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Can Alshon Jeffery's best game come against his former team? | Early Birds

Alshon Jeffery vs. the Bears, the Eagles' run defense, and Jake Elliott's status are three key storylines

Alshon Jeffery catches a pass over the 49ers’ Ahkello Witherspoon in the third quarter.
Alshon Jeffery catches a pass over the 49ers’ Ahkello Witherspoon in the third quarter.Read moreDAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer

Good morning, Eagles fans. After the Dallas Cowboys lost on Thanksgiving, the Eagles are even closer to clinching the NFC East title. They can't clinch on Sunday, but a win over the Chicago Bears puts them in position to do so in Week 13. Read along to find out what to watch for on Sunday. This is a Friday edition of Early Birds, which comes to you five days a week. It's free for anyone to sign up here to receive in your inbox every weekday. 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

Alshon Jeffery vs. Bears among key storylines on Sunday

  1. Alshon Jeffery plays his former team: The headline of the first Early Birds in September read: "Eagles finally have a No. 1 WR in Alshon Jeffery." Through 10 games, Jeffery has been a major upgrade at outside receiver for the Eagles. But he hasn't exactly been the second coming of Terrell Owens in Philadelphia. He has 38 catches for 567 yards and six touchdowns – four of those scores came in the last three games – and is still searching for his first 100-yard game. He's not on pace for 1,000 yards, although one big game could quickly change it. Could that game come Sunday? Jeffery has downplayed the significance of playing his former team, but you can bet Jeffery will be excited. The Bears haven't allowed a 100-yard receiver since Week 3 and they  know how dangerous he is. However, Jeffery has been heating up and the Eagles are finding different ways to use him in formations. He played in the slot more last week than any other game this season. Don't be surprised if Jeffery's best game comes Sunday and he plays like a bona fide No. 1 receiver.

  2. Can the run defense play better than last week?: The Eagles have the NFL's top-ranked run defense, allowing only 71 yards per game. But they're coming off of a game in which they allowed 112 rushing yards, which ties Week 2 for the most this season. The Bears have the NFL's fifth-ranked rushing offense, averaging 131.8 yards per game. With a rookie quarterback, Chicago's offense relies on the ground game. Jordan Howard has topped 100 yards four times this season, including a 125-yard effort against Detroit last week. The Eagles have not yet allowed a 100-yard rusher this season. If they keep that streak alive on Sunday, they'll almost certainly beat the Bears.

  3. How's Jake Elliott? Kicker Jake Elliott hasn't been this popular since he kicked a game-winning field goal in Week 3. Elliott left last week's win over Dallas with a concussion. As of Thursday, he still had not cleared the concussion protocol, although he was a full participant in practice and it's trending in that direction. It seems Elliott is on track to play Sunday. Even if Elliott plays, pay attention to whether Doug Pederson is aggressive going for two-point conversions. The Eagles are now 5 of 6 this season and 9 of 12 in Doug Pederson's two seasons. I've thought teams should go for two more often ever since extra points were moved. With that type of success rate, there's even more of an argument.

What you need to know about the Eagles

  1. Is Nigel Bradham the next Eagle to sign a contract extension? Jeff McLane looks at his contract situation. Jeff's notes also include a look at all the pending free agents.

  2. Patrick Robinson is playing for the lowest salary of his career, and he's playing well enough to earn much more, Les Bowen writes.

  3. Stefen Wisniewski stepping in at left guard has made a big difference for the Eagles, Paul Domowitch writes.

  4. Doug Pederson's in-game adjustments have earned the respect of fans, David Murphy writes.

  5. If you missed any of this week's newsletters, you can go back and find all the stories from the week:

3 Questions With | Tight end Brent Celek

Zach Berman: You now have catches in four consecutive games (after only two catches in the first six games). What do you make of your role in the offense?

Brent Celek: "I think it just comes down to if it presents itself. Zach [Ertz] ended up getting hurt one week, and I have to step up. And that's really what they pay me for. Being able to come in here when they need, whether some guy gets hurt or they need a two-tight end set, [I have] got to be able to show up. Hey, if my number is called more, that's great. If not, I'll still be ready when they need me."

Zach Berman: You've been on 11 different Eagles teams. What stands out about this locker room?

Brent Celek: "We're handling adversity better than any team I've been around. That's the NFL. Injuries, not starting a game very well. This last game, the first half was slow, went into the locker room, made a few adjustments, and we played really well. How we are handling adversity, to me, is the biggest thing."

Zach Berman: What's the message to the younger players for the final stretch of the season?

Brent Celek: "Keep doing what we're doing. Don't get complacent. Don't come in here thinking things are just going to happen, because they're not. This is the NFL. It don't matter that the Bears are 3-7. It don't matter. They're a good football team. We've got to go about our work the way we've been going about it the first 10 weeks of the season."

From the mailbag

Other than Carson Wentz, I'd say Lane Johnson is the player the Eagles can least afford to lose for the rest of the season. He's playing the best football his his six-year career to the point that offensive coordinator Frank Reich said this week that he "can't imagine there's a better right tackle in the league." After Jason Peters' injury, the Eagles' offensive line depth has been tested. They have Isaac Seumalo as a versatile lineman and signed veteran Will Beatty. The drop-off from Johnson is significant. Plus, with the way Johnson is playing, the Eagles can focus on helping the left side. An injury to Johnson would cripple the Eagles.

They have a better record, so on the surface, I must say yes. And the Eagles are so balanced, especially with the way the defense has played in recent weeks. But I don't think it's a clear-cut, indisputable argument that the Eagles are better. That's why the postseason will be so compelling. And the reality is in a winner-takes-all, one-game playoff in January, it's not always the "better" team that wins. Sometimes, it's the better quarterback. Of those three teams you mentioned, I'd be concerned about a January game against Drew Brees. He's a proven big-stage player. But we'll see in January. That's when this debate will matter most. The Eagles are certainly in any conversation for best team in the NFL.

I do. It's usually the byproduct of having a good team. A Super Bowl run can sometimes keep a coaching staff from being poached because of how late into the season it goes, but I can see a few coaches getting looks for coordinator jobs — or in the case of quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo, perhaps even a head-coaching job. The Eagles have a strong coaching staff that's held in high regard, so it would make sense to lose position coaches. The same thing happened to Andy Reid's original staff. Doug Pederson has focused on developing his staff. Look for quality control coaches to be in line for promotions. Press Taylor and Dino Vasso are names to remember.