Giants ‘playing with house money’ in unexpectedly important game for Eagles

The New York Giants finish their regular season Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles. The game is unexpectedly important for the Eagles, and this is much of the focus of our ‘5 questions’ segment with Brandon Lee Gowton of Bleeding Green Nation.

Ed: It’s amazing to me that this game means so much to the Eagles and nothing of substance to the Giants, who are locked in as the No. 6 seeds. Are Eagles fans also stunned by this turn of events?

Brandon: The Eagles really should’ve been able to win at least one of their previous two games. The Cowboys loss was especially frustrating because it felt like the Birds were the better team. They outgained Dallas. They had a better conversion rate on money downs. They had fewer penalties. They held a lead for 37 minutes and 11 seconds while the Cowboys only led for six minutes and 39 seconds. They were 19 yards away from scoring the game-winning touchdown at the very end. Ultimately, they were done in by the four turnovers that they committed. Some of that was bad form… but some of it was just bad luck. The Cowboys recovered three out of three fumbles that occurred in the game.

The Saints game was never going to be a walk in the park for me. I actually picked New Orleans +5.5 as my ‘Lock Of The Week’ for The SB Nation NFL Show last week. I always thought the Saints were going to play the Eagles tough. But I certainly didn’t expect the Birds to lose, let alone never even have a lead in the game. That was a tough look. They didn’t need to beat the Saints and rack up style points in the process. They just needed to find any way to win. But they didn’t.

And now here we are with the Eagles in jeopardy of blowing their chance at the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoff picture after such a fantastic start to the season.

This is how the NFL goes, though. Things often don’t go the way that they’re expected to unfold. It’s what makes it all so fun and interesting.

Ed: I am fully expecting Jalen Hurts to play on Sunday. Question is, how healthy is he and would the Eagles rather let him rest?

Brandon: This is the headline that I wrote for Bleeding Green Nation on December 19 back when the news first emerged:

“Jalen Hurts injury: Eagles quarterback suffers shoulder sprain, could miss two games”

Hurts has missed two games. That was always the reported recovery timeline. And so I don’t think the Eagles are rushing him back before he’s ready to play. He got some practice work last week, albeit in a limited capacity. It was also reported on early Sunday morning (prior to the Saints loss) that Hurts was excepted to be available in Week 18.

I don’t know that he’s at 100%. I’m sure the Eagles would have preferred a situation where they locked up the No. 1 seed and they could treat this like a preseason game for Hurts. Give him a drive or two and then get him out of there.

Assuming the Giants don’t go all out to win this game, the Eagles could pull Hurts earlier than they normally would if they’re able to build a sizable lead.

Ed: Hurts’ absence, obviously, has been a factor in the Eagles’ back-to-back losses. I haven’t watched those games in depth, but I suspect his injury isn’t the only issue Philly has had. So, what has been going on?

Brandon: Injuries to other key players certainly haven’t helped. The Eagles have always been significantly worse without starting right tackle Lane Johnson. Losing nickel cornerback Avonte Maddox also hurts considering teams have not been shy about attacking his replacement, Josiah Scott.

Beyond injuries, the defense was an issue in the Cowboys game. Jonathan Gannon’s unit allowed Dak Prescott to complete 24 of 24 attempts against zone coverage. Gannon is obsessed with disallowing big plays… sometimes to a detriment. You know the saying ‘Hope isn’t a strategy’? Well, Gannon seems to disagree. His defense is designed to sit back and wait for the opponent to make a mistake. It’s not a strategy totally without merit given some of the success the Eagles have had on defense this year. But it’s not always the most aesthetically pleasing style to watch. And sometimes it feels like he needs to force the issue a lot more than he does. Gannon picked a bad time to get unnecessarily creative in the Cowboys game when the Eagles tried to disguise a coverage where their backup slot corner was supposed to drop back deep from his nickel spot on a 3rd-and-30. The Eagles giving up a first down on that play was inexcusable. No good reason why TY Hilton was able to get behind the defense on that play.

The vast drop-off from Hurts to Gardner Minshew was more apparent in the Saints game. Minshew was terrible. He never looked comfortable in the pocket. He played a big part in the Saints having six sacks by holding onto the ball forever and not stepping up in the pocket. Hurts’ lack of mobility was such a big boon for them in their wins over New Orleans in 2020 and 2021. The lack of that running threat certainly hurt them in Week 17.

If Hurts is truly healthy, I’m not too worried about the team’s outlook even after losing two straight games. There’s a reason why he’s been in the MVP conversation all season long. He’s really good! There’s also something to be said for his composure as opposed to how rattled Minshew looked.

Ed: How surprised are Eagles fans to see the Giants as a playoff team?

Brandon: I think most would be lying if they said they expected it to happen. Speaking for myself, I did believe the Giants got it right when they hired Brian Daboll. And not only him but the staff around him, in addition to Joe Schoen as GM. I did not expect them to be a playoff team this year, though. I did buy into them making the postseason prior to that midseason slump. I thought they might collapse out of the playoffs entirely at that point.

But, to their credit, they found a way to win in Washington despite being at a significant disadvantage with the Commanders having three weeks to prepare for the game while coming off a bye week. That win was really impressive for their outlook. It’s hard to envision the Giants going on a Super Bowl run given their limited talent. But it’s already a win that they’ve gotten this far. They’re playing with house money.

Ed: Hurts or no Hurts, DraftKings Sportsbook has the Eagles as a whopping 14-point favorite. Are you taken back a bit by that spread, and how do you see Sunday’s game unfolding?

Brandon: Vegas isn’t dumb. They’re not in the dark on this stuff. Case in point: they clearly knew about the Hurts injury prior to the news breaking. Patrick Mahomes suddenly became the betting favorite for MVP after he was overtaken by Hurts. The line for the Eagles-Cowboys game also quickly shifted from Dallas being favored by one point to Dallas being favored by 5.5 points. And so it’s hard for me to believe the Giants are going all out to win this game if the Eagles are favored by 14 points. It’s also hard to envision Hurts not playing. I don’t know that the Eagles are definitely going to cover that spread… it’s a lot of points. But I do expect them to win against a Giants team that is going to at least rest some key players.

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