Brandon Lee Gowton of Bleeding Green Nation and I found ourselves having to create ‘5 questions’ segments for the third time in seven weeks with the New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles meeting Saturday in the Divisional Round of the 2023 NFC Playoffs.
So, like the two teams will be looking for wrinkles to employ in their third meeting in such a short time span, we were looking for some different angles in our ‘5 questions’ segment. Below, BLG’s answers to my questions.
Ed: I doubt it has any impact on this game whatsoever, but I have to ask. Did it bother you to see the Eagles have to work so hard to beat the Giants in Week 18 when they were using all backups and a practice squad quarterback who had never thrown an NFL pass?
Brandon: It was more annoying than concerning.
Ideally, the Eagles would’ve been able to build a big lead and pull their starters in the second half. It would’ve been nice to limit Jalen Hurts’ workload instead of having him throw 35 passes with a sprained shoulder. Kudos to the Giants for preventing that from happening.
Of course, New York was aided by the Eagles’ conservative game plan that was meant to protect Hurts. Considering they called zero designed quarterback runs (excluding one sneak), it was like the Birds were playing with one hand tied behind their back. I would bet a lot of money that we’ll see more than zero designed Hurts runs in this weekend’s game.
I would also bet that we’ll see the Eagles look more effective in the red zone. They scored a touchdown on just one of their five trips inside the Giants’ 20-yard line. Entering that game, Philly had the NFL’s top-ranked red zone offense. New York has done a good job of tightening up in that part of the field; only four teams have allowed a lower red zone touchdown conversion rate. So, Wink Martindale’s unit certainly deserves some credit. But that group is going to be challenged by Hurts’ mobility, which will be more of a factor this time around.
Ed: The Eagles kind of limped home after a great start to their season. What gives you confidence that won’t matter, and that you will see the early-season Eagles on Saturday night?
Brandon: Hurts being available is certainly a big deal considering the Eagles went 14-1 with him and 0-2 with Gardner Minshew starting. Philly’s backup quarterback placed relatively well in Dallas but he was dreadful against the Saints. We still need to see how Hurts looks in game action after getting to rest during the Eagles’ bye week but the early indications are encouraging. That he was not listed at all on Tuesday’s injury report seems like a positive sign.Beyond the quarterback, the Eagles still have a potent pass rush that nearly broke the NFL regular season sack record held by the 1984 Chicago Bears. That unit going up against the Giants’ offensive line — which is certainly better than it’s been in a long time but still isn’t an elite unit — is a matchup in Philly’s favor. Especially when it comes to Haason Reddick and Brandon Graham potentially being able to take advantage of rookie right tackle Evan Neal.
I also don’t buy that a team MUST look great in the final weeks of the regular season in order to have postseason success. The Cowboys’ starters beat up on the Eagles backups in Week 18 last year, winning in Philly by a final score of 51 to 26. The very next week, Dallas only put up 17 points in a home loss to the San Francisco 49ers.Remember when the Eagles won the Super Bowl in 2017? They needed a comeback to beat a bad Giants team in Nick Foles’ first start after the Carson Wentz injury. Then they played a real ugly game against the then-Oakland Raiders, narrowly winning at the end. That performance was so ugly that it inspired the Eagles to try to jumpstart the offense by giving them some playing time at the beginning of the regular season finale. That plan backfired as they ultimately got shutout in a loss to Dallas. There were actually calls to bench Foles at that point. Crazy to consider knowing how it all played out from there.
Bringing it back to the present, I almost think what the Eagles did this year is being under appreciated. There’s a lot of talk about a slow finish … for a team that set a franchise record for total wins. I know having the extra game helped in that regard but that’s still quite an accomplishment. Much more often than not, the Eagles have been a very good football team this year.
Ed: We all remember Eli Manning getting the double bird from a kid in Philly a few years ago. Dexter Lawrence says he won’t let his mom go to the game because she will give it back to Eagles fans, which of course could turn ugly. Every fan base loves their team, but Philly fans are, umm, different. Can you help me understand why?
Brandon: Whereas New York is a baseball town (unless the Knicks are legitimately good, which, lol), Philly is a football town.
The Eagles dominate sports talk radio here all year long. The Birds are ubiquitous in this city. The intense passion for this team is unmatched. It’s just part of the culture.
And this energy can certainly manifest into a significant home field advantage. I’ve seen teams get downright demoralized by a crowd that jumps all over them. Look at the Minnesota Vikings losing to Philly in the NFC Championship Game, 38 to 7. Or to put it into a baseball perspective, look at Phillies fans crushing the Atlanta Braves’ spirit in the NLDS last year. In both instances, players from the opposing team did not look like they wanted to be anywhere else except in front of that crowd.If nothing else, Philly fans are authentic. They wear their hearts on their sleeves. And the City of Brotherly Love nickname is more accurate than some might realize. There seems to be a misconception that Brotherly Love means being nice and welcoming to all. Is that really how everyone treats their siblings? As an only child, I can’t speak from personal experience, but based on all that I’ve observed … I think not. There can be conflict, strife, in-fighting. You’ll inevitably talk trash about your brother at some point. But if an outsider tries to talk trash about your brother? That won’t fly.
Against others, Philly loves and protects their own. To an extreme degree.
Ed: What is the one thing that worries you the most about this game? Maybe the one thing that could go wrong and lead to the Giants pulling off an upset?
Brandon: Hurts’ health is the obvious answer. As a legitimate MVP candidate, he’s been a huge reason for their success. Hurts has specifically done a really good job of protecting the ball. In two of the Eagles’ losses this season, they committed turn turnovers. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that’s not a recipe for success. And so I wonder if Hurts might be more inaccurate than usual, which could lead to interceptions.
One must also wonder how much Hurts will be trusted to run in this game. As stated earlier, the expectation is that his legs will be much more of a factor than they were in Week 18. But to what extent?
Defensively, the concern is that the Giants might be able to replicate the Washington Commanders’ approach to beating the Eagles. New York will probably be looking to go on long drives that shorten the game and keep Philly’s offense off the field. Jonathan Gannon’s defense will be tested be Saquon Barkley more than they were when he was banged up back in Week 14.
Ed: DraftKings has the Eagles as 7.5-point favorites, and I certainly understand that. I’m not going to ask you who wins, because I know what you will say — and it’s what you should say. Let me ask you about the spread. Do the Eagles cover, or is this game going to be a nail-biter?
Brandon: I do indeed feel confident about the Eagles winning the game. I’ve gone back-and-forth when it comes to them covering the spread.
The expectation here is that the Giants will play the Eagles tough. It’s just what Brian Daboll’s team has done for most of the season. And the G-Men are much healthier than they were when they got blown out by Philly at MetLife in Week 14.
At the end of the day, though, it feels like this Giants team has a ceiling due to the relative lack of talent on their roster. The Eagles have more playmakers and I think that’s going to be the difference in this game.
The Giants will keep it close until the Eagles ultimately pull away at the end to score a touchdown that really puts the nail in the coffin. Eagles win, 30 to 20.