NFL round-up: No Carson Wentz, still no problem for the Eagles
Play of the weekend, match of the weekend and a look ahead to Wild Card Weekend
Nick Foles of the Philadelphia Eagles looks to pass against the Washington Redskins during the first half at FedExField in Landover, Maryland. Photo: Will Newton/Getty Images
Week 17’s biggest takeaway
Nick Foles and underdog Eagles stamp play-off ticket as march to toward a Super Bowl repeat continues
No Carson Wentz, no problem for Philadelphia.
The NFL’s best back-up quarterback Nick Foles turned in a masterful performance on Sunday in a must-win match for the Eagles, who over the coming weeks will hope to repeat a 2017 playoff run that ended with a Super Bowl victory over the Patriots.
Facing playoff elimination with a loss on Sunday, the Eagles needed a win against the Redskins and a Vikings loss to the Bears to clinch a second consecutive postseason berth.
Foles did his part, completing 85 per cent of his passes and throwing for 221 yards and two touchdowns in Philadelphia’s 24-0 drubbing of Washington.
The Vikings’ subsequent 24-10 loss to the Bears meant the Eagles had indeed clinched a playoff berth, a seemingly impossible feat after the team lost Wentz to a season-ending back injury after week 14.
When Foles took over for Wentz during week 15, the team owned a 6-7 record, meaning the Eagles had to win out to have even a remote shot at the playoffs.
His first match was away against the Rams – arguably the toughest team in the NFC – which the underdog Eagles won, 30-23.
A hard-fought win against the AFC South Champion Texans followed in week 16, as Philadelphia again showed its grit and propensity for drama by winning on a 35-yard field goal by kicker Jake Elliott as time expired.
Sunday’s win capped an undefeated three-match streak for Foles, the unassuming Super Bowl LII MVP who became a cult hero in NFL circles last season after leading the perpetually overlooked Eagles to three playoff victories over favoured opponents.
With five victories in their final six regular season games, the Eagles are hot at the right time, and the underdog formula appears in full effect.
In a strange way, perhaps losing Wentz for a second consecutive season has galvanised and improved the team – which thrives in the face of doubt and public scrutiny – the same way his injury did during last season’s playoff run.
Counterintuitive as it may seem, a less talented quarterback at the helm may result in increased effort and a more motivated team eager to prove doubters wrong.
Play of the weekend
Saquon Barkley’s Air Jordan touchdown run
Trailing 28-25 with 3:27 left in the fourth quarter against the Cowboys, Giants running back Saquon Barkley vaulted toward the end zone from the 3-yard line on a third and goal rush. The score pushed the Giants in front, 32-28, but Dallas would come back to win, 36-35.
Barkley’s hang time and body position were reminiscent of Michael Jordan’s during his iconic Air Jordan dunk, a similarity noted by many fans posting to social media throughout the afternoon with memes comparing the two plays.
Game of the weekend
Indianapolis Colts defeat Tennessee Titans, 33-17
With every other playoff match-up having been determined before the game, Sunday night’s win-and-in contest between the Colts and Titans provided the most intrigue and direct playoff consequence of week 17’s lineup.
Indianapolis jumped out to an early 14-0 lead in the first half and sustained a two-touchdown advantage until late in the third quarter, when a Blaine Gabbert 22-yard touchdown pass cut the Colts’ lead to 24-17.
After Tennessee’s defence forced a punt on the ensuing Colts possession, the Titans attack had its best chance to tie the game with a second consecutive touchdown drive. Gabbert led the team to midfield but was intercepted by Colts cornerback Kenny Moore II with nine minutes to play.
The Colts converted two first downs before an Adam Vinatieri field goal pushed the match to 27-17 with four minutes to play. The Titans stalled on the ensuing drive, giving the Colts the ball deep in Tennessee territory. Indianapolis added a late insurance touchdown to make the game 33-17.
Colts quarterback Andrew Luck finished with 285 passing yards and three touchdowns, while running back Marlon Mack ran for 119 yards and a touchdown.
The win gave the Colts their first play-off berth since 2014. They will travel to Houston and play the Texans in the AFC Wild Card play-off round next Saturday.
Next week’s AFC Wild Card Playoff previews
Indianapolis Colts (10-6) at Houston Texans (11-5) – Saturday, 9:35pm (Irish time)
This match will pit two division foes against each other for the third time this season. The Texans won the teams’ week four match, 37-34, but Indianapolis defeated Houston 24-21 in the teams’ week 14 contest.
Colts attack - 7th
Colts defence - 11th
Texans attack - 15th
Texans defence - 18th
LA Chargers (12-4) at Baltimore Ravens (10-6) – Sunday, 6:05pm (Irish time)
This match will see the LA Chargers traveling to Baltimore to take on the AFC North champion Ravens. Baltimore will look to ride the electric legs of rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson, while Philip Rivers and the LA attack will hope to solve Baltimore’s stifling defence. The teams faced off during week 16 of the regular season, with the Ravens winning, 22-10. Baltimore’s defence sacked Rivers four times and intercepted the veteran quarterback twice in the match, which was the only one all season in which Rivers did not finish with at least one touchdown pass.
Chargers attack - 10th
Chargers defence - 8th
Ravens attack - 12th
Ravens defence - 1st
Next week’s NFC Wild Card Playoff previews
Seattle Seahawks (10-6) at Dallas Cowboys (10-6) – Sunday, 1:15am (Irish time)
With such an early Sunday morning start, this match may need to be watched via next-day highlights for most Irish fans. Considered by many to be the weakest match of Wild Card Weekend, Seattle will travel to Dallas in hopes of knocking off Ezekiel Elliot and the NFC East Champion Cowboys. The Seahawks defeated the Cowboys, 24-13, in week three, the teams’ only match-up this season.
Seahawks attack - 18th
Seahawks defence - 20th
Cowboys attack - 23rd
Cowboys defence - 6th
Philadelphia Eagles (9-7) at Chicago Bears (12-4) – Sunday, 9.40pm (Irish time)
The defending Super Bowl Champion Eagles will travel to Chicago for a match-up against the Bears, who capped their surprise regular season with a 24-10 win over the Vikings on Sunday. The two teams last faced off during week 12 of the 2017 regular season in a match the Eagles won, 31-3. A lot has changed in Chicago since then, however, as Matt Nagy has turned around the franchise, which is making its first play-off appearance since the 2010 season.
Eagles attack - 13th
Eagles defence - 28th
Bears attack - 21st
Bears defence - 4th
Teams eliminated from playoff contention in week 17
NFC: Minnesota Vikings
AFC: Tennessee Titans, Pittsburgh Steelers
Teams with a first round playoff bye
NFC: New Orleans Saints*, LA Rams
AFC: Kansas City Chiefs*, New England Patriots
*Denotes home-field advantage throughout the playoffs