The Philadelphia Eagles may need to win all seven remaining games to keep their playoff hopes alive, and face a difficult test when they host the New England Patriots on Sunday.
The Eagles (4-6) are perhaps the NFL's biggest underachievers this season. Philadelphia defeated the New York Giants last Sunday with backup quarterback Vince Young under center, but things are not exactly looking great against the Patriots. The Eagles will likely be shorthanded again as regular starting quarterback Michael Vick, cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, and wide receiver Jeremy Maclin all missed practice on Friday.
Meanwhile, DeSean Jackson is expected to play despite a bruised right foot. The Eagles need many things to work in their favor for the rest of the season, let alone against a top team like the Patriots.
New England (7-3) have effectively rebounded from two straight losses. The Patriots blew out the New York Jets and the Kansas City Chiefs in their last two outings by a combined score of 71-19.
While the Eagles have questions at quarterback, Tom Brady continues to be among the most efficient players in the NFL. The veteran quarterback has a current streak of 26 straight games with at least one touchdown pass, and has only had one game this season where he didn't throw for more than 200 yards -- and in that game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Brady threw for 198 yards.
The Patriots' rush defense is ranked 12th in NFL in average yards per game (105.3), but will face perhaps the best rusher in the league. LeSean McCoy leads the NFL in rushing yards, and is sixth in average yards per carry (5.4).
This guy is pretty good, said New England head coach Bill Belichick. I'd say he's quicker than [Brian] Westbrook. Westbrook might be a little stronger, I don't know. This guy is a handful now.
While the Patriots' defense focuses on McCoy, the Eagles' defense will look to contain Rob Gronkowski. The second-year star has emerged as one of the best tight ends in the NFL, and has already amassed 805 receiving yards this season. Gronkowski is second in the NFL in touchdown receptions (10).
New England has won three of five games on the road, while the Eagles have won just one of five games at home.
Odds: Patriots are favored by 3.5
Prediction: The first half should be close, as the Eagles defense steps up in the Asomugha's absence, and as Young takes few chances. However, the Patriots make halftime adjustments, and come out firing in the second half. Expect Wes Welker to get several receptions, as the wide receiver is due for a big game after two rather forgettable performances against the Jets and Chiefs. The Eagles will give McCoy plenty of carries, but New England will contain the star running back in the second half.
The 2011 season ends Sunday for the Eagles.
Predicted Score: Patriots 34, Eagles 20.