Birds and Bears will know where they stand
As the Sunday night opponents, both teams' playoff picture may be clarified by the earlier games.
THE DAY IS LONG, leading into the NFL's Sunday night game, the Daily News has learned. The Eagles will spend much of it sitting around a hotel, trying not to pay too much attention to TV.
Ultimately, they could take the field knowing they need only to beat the Chicago Bears to wrap up the NFC East, should Washington defeat visiting Dallas earlier in the day (1 p.m., Fox 29). Or they could take the field knowing they can't possibly wrap up a playoff spot, win or lose, until they play at Dallas the next Sunday, Dec. 29. Should Dallas win this week, the only thing an Eagles win or loss against Chicago could affect is whether the Birds have a shot at the third or only the fourth seed.
Eagles coach Chip Kelly and his players have spent the week telling us Dallas doesn't matter, they need to get themselves straightened out, control what they can control. Playoffs? Who's thinking about playoffs? They're focused on beating the Bears.
Of course, last week they told us they weren't about to suffer a letdown at Minnesota, after winning five games in a row. We all know how that went.
Deep down, can it really not matter to them what happens with the Cowboys?
Whether the Eagles acknowledge it or not, those early games will be part of the backdrop Sunday night. The Bears, 8-6 just like the Eagles, Chicago leading the NFC North, might also find themselves playing only for seeding, depending on what happens earlier in the day with the Packers-Steelers and the Lions-Giants. If the Lions lose and the Packers win, the final-week Bears-Packers showdown will determine the NFC North winner.
Bears coach Marc Trestman, unlike Kelly, said yesterday he will consider resting players if that scenario plays out. Also, the Bears could arrive at Lincoln Financial Field knowing they only need to beat the Eagles to win the North, should the Packers and Lions both lose.
So, there's an excellent chance the early games will have an impact on Sunday night, one way or another.
"It might give you a boost" to learn Dallas has lost, and you can clinch a playoff berth by beating the Bears, left guard Evan Mathis said. "It depends on what level you think we're being boosted to - I think we're going to come out at that level, regardless."
In other words, they expect to be at maximum intensity already, which is a nice thought, but as we saw last week, that isn't always the case.
"At this time of the year, when the playoffs are on the line, you don't need extra motivation. You've just gotta go out and play," wide receiver Jason Avant said.
"I don't think it'll affect how we go into the game necessarily, but if the game's on the TV in the hotel room we're sitting in all day, I'll be watching the game," linebacker Connor Barwin said. "If for no reason other than getting a jump start on scouting for the next week."
Cornerback Cary Williams said, "I don't want to look at it," because it might be a distraction from the task at hand.
Kelly said earlier this week that he doesn't intend to live in a vacuum, one way or another he expects he'll know what Dallas did by the time his team starts to warm up for the Bears. His point has been that the only element the Eagles can control is how they play.
Kelly extended that line of thought yesterday to pondering whether the Eagles now have to make the playoffs for this to be a successful season.
"I don't think of it that way," he said, after quibbling with the use of the phrase "control your own destiny," because "destiny is a predetermined set of events, therefore, if it's predetermined, you can't control it."
Anyway . . .
"If we lose to anybody, it's a huge disappointment to me. That's the way I've always approached it," Kelly said.
In evaluating his first season, is making the playoffs a huge deal?
"Every game we play is a huge deal," Kelly said.
Quarterback Nick Foles said this isn't the time to decide what will matter in evaluating Kelly's first season.
"We can look back after the season and see what we accomplished then," Foles said. "You can be proud of all the moments and things like that. But while it's going on, there's not time to sit back and enjoy it and think you did well, because then you become complacent."
Asked about the Dallas-game effect, Foles said: "I think that it's not going to matter. I know that our team's going to be ready to play. I know we're going to have an intensity to us, because that's what we work on throughout the week, that's why we prepare so hard. We need to play Sunday night in front of our home fans, against the Chicago Bears. It doesn't get much bigger than that right now. If you need something else, like a game to get you up, another team losing, then you probably shouldn't be playing. You should be already up for this game. I know I'm excited for it."
Corner Brandon Boykin, who returned to practice yesterday after suffering a concussion Sunday, said: "The type of game we had last week defensively, we gotta come back and make a statement. This game is huge; it means a lot," regardless of how it affects or doesn't affect the standings.
On Twitter: @LesBowen