There are no more if, ands, or buts. No more questions about, "What is there to play for?" An end to the chatter about "next week." Everything is on the line for the Eagles tonight and the path is very clear: A win over Oakland and the Eagles clinch the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs.
So, let's all understand this: The Eagles need to play a great football game tonight to win. That's the mindset needed against an Oakland team that many thought before the season would be in the Super Bowl conversation with rising quarterback Derek Carr throwing to Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree, with running back Marshawn Lynch added to bring some bruise to the ground game, with a defense spearheaded by an offense-wrecking pass rusher in Khalil Mack.
But as the NFL often works, things haven't gone according to plan for the Raiders this season. They've fallen on hard times. A 2-0 start to the season gave way to a myriad of mistakes and a four-game losing streak and, now, a 6-8 record.
"They don't look like that when you watch the film," Pro Bowl offensive guard Brandon Brooks said. "This is a good football team coming in."
Late-December football in the NFL for teams with so much at stake is telling. Some teams stumble on the moment, as the Lions did in a loss at Cincinnati on Sunday and as Dallas did (more on the Cowboys later) in a home loss to Seattle. New England, as usual, took care of business at home against Buffalo.
This is the Eagles' moment. They've spent the last three weeks on the road and came away with two wins in three games. Despite all the warts and the question marks and the concerns, the Eagles have an NFL-best 12-2 record. The atmosphere at Lincoln Financial Field tonight, with sub-freezing temperatures looming, will be electric. It's playoff football for the Eagles as they look to take care of business and beat a 6-8 team that is out of playoff contention coming in with a two-game losing streak.
"It's about us playing our game," linebacker Nigel Bradham said. "We have to go out there and play Eagles football. Nothing else matters. We don't care about their record or anything that the media talks about. We know Oakland is a good football team. We know that this is the NFL and that anything can happen.
"As long as we play our best game, we're going to be OK. That's how you approach every game. It's not about the opponent. It's about executing our game plan."
That's the lesson for tonight: Go win a football game. It comes down to one night. After all that has happened this season, the Eagles are in position to accomplish the ultimate regular-season goal. Win and it's home all the way through the NFC playoffs.
Let's see how the team handles the moment.
NEWS, NOTES, AND A LITTLE BIT OF THIS AND THAT
- Dallas stumbled badly in its game against Seattle, even with star running back Ezekiel Elliott on the field (24 carries, 97 yards). Wide receiver Dez Bryant, shown on the television broadcast pouting on the sidelines, had a miserable game with some drops and a key fumble. Quarterback Dak Prescott, who threw just four interceptions a year ago, had two on Sunday, giving him 13 for the season. The fall out of the playoffs by Dallas is a reminder of just how fragile success is in the NFL. Do not take it for granted.
- New Orleans held court at home against Atlanta. Interesting to see how that game went, and a side note here, just because fans pay so much attention to it: With a Pete Morelli crew working the game, visiting Atlanta was penalized 10 times for 91 yards and New Orleans was penalized three times for 30 yards. You can't make mistakes like that and expect to win road games in playoff environments.
- Oh, how the NFC East has turned upside down from last season. Only the Eagles, who finished fourth in the division in 2016, are heading to the postseason. New York has a general manager and a head coach to hire and a roster filled with disappointments. Washington has to take a definitive step, one way or the other, with quarterback Kirk Cousins. And the Cowboys are clearly in a very different place from a year ago when they marched into Lincoln Financial Field as the division champion heading for what they thought was a long reign atop the NFC East.
- The NFC playoff field has one opening remaining after Los Angeles, New Orleans, and Carolina joined Minnesota and the Eagles in the postseason. Here's what it comes down to: Atlanta controls its positioning, and a win at home on Sunday against Carolina puts the Falcons into the tournament. A loss by Atlanta and a win by Seattle over Arizona puts the Seahawks in. Should be a great, great Wild Card weekend for the NFC. The field is stacked with good teams.
- And finally, the Patriots again are in prime position in the AFC after a hard-fought win over Buffalo. It was hard to believe that the apparent touchdown catch by wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin was overturned, but it happened. And a spot later in the game on a New England offensive possession led to more Bills frustration. But look at the way New England pulled away in the final quarter-plus. That's how you play football in the postseason. Start fast and finish strong. The Patriots seem to do it every year.