PHILADELPHIA (AP)No matter the quarterback, the Eagles are trying to finish as the top team in the NFC. Knocking off the New Orleans Saints will get Philadelphia all the spoils of the No. 1 seed.
A chance to rest starters in the season finale. The playoff bye week. Home games at the Linc.
The Saints just want to join Philly (13-2) in the postseason. It’s not dark yet in New Orleans; it’s getting there.
Still, hope remained for first-year coach Dennis Allen’s team as the Saints head Sunday to Philly with a win-or-else ethos if they want to reach the postseason. The odds are grim, but at least the path is clear-cut: New Orleans will have to win its final two games, against the Eagles and a home game against Carolina. They also need help in the form of two losses by Tampa Bay to win the NFC South.
The Saints (6-9) are still barely alive for the last wild-card spot, but they trail Washington (7-7-1) by 1 1/2 games and Green Bay, Detroit and Seattle – all 7-8 – by a game.
”If we don’t handle what we can control, then it doesn’t even matter,” Saints quarterback Andy Dalton said. ”So for us, the mindset is: We’ve got two left, let’s go win these next two games and see what happens.”
Added offensive lineman Calvin Throckmorton: ”We’re obviously excited for the challenge that Philly’s going to present.”
And the Eagles indeed present a challenge — with or without dynamic QB Jalen Hurts.
The 24-year-old Hurts emerged as an MVP candidate this season with 35 total touchdowns and 3,472 yards passing until he sprained his right shoulder in a win at Chicago. Hurts was sidelined for the Eagles’ loss at Dallas and Gardner Minshew performed ably, throwing for 355 yards, completing 24 of 40 passes and two touchdowns in his first start of the season.
Eagles coach Nick Sirianni hasn’t backed off his decree that Hurts will start the moment he is healthy enough to play. The QB question mark didn’t deter the bettors, with the Eagles still a 7-point favorite even before Sirianni announced his decision.
The Eagles return home after three straight road games with the hope the next time they hit the road, it’s for the Super Bowl. They finish against the Saints and New York Giants, then could play up to two homes games in the playoffs – as long as they get the No. 1 seed.
It does seem a formality, though crazy things could happen.
The Eagles need one win or one Dallas loss in the last two games to secure the No. 1 seed in the NFC.
There is a wrinkle in that plan: Should Dallas win its last two games and the Eagles lose to the Saints and Giants, the Cowboys are the NFC East champions. And if that scenario unfolds, and somehow Minnesota and San Francisco each lose one of their two final games, the Cowboys are the No. 1 seed in the NFC.
So yeah, having Hurts back at any time would certainly help the Birds.
”If Jalen is ready to play, he’ll play, but we have to have a plan for both of those guys,” offensive coordinator Shane Steichen said.
RICH GET RICHER?
There is a chance the Eagles can enter the 2023 draft with a top-10 pick that could have belonged to the Saints. The Eagles and Saints traded a combined eight draft spots last year — and Philadelphia obtained New Orleans’ 2023 first-rounder.
The Saints were expected to contend and would have perhaps lost a spot somewhere in the 20s. At this rate, the Eagles would have the 10th overall pick. Stick the Saints with a loss, and that number can go lower for the Eagles. Not a bad spot for a team that already clinched a playoff berth.
”It will be sweet if we can go out there and get this win, and then once we’re making the draft pick later we can say to ourselves, well, that really did help us out,” Sirianni said.
It wasn’t that long ago that Eagles defensive back and NFL interceptions leader C.J. Gardner-Johnson was a Saint. He spent training camp in New Orleans before being traded to Philadelphia on Aug. 30.
At that time, the Saints saw defensive back as a position of depth on their squad. And Gardner-Johnson, a fourth-round 2019 draft choice, was nearing the end of his rookie contract.
Gardner-Johnson has six interceptions for Philadelphia this season. The entire Saints defense has four.
”We made a decision, a business decision, and then you move forward with that,” said Allen, a former defensive coordinator who still oversees and calls the defense. ”You don’t really look back and play the what-if game. It was something that we felt like was the best thing for our team at that point in time and and then we moved forward.”
AP Sports Writer Brett Martel in New Orleans contributed.
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