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The Eagles Have The Right Stuff

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Trent Cole and the Philadelphia Eagles took a giant leap toward the playoffs with their win Sunday. Photo by Hunter Martin/Philadelphia Eagles/Getty Images.
Trent Cole and the Philadelphia Eagles took a giant leap toward the playoffs with their win Sunday. Photo by Hunter Martin/Philadelphia Eagles/Getty Images.

We won’t know who reaches the playoffs for a while, but we’re beginning to know who has the right stuff for the postseason.

What’s curious is that every game played this week had playoff implications, though Jaguars-Browns and Falcons-Bills were a stretch. Yes, Roger, there is parity in the NFL. Congratulations.

The Eagles definitely have the right stuff, though they got the benefit of some favorable officiating. The stats say Nick Foles has no interceptions this year, but that’s only because the refs called defensive holding when cover stud Patrick Peterson picked off a ball. This was a strange game, with Arizona playing well in many respects but making too many mistakes. Carson Palmer, that means you.

This was one of those games that puts the lie to the old cliche about momentum being so important. The Cardinals seemed to have momentum several times, but this game is about big plays (refs’ calls fall into this category) and turnovers, and those favored the Eagles.

But the Eagles dug themselves out of a hole. Remember they were 3-5 after losing to the Cowboys and Giants in late October. (Eagles fans are trying to forget Matt Barkley.) They’ve won four games since then. 

Among the many things Foles did well was find his secondary receivers. Tight ends Brent Celek (one) and Zach Ertz (two) caught all three of his touchdown passes. The Cards have some good cover defenders, but Foles found favorable matchups. LeSean McCoy and DeSean McCoy had decent games, but they weren't game-breakers. Instead, Ertz, Celek and Riley Cooper contributed to a balanced attack.

I thought Ertz would be among the best rookies. He hadn’t done a lot before Sunday, but showed he’s an excellent tight end. You can expect the Eagles to find more ways to get him into the offense. After all, tight ends are the quarterback's best friends. 

The announcing crew was all over the fact that the Eagles defense has improved greatly since the beginning of the year. In three terrible weeks, Philly gave up 33 to the Chargers, 26 to the Chiefs and 52 to the Broncos. Ouch.

Chip Kelly waited a while before settling with Foles. It looks like an easy decision now, with Foles playing so well. But you have to realize that Foles didn’t quite fit with the offense Kelly wanted to run. At least Kelly figured out that he had to have the best guy in there even if Foles isn’t a great runner.

That was a huge win for the Eagles. The Cards are one of their wildcard rivals, and Philly holds the tiebreaker based on Sunday’s win. They could also get in by winning the NFC East — remember they play the Cowboys on the last weekend of the year. They need to win that and win two of the three games with NFC North teams before then (Detroit, Minnesota and Chicago). I like their chances. 

Next week the Philly fans "welcome" the Lions. That's one of the better matchups of the week.

The Cardinals are still in it. That was a winnable game. Palmer has to step up his game, but this is a solid team with an excellent defense. The schedule’s working against them, though: They close with the Seahawks and 49ers. You’d have to say their chances are less than 50-50.

The 49ers do. The return of Michael Crabtree did wonders for what had been a weak offense. The defense, which has been consistently good, roughed up the Rams. This is the best Big Boy team in the league. If the offense scores enough points, I’m not sure who can beat them.

San Francisco lost a couple of close games to good teams and everyone was down on them. Well, they look pretty good now. The only thing is that in the playoffs, they’ll have to win on the road. And New Orleans and Seattle look like very tough places to play.

The Rams’ run is over. At 5-7, the fat lady hasn’t sung, but she’s clearing her throat. The Atlanta loss in Week 2 was deadly. And the Rams have to play the Seahawks and Saints.

The Bears definitely don’t. Sure, they’re missing some guys on defense, but most teams are out key players. Josh McCown and Alshon Jeffery were great, but the team’s defense is horrible. Adrian Peterson had a groin pull, but you wouldn’t know it from his 211 yards gained rushing. One of the few good plays Chicago made on defense was when a pass rusher knocked Christian Ponder out of the game. Note to defenses: That’s a dumb idea. Take it easy on him and let him screw up. The Bears promptly made Matt Cassel look like Fran Tarkenton.

