The lead-up to the Eagles’ do-or-don’t home game Sunday against the Houston Texans has been about what you might expect for a team and a town trying to believe there is playoff fever in the air, and not just leaf mold.
It was a short and light week of work for the Eagles following their upset win in Los Angeles, and that might have been a smart thing. Not playoff fever, but a maleficent stomach bug infested parts of the locker room, and the less time spent there the better. Both receiver Alshon Jeffery and kicker Jake Elliott had to be cut loose from practice, so to speak, and we’ll leave that where it is. There has been enough questioning of the organization’s medical staff without dragging the team gastroenterologist into it, too.
The expectation – or at least the hope – for the team and its fans is that Lincoln Financial Field will be an inhospitable host to the Texans. The coaches and players have predicted the Linc will be “rocking” or “crazy” or “fired up,” and certainly the stadium has been all those things at various times this season. And then, usually, the first quarter starts and everyone drifts into a coma, including the Eagles.
Along with everything else that has deserted the team since winning the Super Bowl, their home-field advantage seems to have been placed on injured reserve. That’s the team’s fault, of course. The fans can only respond to what they see, and what they’ve seen live this season has been underwhelming. If Sunday is going to be the magical continuation of an improbable dream and not a rude awakening, the Eagles have to do better here.
After compiling a 13-3 regular-season record at home in Doug Pederson’s first two seasons, the Eagles are 4-3 in the Linc entering what is almost certainly their last competitive home game until next September. (They maintain a 6.9 percent chance of still winning the NFC East, according to Football Outsiders, although that would require the Cowboys to lose to the Bucs and the Giants, both 5-9.)
It would be nice, after all the frustration of the season, for the fans to at least send the Eagles off to their destiny with a taste in their mouths of something other than expressway off-ramp pretzels. Aside from a pro forma win over Mark Sanchez and the Redskins – which actually sounds like a hell of a band – the Eagles haven’t done anything easily at home.
They lost to Carolina, which is now 1-6 on the road; and to Dallas, 2-5 on the road; and to Minnesota, 2-4-1 on the road. That’s three losses to teams that are otherwise a combined 5-15-1 away from home. They also trailed in the fourth quarter against Atlanta and Indianapolis before pulling out wins, and managed to fall 16 points behind the Giants before rallying for another fourth-quarter win.
The stadium hasn’t changed since last season. The ticket sales are the same. The acoustics are the same. The fan base is very much the same. It is the team that has regressed, but it’s also true that the Linc isn’t the kind of place that can win you a game now and then like Veterans Stadium did. Yes, the toilets didn’t work and it was dirty and worn bare by the end, but the Vet won some games.
Here’s some unscientific evidence for you. In the last 10 years at the Linc, including this one, the Eagles have an overall regular-season record of 87-71. That’s home and road. In the final 10 years the Vet was home, they were an overall 83-76-1. Pretty close comparison. Some good years, some bad years.
The Vet teams in that stretch won 60 percent of their home games and 44 percent of their road games. The more recent Linc teams have won 57 percent of their home games and 53 percent of their road games. Just going by the record, the Vet teams weren’t quite as good, but they were better at home. I think the special, insouciant ambience of Veterans Stadium had something to do with that.
Well, it can’t be rebuilt by Sunday, so the Eagles will have to create their own advantage, and getting out of the gate quickly would help. They will have a quarterback who, except for a live forfeit at the end of last season, has an 11-game regular-season winning streak as a starter in the Linc, dating back to the 2013 season.
If you believe this is playoff fever and not just overheated hype, then you might as well believe in Nick Foles, too. He will let you on the bandwagon. (I’ll wait for the next one, thank you.)
And if you really believe there’s no place like home for the holidays, the Houston Texans will show up to test that theory. Maybe it will prove correct for a change this season.