The final week of the 2014 regular season is here. With Sunday's opponent for the New York Giants being the Philadelphia Eagles, our final 'Five Questions' segment is with Brandon Lee Gowton of Bleeding Green Nation.
Ed: A lot has changed since the first time the Giants and Eagles played. What's different about the Eagles?
Brandon: The quarterback change is the most obvious. Mark Sanchez has taken over for an injured Nick Foles and he's been, well... Mark Sanchez. He's played OK as far as standards for a backup quarterback go. Sanchez doesn't really like to attack deep down the field so the Eagles offense is more dink and dunk with him. As New York fans are aware, he's prone to turn the ball over.
On defense, opposing offenses have figured out that throwing at Bradley Fletcher works well in their favor. Fletcher's been burned a lot in recent weeks, most notably by Dez Bryant and DeSean Jackson.
Ed: Obviously, we know that you have to be disappointed to be out of the playoffs after being 9-3 at one point. Has this season played out like you expected?
Brandon: I predicted 11-5 heading into the season, and if they beat the Giants, they'll be 10-6. So I wasn't too far off. But yeah, at 9-3, the Eagles had a 92.5% chance of making the playoffs (according to FiveThiryEight). I fully expected them to make the playoffs, especially because the NFC East didn't look overly threatening. But the Cowboys have been better than anyone expected and they deserve the division crown. It's tough to repeat in the NFC East; it hasn't been done since the early 2000 Eagles.
Ed: What has gone wrong the past three weeks?
Brandon: Comes down to the two main things that have been haunting the Eagles all season long: turnovers and big plays allowed.
The Eagles lead the NFL in turnovers. Along with the Colts, they're the only team with the top 10 most turnovers to have a winning record. It's really an accomplishment that they've been able to make it this far in spite of being careless with the ball. The majority of those turnovers have come from the quarterback position, obviously. Philadelphia really needs better play from the most premium position.
On defense, the Eagles have allowed too many "X-plays" as Chip Kelly likes to call them. The secondary is weak and gets exposed when there's a lack of pass rush. As mentioned earlier, starting cornerback Bradley Fletcher has been burnt numerous times in recent weeks. He's been getting beat off the line of scrimmage and he doesn't have the kind of recovery speed to make up for it.
Ed: Who is the quarterback for the Eagles next year? I can't imagine it would be Mark Sanchez, and it seems like Chip Kelly has lost faith in Nick Foles, too.
Brandon: It won't be Mark Sanchez. I think they let Sanchez walk in free agency. Another team might be willing to take a shot on him. If not, perhaps Philly brings him back for cheap.
As for Foles, he's far from an ideal option. He didn't really make any progress this year. He may have been an unideal situation as far as offensive line injuries go, but the best quarterbacks in the league don't let excuses get in the way.
The Eagles don't have much of a choice but to stick with Foles. I do imagine they will try to bring in some kind of competition for him, whether that's in the form of a draft pick, trade, and/or a free agent. Their options will be limited.
Ed: Look at the Eagles roster. Who really surprised you this year? Who disappointed? How optimistic are you about the future?
Brandon: I wouldn't say it surprised me, but I do think the play of Fletcher Cox deserves to be highlighted as one of the biggest successes for the Eagles. Cox only turned 24 earlier this month and he's been a dominant force as a 3-4 defensive end. Chip Kelly said he might be the team's MVP. He's playing at a very high level right now. He can both stop the run and generate pressure on quarterbacks. He's a stud.
The biggest disappointment was Riley Cooper. A lot of people were iffy on the team re-signing him, so it's not like this was a total shock. But the fact that he was THIS bad wasn't something I saw coming. Cooper just hasn't been a reliable receiver at all. Many fans want to see the team cut him.
Ed: Bonus -- Score prediction, since you asked me for one.
Brandon: I'm going to say it's going to be a weird ending to the season for both teams: a 27-27 tie.
Thanks to Brandon for taking the time. My answers to his questions are already posted, so check them out. Merry Christmas! Yes, even to those of you who are Eagles fans.