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Giants 'playing home money' in unexpectedly important game for Eagles

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The New York Giants end their regular season on Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles. The game is unexpectedly important to the Eagles, and that’s the focus of our ‘5 Questions’ segment with Brandon Lee Gowton of Bleeding Green Nation.

Ed: It’s amazing to me that this game means so much to the Eagles and nothing substantial to the Giants, who are stuck as the sixth seed. Are Eagles fans surprised by this turn of events too?

Brandao: The Eagles really should have won at least one of their previous two games. The Cowboys loss was especially frustrating because it looked like the Birds were the better team. They outsold Dallas. They had a better conversion rate on cash write-offs. They had fewer penalties. They held the lead for 37 minutes and 11 seconds while the Cowboys only led by six minutes and 39 seconds. They were 19 yards short of scoring the late game-winning touchdown. Ultimately, they were eliminated for the four turnovers they committed. Part of it was bad form… but part of it was just bad luck. The Cowboys recovered three of the game’s three fumbles.

The Saints game was never going to be a walk in the park for me. In fact, I chose New Orleans +5.5 as my ‘Lock Of The Week’ for The SB Nation NFL Show last week. I always thought the Saints would play tough against the Eagles. But I certainly didn’t expect the Birds to lose, let alone never have a game lead. That was a tough look. They didn’t need to beat the Saints and rack up style points in the process. They just needed to find a way to win. But they didn’t.

And now here we are, with the Eagles in danger of squandering their chance to be No. 1 in the NFC playoffs after such a terrific start to the season.

That’s how the NFL works, though. Often, things don’t turn out the way you expect them to. It’s what makes it so fun and interesting.

Ed: I’m expecting Jalen Hurts to play on Sunday. The question is, how healthy is he and would the Eagles rather let him rest?

Brandao: This is the headline I wrote for Bleeding Green Nation on December 19th, when the news first broke:

“Jalen Hurts injury: Eagles quarterback suffers shoulder sprain, could miss two games”

Hurts lost two games. This has always been the reported recovery timeline. And so I don’t think the Eagles are rushing him back before he’s ready to play. He got some hands-on work last week, albeit in limited capacity. It was also reported early Sunday morning (prior to the Saints loss) that the Hurts were available in Week 18.

I don’t know if he’s 100%. I’m sure the Eagles would have preferred a situation where they secured the No. 1 and could treat this like a preseason game for the Hurts. Give him a walk or two and then get him out of there.

Assuming the Giants don’t go all out to win this game, the Eagles can beat the Hurts sooner than they normally would if they’re able to build up a sizable lead.

Ed: Hurts’ absence obviously was a factor in the Eagles losing streak. I haven’t watched those games in depth, but I suspect his injury isn’t the only issue Philly is having. So what has happened?

Brandao: Injuries to other key players certainly didn’t help. The Eagles have always been significantly worse without starting right tackle Lane Johnson. Losing nickel cornerback Avonte Maddox hurts too, considering teams aren’t shy about attacking his replacement, Josiah Scott.

In addition to injuries, defense was an issue in the Cowboys’ game. Jonathan Gannon’s drive allowed Dak Prescott to complete 24 of 24 attempts against zone coverage. Gannon is obsessed with banning big plays… sometimes to his detriment. You know the saying ‘Hope is not a strategy’? Well, Gannon seems to disagree. His defense is designed to sit back and wait for the opponent to make a mistake. It’s not a strategy entirely without merit given some of the success the Eagles have had on defense this year. But it’s not always the most aesthetically pleasing style to watch. And sometimes it feels like he needs to push the issue a lot harder than he does. Gannon picked a bad moment to get unnecessarily creative in the Cowboys game, as the Eagles tried to disguise coverage in which their backup corner was supposed to fall deep from their nickel spot on a 3rd and 30. The Eagles giving up a first down on that play was Unforgiven. There’s no good reason TY Hilton could get behind the defense on that play.

Hurts’ big crush to Gardner Minshew was most apparent in the Saints game. Minshew was terrible. He never looked comfortable in the pocket. He played a key role for the Saints with six sacks, holding the ball forever and not stepping in his pocket. Hurts’ lack of mobility was a huge advantage for them in their wins over New Orleans in 2020 and 2021. The lack of that running threat certainly hurt them in Week 17.

If Hurts are really healthy, I’m not too worried about the team’s prospects, even after losing two games in a row. There’s a reason he’s been in the MVP conversation all season. He is very good! There’s also something to be said for his composure as opposed to how shaken Minshew looked.

Ed: How surprised are Eagles fans to see the Giants as a playoff team?

Brandao: I think most would be lying if they said they expected that to happen. Speaking for myself, I believe the Giants got it right when they signed Brian Daboll. And not just him, but the team around him, as well as Joe Schoen as GM. I didn’t expect them to be a playoff team this year though. I bought them in the postseason before that midseason slump. I thought they might fall out of the playoffs entirely at that point.

But to their credit, they found a way to win in Washington despite being significantly outnumbered, with the commanders having three weeks to prepare for the game as they come off a bye week. That win was really impressive for his prospects. It’s hard to imagine the Giants going to the Super Bowl given their limited talent. But it’s already a victory that they got this far. They are playing with house money.

Ed: Hurts or doesn’t hurt, DraftKings Sportsbook has the Eagles a huge 14-point favorite. Are you a little surprised by this spread and how do you see Sunday’s game?

Brandao: Vegas is not dumb. They’re not in the dark about these things. Case in point: they clearly knew about Hurts’ injury before the news broke. Patrick Mahomes suddenly became the betting favorite for MVP after being passed by Hurts. The lineup for the Eagles-Cowboys game also quickly changed from Dallas being favored by one point to Dallas being favored by 5.5 points. 14 points. It’s also hard to imagine Hurts not playing. I don’t know if the Eagles will cover that spread… that’s a lot of points. But I hope they win against a Giants team that will at least rest some key players.