To rest or not rest is Doug Pederson's question

To rest or not rest is Doug Pederson's question

It's a pretty good problem to have, but it's still a problem that needs sorting. 

By the time the Eagles play the Raiders on Christmas night next Monday, they might have already wrapped up the No. 1 seed in the NFC and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. 

Then what? 

Do they rest some starters? Do they play everyone and try to win? What's the plan for the next two weeks? 

"I've begun thinking (about it), but my focus is winning the game on Monday night," head coach Doug Pederson said on Monday. "Because that, to me, is the most important thing. Once we get to next week, we'll figure out next week. But my mindset this week is all about the Oakland Raiders, Monday Night Football."

To put it in baseball terms, over the last two weeks of the season, the Eagles' magic number to clinch home-field advantage throughout the playoffs is one. So either a win from the Eagles or a loss from the Vikings would ensure that the Birds have the top spot. 

That means if the Vikings lose to Aaron Rodgers and the Packers at Lambeau Saturday night, the Eagles will have clinched and will have a couple days to make a decision before playing on Monday. (Whether Rodgers faces Minnesota may depend on tonight's Falcons-Bucs game. If Atlanta wins, Green Bay is eliminated from the playoffs.)

Even if the Vikings win, the Eagles could beat the Raiders and still clinch the top spot this weekend, which would set up a situation where that last game of the season is meaningless. 

"You just make the best decisions for your football team," Pederson said. "If that means resting a guy, you rest a guy or two or three. But you also have to maintain the edge with these players, and you've got to maintain that confidence and that dominating swagger and you've got to keep that alive.

"You just can't go — it's not a preseason game, you know what I'm saying, where you can rest in Week 4 and rest all your guys. You can't do that because you're still limited to the roster limits on game day. Guys are still going to have to play, but at the same time, I'm going to be smart about the decisions we make moving forward and getting guys who need it rest, if possible."

While rest is obviously helpful at this time of year, the Eagles could be in a spot where they have three straight weeks — two nothing games and a bye — without a meaningful game. Good for rest, potentially bad for momentum heading into the postseason. 

The quarterback position, specifically, is a bit of a quandary. Had Carson Wentz not torn his ACL, it would be a fairly easy decision — rest him. But Nick Foles hasn't played a lot this year and could probably use the work, especially with his relatively unfamiliar receivers. The problem with that is, if he gets hurt, the team is down to Nate Sudfeld. Pederson also said that he'd ideally like to get Sudfeld some work. 

The Eagles haven't been in this position in quite some time. You'd have to go all the way back to the 2004 Super Bowl season to find a similar situation. Like what could happen with a Minnesota loss on Saturday, the 2004 Eagles had home-field clinched with two games to go. Donovan McNabb and the Eagles' starters played just one series in Week 16 and then most key players were rested in Week 17 before the bye in the wild-card round. 

Because of the rest, the Eagles lost their last two games heading into the playoffs, but it didn't matter. In the divisional round, they went up 14-0 early in the second quarter and took down the Vikings 27-14, their first step in the playoffs toward the Super Bowl. 

On Monday, Pederson didn't want to answer too many specific questions about hypothetical situations, but he and his coaches will probably have some sort of plan in place if the Vikings lose. That plan could either be to play like normal or begin the coasting process into the playoffs. 

"Like I've said pretty much these last few weeks, we control our destiny right now," Pederson said. "So that's the focus for me."

Roob's 10 late-March Eagles observations

USA Today/AP Images

Roob's 10 late-March Eagles observations

Some random late-March thoughts on Michael Bennett, Cris Carter, Mike Wallace, Billy Brown and (of course) Nick Foles in this weekend’s 10 Random Eagles Observations!

1. I have no idea what Michael Bennett did or didn’t do on Super Bowl Sunday at NRG Stadium last February, but I do know this is a precarious situation for the Eagles. Team chemistry was the Eagles’ biggest strength last year, and that’s not easy to duplicate when the roster changes. What Bennett is accused of is truly terrible. But it’s a weird story. How is there no video of an incident that occurred at a Super Bowl? Aren’t there cameras everywhere? And why didn’t the cop who allegedly witnessed the incident arrest Bennett once he was assured the alleged victim was OK? Bennett didn’t go anywhere. The 14-month gap between incident and charges is odd. And how could the Eagles not know about the investigation? The bigger question is exactly what kind of person are the Eagles getting in Bennett, and is he someone they want in the locker room for the next year. Maybe the answer is yes. Doug Pederson, Howie Roseman and Joe Douglas seem to have a pretty good feel for this stuff. But this is definitely a major distraction and just about the last thing the Eagles need to deal with right now.

2. If the Eagles don’t sign a veteran tight end, keep an eye on Billy Brown, who had an impressive training camp last summer and spent the season on the practice squad. He’s 6-foot-4, 260 pounds with great hands. Yeah, he was an undrafted rookie. But remember, that’s how Trey Burton started out.

