Twelve weeks ago, this date may have been circled on the calendar as a possible Super Bowl preview – not just a rematch from Super Bowl XXXIX, but a standoff of the best teams in each conference.
The New England Patriots appear in good position to win their third consecutive AFC East title. Meanwhile, the Philadelphia Eagles hold slim hope to simply make the playoffs in the weak NFC East by the skin of their proverbial teeth. New England looks for a third consecutive victory while Philadelphia hopes to evade oblivion by knocking off another division leader.
New England (7-3) dropped consecutive games to Pittsburgh and the New York Giants, then rebounded by blowing out the Jets and Kansas City by a combined 71-19 score. That has helped the Patriots build a two-game division lead over the Jets and Buffalo. Though its lead might seem safe considering New England’s final six games are against teams without a winning record, QB Tom Brady is far from satisfied and the team is far from complacent.
Philadelphia (4-6), meanwhile, is envious of where the Patriots find themselves. Though the underachieving Eagles’ immediate goal should be to reach .500 (currently 4-6 after a 1-4 start), their 17-10 road upset of the New York Giants last Sunday left them just two games behind the NFC East-leading Giants and Dallas (with one game vs. Dallas remaining).
New England has won the last three meetings with Philadelphia, including 24-21 in Super Bowl XXXIX though the last game was 2007 (31-28 New England victory). Both teams look very different than they did in 2007, let alone that January 2005 Super Bowl showdown.
Tom “Golden Boy” Brady of course remains a stalwart in New England as does Coach Bill Belichick. Andy Reid’s roster has been completely turned over from that Super Bowl run (David Akers was the last remnant). Brady has completed 66.4 % of his passes for 871 yards with 6 TD and no INT sporting a 3-0 record versus Philadelphia. Brady also threw for 380 and a score in their most recent showdown (2007) and expects to exploit the Philadelphia defense via aerial attack once again.
More recently, Brady was an efficient 15 of 27 for 234 yards with TD passes of 52 and 19 yards to TE Rob Gronkowski in Monday’s 34-3 drubbing of the Kansas City Chiefs. The Patriots totaled 380 yards, including 157 on the ground, but Brady believes his team can be more potent out of the gate. New England plans to do just that against a weak Eagles run defense and wounded pass defense (Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie both questionable). This could get seriously ugly!
Gronkowski continues to play at a high level with 20 receptions for 310 yards and five TDs over the last three games. His 20 TD in 26 career games are the most ever by a tight end in his first two NFL seasons. With Asomugha out, LB Brian Rolle will draw coverage on Gronkowski, who balances WR Wes Welker in the Patriots passing game.
Defensively, the Patriots also have made strides in recent weeks. New England surrenders a league-high 404 yards per game, but has yielded an average 357.7 over the last three contests. The 334 yards the Patriots allowed last week to the Chiefs was their second-best defensive effort of the season.
The Patriots have prepared to face Eagles backup QB Vince Young on Sunday, but would not be surprised if Vick got the call in relief – only if his two broken ribs have healed sufficiently. Naturally the Eagles would like to make use of Vick with their season on the line, but playing him too soon would exacerbate the rib injuries and put Vick out for the season. Vick may opt for the flak jacket but even with protection, each tackle will cause more damage to those ribs.
In his first start for the Eagles, Vince Young was 23 of 36 for 258 yards with 2 TD and 3 INT against the Giants. Young was 15 of 36 for 227 yards with 2 INT and ran for a score in his only previous start versus New England, which was a 40-23 loss while with Tennessee in 2006. Prior to the Giants game, Young had dropped back 3 times wearing an Eagles jersey resulting in two INT and a fumbled turnover. The New York game was an improvement and hopefully this will prove part of the process. Young was fairly accurate throwing on the run against New York, which has been his forte in the past.
LeSean McCoy, who ran for 113 yards on 23 carries against the Giants (more than half on one 60-yard scamper in the fourth quarter), leads the NFL with 1,019 rushing yards. However, ”Shady” has never run for more than 95 yards in nine career games against AFC opponents. An odd aberration and arcane stat in and of itself, but it does display McCoy’s difficulty with less familiar defensive fronts. Hopefully that will improve against New England.
Questions regarding DB Nnamdi Asomugha, Dominuque Rodgers-Cromartie, Vick and quite a few Eagles regulars remain unanswered. Ailing WR DeSean Jackson hopes to play despite a bruised right foot. Fellow WR Jeremy Maclin missed last weekend’s victory with a shoulder injury.
Philadelphia’s last win over New England came Dec. 19, 1999, 24-9 at home (which was Veterans Stadium at the time). Though they have played the Patriots close (see chart below) only one point is required for a win to count. Look for the Eagles to desperately search for any advantage over a superior Patriots team. Also look for New England to offer more of a pass-run balance over the first half until they establish a formidable lead.
|Avg Points Allowed||20.3||21.3|
Recent Head to Head Matchups
|New England leads 3-0|
|Nov 25, 2007||NWE 31, PHI 28|
|Feb 6, 2005||NWE 24, @PHI 21|
|Sep 14, 2003||NWE 31, @PHI 10|
PREDICTION: PATRIOTS 34 EAGLES 22
About the Author
Written by Christopher Rowe
Contributing writer Comcast Sports, NY Times contributing stringer 1996-2000, Contributing writer Yahoo Sports (2001 World Series). Contributing writer Newsday Long Island (1992-1994, Jets Training Camp) and Newak Star Ledger. Freelance Copywriter, Editor/Founder Atlantic Times Weekly (1993-2003) fantasy football magazine, produced screenwriter and general humorist. Hofstra University grad, Marist College honorary alum, Salesian; Purveyor of the Value and Valor of Philadelphia Eagles 1960 NFL Championship; Adrent believer that Eagles could have won Super Bowl XV...and Super Bowl XXXIX...plus modern decade of Eagles 5 NFC Championships... Believer in the Broad Street Bullies and the 1983 Sixers... Witness to Philadelphia Phillies World Series championships 1980 & 2008, Suffered Phillies first pro sports team to reach 10,000 losses,witnessed "1980 Cardiac Kids," 1983 "Wheeze Kids," 1993 "Macho Row" and many, many, many not-so-memorable seasons in-between... until the Philadelphia Baseball Renaissance of 21st Century, Five NL East division titles 2007-2011, 3 NLCS appearances 2008-2010, 2 consecutive World Series berths 2008 & 2009. 2008 World Champions of baseball [miss ya Harry and Richie]; "collector" of MLB ballparks (42 stadiums including 15 which are gone); Fantasy Football & Baseball player since 1992. Always a sports fan... Tenui Nec Dimittam Contact me firstname.lastname@example.org