Green Bay shrugged off an early miscue, Dallas took care of business and smashed Oakland, and then the Giants stumbled and bumbled their way to a loss in Denver as the NFC playoff picture shaped up just a little bit more during a day and night of Thanksgiving football. The verdict: The Packers and Cowboys head into December in good position to make the playoffs, while the Giants have to be nearly perfect the rest of the way.
That's the way it is going to work in these final weeks of the year. The Saints and the Vikings are virtually in. They have earned their margin for error. The rest of the conference has little room, the Eagles included. Every team has its question marks -- Green Bay has major defensive injuries, Dallas' offense has largely been dreadful the last few weeks and December is always an adventure for the Cowboys and the Giants have played poorly for the last month and then some -- as the war of attrition takes its toll in the conference.
It gets me thinking: Is this time of the year the reason the Eagles wanted to get younger when they put together the blueprint for the 2009 season? How many times have we talked about all of the young players the Eagles are relying on this year? Many of them have come to the forefront because of injuries, but maybe part of the master plan was to get in playoff position and then push with young legs and fresh, hungry bodies.
Players like LeSean McCoy, Jeremy Maclin, Macho Harris, DeSean Jackson, etc ... the rookies have to push through the wall and understand that the season is just beginning, unlike in college when many of their seasons are just ending, and take care to bring to the table all of the energy and enthusiasm they have had throughout the season.
McCoy, for example, is in some ways just getting into the flow. He's in the process of getting a steady diet of carries, and in that way he should only be a better back one week after the next. But at the same time, McCoy has to withstand the physical pounding and the mental grind of the playoff push. At 21 years of age, is McCoy mature enough to handle the grind?
That is one of the many thoughts going through my mind after a long, great, thankful day of watching football and spending time with family. Some others ...
*What happens if cornerback Asante Samuel doesn't play against Washington? Hey, the Eagles will have to go deep into its group of young cornerbacks. This is a situation I have never seen with the Eagles, where they have so many untested cornerbacks behind their starters, and where the starters are so hobbled. My expectation is that Samuel will play with the neck injury, but I know that the coaching staff and excellent secondary coaches Brian Stewart and Michael Zordich are making sure that kids like Ramzee Robinson and Dimitri Patterson and now Geoffrey Pope are making the most of their practice reps.
*There is a lot of respect along the Eagles offensive line for what the Redskins have done up front this season. Even if Albert Haynesworth, who has not practiced all week, either doesn't practice or is not effective on Sunday, the Redskins are still going to bring it, and they are going to bring it hard. Andre Carter has had a career resurrection in Washington, rookie Brian Orakpo is the real deal and the Redskins have a lot of depth. Heck, Antonio Dixon couldn't make the 53-man roster there, and we see what a prospect he is on this roster.
*Washington has the No. 1-ranked pass defense in the league. Does that mean the Eagles won't throw the football on Sunday? I'd be shocked if that happens ....
*Is Brent Celek going to be a Pro Bowl tight end this season? His numbers justify a selection, for sure. There has been no more consistent tight end in the NFC this year, both as a blocker and as a receiver.
*It will be very interesting to see how the Redskins deal with Jackson after he burned them for two touchdowns in the October meeting. Do they double- and triple-team Jackson in coverage? Do they even give him a chance to return punts? Look for Maclin to emerge as a primary target if he has some favorable matchups.
*I want to see a 60-minute effort from the Eagles offense on Sunday. It was great that the team came back and won in Chicago, but let's be honest: There were too many lulls during a game in which the Eagles had a chance to put the Bears away early.
*Alex Smith hasn't had much of a chance to shine, and it makes me wonder how much Cornelius Ingram would have played had his stayed healthy. Would he have been the terrific option in the red zone that his athletic ability and his great body suggested he could have been? I guess we'll find out next year. The Eagles are confident that Ingram will be healthy and ready to go for 2010.