It has come to this, after so many weeks of emotion and huge comeback wins and thrilling Eagles football. The moment of truth is here. How playoff-ready are the Eagles? I'm at Lincoln Financial Field, where the tailgaters began lining up at 8 a.m. It is a cold, brutal day, with whipping winds and sub-freezing temperatures. And I'm counting down the minutes until kickoff ...
I'm watching David Akers in pre-game warmups kicking against the wind. When the wind is not strong, he has a range of around 48 yards, but the wind is pushing his kicks left as he boots into the north end zone. So he compensates and it is very difficult. Kicking into the north end zone will be a challenge for both Akers and Mason Crosby today.
With the wind, Akers has range of 55 yards, at least. But there are still gusts that push the ball and make it difficult to keep the kicks straight.
No Max Jean-Gilles, which means Nick Cole starts at right guard and Reggie Wells backs up. Both Cole, with a knee injury that has been an issue all year, and Todd Herremans, who has been bothered by a calf injury this week, are battling hurts. It is not the ideal situation for the Eagles, not against this front seven.
Defensive end Bobby McCray is also inactive, which shows you how much I know based on how he played last week against the Cowboys. I thought McCray would have a role in this game. Also inactive: cornerback Brandon Hughes, safety Jamar Adams, linebacker Stewart Bradley, defensive tackle Jeremy Clark and offensive tackle Austin Howard. The Eagles are little bit thin up front offensively.
The Packers are missing safety Atari Bigby, fullback Korey Hall and linebacker Frank Zombo. The big news is that defensive end Cullen Jenkins is active. He will be a load to handle up front for the Eagles.
The Eagles captains: Michael Vick, DeSean Jackson, Asante Samuel, Quintin Mikell, David Akers and Colt Anderson.
So much for my theory on the wind. ESPN's Ron Jaworski, the honorary captain for the Eagles today, dismisses the idea that the wind will be a hinderance to throwing the football.
"Both Aaron Rodgers and Michael Vick spin the ball too well for it to be a factor," said Jaworski. "The kicking game, yes. The return game, yes. But they can both throw through this wind."
Jaworski predicts a 28-24 Eagles win. It won't be easy, of course.
"It comes down to schemes and who executes," he said. "Both teams like to blitz. Both teams need to protect the quarterback. If I'm the Eagles, there is a legitimate concern about the secondary, because Dimitri Patterson has really been struggling. I think the Eagles will keep a safety deep to eliminate the home-run ball.
"On offense, I think Michael is going to have a great game. Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweg want to throw it early. That's what they do. The wind won't change that. If they get a 10-0 lead or something like that, they can run the ball a little bit. But this offense is built on explosive plays with all of these playmakers. The Eagles aren't going to go away from that.
"It's going to be a great game. I think it is really important for the Eagles to get off to a good start. The first quarter is going to tell a lot."
Special teams coordinator Bobby April is standing in the middle of the field chatting with FOX radio sideline man Chris Myers, gesturing and, I'm guessing, discussing the wind. It is blowing in their faces as they look toward the north end zone. No question the wind will affect the kicking game and -- dare I say it -- possibly overtime. Kicking off with the wind blowing at your back will aid the kicking team in a big, big way.
Hate to keep making a big deal of it, but the wind is a factor. It comes and goes, but when it comes the wind is blowing big time. Maybe it dies down after the kickoff. Maybe not.
With my other eye I'm watching Baltimore and Kansas City. Is there any more important statistic in a game than turnover difference? We're seeing it again in this game.
I watched a bit of the Baltimore-Kansas City game and had a chat with a guy who was in Seattle on Saturday. He said that Saints center Jonathan Goodwin couldn't hear the cadence from quarterback Drew Brees in the game. That's how loud Seattle fans were.
"Can you imagine how loud that was," he said.
The chatter here is that Green Bay is going to show the Eagles every zone blitz imaginable. So it will be incumbent upon the Eagles to read, recognize and make adjustments.
Said my buddy Clark Judge from CBSSportsline.com: "I don't know how the Packers are going to throw the ball down the field in this wind. They love the vertical game. I walked in here today and there is no way, if this wind holds up, either of these teams can throw the ball down the field."
All the chatter among the media is that the Packers show an interesting alignment on defense where they feature two down linemen, four linebackers and five defensive backs to slow the Eagles' passing game. If the Packers come out with that look, why wouldn't the Eagles run the football? LeSean McCoy carried just 7 times in the first game of the season as the Eagles played from behind in the second half. Can the Eagles get McCoy more involved today?
They might, especially with these crazy winds. McCoy and Jerome Harrison give the Eagles a strong 1-2 punch and the offensive line is big and strong. Plus, the Packers allowed an average of 4.7 yards per carry this year, so if there was ever a time to run the football ...
*11:45 AM *
Will Max Jean-Gilles play? It is a question that has no answer yet, at least publicly. He didn't practice all week, but the Eagles still hope his sprained ankle will allow him to go today. If Jean-Gilles can't play, Nick Cole gets the start. Clearly, right guard has been a question mark all season and, really, since the Eagles turned the position over to Stacy Andrews. He didn't pan out, of course (Andrews is now with Seattle, but he did not start in Saturday's win for the Seahawks) and the Eagles have alternated Jean-Gilles and Cole all season.
Jean-Gilles is a larger body and he has improved greatly this season after undergoing Lap-Band surgery. Cole has a lower center of gravity and has proven to be a reliable starter for this team. The task on that side of the line of scrimmage is substantial with linebacker Clay Matthews lurking on every snap of the football.
We aren't going to know about Jean-Gilles until 90 minutes before kickoff when the Eagles announce their inactive players. If he can't play, the guard position is awfully thin with Todd Herremans -- who is expected to play -- nursing a calf injury. It is not an ideal situation playing against a Green Bay front seven that mixes its looks and comes with such great pressure at the line of scrimmage.
We sometimes forget about the players who helped the Eagles reach this point but who aren't able to play today. Fullback Leonard Weaver is one of those players. Injured in the opening game against Green Bay, Weaver is rehabbing from an awful knee injury. He says he feels great, but it is clear that he is not close to all the way back. He has a long way to go.
Weaver is on the sidelines now working for 6abc in Philadelphia and he spoke about some of the things the Eagles can expect from Green Bay's defense.
"They are very aggressive, fast and they play hard," he said. "The thing they do especially well is disguise where the pressure is coming from. We have to be communicating, all on the same page. They're going to blitz. It's a just a matter of where it comes from. And they have good coverage down the field. That's an outstanding defense there."
Weaver has a big off-season ahead trying to get back on the field in 2011.
"One day at a time," he said. "I'm working hard and keeping a positive attitude."
The wind really could be a problem today. The gusts are already substantial for so early in the day, and the passing games and the kicking games could be affected if the forecast of 40 mph winds come true. Otherwise, it is a perfect winter's day for football. The temperature at kickoff will be in the 20s and it could dip even lower.
The field looks great, fast, firm. But those winds ...
So what happens if the winds are a real problem? Would Andy Reid dial up the running game in a big way? Would he run and throw short passes? Green Bay has played in winds and cold weather many times, of course, and the Packers throw more slants and short passes than any team still in the playoffs.
This weather is not a surprise. But it will require the coaching staffs to make adjustments.