Welcome to the NFL playoffs and the first postseason game at Lincoln Financial Field since the NFC Championship Game in 2018. Doesn't it seem like forever ago when the Eagles turned an early deficit into a dominating victory to storm into Super Bowl LII? Amazing that it's just been two seasons …
Clearly, things have changed. This roster is a lot different, particularly on offense. But the formula for winning in the playoffs remains the same, as Saturday's AFC Wild Card games showed. To win, you must secure the football and handle situational football and manage emotions and play intelligent football.
As the Eagles get ready for Seattle today, here are some late thoughts on what to expect and matchups to watch on the road to victory …
1. If there is one must-do for today, it comes in the turnover department. The Eagles gave it away five times in the November 24 loss to Seattle, a team that thrived on takeaways all season (32 of them in all, a plus-12 in turnover ratio). Ball security has been a point of emphasis for the Eagles and they've done a terrific job in the stretch run of the regular season holding onto the football – just two giveaways in the four-game winning streak. Seattle hasn't rushed the quarterback well all season with only 28 sacks, but the Seahawks have been extremely opportunistic taking the ball away. This is Key No. 1 today.
2. There are a lot of injuries to discuss, but let's start where you might not think about a whole lot (but you should): The Seahawks' offensive line. They've been playing with a backup center, Joey Hunt. They won't have their left tackle today, Duane Brown, who is out with a knee injury. George Fant takes his place, and that's an area where the Eagles need to win. Big spot here for Derek Barnett and Vinny Curry and Josh Sweat and maybe Brandon Graham if the Eagles flip-flop him for a few snaps. Seattle has listed left guard Mike Iupati as questionable because of a neck injury/stinger that he's battled, and we won't know until 90 minutes before kickoff whether he plays. If not, it's a significant loss for Seattle, which would be without its entire left side of the starting offensive line.
3. For the Eagles, of course, all eyes are on the official status of tight end Zach Ertz. He has been reportedly cleared to play, but the Eagles have not addressed those reports. Same with right tackle Lane Johnson, who reportedly won't play. Again, nothing official from the team until 90 minutes before kickoff. If Ertz plays, we'll see how much he can handle two weeks after injuring his back and ribs. The Eagles had a good thing going last week at New York with Dallas Goedert, and Seattle has been hit hard all season by production from opposing tight ends. Joshua Perkins and Richard Rodgers are also ready to go. If Johnson can't play, the Eagles will start Halapoulivaati Vaitai at right tackle and Matt Pryor at right guard with rookies Nate Herbig and Sua Opeta in reserve roles.
4. Offensive game plan? The Eagles do what they do, which happens to work pretty well against this defense. Quarterback Carson Wentz is going to spread the football around in the passing game with an emphasis on the tight ends and running backs. Seattle did a terrific job of pressuring Wentz and collapsing the injury-plagued offensive line on November 24, recording three quarterback sacks and forcing four turnovers from Wentz. Since that time, though, Seattle's pass rush has cooled off. Jadeveon Clowney has just three sacks this season as he battles a core muscle injury. The Eagles need to keep him under wraps. Same with Ziggy Ansah, who had 1.5 sacks and four total tackles in the first game between these teams (he had just 2.5 quarterback sacks all season). Seattle doesn't have linebacker Mychal Kendricks, who is out with a knee injury. Kendricks had 13 tackles against his former team in November at Lincoln Financial Field. The Eagles must stay ahead of the sticks, control the clock, establish the running game and give Wentz time to set up and throw because …
5. Once again, Wentz has thrown seven touchdowns and zero interceptions in the four-game winning streak. He lost two fumbles, the team's only giveaways in the wins. The Eagles are 7-1 this year when Wentz doesn't turn the ball over and they're 18-3 in his career when he's clean in that department.
6. Defensively, the focus is on quarterback Russell Wilson and his ability to extend plays and kill defenses down the field. DO NOT GIVE UP DEEP PASSING PLAYS! It's been a season-long challenge for a defense that has allowed 31 plays of 20-plus yards this season (ranking 29th in the NFL) and 17 touchdown passes (ranking 32nd).
7. How about the Beast Mode factor? Marshawn Lynch is a powerful runner once he gets started so it's important that the Eagles get into the backfield and make Lynch change direction. If he has a lane, he's going to be a factor here today. Travis Homer is a high-effort back who will give it everything he has for Seattle. He was productive last week against San Francisco and has to be accounted for in the passing game.
8. One of the underrated stats from the first meeting was the defensive effort that limited Wilson to 15 rushing yards on three carries. If the Eagles can take that part of Wilson's game away, they're going to be in good shape. And they need to wrap up in the backfield, as they did on November 24 when they sacked Wilson six times.
9. Finally, the early start is huge. The Eagles have moved the ball well early in games over the last month or so. That's got to continue today. With a crowd that is going to be hyped and in a great mood, the best way to make this home-field advantage truly mean something is to take an early lead and play from ahead. The Eagles are so much better when they play with the lead.