+ yards to boot, shredding the Northmen with both his arm and legs. It was a balanced effort for Barkley, who offered fifty-three rushing yards and another fifty-six through the air, while Hodgins posted his finest performance of the campaign, with a career-high 105 yards on eight receptions. Defensively, (Defensive Coordinator) Wink Martindale’s troops didn’t sack Kirk Cousins, but they were in his face all evening, totaling eleven hits and pressures, led by (Pro-Bowl Defensive Tackle) Dexter Lawrence, who hit him four times, including a late pressure on the final drive of the day that could have been flagged for pass interference. Looking to this third leg with the Eagles, the Giants have oftentimes found themselves on the wrong end of this rivalry of late, winning just two of their last ten meetings, including each of those two previous encounters this season. In five career meetings with Philadelphia, Jones has posted a 2-3 record with a completion percentage of 65.4%, while averaging 220.6 yards per game on 6.27 net yards per attempt with five touchdowns in comparison to two interceptions, while rushing for another 47.6 yards per game and two scores. As for Barkley, he’s averaged 97.8 yards from scrimmage in seven meetings with the birds, netting 5.4 yards per touch and four total touchdowns. From a betting perspective, it’s been a different story though, as New York has covered the spread in six of those affairs. And speaking of the spread, few teams have been hot in this regard as the G-Men, who have covered the number in eight of their last ten games overall regardless of the venue, including each of their last five outings. They’ve also matched those records over their last ten contests away from MetLife Stadium, while also posting an 8-2 record against the spread when receiving points from the oddsmakers. Furthermore, they’ve covered the spread in four of their last five trips to Lincoln Financial Field. On the injury front, Big Blue emerged from that triumph in Minneapolis largely healthy and intact, with the only question marks being (Guard) Shane Lemieux and (Defensive Lineman) Nick Williams, who are both listed as questionable with various ailments.
Meanwhile, much can change in a matter of weeks in the NFL, so we’ll forgive any of you who may have forgotten about the Eagles (14-3, 1st in NFC East), who for the bulk of the regular season were easily the best team in the league. Indeed, (Head Coach) Nick Sirianni’s troops carried over their late season momentum from 2021 into 2022, getting off to a torrid 13-1 start, their best in franchise history. During that period, they were eviscerating the opposition by an average of 11.7 points and 100.6 total yards per game, while enjoying a very healthy turnover differential of +12. The ground game, led by (third year Quarterback) Jalen Hurts, was churning out a whopping 158.6 yards per contest, while an aggressive Defense had racked up an NFL-best FIFTY-FIVE sacks with twenty-five takeaways, fifteen of which were interceptions. By and large, Hurts (pictured below) was playing at an MVP level, completing 67.3% of his passes for an average of 248.0 yards on a healthy 7.67 net yards per attempt with twenty-two touchdowns opposed to just five interceptions, while rushing for another 53.4 yards per game and thirteen scores. The 24-year-old improved immensely as a passer this season, with much of his success building off his threat as a runner, which as we’ve seen over the course of his young career is nothing short of formidable. Like their counterparts tonight, Sirianni and (Offensive Coordinator) Shane Steichen have done an excellent job of utilizing their Quarterback’s mobility on designed runs plays, forcing opposing Safeties to come down into the box, which has in turn opened up a wealth of space for the Receiving Corps to make plays. (General Manager) Howie Roseman has been on fire since last Spring, but by far and away the most notable move that the longtime executive did was trading for the services of (Pro-Bowl Receiver) A.J. Brown, who was disenchanted with life in Tennessee, arriving during the 2022 NFL Draft in exchange for a first and third round pick. Bringing a sorely needed physical presence to the passing game, the 25-year-old immediately hit it off with Hurts, posting career-highs in a slew of categories including receptions (88), receiving yards (1,496), and touchdowns (11), with five 100-yard games in his first run in the City of Brotherly Love. However, the joyride got a little bumpy towards the end of the regular season, when Hurts suffered a shoulder injury in a 25-20 win at the Bears, sidelining him for the next two games, both of which were losses to the likes