The Eagles are not playing for a postseason bid on Sunday, but that won't change the way Chip Kelly approaches the Week 17 game against the New York Giants. He will not play younger players for the purpose of forming fuller evaluations. He offered no hint about shutting down veterans. Kelly is coaching to win the game, just as he did last season.
"It's also not fair to a guy that's playing and saying, 'Hey, you're not going to play just because I want to take a look at this other guy,' " Kelly said. "They have a chance to show us every single day. We were in the same situation last year. If we have a game and it's a competitive game and it counts, we are going to go play, and if you couldn't go play, maybe that says something [about] you."
After a Week 16 loss to Washington last season, Kelly offered the same message. The Eagles won, 34-26, in the season finale over the Giants and finished 10-6.
When a team is eliminated from postseason contention, it's not uncommon to shift attention to the next year by giving end-of-the-roster players a chance in games. Kelly's contention is that the players have been evaluated throughout the season in practices.
"We've had an opportunity to evaluate those guys all the way through, and if they were good enough to play, they would be on the field right now," Kelly said. "So it's not like we are holding guys back from opportunities. I think everybody has an opportunity on a daily basis to show us what they can do and whether or not they merit playing time."
However, the Eagles' coaches often remark about how game action benefits a player's development. Kelly even cited it Monday in the case of cornerback Eric Rowe, who stepped in for Nolan Carroll after a season-ending injury.
The Eagles have backups who could benefit from playing. Linebacker Marcus Smith, the 2014 first-round pick, has played only 8 percent of the defensive snaps this season. The Eagles used Brandon Graham as the third outside linebacker for much of last season, but they have mostly avoided a rotation this year and kept Connor Barwin and Graham on the field. Sunday would seem to offer a good chance for Smith to get playing time, but Kelly did not make that pledge.
"I want to see anybody that's productive and that can help us beat the Giants," Kelly said.
Kelly cited the production of Barwin and Graham as the reasons for Smith's lack of playing time. The Eagles also want to keep three defensive linemen on the field in some nickel situations, which limits Smith's workload. But no spin can make up for the fact that Smith has barely found the field this season.
Smith is a high-profile name because of his draft status, but the Eagles have lower-profile players who could benefit from playing times on offense or defense. Tight end Trey Burton, cornerback Denzel Rice, wide receiver Jonathan Krause, and running back Kenjon Barner have had limited roles, but playing time on Sunday could help form a better idea of their impact away from special teams.
One player who could see more playing time on Sunday is inside linebacker Najee Goode. He's been behind Kiko Alonso, DeMeco Ryans, and Mychal Kendricks, but Kelly hinted that Goode has made a push to join the defense.
"Najee has done an outstanding job for us on special teams and there's a guy that I think maybe would warrant some playing time," Kelly said. "We'll take a look and see what he can do this week."
The game also has implications for the 2016 schedule. The winner will be a second-place team, meaning it will visit Seattle and host Atlanta next season. The loser will be a third-place team with a game in London against the St. Louis Rams also will host either New Orleans or Tampa Bay.
The loser also will near the top 10 in draft position. So even though the winner will be 7-9, the loser might have more to celebrate.