While many fans would prefer that the Eagles lose the season finale to improve their draft position, the team has other intentions. Doug Pederson could still be coaching for his job. Players with uncertain futures are still playing for jobs. The Eagles don’t want Washington to win the NFC East on their account.
So I expect the same full effort we’ve seen throughout this disappointing season and throughout Pederson’s tenure. That doesn’t mean it will be mistake-free. The Eagles are who they are, and it’s unlikely they’ll put together a clean 60 minutes of football, especially with a number of starters injured.
Washington should be in better shape at quarterback with Alex Smith likely back from injury. He isn’t flashy, but he knows how to get the job done, and I imagine he will here against a defensive secondary that is battered and bruised. Jalen Hurts gets his fourth straight start at quarterback and could be facing his toughest test against a sound defense with a ferocious front.
Could the Eagles be spoilers? I guess. Does it really matter if the six-win Cowboys or Giants are the division champs? But you play to win, and anyone can in the wretched NFC East. I just don’t think the Eagles will in this case.
Prediction: Washington 24, Eagles 16
This is the kind of game that only the sickest of bettors touch, a game when the outcome means everything to one team and nothing to the other.
Washington can make the playoffs for the first time in five years by beating the Eagles on Sunday night.
The Eagles? “We don’t want people celebrating on our field with [NFC East champion] hats and T-shirts,” cornerback Darius Slay said earlier this week. “We’re looking forward to going out and messing up some dreams.”
Messing up some dreams. That’s his story, and Slay and his teammates are sticking to it. But the bottom line is a good many of the Eagles starters either are going to sit this one out or play very little as some of the younger players get an early audition for next year.
“There’s no pressure on us,” linebacker Alex Singleton said. “All of the pressure is on Washington.”
In games like this, I usually go with the team that has something to play for. But when the team that has something to play for is Washington, well, that changes things.
Washington is expected to get quarterback Alex Smith back Sunday, which will help. But he will be missing his best receiver, Terry McLaurin.
Can Eagles offensive tackles Jordan Mailata and Matt Pryor prevent Washington defensive ends Chase Young, Montez Sweat and Ryan Kerrigan from beating up Jalen Hurts? I don’t know.
Can the Eagles’ takeaway-challenged defense create some turnovers and shorten the field for the offense? I don’t know.
Can the Eagles linebackers neutralize running backs Antonio Gibson and J.D. McKissic in the passing game? I don’t know.
Will Doug Pederson go for it on every fourth down and throw every gadget play in his playbook at Washington? I don’t know.
While the game means nothing to the Eagles from a playoff standpoint, playing in prime time in front of many of your peers still carries some weight. The Eagles won’t be going through the motions Sunday night. They’ll play hard. And maybe that will be enough.
I don’t know.
Prediction: Eagles 27, Washington 17
Washington is probably slightly better even if the game is being played on even footing. It is not being played on even footing. Everybody who can limp out there is playing on Washington’s side, and nobody who can make an injury worse is going to see the field for the Eagles, in my view.
All this talk about not letting people put on hats is silliness. The Eagles secondary is working at a huge disadvantage that got worse with the news that Jalen Mills is on the COVID-19 reserve list. As ugly as the Eagles season has been, this game might be even worse.
Prediction: Washington 32, Eagles 19
Almost to a man, Eagles players have spent this week insisting they will go out Sunday determined to keep Washington from celebrating at the Linc. They’ve called it the “no hat rule,” and the messaging has been clear that they don’t want to see any NFC East-championship gear in-person this weekend.
I don’t think it will really matter. Sure, the Eagles’ best punch Sunday could be enough if they’re able to turn the game into a shootout and catch Washington a bit off guard. But there’s no sense pretending Washington isn’t the better team even when there’s not a gulf between how much is at stake for both parties.
The best-case scenario for the Eagles’ long-term outlook is a game in which Jalen Hurts handles pressure with a calm, decisive approach and leads an offensive outburst that ultimately doesn’t matter because of the banged-up Eagles defense’s surrendering too many points. Whether Hurts is able to do that against Washington’s pass rush, ranked sixth in sacks, remains to be seen.
The Eagles might or might not actually do all they can to spoil Washington’s season, but I expect the hats to come out anyway.
Prediction: Washington 28, Eagles 18