As bad beats go, the Philadelphia Eagles suffered one of the worst. The knee injury that ended the season for quarterback Carson Wentz dumped an ice bucket over a team that was heating up as a Super Bowl threat.
Is Philadelphia finished as a title contender? No. But the NFC playoff field is wide open, and it’s tough to envision Nick Foles outgunning Tom Brady with a championship on the line, if the Eagles can fly that far.
Wentz leads the league with 33 touchdown passes, and there is a significant drop-off to Foles. If there is a sliver of a bright side to a dark story, Foles is one of the league’s better backup quarterbacks. In 2013, Foles played in 13 games and totaled 27 TD passes with two interceptions. Those remarkable numbers were a fluke, and Foles bounced from St. Louis to Kansas City before returning to Philadelphia this season. He completed 6 of 10 passes in relief last week to help seal the Eagles’ 43-35 victory over the Rams in Los Angeles.
On the road for the third consecutive Sunday, the Eagles are 7½-point favorites over the New York Giants in an NFC East game that is important to only one side. Philadelphia (11-2) has clinched the division and can lock down a first-round bye with a victory over the Giants (2-11).
Foles is better prepared than most backups to step in and win, and he can lean on a solid support system. Philadelphia will put more emphasis on power running backs Jay Ajayi and LeGarrette Blount. The Eagles rank fifth in the NFL in scoring defense by allowing 19.2 points per game.
The Giants, who rank 31st in scoring offense (15.3), just flopped in a prime emotional spot in Eli Manning’s return as the starting quarterback. Manning threw two interceptions in a 30-10 loss to Dallas.
Foles does not need to be phenomenal. The Philadelphia defense should do the job. The fallen-star angle — a team rallying with something to prove in the first game after a star goes down — should apply, so the Eagles are the play.
Four more guesses for Week 15 (home team in CAPS):
* Ravens (-7) over BROWNS: The so-called sharp money will be on Cleveland again. The Browns (0-13) have rewarded their backers’ weekly dedication with a 3-10 record against the spread, including a variety of bad beats. This is not a great spot for Baltimore, which blew a late lead in a 39-38 loss at Pittsburgh last week. But Joe Flacco is showing some life, along with an improved running attack, and the Ravens averaged 31.3 points while going 4-2 in their past six games. No team wants to experience the embarrassment of being the Browns’ first victim.
* Rams (plus-1½) over SEAHAWKS: At some point, mounting injuries have to take a serious toll on the Seattle defense, and this could be that point. Already without Kam Chancellor, Richard Sherman and Cliff Avril, the Seahawks might be missing linebackers Bobby Wagner (questionable) and K.J. Wright (doubtful). The Rams will ride running back Todd Gurley and hope their Aaron Donald-led defensive front can keep Russell Wilson from pulling another rabbit out of his hat. This is a revenge spot for the Rams, who lost the first meeting 16-10 on Oct. 8 in L.A.
* STEELERS (plus-3) over Patriots: Maybe the Patriots were caught in a lookahead spot Monday in Miami, where the absence of suspended tight end Rob Gronkowski made Tom Brady pale in comparison to Jay Cutler. New England (10-3, 8-5 ATS) still can attain the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs by beating Pittsburgh (11-2, 6-7 ATS) on the road in a key game for tiebreaker purposes. Bill Belichick’s defense can be beat through the air, and Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown are the right men for the job. Roethlisberger hit on 44 of 66 passes for 506 yards in the comeback victory over Baltimore. Brown has 39 catches in the past four games, and Le’Veon Bell is the league’s rushing leader. Pittsburgh ranks No. 6 in total defense, compared to New England at No. 29. Betting on Brady and Belichick to bounce back is the obvious move. Since the beginning of the 2003 season, New England is 44-6 in regular-season games following a loss. It’s a coaching mismatch, of course, but the Steelers have the offensive firepower to trick me into taking the home ‘dog.
* Cowboys (-3) over RAIDERS: Ezekiel Elliott’s return is a week away, so Dallas has motivation to keep its playoff hopes alive. Dak Prescott played better against bad defenses the past two weeks, and he should have success running and throwing against another bad defense in Oakland. The Dallas defense is dramatically improved with linebacker Sean Lee back on the field. It’s not quarterback Derek Carr’s fault, but the Raiders (2-8-1 ATS in their past 11) are a train wreck.
Last week: 3-2 against the spread