When the fourth quarter ends of the game between the Seahawks and the Eagles, the Divisional Week officially begins. Seattle and Philadelphia square off in the last of four Wild Card Weekend matchups and this is the only one that features a road favorite, as the NFC’s top Wild Card team travels cross-country to take on the league’s weakest division winner.
This line is listed anywhere from -1.5 to -2.5 in the marketplace with a total of 46 painted across the landscape. Road favorites in the Wild Card Weekend are something of a rarity, but those lower seeds can and have often been the better team. Three of the four road teams won last year with Wild Card status, though all three of them were underdogs. This is the first time that we have had a “Week 18” road favorite since the 2015 NFL playoffs. That was, interestingly, the Seahawks against the Vikings. Seattle won that game 10-9.
Dating back to the 2003 playoffs, there have been 15 road favorites during the Wild Card Weekend. They are 11-4 straight up, but just 7-6-2 ATS. The under is 10-5 in those opening round postseason games with a road favorite. The same year that the Seahawks beat the Vikings, there were actually three road favorites in the Wild Card Weekend round. All of them won outright, but went 1-2 ATS. Those were the Chiefs, who won 30-0 over the Texans, the Steelers, who won 18-16 as a 2.5-point favorite against the Bengals, and the Seahawks.
So that is the situation facing the road favorites here. Seattle, severely depleted by injuries, almost beat San Francisco on Sunday Night Football to avoid having to play this weekend by grabbing a top-two seed. Unfortunately, they could not pull off the upset and have to go from last week’s physically-draining game to this weekend’s game against a similarly-decimated Eagles team. If you have a ticket for the game or plan to tailgate the festivities, there is a chance that you will be lining up in the slot for the Eagles at some point on Sunday.
Quite frankly, I could throw a bunch of stats at you (and I will), but this game may come down to which team has the most able-bodied players to put on the field. The Seahawks lost Mychal Kendricks to a torn ACL last weekend, which is a devastating blow to the defense. Quandre Diggs is also hurt, but he should be ready to go this week. Diggs has been an enormous part of the Seattle defense since being acquired from Detroit before the Trade Deadline.
The offensive side of the ball is where both the Seahawks and the Eagles are hurting. Mike Iupati is questionable, but the Seahawks are already without Justin Britt and Duane Brown, who is a long shot to play with a meniscus injury. DJ Fluker may be able to go, but he’s been hurt most of the year. Running backs Rashaad Penny, Chris Carson, and CJ Prosise are out, so the Seahawks have been working out Alex Collins, Roc Thomas, and Jim from Accounting. Will Dissly and Ed Dickson both suffered season-ending knee injuries.
The guys that haven’t been hurt have shouldered an incredible load. One of them is Russell Wilson and he is the primary reason the Seahawks are here. This Seattle team was only +7 in point differential in the regular season and -0.3 yards per play. But Russ is Russ and he’s a special player. He posted a 31/5 TD/INT ratio and virtually did it all himself at times, though Chris Carson was highly effective with 1,230 yards before being lost for the season. Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf both stayed above the injury fray and combined for 140 grabs and 1,957 yards in the regular season. Their importance will be magnified even more in this one, as the Eagles bring a shoddy pass defense to the table.
The injury report for Philadelphia has been bad all season, but names just keep getting added. Miles Sanders and Brandon Brooks are the latest ones. Sanders, one of few skill position guys still able to go out there and play, suffered a sprained ankle. Brooks dislocated his shoulder, joining fellow linemen Lane Johnson and Jason Peters on the injury report. The Eagles have been missing JJ Arcega-Whiteside, Zach Ertz, Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor, Corey Clement, and Darren Sproles for various lengths of time this season. Guys like Dallas Goedert, Greg Ward, and Boston Scott have been forced into prominent roles and have performed admirably.
So, too, has quarterback Carson Wentz. It’s not pretty, but it’s been good enough. Wentz only has 6.26 adjusted net yards per pass attempt, but a 27/7 TD/INT ratio with this collection of youngsters and castoffs has been thoroughly impressive. He’s found a way to complete just under 64% of his passes. The Eagles, with all their skill position woes, are still fourth in the NFL in third down conversion rate and third in red zone TD%. That speaks volumes about Doug Pederson and the job that he has done with this team. Pederson is a big reason why the Eagles won the NFC East.
Jim Schwartz has also thrown enough scat at the wall to make something stick on defense. The Eagles were -3 in turnover margin, but managed to be seventh in yards per drive allowed, 14th in points per drive allowed, and fourth in third down conversion rate against. This has been some kind of coaching job on both sides of the ball to even get to this point.
Getting Derek Barnett back for Week 17 was a positive step for the defense, as he led the team with 22 QB hits and was second to Brandon Graham with 6.5 sacks. Making Wilson uncomfortable would go a long way in helping the Eagles to the victory this week. So, too, would be getting some of these offensive players back. Ertz especially, though it seemed like his prognosis was not great early in the week.
Pick: Philadelphia Eagles +2
I’ll meet in the middle of the 1.5 and 2.5 and call it 2 for the purposes of the article here. Some of the more public books may actually hit 3 on this one. Many of the shops willing to embrace more risk are the ones sitting 1.5 or 2. In any event, the Eagles have gotten to this point because of how well-coached they are. The Seahawks struggle in a lot of key situations and have fallen on the right side of several close games, including two overtime wins.
Seattle has lost three of its last four and maybe some of that was maneuvering to get some guys healthy, but the Eagles have been playing playoff football for a while now to make up ground. They’ve used a lot of different guys and Pederson has worked some magic to get everybody to contribute. I see no reason to believe that will stop this week against an overrated Seahawks team.