Chicago media were all over coach Marc Tressman, who went for a game-winning kick in overtime on second down. Robbie Gould, one of the best in the business (and a new father), missed a 47-yard kick. Well, sure, they probably should’ve given the ball to Matt Forte a couple of times, but the Bears running game wasn’t great. And Gould has been lights out. Go figure. (Earlier Blair Walsh hit what would’ve been a game-winner, but there was a penalty on the play. He tried again at 57 yards and missed.)

I’m sure Tressman is aware that his predecessor, Lovie Smith, was fired after going 10-6 last year. What game kept the Bears out of the playoffs last year? The finale in Minnesota, which the Vikings won over the Packers. The Vikings had the tiebreaker over the Bears and made the playoffs.

The Vikings are never to be outdone in bad memories. Minnesota fans recall when McCown — yes, the current Bears quarterback, then playing for Arizona — made a last-second throw to beat the Vikings in 2004 and eliminate them from the possibility of the playoffs. 

The Bears’ loss means they’re a game back of the Lions — and they lose on the tiebreaker, head-to-head matchups. They need to win two more games than the Lions do over the last four games. In other words, Detroit must collapse. That, of course, is entirely possible. The Lions have done it before, and they have both great talent and the ability to screw up. Megatron, meet Alfred E. Neumann. Which of the two will prevail? You never know with Detroit.

The New York Giants are still alive, but barely. They have to win out to have any shot, and they’d have to hope for the Eagles to beat the Cowboys in the finale. The Giants play Seattle and Detroit. Game over. Nice try.

Carolina does. Stay tuned. We’ll know more about them after they play the Saints, but they’re one of the top teams in the league.

The Broncos and Chiefs do. Denver will win the division, and the Chiefs will make the playoffs. 

But it appears that both teams have defensive issues. Peyton Manning had five touchdown passes against the Chiefs, along with two interceptions.

The Broncos have to make sure they get home-field advantage in the playoffs. I like them if they play anyone in Denver. That includes the Patriots.

New England (of course) does. But at some point they’ll need to play well in the first half. And their defense isn’t very good. Remember Case Keenum is the third-string quarterback for the Texans, who made it tough for the Patriots. 

The Colts do, but their win was less than impressive. They sure have a quarterback. Andrew Luck was terrific, but the offensive line is a problem — he was sacked five times. The team sorely needs Reggie Wayne.

The Titans’ chances seem tiny. This was a game they had to have. Ryan Fitzpatrick threw three interceptions and fumbled the ball once, and key penalties also hurt them — a roughing call gave the Colts three points at the end of the first half. Game over. Goodnight, Irene. 

Tennessee has a whisper of a chance because they have the tiebreaker over all the other 5-7 teams: the Jets, Steelers and Chargers.

The Jets don’t. They might have the worst quarterback situation in the league. (Stop laughing, Vikings fans, it’s possible.) Geno Smith was terrible in the first half, going four-for-10 for29 yards and an interception. That’s a quarterback rating of 8.3. Matt Simms was only slightly better. The Jets were outplayed, with coach Rex Ryan calling the performance, at home, “awful.” Yes, Rex, and this could affect you, fair or not. (And whoever said Jets fans were fair?) 

The Jets lose tiebreakers to the Chargers, Titans and Steelers. It’s over.

Miami’s looking pretty good. At 6-6, they’re in the wildcard mix. They’ve stuck together since the Incognito-Martin scandal (or brouhaha or whatever it was). Ryan Tannehill’s played well.  

Before Sunday’s games, the Browns were listed among the teams in the wildcard hunt.  You can forget it after Sunday’s loss to the Jaguars, who have joined the Bucs as one of the teams to have a bit of a run after terrible beginnings.

The Bengals have the right stuff. They won a down-and-dirty defensive struggle in San Diego, coming close to eliminating the Chargers — who had beaten the Chiefs in a thriller a week ago. You have to love the Bengals’ D, but you also wonder if Andy Dalton could lead you to a playoff win in a shootout. 

Cincinnati is two games ahead of the Ravens in the AFC North. Baltimore will be favored at home against Minnesota, then plays at Detroit, at home vs. New England and then at Cincinnati. Beyond that, the Bengals are in good shape for the wild card.

Still, you can’t figure out the NFL with a slide rule and logic. Someone will get hot and put the lie to all the fine words all the sports columnists write and sneak in, with effort, luck (or Luck) and some great plays. And we’ll smile and say, “This league cannot be forecasted.”

Also recall that there’s always the chance that a seemingly sure winner will “screw the pooch,” as Mercury astronaut Gus Grissom did (or didn’t) do as featured in “The Right Stuff.”