There’s two weeks to go in the regular season and the Philadelphia Eagles and San Diego Chargers are still hanging around. The Chargers’ blowout of Baltimore moved them to 7-7 and within one game of Denver in the AFC West, while the Eagles buried the Jets and got unexpected help in the form of Washington’s upset win over the Giants. At 6-8, the Eagles still have a shot at the NFC East. The Notebook takes a look at how both teams got here and what needs to happen for an unlikely playoff berth to happen…
*Both teams do it with offense, especially the Chargers who trail only the Brady-led Patriots among AFC teams in scoring. While the San Diego running game with Ryan Matthews has to be respected, it’s still fairly average, so this offense ultimately comes down to Philip Rivers and his ability to connect with Vincent Jackson and Malcolm Floyd on the outside, along with tight end Antonio Gates over the middle. Philadelphia does it with rush yardage, although a lot of that comes through Michael Vick. A key to the Eagles’ success is usually the ability of LeSean McCoy to produce in the conventional running game.
*Both teams rank 10th in their respective conferences on defense and they’re equally subpar in defending both the run and the pass. Whether either head coach, Andy Reid or Norv Turner is going to be back is doubtful, but even if they are, I have to think new defensive coordinators are on their way. While neither team is bursting at the seams with talent on defense, there’s enough individual playmakers( Trent Cole & Jason Babin for Philadelphia, Antwan Barnes for San Diego) that it’s unacceptable for a potential playoff season to be derailed on D.
*Both teams are terrible when it comes to taking care of the football, each ranking near the bottom of their conferences. In the NFC, the Eagles are only better than the Redskins in turnover ratio. The only AFC team worse than San Diego is the Colts. This is a direct consequence of bad defense and putting your offense in tough situations.
Having an explosive offense with shaky defense and lousy turnover numbers are the formula for overall mediocrity, yet being able to look really good when it’s all clicking, and that’s exactly why Philadelphia and San Diego are at where they’re at—on the fringes, yet having made a late push. What’s gotten better in recent weeks?
*For San Diego, pass protection has made all the difference and that was never more evident than in last night’s blowout win over Baltimore. A tough Ravens pass rush never sacked Rivers, and in this current three-game win streak he’s only hit the deck twice. What’s Rivers done with that time to throw? How does 63-for-84 (75%) for 804 yards, seven touchdowns and zero interceptions over that same timeframe sound?
*Philadelphia has found its pass rush. In consecutive wins over Miami and the NY Jets, they’ve knocked the quarterback down thirteen times. Six sacks have come from Jason Babin alone.
Now where do we go from here? Based on the tiebreakers and remaining schedule, Philly’s got the best shot. Outside of their own control, they only need the Giants to lose this week to the Jets (neutral site game at the Meadowlands), which would give New York an eighth loss. Presuming Philly takes care of Dallas on Saturday (dropping the Cowboys to 8-7), they then need the Giants to win a season-finale battle with Dallas in the Meadowlands. Not only do those two pieces of help look realistic, they look likely. So perhaps the biggest question is whether Philadelphia can win on the road in Big D this coming Saturday and then take care of Washington at home in the finale.
San Diego needs a lot more to go their way. First off, they close with tough road games at Detroit and at Oakland. The pass rush stepped up big last night in sacking Joe Flacco seven times, four of them by Barnes, but even with that, they’re still in the bottom half of the AFC in pressuring the quarterback. The momentum has to continue into games with Matthew Stafford and Carson Palmer, who each played very well in their head-to-head duel yesterday.
Then if San Diego does win both games (which pushes them past Oakland in the standings), they still need Denver to lose its remaining two. The Broncos control all tiebreakers with the Chargers. The teams have split head-to-head and if Denver loses to Kansas City, that would create a tie on divisional record. But the next tiebreaker down is common opponents, and the Broncos hold the edge, thanks to a Thursday night win over the New York Jets, a team San Diego lost to. That’s the only difference and it’s why Denver must also lose at Buffalo this week for the Bolts to have a shot.