The Eagles have a lot on their plate for the month of December. The team is coming off of its most impressive win of the season, their December 22 game against the Chicago Bears has been flexed to a primetime, national-television game and their Week 17 matchup with the Dallas Cowboys could have the NFC East title up for grabs. On top of all of that, it's also the holiday season.
Some fans may be overlooking the Eagles' journey to the land of 10,000 lakes to play the Minnesota Vikings this Sunday. The Vikings have been dealing with inconsistent play and injuries all season long, but with expectations constantly on the rise for the Eagles, could this be a "trap game" for the NFC East leaders?
At 3-9-1, the Vikings don't appear to pose as much of a threat as previous opponents like the Arizona Cardinals or Detroit Lions, but don't tell that to the Eagles, especially Chip Kelly. The head coach started thinking about Minnesota before even getting into the locker room after last Sunday's win over Detroit.
"We're just a one-week operation, so I literally was thinking about the Vikings game running off the field on Sunday," Kelly said. "It's, 'What's our next opportunity to go out and see where we are as a team?' and that's what this deal is all about. The teams that are mentally tough can work their way through it, and I think we have a mentally tough group."
Kelly and the rest of his coaching staff have been preaching the "one-week season" dating all the way back to the Eagles' first preseason game against the New England Patriots, and according to offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, that message has been well received by the players.
"There's nothing really in our sights other than playing Minnesota, and our guys have done it and displayed to us in the last few weeks that they can do it, so it's just hit the reset button and let's go," Shurmur said.
That message from the coaches has been passed on to the rest of the team via some of the team's on-field leaders. Jason Kelce, one of the most respected players in the locker room, knows that once the two sides step inside the white lines, records can be thrown away.
"It probably is (a trap game) in the media's eye, but we know that Minnesota is a great team and you can't get caught up looking at records or anything like that," Kelce said. "All you can do is focus on how they play defense, and then for me, focus on what's the best way to attack them and score points."
For a team that lost three of its first four games, the lure of the postseason is suddenly within sight. But for players around the locker room like linebacker Mychal Kendricks and running back LeSean McCoy, there won't be much to look forward to if they don't take care of what's at hand this Sunday.
"Just focus on this game," said Kendricks. "There's no need to worry about what's ahead because this is what's important. This is what's in front of us and in order for us to get to where we want to go, we have to handle this first."
"The biggest thing we stress each week is whatever opponent that we have, let's just be 1-0 that week," McCoy said. "We're not looking down the line to the Cowboys game or (what our record is). We just want to keep winning and control our own destiny."
While the Vikings have only won three games all season long, each of those wins has come at home (although one of those "home" games was played thousands of miles away from Mall of America Field in London). Even to rookies like tight end Zach Ertz who have never played in Minnesota, playing in a loud, indoor environment always presents a challenge for the visiting team.
"They're a different team at home," Ertz said. "They play very well at home, and that's kind of their big thing. Whenever you get a team at home and they have the fans to rally behind them, you can never overlook an opponent, especially in the fight that we're in for the playoffs. The main thing is one week at a time."
The Vikings will have the homefield advantage, but they may be at the great disadvantage of not being able to hand the ball off to All-Pro running back Adrian Peterson, who suffered a foot sprain last Sunday against Baltimore. Peterson and backup running back Toby Gerhart will both sit out of practice until Friday, per Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier, and it's uncertain whether either of them will be able to play against the Eagles.
Not having to deal with Peterson would be a big boost to the Eagles defense, but veteran cornerback Cary Williams explained that no team can ever be taken lightly.
"We're preparing just like any other week," said Williams. "It doesn't change for us. It doesn't matter who we play, we're just going to continue to get better each and every day. We're going to go out and practice like an elite team is supposed to practice, with great enthusiasm, great effort, running to the football - that's the way we play.
"Whoever steps out there in the purple and gold is who we're going to play and that's how it's going to be. We're just going to go out there and play the best Eagles football that we can and play with great intensity and great focus, and go out there with tremendous effort and make plays."