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What to watch in Eagles-Washington | Early Birds

Keys for the Eagles on Sunday, links to all our coverage, and much more.

Eagles’ Zach Ertz, right, bounces off of former Washington safety’ D. J. Swearinger, left, as he scores in the 2nd quarter as the Philadelphia Eagles play the Washington Redskins in Philadelphia, PA on October 23, 2017.  YONG KIM / Staff Photographer
Eagles’ Zach Ertz, right, bounces off of former Washington safety’ D. J. Swearinger, left, as he scores in the 2nd quarter as the Philadelphia Eagles play the Washington Redskins in Philadelphia, PA on October 23, 2017. YONG KIM / Staff PhotographerRead moreYONG KIM / Staff Photographer (custom credit)

Good morning. The Eagles have their final practice of the week at 11:50 a.m. Depending on the results this weekend, it might be their final practice of the season. Doug Pederson has a 10:30 a.m. news conference. One of the topics will be the health of linebacker Jordan Hicks, who did not practice yesterday because of a calf injury.

This is a Friday edition of the Early Birds newsletter. I want to know what you think, what we should add, and what you want to read, so send me feedback by email or on Twitter @ZBerm. Thank you for reading.

— Zach Berman

What to watch in Eagles-Washington

The scoreboard

Admit it: You’ll be scoreboard watching on Sunday. Yes, the Eagles must win and take care of their end of the bargain. If the Eagles lose, nothing else matters. But the Eagles need Chicago to beat Minnesota in order to make the playoffs. And the Bears might be watching the scoreboard, too, because the only way they can get the No. 2 seed is if the Rams lose to the 49ers. So that means the Eagles must root for the 49ers, because if the Rams jump out to a big lead early in the game, the Bears would realize they’re playing one week later and they’ll start to rest their key players and not show as much on film. The Vikings have underachieved this season and already lost to the Bears, so it’ll be a tough game. But they’re home and they’re in a win-and-in situation. It will be interesting to watch.

Can Foles stay hot?

Nick Foles has captured the hearts of Eagles fans…again. He’s helped the Eagles to wins over playoff teams in back-to-back weeks, bringing the Eagles to the doorstep of the postseason, and it came last week in dramatic and record-breaking fashion. He has reached this level of brilliance before in Philadelphia – including in the Super Bowl. Of course, Foles has also had some ugly games in an Eagles uniform. He’s had seven starts for the Eagles with a passer rating under 70. The Eagles are 2-5 in those games. (One of those wins was in Week 1 this season.) The Eagles cannot afford the bad Foles to show up on Sunday. He doesn’t need a 471-yard performance like last week, but he needs to play well enough to win. I believe he will. The Eagles are the better team than Washington, and Foles will continue his hot streak. However, without help from Chicago, it will likely be his final game in an Eagles uniform.

Keep feeding Zach Ertz

In the first game against Washington, Zach Ertz had nine catches for 83 yards. Washington released D.J. Swearinger this week after he made critical comments about their defense. Swearinger was Washington’s best safety, taking a key piece out of their secondary. Look for another big game from Ertz, who has feasted on Washington in his career. He has 68 catches for 703 yards in 11 games against Washington. Ertz has 113 receptions this season, setting the single-season record for tight ends. He can push that total into the 120s.

Stop Adrian Peterson

Injuries have decimated Washington’s offense, where they’re missing top players all over the field. Tight end Jordan Reed went on injured reserve this week. The player who poses the biggest threat to the Eagles is running back Adrian Peterson, who rushed for 119 yards last week against Tennessee and has 1,042 rushing yards this season. Peterson had a 90-yard run against the Eagles earlier this month, although the Eagles limited him to eight yards on his eight other carries. I’d expect Peterson to get more than nine carries on Sunday. The Eagles will go into the game focused on stopping him, and if they do that, a Washington offense that hasn’t topped 16 points in the past four games will again be grounded.

Josh Johnson’s mobility

The Eagles have struggled against mobile quarterbacks this season, and Washington quarterback Josh Johnson’s mobility has been a big part of the offense since he took over. He’s rushed for 116 yards in three games with an average of 5.8 yards per carry. Five of his six third-down carries have moved the chains. If the Eagles can keep him in the pocket, their pass rushers could excel; Johnson has been sacked five times during the past two weeks. He also hasn’t thrown for more than 153 yards in his two starts, so the secondary shouldn’t be significantly challenged. But if Johnson extends drives with his legs, it will give Washington more chances and more confidence. So this must be an emphasis on Sunday.

What you need to know about the Eagles

  1. Nick Foles is using lessons from last season’s Super Bowl run in the high-pressured game on Sunday.

  2. How do jersey swaps occur after the games? Les Bowen has an interesting story on the weekly exchanges.

  3. The Eagles are haunted by fourth-quarter collapses, Paul Domowitch writes in his weekly notes.

  4. Jeff McLane breaks down the film to look at Nick Foles' chemistry with Alshon Jeffery.

  5. The Eagles have themselves to blame for the situation they’re in this week, Mike Sielski writes.

From the mailbag...

Yes, I believe if the Eagles make the playoffs, they’ll be dangerous. They would have won five of six games and they’ll have a hot quarterback. They have a roster full of players who’ve won big games in January before. They’ve won on the road, as evidenced by the victory over the Rams. Certainly, there are key injuries and weaknesses on the roster, and Chicago would be favored – especially being at home and with that defense. But I don’t think teams will be eager to play the Eagles in the playoffs. The Eagles just need to get in.

Nick Foles won the Eagles’ only Super Bowl, he’s ninth on the franchise’s all-time passing list, 10th on the all-time touchdowns list, and has the best quarterback rating in Eagles history. So he’s up there, but I’d still go with Donovan McNabb. McNabb did it over a longer period of time, is the franchise leader in yards, touchdowns, and completions, and won at an impressive rate. He went to five NFC championship games and a Super Bowl. The Eagles were contenders throughout the 2000s because of McNabb. So I’d still go with McNabb as No. 1.

I don’t think Golden Tate is coming back next season. He’ll get good money elsewhere, and the third-round pick is a sunk cost at this point. Nelson Agholor is under contract through next season because the Eagles exercised his fifth-year option, although it’s not guaranteed. The Eagles could sign him to an extension or cut him and sign him to a new deal, but my guess is Agholor is back. He has a chance to finish this season with better numbers than last season (he needs four catches and 73 yards on Sunday), and the arrow should continue to point up for Agholor.