The Philadelphia Eagles are a worthy adversary for the New England Patriots, but given multiple factors, the road team had better come out with the win.
While it’s never a good idea to label any game as a “must-win” until the playoffs begin, the New England Patriots really need to beat the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday.
Both the Patriots and the Eagles are coming off their in-season byes this week. Both teams lead their respective divisions, although the Eagles are tied with the Cowboys for first place. Both teams represent the winners of the last two Super Bowls: the Patriots from Super Bowl LIII last season when they beat the Rams, and the Eagles from Super Bowl LII in 2017 when they beat New England.
The Eagles actually lost four straight meetings against the Tom Brady/Bill Belichick Patriots from 2003 to 2011 – including Super Bowl XXXIX – before winning the past two matchups (Super Bowl LII and a regular season meeting in 2015). Buoyed by those dual victories, the Eagles and their fans probably feel plenty confident about their chances this Sunday at home versus a Patriots team that is coming off a 17-point loss to the Ravens, their first defeat of the season.
With New England currently right in the meat of their schedule, some experts and analysts are predicting the Pats might drop another game or two before they finish out the regular season with three winnable contests against the Bengals, Bills, and Dolphins. While it certainly wouldn’t shock the world to see the Patriots fall on the road against the Texans in primetime or lose a shootout to Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs at home, faltering this week against the Eagles – even on the road – could be extremely problematic for the team.
First off, the Eagles are really banged-up right now. Darren Sproles just joined Corey Clement as pass-catching running backs on injured reserve, Alshon Jeffery is out for Sunday’s game with an ankle injury, and Jordan Howard is questionable to suit up at all with a shoulder stinger. Those injuries leave Philadelphia precariously thin on offense, which is not an ideal place to be against an exceptional New England defense.
If there is a weakness to this Patriots D, it might be on run defense. The Browns’ Nick Chubb and the Ravens’ pair of Mark Ingram and Lamar Jackson all had quality outings against Belichick’s front seven in successive weeks, collectively putting up over 300 yards on the ground.
That said, Philly is going to have a tough time exploiting that potential weakness with all their injuries in the run game. As of this writing, it appears that the Eagles backfield is going to be led by rookie Miles Sanders, seldom-used backup Boston Scott, and Jay Ajayi – who was just signed off the street as a free agent two days before the game.
Philadelphia’s wide receiver corps was already down DeSean Jackson before it lost Jeffery for the weekend, leaving Nelson Agholor, Mack Hollins, Jordan Matthews, and J.J. Arcega-Whiteside as the only remaining options at wideout. Agholor has had a major case of the “dropsies” all year, Hollins has just 10 receptions on 20 targets total this season, Arcega-Whiteside is an unproven rookie, and Matthews was unemployed as of last Sunday.
Needless to say, the vaunted Patriots secondary should erase this group completely.
Stephon Gilmore would’ve easily had the upper hand on Jeffery, but now he’ll likely draw the assignment of either Agholor or Matthews if he’s tasked with covering a receiver. Belichick could also elect to put him on the tight end Zach Ertz if he thinks it wise, as Ertz actually leads all Eagles players in targets, receptions, and receiving yards this season.
With all due respect to the Eagles’ receiving options who are still healthy enough to play this Sunday, if Ertz is properly blanketed, it could be a very long night for quarterback Carson Wentz. The fourth-year Philadelphia passer has never gone up against Belichick and the Patriots defense in his career… and it looks as if he picked the wrong season to do so for the first time.
Again, none of this is meant to discount Philadelphia. The Eagles are a very good football team.
They’re one of the better-run organizations in the NFL thanks to owner Jeffrey Lurie and GM Howie Roseman. They also have a tremendous offensive mind and head coach in Doug Pederson and a defensive coordinator in Jim Schwartz who won’t be afraid of the Patriots offense. Even with all their injuries, this Philadelphia team should come out swinging at home against the reigning Super Bowl champs.
Those same champs might take a few punches and absorb some body blows at Lincoln Financial Field, but if they actually go down for the count at the end of 60 minutes like they did against the Ravens, there will be a whole lot to legitimately worry about in New England.
The Patriots are catching the Eagles at the perfect time. Philly is short-handed, the Pats are well-rested, and Tom Brady is usually lights-out coming off a bye (13-4 all-time per NBC Sports Boston’s Nick Goss). The Patriots can also use their loss in Super Bowl LII as motivation if they want to, and they’ll also no doubt have something extra to prove after many people jumped off the New England bandwagon following the team’s double-digit loss to Baltimore.
All signs point to a Patriots victory on Sunday. There are simply too many solid reasons why New England could and should win this game; if they don’t, it will be cause for some serious concern and perhaps even grounds for panic in Patriots Nation.