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Giants 'play with house money' in surprisingly important game for Eagles

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The New York Giants end their regular season on Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles. The game is surprisingly important to the Eagles, and that’s a lot 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 no substance to the Giants, who are locked in as the No. 6 seed. Are Eagles fans also stunned by this turn of events?

Brandon: The Eagles really should have been able to win at least one of their previous two games. The Cowboys’ loss was particularly frustrating because it felt like the Birds were the better team. They beat Dallas. They had a better conversion rate on the money down. They had fewer penalties. They held a 37 minute and 11 second lead while the Cowboys only led for 6 minutes and 39 seconds. They were 19 yards away from scoring the game-winning touchdown at the very end. In the end, they were let go by the four turnovers they committed. Part of it was bad form…but part of it was just bad luck. The Cowboys recovered three of the three fumbles that occurred in the game.

The Saints game was never going to be a walk in the park for me. In fact, I 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 tough with the Eagles. But I certainly didn’t expect the Birds to lose, let alone never have a lead in the game. It was a hard look. They didn’t need to beat the Saints and rack up style points in the process. They just needed to find a way to win. But they didn’t.

And now here we are with the Eagles in danger of missing out on their chance at the No. 1. 1 seed in the NFC Playoffs Photo after such a good start to the season.

That’s how the NFL is. Often things don’t go the way they’re supposed to. That’s what makes it all so fun and interesting.

Ed: I expect Jalen Hurts to play on Sunday. The question is, how healthy is he and would the Eagles prefer to let him rest?

Brandon: Here is the headline I wrote for Bleeding Green Nation on December 19 when the news first appeared:

“Jalen Hurts injury: Eagles quarterback suffers from sprained shoulder and could miss two games”

Hurts missed two games. It was still the advertised recovery schedule and so I don’t think the Eagles are rushing him before he’s ready to play. He got a practice job last week, but at limited capacity. It was also reported early Sunday morning (before the Saints’ loss) that Hurts was expected to be available in Week 18.

I don’t know if it’s 100%. I’m sure the Eagles would have preferred a situation where they locked down the No. 1 seed and they could treat this as a pre-season game for Hurts. Give it a spin or two and get it out of there.

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

Ed: Hurts’ absence, obviously, was 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 happened?

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

Beyond injuries, 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 banning big games…sometimes to the detriment. You know the saying “Hope is not a strategy”? Well, Gannon seems to disagree. His defense is designed to sit and wait for the opponent to make a mistake. It’s not a strategy entirely 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 look at. And sometimes he feels like he has to force the issue a lot more than he is doing. Gannon picked a bad time to get unnecessarily creative in the Cowboys’ game when the Eagles tried to disguise a cover where their save slot corner was supposed to drop deep from its nickel spot on a 3rd and 30. The Eagles giving up a first try on this game were inexcusable. No good reason why TY Hilton could get behind the defense on this play.

Hurts’ extensive abandonment to Gardner Minshew was most apparent in the Saints game. Minshew was terrible. It never seemed comfortable in the pocket. He played a big part in the Saints with six sacks keeping the ball forever and not getting in the pocket. Hurts’ lack of mobility was such a big boon to them in their wins over New Orleans in 2020 and 2021. The absence of this common threat certainly hurt them in Week 17.

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

Ed: How surprised are Eagles fans to see the Giants in the playoffs?

Brandon: I think most would be lying if they said they expected this to happen. For my part, I thought the Giants were right when they hired Brian Daboll. And not just him, but the staff around him, plus Joe Schoen as general manager, but I didn’t expect them to be a playoff team this year. I bought them making the playoffs before that midseason slump. I thought they might crash out of the playoffs completely 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 taking a week off. This win was truly impressive for their prospects. It’s hard to imagine the Giants superbowl run given their limited talent. But it is already a victory that they have gone this far. They play with house money.

Ed: It hurts or it doesn’t hurt, DraftKings Sportsbook has the Eagles as the heavy favorite with 14 points. Are you a bit surprised by this gap and how do you see Sunday’s game going?

Brandon: Vegas is not stupid. They’re not in the dark about it, for example: they clearly knew about Hurts’ injury before the news broke. Patrick Mahomes suddenly became the betting favorite for MVP after being passed by Hurts. The line for the Eagles-Cowboys game also quickly moved from Dallas favored by one point to Dallas favored by 5.5 points. 14 points. It’s also hard to imagine Hurts not playing. I don’t know if the Eagles will definitely cover that gap…that’s a lot of points. But I expect them to win against a Giants team that will at least rest some key players.

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