The season is ending. Will we see the Ewoks dance with joy, or Darth Vader whine like a tantrum-throwing toddler?
Even Steven Spielberg couldn’t write this: Nick Foles and the Philadelphia Eagles head south, to Texas, where they’ll take on the much-maligned Dallas Cowboys with stakes that extend far beyond any basic revenge narrative for that Week 7 trashing they handed the Eagles. Kiddies, this one’s got the NFC East crown and a playoff berth on the line.
It’s a bit like watching Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace: As much as you might root for the young Anakin Skywalker, you know in your heart that he’s fated to a life of athsma and control issues. Still, you’ve got to love the kid, and even root against fate for him, when he’s whipping that spacecraft around like some celestial Jeff Gordon. Do I think the Eagles will win the Super Bowl? Hell, no. But do I want to watch them one more time? Hell, yes.
The last time this exact scenario unfolded, in 2008, Eagles fans were given reason to keep their lucky sweatpants handy at least a few more weeks when a fiesty Birds squad absolutely demolished Dallas, 44-6. (Star Wars nerds, it’s worth mentioning, were distracted at the time by the wholly mediocre animated Clone Wars television series.) And with news that Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo won’t be playing, tonight’s game—which, I should mention, kicks off at a cinematic 8:30 time slot—could wind up with a similarly lopsided score.
Leading the Cowboys will be backup quarterback Kyle Orton, a well-journeyed, respectable QB in his own right. Orton’s proven his salt in this league before, but he’s attempted just five passes all season. The guy’s probably gonna have some rust, and the Eagles need to blitz him enough that he’s rattled into a poor throw—something quarterbacks not used to high-pressure scenarios tend to do. No, I don’t think Orton will be that bad. Schematically, he’s not that far off from Tony Romo; he’s a cerebral player with above-average arm-strength. He’s been a decent starter in this league, and these Eagles cornerbacks are bad enough to make Matt Cassel look like Daunte Culpepper. Where Orton differs from Romo is in scrambling and improvisational ability: Romo excels at evading defensive pressure, buying time with his legs for a receiver to get open. That’s not Orton’s game, so the Eagles need to blitz, blitz, blitz.
But Luke Skywalker had no intention of losing a second hand, Nick Foles ain’t throwing for a measly 80 yards again. Since that Week 7 game—which was really his single aberration this season—Foles has averaged 287 yards per game and almost three touchdowns per game. Now, up to this point he’s passed for 2,628 yards and 25 touchdowns. To get to the next level of geekhood and prorate those statistics over a full 16-game schedule—excluding, in fairness, the earlier games against San Diego and Denver, when he was subbed in late for Mick Vick when the game was all but over—we’re looking at a quarterback with 4,126 yards and a 38-touchdown stat line. Those are elite numbers, folks. And to top it off, the guy is making a relatively paltry $390,000 this year. (“Relatively” being key here; Tony Romo made $11.5 million this year alone.)
Why else am I optimistic about this game? With 1,476 rushing yards, LeSean McCoy leads the NFL, and DeSean Jackson’s 1,304 receiving yards cruise in as the eighth best. Add to that mix a now operating Riley Cooper Express, an emerging tight-end tandem and the reliable foot of Alex Henery, and this offense can hang with anyone—at least, anyone not named Manning.
I’m accepting the fact that this year’s Eagles team isn’t taking home the Lombardi Trophy. Just like I learned to love Jar Jar Binks and the other Episode I oddities, so too I’ve learned to love the 2013 Philadelphia Eagles—an unexpected, sometimes disappointing, but still fun as hell, surprise.
Who’s Obi-Wan Kenobi? The guy who’s coming out of a lightsaber duel alive in Week 17: Nick Foles. I can’t bet against him now. Not when the scene is so perfectly set for future Eagles mythology. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that the Cowboys secondary is second-to-last in yards allowed per game. Play the kid and enjoy the fun while it lasts.
Who’s Darth Maul? The guy who stands in the way of The Force in Week 17—and a truly pointless character of the Star Wars universe: Brent Celek. No way should you be fooled by that “Dallas allows the 11th-most fantasy points to tight ends” nonsense. It’s misleading and inaccurate, a Jedi mind trick; over the past five weeks, Dallas has allowed just 5.6 points per game to tight ends, proof that they’ve finally figured out how to contain the position. Plus, Celek ranks 22nd among all tight ends, and is on pace for his worst season since 2008.
Who’s Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader? The guy who’s either winning that podrace or trying to murder his own son in Week 17: Eagles Defense. Statistically, they suck. They rank 30th in total defensive yards allowed, allowing 15-plus fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks in six of their last seven games. But when you factor in the fact that Tony Romo isn’t playing, along with Dallas’ penchant for choking in big moments and an admitted leap of faith on this writer’s end, I say play ‘em. If they lose your game (and season), write to PW and demand they hire a new fantasy football writer. They might reply that, hey, you listened to a guy who compared a football team to the most-hated of the Star Wars movies. Still, you never know.
First Person Arts Podcast: Proud Mom