Eagles schedule forces them to play hard

Posted: Friday, December 03, 2004

The week after one of the earliest division clinchings in NFL history, the Philadelphia Eagles might be getting a break by hosting streaking Green Bay. Playing a good and hungry team is the best reason not to let down.

Philadelphia (10-1) clinched the NFC East last week and is a week or two away from clinching a bye in the first round of the playoffs. The other major goal is home-field advantage in the NFC playoffs, although that hasn't helped recently: The Eagles have lost three straight conference title games, the last two at home.

''This was one of our goals and we accomplished that,'' Donovan McNabb said after Philadelphia beat the Giants to clinch the division title. ''We just scratch that out and move forward.''

Moving forward this week means beating a team that has won six straight, including Monday night's 45-17 romp over St. Louis, after a 1-4 start.

Denver (7-4) at San Diego (8-3)

The most important game of the season in the AFC West.

Denver didn't help itself by losing at home to Oakland last week, but the Broncos still can take the division lead with a win because they beat the Chargers 23-13 in Denver. Two head-to-head wins would be the first tiebreaker if it comes to that.

Since that loss, the Chargers have won seven of eight and are on a five-game winning streak. But they've been in this position before and blown it — two years ago, when they lost their final four games.

''We were sitting here at 8-4 thinking, 'Well, if we just win half of our next four games, we're in the playoffs,' and we lose four straight,'' says quarterback Drew Brees, one of the players most responsible for the Chargers' success. ''I don't think that was the attitude to have.''

Atlanta (9-2) at Tampa Bay (4-7)

It's been a foregone conclusion the Falcons will win the NFC South and a victory here would make it official. Atlanta even could get home-field advantage for the playoffs if it continues to win and Philadelphia stumbles.

The Falcons hardly seem the dominant team the Eagles are. They needed a last-minute Michael Vick-Alge Crumpler TD pass to beat New Orleans at home last week and might have lost to the Bucs in Atlanta if the departed Martin Gramatica had not missed three field goals.

New England (10-1) at Cleveland (3-8)

The loss in Pittsburgh that ended their 21-game winning streak might have been the best thing to happen to the Patriots, although if the teams remain tied, the Steelers would have home-field advantage in the AFC. Still, New England has won four straight to make it 25 of 26, and three of the recent wins are by 18, 23 and 21 points, more than the margin in all but one of their games during the streak.

Dallas (4-7) at Seattle (6-5) (Monday night)

Two of the league's most disappointing teams, especially the Seahawks, who in preseason were considered most likely to challenge the Eagles in the NFC. Mike Holmgren, quarterbacks coach of the 1988 49ers, is telling his players about that team, which was 6-5 and went on to win the Super Bowl.

Pittsburgh (10-1) at Jacksonville (6-5)

The Steelers have won nine straight, all of Ben Roethlisberger's NFL starts. But Big Ben has had two straight mediocre games and Pittsburgh is starting to look like it's losing some momentum.

Tennessee (4-7) at Indianapolis (8-3)

No, Peyton Manning won't throw seven touchdown passes this week to tie Dan Marino's single-season record of 48. Despite injuries and other problems, the Titans' defense is still decent.

Cincinnati (5-6) at Baltimore (7-4)

As they did last season, the Bengals are making a midseason move, winning four of their last six. But this will be nothing like their game last week, 58-48 over Cleveland in the second-highest scoring game in NFL history. Baltimore, which may again be without Jamal Lewis, won the first meeting 23-9, a more likely score here.

Houston (5-6) at New York Jets (8-3)

Chad Pennington could return at quarterback for New York. Quincy Carter was 2-1 in Pennington's place and the one loss was due more to bad play calling and clock management than to his transgressions.

Minnesota (7-4) at Chicago (4-7)

Chad Hutchinson becomes Chicago's fourth starting QB this season. Rex Grossman was hurt in the first game with the Vikings and Jonathan Quinn and Craig Krenzel followed.

New York Giants (5-6) at Washington (3-8)

The Giants reflect the state of the NFC. They have lost four straight and five of six, yet are still a tiebreaker out of a wild-card spot. That's even more shocking because they are already playing for next year by breaking in Eli Manning at quarterback.

Carolina (4-7) at New Orleans (4-7)

The Panthers have won three straight, which means that being in the NFC, they are back in playoff contention. So are the Saints, although the loser of this game will almost surely be out of the running.

Arizona (4-7) at Detroit (4-7)

John Navarre, Arizona's seventh-round choice, becomes the third quarterback to start for the Cardinals this year, raising the question whether Dennis Green should have taken Philip Rivers or Ben Roethlisberger with the third pick in last April's draft. Yes, WR Larry Fitzgerald should be fine, but a QB is a precious commodity.

San Francisco (1-10) at St. Louis (5-6)

Ah, the silly NFC, where the Rams would be a wild-card playoff team if the season ended now.

Buffalo (5-6) at Miami (2-9)

The Bills have won four of five, including impressive wins over the Rams and Seahawks the last two weeks. That coincides with the emergence of Willis McGahee as the starting running back; his five 100-yard rushing games have come in the five Buffalo wins.

Kansas City (3-8) at Oakland (4-7)

Even without Priest Holmes, the Kansas City offense has produced points. But the Chiefs keep losing games by scores like 34-31, as they did last week at home to San Diego.

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