3. Don’t listen to anyone who tells you Mike Wallace isn’t a significant upgrade over Torrey Smith. Wallace last year had 16 more catches (52 to 36), 318 more yards (748 to 430), twice as many TDs (4 to 2) and a much higher yards-per-catch average (14.4 to 11.9). Over the last two years, the difference is more dramatic (124 for 1,765 to 56 for 697) with inferior QBs. And Wallace is cheaper. With Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor and Wallace, the Eagles are loaded at wideout.

4. I heard Cris Carter ripping Nick Foles the other day, saying he’s not an NFL-caliber starter and only had a handful of good games last year. He also only played a handful of games. And one of them was the Super Bowl, if I remember correctly? Foles may never get credit outside Philly for what he accomplished last year, but at this point, it doesn't matter. The Lombardi Trophy lives at the NovaCare Complex now.

5. Speaking of Foles, in the 2017 postseason on third down, he was 26 for 32 for 398 yards and four TDs and a 158.1 passer rating.

6. Read that again. Foles threw six incomplete passes on third down during the entire 2017 postseason.

7. The Eagles converted 71 and 62 percent of their third downs in the NFC Championship Game and Super Bowl, respectively. They had only converted 62 percent of their third downs in consecutive games twice previously since 1991.

8. The conversations about whether the Eagles are better or worse than last year are silly, considering we're six months from opening day. The Eagles last year added Chris Long, Patrick Robinson, Tim Jernigan, LeGarrette Blount, Corey Graham and Ronald Darby later in the offseason than it is now. And Jay Ajayi during the season. The roster is a long way from being a finished product.

9. I’ve got Derek Barnett with 12 sacks next year. Interesting that from Week 6 on, Barnett had only one fewer sack than Brandon Graham (6 1/2 to 5 1/2). You could just see him getting better and better each week. Can’t wait to see the 2018 version of Derek Barnett.

10. And finally, we need to keep throwing out Carson Wentz stats so nobody forgets just how freaking talented he is: Wentz had 10 games last year with two or more touchdowns and one or fewer interceptions. Only four quarterbacks in NFL history have ever had more through 13 games: Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Tony Romo. Pretty good company. Except for Romo.

Thank Carson Wentz (and 1 other thing) for landing Mike Wallace

Thank Carson Wentz (and 1 other thing) for landing Mike Wallace

During the 2016 season, Mike Wallace thought his Baltimore Ravens were going to steamroll the Eagles, who had a first-year head coach and first-year quarterback. 

He was wrong. 

Sure, the Ravens were able to sneak away with a 27-26 win back on Dec. 18, 2016, but Wallace watched up close as the gutsy Carson Wentz had the Eagles one two-point conversion at the end of the game away from walking out of Baltimore with a win. 

A year and a half later, when Wallace was testing free agency, the veteran receiver thought back to that game and thought to himself, “I want to play with that guy.” 

So how responsible is Wentz for Wallace’s landing in Philly? 

“Ninety-nine percent. Ninety-nine,” Wallace said at his introductory press conference Friday afternoon after signing a one-year contract. “The other percent was the rest of the team. I’m impressed by the way he plays football, the way he moves in the pocket, the way he throws the football and his competitiveness. You can see it.”

Wallace, 31, continued to watch Wentz during the 2017 season, when the second-year quarterback was seemingly on his way to an MVP award before a serious knee injury landed him on injured reserve.  

Having been through changing teams before, Wallace said the most difficult part for him is learning the new quarterback. He hopes this process won’t take exceedingly long, but he and Wentz might be at a disadvantage. Wentz is still recovering from a torn ACL and LCL and might not be ready until the season opener, if that. 

“You can just work on that watching film and things like that, but until he gets out there, there’s no real way to simulate it,” Wallace said. “I think he’s a great young quarterback who’s fired up. Whatever extra reps we need to try to get up to speed, I’m all for it.”

Wentz is, of course, a part of the big reason Wallace decided to join the Eagles. Wallace has played nine seasons in the NFL with four different teams. He’s made money, but he hasn’t been able to hoist the Lombardi Trophy. That’s what he wants. 

On Friday, Wallace said he turned down more money to join the Eagles. 

“I had options but I just wanted the best chance,” Wallace said. “I feel like this is my best opportunity to make a run. This is my 10th year. Can’t play this game forever. You don’t want to come out feeling empty. I want to get a ring.”

Wallace had been a free agent twice before this offseason and he admitted, that when he was younger, free agency was about money. He signed a five-year, $60 million deal in 2013 to join the Dolphins. 

But now, Wallace said, his family is secure. He’s made a lot of money in the NFL to make sure those close to him are well off. Now, he’s allowing himself to make a decision that benefits him. 

“I didn’t try to come into this game to leave empty-handed,” he said. “I had to secure the bag and I did that. Now it’s time to secure a ring.”