of the Cowboys (40-34) and the Saints (20-10). With (Backup Quarterback) Garnder Minshew at the controls, the Offense was far more turnover-prone with five during that period, including four in the Christmas Eve loss at Dallas. As you can imagine, balance was a major issue without Hurts on the field, with Sirianni’s troops churning out a meager 77.0 yards per game. Sure, Minshew can sling it all over the gridiron, but he’s nowhere near the running threat that Hurts is, which makes this high-powered attack all the more pedestrian without him. Those two losses, coupled with the resurgence of San Francisco and Dallas, forced Philadelphia into a clinching scenario in the regular season finale against the Giants (much more on that affair in a bit); basically, if they won (which they did), then they would have secured the top seed in the NFC, while a loss would put them in peril as the Niners hammered the Cardinals. Sirianni played many of his starters, including Hurts in that one, which was a risky proposition given the health of his Quarterback’s shoulder, though this last week off should go a long way towards his return to full strength. The question is, how healthy is that shoulder? If he’s not 100%, then what are the odds that he avoids that dreadful showing in last year’s playoffs, in which he could do nothing until garbage time of a 31-15 rout at the hands of the Buccaneers? There is a precedent for Philly to succeed here, for the last two times that they’ve been the NFC’s number one seed have seen them advance to the Super Bowl, with their most recent instance being that watershed triumph in Super Bowl LII.
When we last saw the Eagles, they locked up the top seed in the NFC two weeks ago with a 22-16 victory over these same Giants, which more or less amounted to a glorified walk-through for tonight’s showdown. A week after clinching a Wild Card berth, New York had nothing to play for in this one, and that set the table for a contest that featured SIX field goals from the two sides, five of which coming courtesy of (young Kicker) Jake Elliott. Of course, all eyes were on Hurts and that bulky shoulder that kept him out of action for two weeks; it was a mixed bag for the Pro-Bowler, who completed 20-of-35 passes for 229 with an interception, while being largely contained on the ground, rushing for a mere thirteen yards on nine attempts. Furthermore, he was sacked three times and pressured on eleven occasions. As a whole, the Offense amassed 342 total yards on twenty-three first downs, rushing for 135 yards on thirty-four carries, though converted just 5-of-14 third downs. The triumvirate of (Tailbacks) Boston Scott, Kenneth Gainwell, and Miles Sanders accounted for 122 yards on the ground, while the aforementioned Brown hauled in only four of his ten targets, though made the most of them with ninety-five yards. Defensively, (Defensive Coordinator) Jonathan Gannon’s unit performed well against what was essentially the Giants’ B-Team, yielding 284 total yards on eighteen first downs, limiting them to just 4-of-14 on third down and just two trips into the red zone. Looking to tonight’s third encounter with the Giants, the Eagles have OWNED this rivalry of late, winning eight of the last ten meetings, including each of their two previous battles this season. In six career meetings with New York, Hurts owns a 4-2 record, which completing 57.1% of his passes for an average of 129.0 yards on just 5.62 net yards per attempt, with four touchdowns and interceptions apiece, though has enjoyed much more success on the ground with 175 rushing yards and another score on thirty carries, netting 5.0 yards per carry. From a betting perspective, Philadelphia may have won seven of their last ten games overall straight-up, only for that record to be inversed against the spread (3-7) regardless of the venue. These birds are 6-4 against the spread over their last ten outings at Lincoln Financial Field and have failed to cover the line in each of their last three contests when favored by the oddsmakers. Furthermore, are riding a four-game losing streak against the spread overall, along with a five-game skid in that regard in the month of January. With that said, Philly has generally handled themselves well in this particular round of the playoffs, covering the spread in five consecutive divisional round affairs. On the injury front, the bye week appears to have treated Sirianni’s troops well, though there are some lingering concerns, as (Pro-Bowl Right Tackle) Lane Johnson isn’t expected to return until next week at the earliest due to a partial abdominal tear, while (Defensive End) Josh Sweat is questionable to participate in this matchup due to head injury.