If you bet on NFL football, this Sunday's game between the Washington Redskins and Philadelphia Eagles must be a tantalizing prospect. On the one hand you have the 3-6 Washington Redskins, losers of three straight and they looked downright terrible in the last two losses. Against the Steelers they couldn't catch the ball [13 dropped, including 3 for touchdowns] and against the Panthers they committed stupid penalty after stupid penalty [13 penalties for 96 yards], including two that negated touchdowns. The Redskins have a defense that does not rush the passer or cover receivers, so throwing the ball should be a snap for any competent NFL offense. Washington's players are undisciplined, evidenced by all those penalties and by the recent on-field meltdowns of cornerbacks DeAngelo Hall and Josh Wilson. Head Coach Mike Shanahan seemed to indicate immediately after the team's last loss that the season was effectively over and he would spend the reamining seven games evaluating players with an eye to next year. [Great to have such job security when you've done almost nothing to improve a football team in over two-and-a-half years.] Shanahan walked that back the next day, as everyone knew he would, but Redskins veterans must have wondered why they should bust their tails and risk career-ending injuries if the 2012 season is over weeks before Thanksgiving.
On the other hand, you have the Philadelphia Eagles. Dubbed the "dream team" last year by flea-brained backup quarterback Vince Young, they famously crashed and burned to 4-8 before recovering enough to win out in December and salvage a .500 record. That strong finish was enough to convince many people that the team was still fundamentally strong and should come back in 2012 better than ever. The Eagles have struggled right from the start this season, winning early, but laboring mightily to dispatch weak opponents like the Cleveland Browns. The wheels have finally come off an offense that turns the ball over too often -- thanks to QB Michael Vick -- and doesn't protect the passer -- thanks the the leaky offensive line in front of Vick. The Eagles are in free-fall, having lost five straight games and the sands of time seem to finally be running out on Andy Reid's very-successful-but-not-quite-successful-enough run in Philadelphia. The team already fired the defensive coordinator, even though the offense is the real problem, and more sackings seem inevitable.
So which team has the upper hand in this Battle of the NFC LEast? Well, the Eagles have won five of the last six, including the last three, from the Redskins and few coaches have known how to crush the Redskins as thoroughly as Andy Reid. On the other hand, the Eagles will have to play the Redskins without
star former star QB Michael Vick, who will not play due to a concussion suffered in last week's loss to the Cowboys. Vick has not played well this year and had been dogged by rumors that he was due for a benching anyway, so it could be the Eagles will not suffer at all -- or will perhaps benefit -- from Vick's absence. Rookie Nick Foles gets the first start of his NFL career this Sunday.
The game will be played in Washington and the Eagles are not a good road team this year, dropping 3 of their 4 contests away from Philadelphia. On the other hand, the Redskins continue to abuse the poor, deluded souls who fork over money for tickets to see the home team, having lost 3 of 4 games at FedEx Field this year. The Redskins have no home field advantage at all and have not for some time.
I expect the Eagles to utilize a short passing game against the Redskins due to Foles' inexperience, lack of mobility compared to Vick and Philadelphia's problems protecting the quarterback. That will put pressure on Redskins defensive backs to tackle well -- something they don't do well at all. [What DO they do well, actually?] I expect the Redskins to emphasize a power running attack, giving the Eagles a steady dose of the superb rookie tailback Alfred Morris and featuring the mobility of rookie QB Robert Griffin III whenver possible. Washington's offensive line does not always protect the passer well, but it has done an admirable job creating holes for runners this year.
I expect a close, hard-fought game between two desperate teams led by coaches frantically trying to convince their players not to quit on the season. It could be an exciting, even thrilling, football game, but it won't be the high stakes death match some envisioned back in September. Both teams look like they will be staggering across the finish line in 2012 -- well behind their betters in the division.