The Washington Football Team faces their divisional rivals, the Philadelphia Eagles, this Sunday night in their most important game of the season. A win-and-in scenario, Washington controls their fate, but a loss would eliminate them from the playoffs. Despite having the most problematic quarterback scenario in the NFL, there are three primary reasons why Washington and its fans should feel optimistic this weekend.
Much has been said about Washington’s defense, but one overlooked statistic is this: the Washington defense hasn’t allowed more than 2 touchdowns since week 9; consistently holding teams to 20 points or less during the 6-game stretch. While rookie Jalen Hurts has brought a spark to Philadelphia’s offense, he’s also made many rookie mistakes and turnovers. If Washington can contain Hurts from getting out of the pocket too much, they can be sure to take advantage of a rookie quarterback and keep the Eagles to a low point total.
Looking at Washington’s performance against Carolina, it’s obvious that Dwayne Haskins should take a large portion of blame for the loss. The defense played great, Antonio Gibson couldn’t be stopped, the offensive line looked as good as ever, and Taylor Heinicke showed how successful the offense can be when the ball is properly distributed to targets such as Logan Thomas, J.D. McKissic, and Cam Sims (Not to mention a questionable Terry McLaurin who was out last week). Unfortunately, Haskins’ 3 turnovers made it difficult for Washington to stick with their successful run game, and by the time he fully proved his inability to move the ball, it was too late.
On the flip side, Philadelphia is dealing with a myriad of injuries including 6x all-pro Fletcher Cox—injuries that have resulted in the team giving up over 500 yards in their last two games. Even if Heinicke starts in place of Alex Smith on Sunday, he doesn’t have to be great to move the ball against this defense; in fact, he can be pretty sub-par. As long as he doesn’t turn the ball over 3 times in a half, the weapons around him should be capable of doing the heavy lifting to exceed the number of points that the hot Washington defense gives up.
Nobody expected Washington to control their playoff fate in Week 17. Nobody expected Alex Smith to play quarterback again and lead this team to multiple wins. Even Ron Rivera probably didn’t expect this team to have such a real shot at the playoffs, especially when he was fighting cancer while the team struggled to win a third game; but here we are. Washington has the chance to defy the odds and make the playoffs for the first time since 2015, in a year that nobody expected them to. If this situation doesn’t motivate a team to play their best against a divisional rival, I don’t know what would.
With Philadelphia eliminated from the playoffs, they have much less to play for. Of course, every player is always fighting for their spot on the depth chart, a better salary, and pride, so the Eagles won’t go down without a fight, but Washington surely has more reason to be fired up and optimistic on Sunday—and so should the fans.