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Consecutive games in which Braves’ Ronald Acuna Jr. has hit leadoff home run

Jimmie Johnson has his sights set on his eighth NASCAR championship, which would break a tie with Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt for the most career championships. But, as the playoffs begin, Johnson is not generally considered among the favorites to win the title. Eric Fisher previews the 16-driver playoff field.

Like a deeply scarred lover, the Cavaliers seem thrilled that LeBron James deems them worthy of his attention again. But this courtship isn’t about the Cavs or winning a title for Cleveland. It’s all about LeBron.

Carson Wentz throws three touchdown passes during the first half as the Eagles score the game’s first 24 points en route to a 31-3 victory over the Bears. The Eagles win their ninth straight game to improve to 10-1.

Archive for December, 2017

Cause for concern

Posted by Eric Fisher On December - 31 - 2017 ADD COMMENTS

Definitive conclusions shouldn’t be drawn from the least important game of the season.

But questions certainly remain before the next game, which will be the most important game of the season.

The first-team offense continued to struggle during Sunday’s 6-0 loss to the Cowboys in the Eagles’ regular-season finale at Lincoln Financial Field. After advancing to the Cowboys 39-yard line on its first possession, the first team only picked up one first down in its next three possessions before being pulled at the start of the second quarter.

If the poor performance were a one-game aberration, the struggles could be dismissed as a product of a meaningless game. But the Eagles only picked up two first downs after halftime on Christmas during a 19-10 victory over the Raiders.

“We, as an offense, expect to execute better,” quarterback Nick Foles said. “This wasn’t acceptable.”

Foles completed 4 of 11 passes for 39 yards and threw a terrible interception while trying to get Alshon Jeffery his first reception in two weeks. Yet Foles, who was the starting quarterback the last time the Eagles were in a playoff game, remains confident.

“There is no reason not to be confident,” Foles said, citing preparation and attitude as reasons for his confidence in himself and his teammates.

The Eagles have two weeks to fix their problems on offense. With homefield advantage throughout the NFC playoffs, the Eagles (13-3) gain an extra week to get their offense back in synch.

Although Foles is confident the issues can be fixed, the best reason to be confident in the Eagles’ postseason chances is the defense. Although the Cowboys kept most of their starters on offense in the entire game, the Eagles, who rested many of their starters, didn’t allow a point until Dak Prescott connected with Brice Butler on a 20-yard touchdown pass with 12:19 remaining in the fourth quarter.

“If you in the postseason, you’ve got to play great defense and be able to run the football,” Eagles head coach Doug Pederson said,” and that’s been our formula all season.”

Ezekiel Elliott became the first rusher to gain 100 yards against the Eagles this season, but it took him 27 attempts, and he didn’t reach the century mark until the final two minutes of the game.

Until the fourth quarter, the Eagles defense had matched the Cowboys defense, with neither team allowing the opponent to advance past the opponent’s 39-yard line, let alone penetrate the red zone. That’s why it was surprising when the Cowboys mounted a 99-yard drive that resulted in the touchdown.

Until the touchdown drive, the game featured the Jones punting duo, with Donnie punting for the Eagles and Chris punting for the Cowboys. Donnie Jones placed a punt out of bounds at the 1-yard, which “set up” the 99-yard drive.

The defense seems to be in good shape. The offense, however, hasn’t played well since Foles threw for four touchdowns in his first start after replacing Carson Wentz following Wentz’s season-ending ACL injury.

“We’ve just got to get back to that same rhythm,” Pederson said.

Of course, the offense’s struggles might not be such a hot topic for discussion if Torrey Smith had held on to a Foles pass on a crossing route on third-and-7 from the Cowboys 39 on the Eagles’ opening possession. Smith may have run all the way for a touchdown if he hadn’t dropped the pass. At the very least, the drive would have continued and the Eagles may have restored confidence on the offense with an early touchdown or field goal.

On the other hand, if Smith had caught that pass, it may have distracted from the offense’s ongoing struggles. One area in which the offense has struggled is third down, but both Pederson and Foles pointed to problems on first and second down, which lead to third-and-long situations.

“You can’t get to third down until you fix first and second down,” Pederson said.

A silver lining for the offense was backup quarterback Nate Sudfeld, who completed 19 of 23 passes for 134 yards in his first NFL action. But anyone looking to Sudfeld as the answer to the Eagles’ problems is looking in the wrong place.

The problems must be fixed by Pederson, Foles and the rest of the Eagles offense. Sunday’s shutout loss to the Cowboys was their last opportunity to fix those problems in a game situation.

Eagles fans must hope that the proper fixes are made during the next two weeks of practice because, the next time the Eagles play in Lincoln Financial Field, the game will count.

Putting it on the Line

Posted by Eric Fisher On December - 30 - 2017 ADD COMMENTS

Regardless of my selections in Putting in on the Line, I always root for the Eagles. Sometimes, however, I wish they wouldn’t win by so much. Monday’s victory over the Raiders was a prime example.

My selection of the Raiders (-9) was the correct pick. The game was tied, 10-10, with 30 seconds remaining. I was pleased when Jake Elliott’s field goal gave the Eagles a 13-10 lead with 22 seconds remaining. I wasn’t too pleased, though, when rookie defensive end Derek Barnett scored a touchdown on the final play of the game when the Raiders fumbled away their desperation lateral play. What looked like a certain victory against the line moments earlier turned into a push. Thank goodness the Eagles did not attempt an extra point and settled for a 19-10 victory.

That push prevented me from having a winning week. I finished 7-8-1. The Jets missing out on covering against the Chargers by a half-point also hurt, leaving my “other top picks” at 2-2 instead of 3-1. One of my rules is not to complain because the breaks usually even out, but they haven’t seemed to even out for me this season, particularly during the second half of the year.

For the final full week of games, my “best bet” is the Ravens (-9½ vs. Bengals), who are trying to secure a wild-card berth. The Bengals made their final push at home last week by beating the Lions. I’m betting that they’re packing up for the postseason and won’t match the Ravens’ effort. The other team I considered for my best bet is the Vikings (-12 vs. Bears), whose defense should shut down the Bears while staving off the Saints and Panthers in the battle to join the Eagles in having a first-round playoff bye.

With the caveat that it’s difficult to select winners when some teams don’t have anything left to play for in the standings, here are my Week 17 selections:

(Home team in CAPS)                                           

(Winning team against the line in bold)

RAVENS -9½ vs. Bengals

LIONS -7 vs. Packers

Bills -2½ at Dolphins

Panthers +3½ at FALCONS

BUCS +6 vs. Saints

TITANS -3 vs. Jaguars

Jets +15½ at PATRIOTS

COLTS -5½ vs. Texans

STEELERS -6 vs. Browns

Redskins -3 vs. Giants

VIKINGS -12 vs. Bears

Cowboys -3 at EAGLES

Raiders +7 vs. CHARGERS

SEAHAWKS -9 vs. Cardinals

Chiefs +4 at BRONCOS

Rams +4 vs. 49ers

Best bet: RAVENS -9½ vs. Bengals

Other top picks: VIKINGS -12 vs. Bears; Redskins -3 vs. Giants; SEAHAWKS -9 vs. Cardinals; STEELERS -6 vs. Browns

Last week: 7-8-1 (122-104-11 overall)

Best bet: 0-1 (7-9 overall)

Other top picks: 2-2 (30-31-4 overall)

Brian Dawkins' Hall of Fame speech