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Questions linger as Jalen Hurts’ ankle is ‘trending upward’ and so are the Eagles’ wild-card playoff odds

It's unclear whether Hurts will be able to play on Sunday against the Washington Football Team, which has health issues at quarterback as well.

Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts smiles walking off the field after the Eagles beat the New York Jets on Sunday, December 5, 2021 at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey.
Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts smiles walking off the field after the Eagles beat the New York Jets on Sunday, December 5, 2021 at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey.Read moreYONG KIM / Staff Photographer

Eagles coach Nick Sirianni showed a sliver of hope Wednesday when he said quarterback Jalen Hurts is “trending upward” in his return from a high ankle sprain.

But when he was subsequently pressed about Hurts’ availability for Sunday’s game against Washington, Sirianni offered no guarantees.

“We’ll see how everything goes today and tomorrow,” Sirianni said.

Upon returning from the bye week, the Eagles held a walk-through. Hurts split starter reps with Gardner Minshew, and he was listed as a limited participant on the injury report.

Hurts initially suffered the injury to his left ankle Nov. 28 versus the Giants when he threw a career-worst three interceptions. He finished the game, but was listed as inactive the following week against the Jets.

Minshew started in place of Hurts that game and he completed 20-of-25 passes for 242 yards and two touchdowns. Minshew’s 80% completion rate is higher than Hurts has had in any game this season.

“It’s been a day-by-day thing,” Hurts said. “I’m doing everything in my power to make myself available for the team.”

In the days leading up to the Jets game, Hurts expressed confidence he would play. But considering how long this issue has lingered, that might indicate Hurts’ ankle is still not fully healed. A lot of Hurts’ game is dependent on his mobility and dual-threat skill. Given the uncertainty of his status, the Eagles might again favor a fully healthy Minshew over a hobbled Hurts.

Sirianni has said multiple times that Hurts is the team’s starting quarterback when healthy.

“Things change over time,” Hurts said. “A decision was made and it was the right decision. I don’t want to get into the details of the injury. My goal is being available. I’m working toward that every day. ... I’m so happy to see Gardner step in and go out there and get a win that we needed.”

While questions hover over the quarterback position, the Eagles’ upcoming opponent is dealing with its own issues under center and elsewhere.

Starter Taylor Heinicke was listed as a full participant during Washington’s first practice of the week after he suffered an elbow injury during Sunday’s loss to the Cowboys. The injury was significant enough that it forced him to exit the game.

“There’s some bruising there, it’s tender, hurts a little bit,” Heinicke told reporters Wednesday. “I went out and practiced today and the elbow didn’t hurt when I was throwing.”

Backup quarterback Kyle Allen, who saw time on the field, is now one of 18 Washington players on the reserve/COVID-19 list. It also includes wide receiver Cam Sims; tight ends Sammis Reyes and Temarrick Hemingway; offensive lineman Cornelius Lucas; defensive tackles Matt Ioannidis, Tim Settle, and Jonathan Allen; defensive ends Montez Sweat, James Smith-Williams, Casey Toohill, and William Bradley-Kings; linebackers Milo Eifler, David Mayo, and Khaleke Hudson; cornerbacks Kendall Fuller and Troy Apke, and safety Darrick Forrest.

Sirianni expressed concern for the sharp rise in COVID-19 cases across the league.

On Monday, the Eagles placed wide receiver Quez Watkins and running back Jason Huntley on the reserve/COVID-19 list. Watkins and Huntley are among the 36 players who tested positive Monday, which marked a new single-day record in the NFL since it began tracking cases at the beginning of the pandemic.

At the NovaCare Complex, a majority of players and coaches wore masks and socially distanced throughout the facility out of an abundance of caution. Sirianni said the coaching staff and trainers have taken additional steps to avoid a possible outbreak, although he didn’t reveal specifics.

Besides Watkins and Huntley, all other wide receivers and running backs — both on the active roster and practice squad — were in attendance Wednesday.

“We’ve taken the approach of just getting ahead of things,” safety and team captain Rodney McLeod said. “We understand what’s at stake for us, and we need everybody. We want to make sure we take the proper precautions. We’re hoping it does calm down around the league.

“That was very eye-opening. COVID is still here. It still exists. We have to do our part.”

Playoffs within reach

The numbers might show signs for optimism, but Sirianni is deflecting any attention involving the team’s impending playoff push.

Sirianni reiterated Wednesday his focus remains on the team’s upcoming matchup against Washington. But with only four regular-season games remaining, it’s hard not to look ahead.

According to FiveThirtyEight, the Eagles have a 37% chance at making the playoffs. Those are the best odds among NFC competitors with identical 6-7 records. The Eagles have better odds than the Vikings (29%), Washington (27%), Saints (19%), and Falcons (12%).

Factor in the NFL’s implementation of an expanded playoff format — with an additional No. 7 seed — and there’s plenty of reason for Eagles optimism.

The team’s four remaining contests are all against division opponents. The Eagles will host Washington at 1 p.m. Sunday, host the Giants in Week 16, travel to Washington in Week 17, and host the Cowboys in the regular-season finale.

A victory over Washington this weekend would catapult the Eagles into the NFC’s final playoff spot.

“One game at a time, don’t think about the playoffs,” Sirianni said of his message to the players. “One game at a time and one day at a time. It’s what are we doing to put ourselves in position to win this week. You can’t think about who we play after this. You can’t think about that we play [Washington] again in two weeks. You can’t think about the last game that we have. It’s only about this week.”