Five on the Redskins
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - It wasn't supposed to be this way but it's DeSean Jackson and the Washington Redskins who have the chance to march into Lincoln Financial Field on Saturday night and end the Philadelphia Eagles playoff hopes for the second straight season.
Regarded by nearly everyone as the worst team in the NFC East before the season, the Redskins have overachieved thanks in large part to Jay Gruden's move away from the soap opera surrounding the former face of the franchise, Robert Griffin III, and handing the keys for his team to Kirk Cousins.
Cousins in turn has responded and has led Washington to the precipice of just its second NFC East crown in the last 16 seasons.
The Eagles, however, amazingly still control their own destine despite entering Saturday night's game with a 6-8 record. There is no margin for error any longer, however, and Philadelphia must win out, beating both the Redskins and the New York Giants in Week 17 to win the division.
The stakes can't get any higher and here's what you should look for on the day after Christmas:
Gruden's decision to move to Cousins didn't look all that good when the 'Skins were at 2-4 and the ex-Michigan State star had thrown just six touchdowns compared to eight interceptions but since then, Cousins has hit his stride throwing for nearly 280 yards per game with 16 TDs vs. three picks over his last eight games in which Washington is 5-3.
Last week in a 35-25 home win against Buffalo, Cousins was razor sharp, hitting on 22-of-28 passes for 319 yards and four TDs.
"A lot of people thought he wasn't going to be a good starting quarterback or think he wasn't going to be able to get the job done," Jackson said.
And that hasn't been the case as Cousins leads the entire NFL with a gaudy 69.7 completion percentage and already has the Redskins' franchise record with 336 completions. Meanwhile, his career-best passing effort of 427 yards came against the Eagles in a 37-34 loss back in September of last season. In Cousins' two prior efforts against Philadelphia he's averaged 358.5 yards per game.
D-JAX IS BACK
"Jaccpot" returns to Philadelphia for the second time since Chip Kelly unceremoniously dumped him before the 2104 season. Jackson missed the September matchup with a hamstring after torching the Eagles for nine receptions, totaling 243 yards with a touchdown in the two meetings last season.
One of the NFL's true home-run hitters, Jackson is very hot coming in after recording a season-high 153 yards against Buffalo and his fourth touchdown in five games.
He will also be facing an Eagles defense that has allowed 35.6 points per game over its last six efforts and is ranked just 24th in the NFL against the pass. Making matters even worse is the fact that starting cornerbacks Byron Maxwell and Eric Rowe are banged up.
Maxwell suffered a shoulder/collarbone injury in last Sunday's 40-17 home loss to Arizona and Rowe is going through the NFL's concussion protocol. The rookie Rowe is the more likely to play on a short week after being cleared to practice by Wednesday.
NOT EXACTLY ROAD WARRIORS
The last time Washington won the East, the Redskins closed the season with seven straight wins when RG3 was a rookie in '12. The team hasn't won three straight since and a win against the Eagles would accomplish that and give the 'Skins the division again.
Cousins connected with Pierre Garcon on a four-yard TD pass late in a 23-20 win over the Eagles back in Week 4, but the team has struggled on the road overall, going 1-5 on the season.
"We still have a dogfight in front of us," Redskins Pro Bowl tackle Trent Williams admitted. "And we can't walk before we crawl, put it like that. We have got to focus on the Eagles."
Redskins tight end Jordan Reed has stayed healthy this season and has had a breakout year. The talented receiver has 74 receptions for 778 yards and nine TDs on the season and is only getting better down the stretch, amassing 16 catches for 204 yards and three scores in his last two.
The Eagles would be wise to let Pro Bowl-snub Malcolm Jenkins handle Reed exclusively because linebackers Kiko Alonso and Mychal Kendricks have ha very poor years in coverage.
Kendricks has been especially bad. According to ProFootballFocus.com, his passer rating when targeted of 143.6 is the second worst amongst NFL inside linebackers (24-of-28 for 277 yards and three TDs).
NO MORE ROPE
The Eagles need to win their last two games to clinch their second division title in Kelly's three years at the helm.
If Philadelphia loses over the next two weeks, however, it would miss the postseason for the second consecutive year and for the fourth time in five years. Kelly, meanwhile, would be the first Eagles coach to not win at least one playoff game in his first three seasons since Marion Campbell, a dubious distinction to say the least.
"The playoffs start for us on Saturday," linebacker Connor Barwin said ominously.
973espn.com prediction: The one constant in any Eagles success this season has been the running game. When Philadelphia rushes for over 100 yards, its record is 6-2. When the Birds fail to reach that mark, they are winless at 0-6.
It doesn't matter who it is -- Ryan Mathews, Darren Sproles or the embattled DeMarco Murray -- someone has to get it going against the 28th ranked run defense in the league. If that happens, call this one: Eagles 28, Redskins 24
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at email@example.com and on Twitter @JFMcMullen.