Q: How much trouble are the Philadelphia Eagles in without Carson Wentz?
A: With about four minutes left in the third quarter during Sunday’s game against the LA Rams, Wentz scrambled for what seemed like a go ahead touchdown, only to have it negated by a flag. Wentz took a very hard hit from two Rams defenders, and today the Eagle’s worst fears were confirmed. Wentz tore his ACL, which generally requires 9-12 months to heal and recover fully.
Wentz has been in the MVP conversation for some thus far this season, and that’s not surprising when you compare his 33 touchdowns to just 7 interceptions through 13 games this season. He’s also completing 60% of his passes, and has led the Eagles to an NFL best 31.1 points per game. Their offense is built around Wentz and not only his ability to throw effectively, but to keep plays alive with his legs, buying time to find a pass or to gain yards on the ground. Nick Foles, the man thrust into the signal caller role for Philadelphia, pales in comparison to Wentz. Wentz has already thrown for 3,296 yards, Foles hasn’t thrown for more than 3,090 in any of his six NFL seasons. In the 2014 and 2015 seasons Foles threw 20 interceptions in just 19 appearances. Losing Wentz is a hammer blow to the Eagles who had legitimate Super Bowl aspirations before the injury.
Strange and inexplicable things happen in sports from time to time, but I don’t have any confidence that this year’s Eagles will contribute to that list. Losing a top quality quarterback Generally hurts teams. Let’s look to the Green Bay packers as an example. Aaron Rodgers went down in week six while the Packers had a record of 4-1. The Packers went on to lose five of their next six games.
The Eagles did clinch a playoff spot Sunday so the next few weeks have very little pressure for Foles. However, without Wentz to guide this prolific offenses through the playoffs, the Eagles have a very small chance of winning games in the postseason. Unfortunate circumstances forced them to lose the one man that stands out as the key to their success, and without him, any hopes for a deep playoff run are quickly slipping away.
Q: Great piece on Frank Gore, but where is the love for Larry Fitzgerald?
A: On Sunday against the Tennessee Titans, Larry Fitzgerald moved into third place on the all time receiving yards list, finishing the game with 15,311 yards all time. Only two names rank above him, Terrell Owens and Jerry Rice. Fitzgerald is only about 600 yards from second on that list, but at 22,895, I’m not sure anyone is going to catch Jerry Rice anytime soon. Larry passed Randy Moss Sunday in moving from fourth to third, and in fact, Moss wasn’t the first name the Arizona Cardinal player passed this season. When the 2017 season started, Fitzgerald had 14,389 yards and was all the way down at 9th. He passed Tony Gonzalez and Steve Smith, and Hall of Fame names like Marvin Harrison and Tim Brown.
One of the most impressive things about Fitzgerald’s rise through the ranks is the fact that he did it all with one team. He’s never played a snap for anyone but the Arizona Cardinals, having joined in 2004. Only three other names in the top 20 all time can claim that kind of loyalty, Steve Largent for the Seattle Seahawks and Marvin Harrison, and Reggie Wayne for the Colts Franchise.
Fitzgerald does differ from Gore though in name recognition. Fitzgerald was named to 10 Pro Bowl teams, more than Moss, Owens, and Smith. With no more than six for each of them. Fitzgerald doesn’t just perform on the field though. In 2016 he was a recipient of the Walter Payton Man of the Year winner, which recognized him not only for his performance in football, but his impact on the community. Both Fitzgerald and Gore have had phenomenal careers, and will hold a spot on their respective lists for a long time to come.
Q: With just three weeks to go in the season, who are your picks for the Super Bowl?
A: As I mentioned earlier, crazy things happen in sports all the time. Anyone who makes the playoffs has a chance of going all the way, and my pick in the NFC might seem that way. With the Eagles at 11-2 They would seem to be favorites, but without Carson Wentz, they’ll fall apart probably sooner rather than later.
The 10-3 Vikings boast an incredible defense which I talked about last week, as well as an offense that is finding a way to win games. Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen are catching passes from a surprisingly good Case Keenum. Keenum has nearly 3000 yards this season along with 18 touchdowns. Combined with their dominant defense, they are a strong contender for the NFC title. The LA Rams average the most points per game in the NFL this year after the Eagles. Much of this offensive success is due to them taking care of the football, with their 1.42% interception rate good for third in the league. They also look like a strong contender for the conference title.
However, my NFC title winner is the New Orleans Saints. Drew Brees is one of the best quarterbacks of all time, and the best rushing duo in the league. They rank first overall in both yards per rush and rushing touchdowns per game. Mark Ingram and rookie sensation Alvin Kamara join receiver Michael Thomas and Brees to create the fourth most potent scoring offense in football. On the defensive side, they rank in the top seven for both sack percentage and opponents interception percentage. The ability to pressure the quarterback and take the ball away will be particularly important in the postseason.
The AFC really just has two contenders, the Pittsburgh Steelers and New England Patriots. The Steelers won in the Sunday night game by a single point against the Baltimore Ravens to move to 11-2 and clinch a playoff spot. They have the best receiver in football in Antonio Brown, and one of the best running backs in Le’Veon Bell. Brown caught 11 passes for over 200 yards, and Bell rushed for two touchdowns, giving them the ability to score points at will. However, despite scoring the third most points per game, their point margin ranks at just 9th, meaning the defense is a concern. They actually perform well against the pass, but rank 25th in rushing yards allowed per attempt. Finally, the rank in the bottom third of the league in both penalty yards per game, and penalty yards per penalty. Without better discipline, they won’t be able to stand against the best coached team in the league in the Patriots.
Experience counts for a large portion of why I think the Patriots will make their way to the Super Bowl. Between head coach Bill Belichick and longtime quarterback Tom Brady, they have 12 Super Bowl rings, and many more appearances. Brady’s supporting cast includes TD vulture rex Burkhead, and multipurpose threat Dion Lewis. He can throw to Brandon Cooks, Chris Hogan, or Danny Amendola, each of whom have caught at least one pass in every game they’ve played in this season. The ability of the Patriots to beat teams in a variety of ways will ultimately be the reason they add a ring to the collection.
Week 13 Mailbag here
The only applicable answer last week was the Jaguars having the best defense in the NFL. With the eagles getting torched for 35 and the vikings allowing 31 in a loss, the Jags came out on top, giving up just 24 and contributing three interceptions.
Photo via the Flickr Creative Commons, thank to Keith Allison for the shot of Carson Wentz of the Philadelphia Ealgles.
Statistics all from Football Reference, unless otherwise noted.
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