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A Trip Around The Locker Room As Kickoff Nears

The Eagles have a locker room that rarely changes. It’s always upbeat and confident and, as Sunday nears, one that is excited to get back on the field for the postseason. With that in mind, let’s take A Trip Around the Locker Room to get a feel for what the players are thinking in the hours leading up to the 4:40 p.m. (NBC) kickoff at Soldier Field ...

DALLAS GOEDERT: AN (ALMOST) HOMECOMING

The distance between Chicago and Britton, South Dakota is 663 miles, about a 10-hour car ride. For rookie tight end Dallas Goedert, it’s as close to home as the Eagles have been all season. He’ll have about 30 family members and friends in attendance. That makes Sunday extra special.

“Everybody is really excited. It’s the first time I will see a lot of them in quite some time – I missed Thanksgiving and Christmas going back home – so for some of my cousins and my aunts and uncles, it’s going to be great to see them,” Goedert said. “This is a business trip, so I don’t know how much I’ll actually see them, but they all understand. It’s all part of being here, being a professional.”

Goedert has 33 receptions for 334 yards and four touchdowns this year, playing 48 percent of the offensive snaps. He’s been involved quite a bit in the last two weeks as the Eagles have used more 12 personnel (one running back, two tight ends).

“I feel like as long as I play hard and know what I’m doing and where I’m supposed to be, I’m going to be fine on Sunday,” Goedert said. “They’ve got some great players on that defense. I know I’m going to win some plays and I’m going to lose some plays. That’s just football. I’m just going to keep working as hard as I can and be in the right spot and things will work out for me.”

BRANDON GRAHAM: THE STUDY OF MITCHELL TRUBISKY

Chicago quarterback Mitchell Trubisky is a dual-threat player, having thrown for 24 touchdown passes and 12 interceptions this season. He’s also run for 421 yards and three scores. The defensive line, as much as they want to sack Trubisky on Sunday, must not give him running lanes through which to escape.

“You have a lot that you have to account for with him. You have to be responsible. You have to do your job,” Graham said. “He will run the ball on you and you can never really practice for it. You just have to play him in the course of the game and get a feel for what he’s doing and how fast he is. We played him last year, so we know. We need to contain him up front. We need to collapse the pocket and don’t let him go north and south. Make him go east and west.”

The pregame buzz has largely centered on Chicago’s defensive front seven, but the Eagles are playing very well at the line of scrimmage defensively. Graham knows it’s “go” time in the postseason and everything comes down to the battles in the trenches.

“Can’t for the game. We’re tired of hearing about all this and all that. We just can’t wait to go out and play,” Graham said. “We want to go out and be the best defense.”

What are the playoffs like? Are they different?

“It’s hectic for the fans and for everybody watching,” Graham said. “We just have to treat it like it’s a normal game. Prepare your best, as you always do. We’ve been here before and we’re going to treat it as such. We’ve been playing playoff football for a minute now, because we’ve had some games where if we lose, we’re out. So we’re not feeling that pressure. We’re just going to go out and play football.”

DARREN SPROLES: GLAD TO BE HERE FOR PLAYOFF PUSH

Running back Darren Sproles has 11 receptions for 138 yards along with 24 carries for 115 yards in the five games he’s played since returning from a season-long hamstring injury, so he’s going to be a factor on Sunday. Sproles missed last year’s Super Bowl experience while recovering from his broken arm and torn ACL.

He’s glad to be in position to help this time around.

“I’m just excited,” he said. “I feel good. Really good. This is a fun time. The playoffs are where you want to be right now.”

The offense has been successful in rotating Sproles into the mix along with Josh Adams and Wendell Smallwood. The Eagles have been far more effective in the last month and a half of the season and Sproles is one of the reasons why.

“It was tough last year not being here,” Sproles said. “I came back to play for this. To be in the playoffs, it’s going to be fun.”

Sproles will get his touches on Sunday as the Eagles try to get him into space. He will be a threat in the punt return game, the running game, and the passing game.

LANE JOHNSON: NEXT UP, KHALIL MACK AND THE BEARS' DEFENSE

Playing his best football of the season, right tackle Lane Johnson will see a lot of Bears All-Pro pass rusher Khalil Mack on Sunday. Mack, acquired in a trade with Oakland before the season, delivered 12.5 sacks and helped change the culture of the Bears, aiding them in their turnaround season that ended with Chicago at 12-4 and on top of the NFC North.

“They’ve got a good combination of size and strength and athleticism,” Johnson said. “Mack has a good combination of size and power. He does a good job with his rush moves, he has a lot of good counter moves, and his lateral quickness is probably the best in the league. That’s what makes him so unique.

“I need to stay in good balance and take a good set. That’s what it is for me.”

It’s not just Mack for the Bears. They’ve got standouts Akiem Hicks and Eddie Goldman inside – Johnson calls them a “dynamic duo” – and Leonard Floyd is another pass-rushing threat off the edge opposite Mack. The Bears are loaded along the front seven.

“They really get after it and they play hard,” Johnson said. “It’s going to be our biggest challenge. We know that going in.”

At the same time, this is exactly the situation in which Johnson and the Eagles' offense thrives. The game, then, will be won in the trenches.

“That’s the way it is with every game,” Johnson said. “I know the stakes are higher in the playoffs. You win or go home. That’s what every team is facing this weekend.”

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