The New York Giants (10-4) and Philadelphia Eagles (5-9), rivals in a strong NFC East, often find themselves competing for a playoff spot. But not this year. While the division will likely send two teams, the Eagles won't be one of them. Pride is still on the line, as these teams get set to do battle on Thursday Night Football.
The Eagles sensed that this might be their year after a 3-0 start that included an absolute thrashing of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Rookie quarterback Carson Wentz and a talented roster gave Philly fans a lot of hope that the winning could and would continue. But the Eagles peaked early, or the rest of the NFL figured them out. Either way, the season has gone downhill since their bye week.
Philly is 2-9 over the last 11 games and has lost their last five. Now they prepare to face Eli Manning, Odell Beckham Jr. and the New York Giants, whose season has played out much better.
The G-Men started off with two close victories, including a squeaker over the NFC-leading Dallas Cowboys, and then dropped three. Their season seemed to be at a crossroads. But with all the attention on the rival Cowboys and their dynamic rookie duo, the Giants started finding ways to win. A soft mid-season schedule that included the Rams, Bears and Browns certainly helped restore the momentum.
The Giants had their six-game winning streak ended by the Steelers, but they've since put together impressive wins over the division-leading Cowboys and Lions.
Division games always include an element of chance given the teams' familiarity with each other. New York beat Philadelphia in Week 9 in a game that could've gone either way. Eli Manning tossed four touchdowns in that matchup, including two to Beckham. Carson Wentz moved the ball against the stout Giants defense, but the Eagles had trouble punching it into the end zone. And that was the difference.
The Week 16 rematch may play out much the same way. Manning won't be able to sit back and do whatever he pleases against the very strong Eagles pass rush. The Giants will likely rely on short passes to get the ball to their running backs and receivers in the the open field. And Manning will get a few chances downfield as well.
The Eagles will have to pressure Eli, but also stick tight to Beckham and Sterling Shephard in the secondary. The talented Giants receiving corp will keep a capable Eagles defensive backfield that includes Malcolm Jenkins, Leodis McKelvin and Rodney McLeod extremely busy Thursday night.
On offense, the Eagles have been dealing with a lot of injuries, especially along the offensive line. And that's bad news for rookie quarterback Carson Wentz. Teammates like wide receiver Nelson Agholor, who's had some issues with drops this season, will need to step up. Coach Doug Pederson would also be advised to put points on the board when he can against a stingy Giants defense. The Eagles' five-point loss in the first matchup included two failed fourth-down attempts well within field goal range.
Philadelphia is already looking ahead to next season and what changes are needed to improve. So they may opt to protect players and evaluate talent. But pride is a powerful motivator, and the Eagles would certainly enjoy muddying the playoff picture for the Giants.
New York is fighting for playoff seeding and could still catch Dallas in the NFC East. They hold the tiebreaker, by virtue of their two head-to-head wins, but must win out to have a shot at taking the division. A strong and talented -- but also beatable -- Eagles team stands in their way. Look for the Giants, with so much riding on this Week 16 matchup, to pull out another win.
Prediction: New York Giants 27 - Philadelphia Eagles 24
Danny Cox has been covering the NFL for the past decade and has been watching it for two more. From injury reports to playoff races, he follows every single team and longs for the months of July to February.
for more features.