Hope springs eternal. Whether that’s for a backup quarterback still eager to show that his skills are intact, or fans content that their beloved team has made the playoffs because of (or despite, depending on whom you ask) their rookie coach and young quarterback, there’s a lot of cheer to go around right now, with the postseason reality of eliminated teams in the do-or-die format yet to set in.

So yes, the Eagles got waxed by the Cowboys on Saturday night, but under Gardner Minshew, they actually hung in for a half and got DeVonta Smith a notable record in the process. Most of all, with the playoffs already assured, it was a luxury for starting players to rest and devoted fans not to stress.

Now, the real work begins. There’s meaningful football for Philadelphia fans in January, but this frankly wasn’t. It’s the next game, against the defending Super Bowl champions, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, that really matters for the Eagles. Can Jalen Hurts and the Birds take down the legendary Tom Brady and his cohorts?

Sports Daily readers, you have followed the Eagles beat writers making predictions all season long — now it’s your turn.

— Inquirer Sports Staff, @phillysport

Tell us what you think the score line will be of the Eagles’ playoff game: sports.daily@inquirer.com

Early Birds

The Eagles were handily defeated by the Buccaneers in October. Tampa Bay has Brady, yes. But it’s the Eagles who have nothing to lose.

With Hurts at the helm and Nick Sirianni as a first-year coach, they’ve already gone further than preseason predictions suggested. According to data collected by Bookies.com in July, Sirianni was the least-liked head coach by his own fans. A 2-5 start wasn’t a surprise. It’ll be difficult to pull off the upset, but let’s see what happens, as the Eagles have already succeeded in making it this far.

The end of the regular season also determined the position of the Eagles’ top two draft picks, acquired from Miami and Indianapolis, which missed the playoffs after losing to the awful Jaguars, as well as the Eagles’ opponents for the 2022 season.

The bad news for the Eagles? They learned reserve tight end Tyree Jackson, who caught a touchdown against the Cowboys, suffered a torn ACL.

Off the Dribble

Joel Embiid has been a singular force for the 76ers this season, keeping them afloat throughout a season impacted by COVID-19, injuries, and the Ben Simmons saga.

But while Embiid has been the main engine driving the Sixers season, he has also started to get some help as the team becomes whole. The Inquirer’s Gina Mizell shed some light on Embiid’s growing chemistry with Seth Curry and Matisse Thybulle, who together have served as support for the Sixers center on offense and defense, respectively.

Next: The Sixers play the Houston Rockets on the road at 8 p.m. Monday at the Toyota Center.

On the Fly

There’s a slightly sickening familiarity Flyers fans might feel over the team’s five-game losing streak. It’s not only that the team is nearly halfway to the number of games lost in a row that ended the tenure of Mike Yeo’s coaching predecessor, Alain Vigneault, but also, the winless streak started with San Jose — and now the Sharks are the latest team to add to it.

On the plus side, the Flyers will be getting key players back from COVID-19 protocols.

Next: The Flyers play the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the Wells Fargo Center.

Worth a look

Just keep swimming: Penn’s Lia Thomas and Yale’s Iszac Henig both won races in the water, but their identities are making waves.

Those were the days: Sam Carchidi looks back on his sportswriting tenure at The Inquirer.

Madden memories: For many players, getting picked by John Madden was an honor like no other.

Temple three wins it: Buzzer beaters are simply the best.

A Philadelphia story: Yes, Alabama quarterback Bryce Young was once a bouncing baby boy born outside Philly.

What you’re saying

On the subject of Sirianni, a whole lot! A sampling:

The real proof will come next year. They have 8 wins gift wrapped. Jags, Texans, Bears, Lions, Giants (2), WFT (2). If they do not get 10 wins the season will be a disaster. But then they did lose to the Giants. — Daniel W.

Yes, it’s surprising. He seemed so laughable as a coach. And laughingly fitting to be a coach for Jeffrey Laurie, a laughable owner. Felt sorry for the players being on such a team. I hope Sirianni continues growing into his role. — Carole G.

First off, after the 2-5 start I thought this team was a 3 or 4 win season. In this 7-2 turnaround, they haven’t beat one team with a winning record. Only the Saints are 8-8. I believe that Nick did cost them the 49ers game in week 2 and his poor play calling cost them the Chargers game. They need to get more creative with the offense and use the three first round picks to get some difference makers on defense and let this staff have another year to see what they have in Hurts. — William C.

He is a wanna be. — Jim P.

Philly flashback photo

In Mike Jensen’s article about Bryce Young, this is the 2001 NBA Finals Series that is referenced.

We compiled today’s newsletter using reporting from Josh Tolentino, EJ Smith, Giana Han, Sam Carchidi, Scott Lauber, Matt Breen, Isabella DiAmore, Gina Mizell, EJ Smith, Marcus Hayes, Mike Jensen, and Mike Sielski.