There aren't many reasons left to watch the Eagles, but Nick Foles and Bryce Brown certainly qualify as the two best.
The rookie quarterback and running back will start again when the Birds travel to Tampa, Fla., to face the Buccaneers on Sunday. Foles has already been tabbed the starter for the rest of the season, and Brown will fill in for the injured LeSean McCoy (concussion).
Foles played better last week against the Cowboys than he did in his previous two starts. He has four games to show Eagles brass that he should be next season's starter. Brown has dazzled, but three fumbles in two games have diluted some of the buzz. Still, he has been a late-season surprise.
Before the season, many penciled in a win over the Bucs in Week 14. Former Rutgers coach Greg Schiano has Tampa Bay playing with some pride, and at this point, playing for the playoffs.
The Bucs have lost two in a row, but they're 6-6 and one of four NFC teams a game behind the 7-5 Seahawks for the last playoff spot. All their wins are against teams with losing records, and all their losses - except for the Saints - have come against teams with winning marks.
After losing eight straight, the lame duck Andy Reid will take a win any way he can.
Hold off another game on the Bo Jackson comparisons. Brown will face his stiffest test in his third start. The Bucs are first in the league in rushing defense (82.3 yards per game, 3.4 per carry) and have shut down some pretty good tailbacks. But when the Bucs faced elite running backs such as the Vikings' Adrian Peterson (123 yards) or the Redskins' Alfred Morris (113), they struggled. So Brown, who has rushed for 347 yards and four touchdowns in the last two games, could have some room to run. That being said, defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and linebacker Lavonte David spearhead a Bucs run defense that is quick off the ball. If left guard Evan Mathis is a Pro Bowler this season, as some have suggested, he should be able to keep the 6-foot-4, 330-pound McCoy in check. David, a rookie, plays all three downs and leads the Bucs with 108 tackles, 17 for loss. Chosen in the second round out of Nebraska, David was available when the Eagles selected linebacker Mychal Kendricks 12 picks earlier.
The Birds offense scored its most points of the season (27) last week largely because of the ground game, but Foles finally took advantage of some opportunities downfield in the passing game, as well. He completed 22 of 34 passes for 251 yards and a touchdown and should have chances to hit a few big ones against a Bucs pass defense that is last in the league in yards allowed (309.4 per game). The Bucs still run a lot of the Tampa 2 defense with the everlasting Ronde Barber now at safety with rookie Mark Barron. Their deficiencies are two-fold. The front four have not generated enough pressure - the Bucs are 30th in the league in sacks with 18 - and the back seven have not been able to cover the middle of the field. Barron, Tampa Bay's top draft pick, has been particularly bad. To shake things up, defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan has blitzed a lot. Foles didn't see many extra pass rushers against the Cowboys and Panthers, but he had significant issues when the Redskins blitzed him often three starts ago. The improvement on the offensive line has helped, especially along the right side with guard Jake Scott and tackle Dennis Kelly. Foles hasn't developed great rhythm with his receivers yet, but could have opportunities to hit Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper on the outside against Tampa cornerbacks E.J. Biggers and Leonard Johnson.
If it weren't for Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, Tampa Bay running back Doug Martin could be in the conversation for offensive rookie of the year. The Boise State product has rushed for 1,106 yards and nine touchdowns. He accumulated 251 of those yards and four of those scores against the Raiders in Week 9. The loss of Pro Bowl guard Carl Nicks to a season-ending toe injury in October hasn't hindered the Bucs rushing game. They lost their other guard, Davin Joseph, during the preseason. Left tackle Donald Penn has been the Bucs' best run-blocker. The Eagles, who are the only team in the NFL that has yet to allow a 100-yard rusher, will be giving opposing offenses a different look up front with the departure of line coach Jim Washburn and his wide-nine scheme. The linemen will now be asked to read and react to the run, which should help the linebackers and safeties. DeMeco Ryans hasn't needed much help this season in defending the run. The Eagles middle linebacker recorded his team-leading 15th tackle for loss last week.
The Eagles secondary is in pieces. During the six games that Todd Bowles has helmed the defense, opposing quarterbacks have averaged a 142.4 passer rating. The Eagles have allowed 16 touchdowns through the air and made zero interceptions during that span. The pass rush hasn't been consistent, but much of the blame falls on the defensive backs. Safety Kurt Coleman is out with a chest bruise. Colt Anderson, who had problems when he had to jump in for Nate Allen late in the Lions game in October, will take his place. One of those safeties will spend a lot of time helping either Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie or Nnamdi Asomugha shadow Vincent Jackson (50 catches for 1,014 yards). The receiver has been hitting home runs all season and averages an NFL-best 20.3 yards per catch. Tampa Bay's second receiver, Mike Williams (43 catches for 718 yards), hasn't been a slouch, either. Quarterback Josh Freeman hasn't been very accurate this season (55.9 percent), but he has only eight interceptions against 23 touchdowns and has been aided by good protection. The Tampa quarterback has been sacked on only 4.37 percent of pass plays, which is fifth best in the league.
It's amazing what one 98-yard punt return can do for your special-teams ranking. A week ago, the Eagles were 20th in the league in punt returns. They're fourth after Damaris Johnson's electrifying after-the-fact, touchdown return against the Cowboys. Brandon Boykin was back to doing very little on kick returns last week. The Bucs are just as bad as the Eagles in the kick-return department. They're a little better than the Eagles with their cover units, but not much. Both teams have solid kickers, although the Eagles' Alex Henery (95.7 percent) has been more consistent on field goals than Tampa's Connor Barth (82.1).
Freeman has the NFL's third-best passer rating at home (105.5), and has averaged 9.12 yards per attempt with 10 touchdowns and two interceptions at Raymond James Stadium. . . . All three of Barber's interceptions against the Eagles have been returned for touchdowns. . . . The Eagles rank second in the NFL with 28 turnovers but had only one last week. . . . The Bucs are fourth in the NFL with 17 interceptions. . . . Tampa's offense is second inside the red zone (24 of 36, 66.7 percent). The Eagles defense is sixth (18 of 40, 45 pct.).