PHILADELPHIA >> The Philadelphia Eagles need to win and get help to keep playing and have a chance to defend their Super Bowl title.
All the Washington Redskins can do now is play spoiler.
It’s do-or-die for the Eagles (8-7) when they visit the Redskins (7-8) on Sunday. A victory coupled with a loss by the Vikings (8-6-1) at home against the Bears (11-4) gives Philadelphia the final wild-card spot and the NFC’s No. 6 seed. A loss sends them on an early vacation.
“It’s tough not to control your own destiny but at the same time, if you focus on everything else that is going on and we have a slip-up because we’re not focusing on our jobs, it’s really not going to matter,” Eagles tight end Zach Ertz said.
The Eagles didn’t expect to be in this position after winning their first NFL championship since 1960. They were the clear favorites in the NFC East and thinking repeat, but inconsistency and injuries plagued them from the start.
The Redskins were surprise division leaders when they opened 6-3. But they’ve lost five of six after starting quarterback Alex Smith and backup Colt McCoy went down with season-ending injuries.
“We have to set our goals high and we have to try to figure out a way to beat Philadelphia and focus on what they do and try to come up with a plan to best put our players in a position to make plays and win the football game,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said.
“That’s the only thing we can do right now moving forward. Are we sick about the position we’re in? Yes we are. There’s 15, 16 other teams that are in the same boat, and I expect they are going to go out and compete the last game of the year also. It’s no different here.”
The Eagles have been resilient, rebounding after a 41-point loss to the Saints dropped their record to 4-6. They won two in a row only to suffer a disappointing overtime loss at Dallas and learning afterward that Carson Wentz would be sidelined by a back injury.
Then Nick Foles stepped in and led Philadelphia to consecutive victories over 10-win teams. Foles, the Super Bowl MVP in the victory over New England, was outstanding in an upset win at the Los Angeles Rams and sensational in a comeback win over Houston.
Now, he has to do it again and it may not be enough.
If the Vikings win, the Eagles are eliminated. The playoff-bound Bears still have a chance to earn the No. 2 seed so a first-round bye is enough incentive for coach Matt Nagy to play his starters at Minnesota.
The Eagles can only focus on the Redskins.
“All we can control is our preparation and what we do on a day-in-and-day-out basis getting ready for the game, staying in the moment, controlling what we can control,” Foles said.
Here’s some things to watch for when the Eagles try to complete a season sweep against the Redskins:
YOUNG AND OLD
Undrafted rookie Josh Adams has emerged as Philadelphia’s leading rusher while Redskins veteran Adrian Peterson became the oldest player to rush for 1,000 yards in a season since John Riggins did it in 1984 for Washington.
The Eagles have one of the top offensive lines in the NFL. Right tackle Lane Johnson has dominated opponents lately, including J.J. Watt. Right guard Brandon Brooks was selected for his second straight Pro Bowl. The Redskins are also strong upfront. Their starting defensive linemen — Jonathan Allen, Daron Payne and Matt Ioannidis — have combined for 20½ sacks. Linebacker Ryan Kerrigan leads the team with 12.
Darren Sproles had 76 yards receiving in Philadelphia’s win against the Texans, including a 37-yard touchdown catch on fourth-and-2 on the offense’s opening drive. The speedy and diminutive Sproles has played four games in a row after missing 10 with a hamstring injury. He could be playing his last NFL game. The 35-year-old had planned to retire after this season, but isn’t certain after missing so much action.
Scrambling quarterbacks have given Philadelphia trouble this season. Deshaun Watson had 49 yards rushing last week. Washington’s Josh Johnson has run for 116 yards on 20 carries.
Ertz broke Jason Witten’s single-season record for most receptions by a tight end. He has 113 and counting. Ertz has caught more passes (68) against the Redskins than any other team in his six-year career.