CHICAGO --In its truest sense, tonight's game against Chicago is not a must-win game, as Donovan McNabb has proclaimed. The Eagles could lose this game, win their next six and still make the playoffs. But on every other level, the Eagles have to win against Chicago. No way the Eagles can lose a third straight game and then run the table. It would be the most unusual 180-degree turn in, well, in a long time.
So the best way for the Eagles to regain control of a season that has been so up and down is to win against a struggling Bears team. Both teams are in the same position along with most of the rest of the NFC. Both teams are desperate for a victory.
And the team that dictates the tempo early on wins the game.
See, I think I have it all figured out. I think the Bears want to win a 13-10 kind of game. They want to run the football and give Jay Cutler, under an incredible amount of pressure in this city, easy throws and a chance to manage the game, rather than have to win it with his arm. No doubt the Bears know how much trouble the Eagles had last week in San Diego against the ground game, and they know the Eagles' linebackers are still in a state of flux.
The Eagles, on the other hand, hope that the groove Donovan McNabb was in during that second-half comeback in San Diego continues. I think the Eagles want to do what they do: Spread the field and throw the football and take advantage of their talent at the receiver positions.
So which way wins? Slow-it-down Chicago or hurry-up-and-get-down-the-field Philadelphia?
There are so many storylines to follow here. The Eagles have worked all week on improving their performance in the red zone. The defense is patching positions together with all of the injuries. The special teams go against one of the very best and most sound groups in the league. This is a really difficult spot on the dreaded Sunday night (when the Eagles are 0-7) and in a rabid stadium that is extremely loud.
On paper, well, the Eagles are probably the better team. But paper means nothing, as we know. A statistical website called FootballOutsiders.com ranks the Eagles as the fourth-best team in the league, behind only New England, Indianapolis and New Orleans. What does that mean? Absolutely nothing. The Eagles are 5-4, and they need to win now.
So here we go again. McNabb has to be on his game. The Eagles must fashion some kind of a running game with LeSean McCoy and Eldra Buckley and Leonard Weaver. The offensive line welcomes back Jason Peters at left tackle, which means they can move Nick Cole to right guard, which means the line should have more push than it had last week, which means that, um, the Eagles will run the ball more?
I don't know about the last part, honestly. I see this as a game in which the Eagles can throw the football a little bit. The weather is perfect -- chilly, but low wind and crisp. The Bears are having injury problems of their own on defense. The Eagles have too much talent at wide receiver and tight end to stay down for long.
More than anything, we're going to find out about some intangibles here. Leadership, for one. Playoff teams, good teams, don't lose this game. Depth, for another. The Eagles are reaching deep into the 53-man roster here. Urgency, finally. How much will the team back McNabb's talk, his must-win edict?
Yes, the season is on the line tonight in so many ways. After two tough defeats, the Eagles are lucky enough to still control their fate this season. They need to beat Chicago and then look ahead. There is no other option. Win tonight, and keep the season alive.