Ray Didinger

No crying in baseball, but there sure is in football

No crying in baseball, but there sure is in football

There may not be any crying in baseball but that old adage sure as heck does not apply to football. Or more specifically, to Eagles fans. Since about 10:30 p.m. Sunday, the floodgates have been released in the Delaware Valley and tears have been flowing like a river.

Grown men in particular, not exactly prone to displaying their emotions or expressing their feelings, are suddenly Dick Vermeil at a wedding. That's what 57 years for some and a lifetime for others will do to you.

We have three examples for you. All quite touching in their own way and for their own reasons. Each one tying back to family.

Ray Didinger defines the words "objective journalist." He's as respected for his unbiased analysis as any person in his field. And even though he grew up a die-hard Eagles fan who spent his summer vacations in Hershey at Eagles training camp, even though he attended the 1960 NFL Championship Game with his father and grandfather at Franklin Field, once Ray became a journalist, he put his fandom aside.

But even an Eagles Super Bowl win can even get to the most grizzled, stoic, down-the-middle veteran. Here's Ray on our Eagles Postgame Live set after Super Bowl LII.

Next up, we have NBC Sports Philadelphia host Danny Pommells. This was from our Mission LII Pregame coverage before the Birds beat the Patriots later that evening. Here's Danny discussing who he'd like to see the Eagles win for and his father.  

Lastly, we step away from the analysts and hosts to bring you the raw emotion of a player who has has been overlooked and underappreciated since coming out of high school: Eagles center Jason Kelce.

These clips are examples of why sports matter. It's about the bonds and relationships that are formed between father and son, mother and daughter, siblings and friends. That was raw emotion that few other experiences can bring about. Sunday night may have been part one; the sequel will be Thursday's parade to end all parades.

Get your tissues ready.

Eagles-Falcons divisional round predictions

Eagles-Falcons divisional round predictions

Playoff football is back in Philadelphia.

And just like last time, Nick Foles is under center.

If the top-seeded Eagles want to make a run at the Super Bowl, it will be with Foles leading the way after he served as backup to Carson Wentz until Week 15.

Saturday marks the Eagles' first postseason game since 2013, when Foles was the starter and the team bowed out in the wild-card round to the Saints.

With a bye this season, the Eagles welcome the Falcons to Lincoln Financial Field for a divisional round matchup (4:35 p.m. on NBC).

Can the Eagles still make this season special? Or was Wentz's ACL injury the true beginning of the end?

Our experts provide their Eagles-Falcons predictions:

Reuben Frank (14-2)
It's not about who has the best quarterback. It's about who has the best team. And I believe in the Eagles' defense, I believe in their running game, I believe in their special teams, I believe in their ability to win close games at home in the final minutes. The Eagles' defense has allowed 11 touchdowns all year at the Linc. Four of those came on a short field, when the other team had to drive 55 yards or less, or just past midfield. Of the seven remaining drives, two came with the Eagles up 30 or more points late in a blowout win with a lot of subs in the game.

That means opposing offenses had five drives all year in which they drove more than 55 yards against the Eagles' starting defense. That's impressive. If it was Matt Ryan vs. Foles, I'd pick the Falcons. But it's a team game, and I think the Eagles win this thing and get to the NFC Championship Game.

So we'll go Eagles. I feel good about this one.

Eagles 23, Falcons 17

Dave Zangaro (13-3)
Maybe I'm crazy. Maybe I should just look at the last five quarters and think it's a no-brainer. Of course the Eagles aren't going to win with Foles at quarterback. 

But every time I think this team is dead, it comes back to life. Every time it suffered a serious injury, it somehow found a way to keep things going. Losing Wentz was monumental. There's no way around it. And if he was playing in this game, the Eagles would probably be seven-point favorites. 

I just think they find a way to get it done. This Falcons team isn't the same squad that went to the Super Bowl last year. This team can't seem to score at the same rate, so I think the Eagles' defense, playing at home, will be able to win. And Foles will do just enough. 

I think there's an NFC Championship Game in Philadelphia next week. 

Eagles 20, Falcons 17

Derrick Gunn (13-3)
The defending NFC champion Falcons backed their way into the playoffs, and then last weekend made an impressive postseason showing on the road against the Rams. But this isn't the high-powered Falcons offense that averaged 33 points per game in 2016. In 2017, with basically the same personnel, it struggled to average 22 points. But the difference this season, the Falcons' defense has played better. The team's front seven is on the small side, but fast. The secondary is aggressive and well versed in man-to-man coverage. 

The jury is split on Foles and whether or not he can handle the postseason pressure. The Falcons' D is not stout against the run. The Eagles have the necessary stable of backfield horses and need to establish a ground game early and stick to it. Go north and south against the Falcons, not lateral, which plays to their defensive speed. Doug Pederson needs to shorten up the passing game to keep the heat off Foles. Jim Schwartz's guys up front have to get to Ryan to make him as uncomfortable as possible and keep Ryan from finding Julio Jones.

When the Falcons have scored 20 or more points this season, they're 11-0 (including the playoff win over the Rams). When they've been held to 17 points or less, they're 0-6. The Linc will be rocking. The Eagles feel disrespected that they're the underdogs. This should be a knock-down, drag-out brawl. When the dust settles, look for the Eagles to still be standing.

Eagles 23, Falcons 17

Ray Didinger (14-2)
Given the choice a week ago, most Eagles fans would have preferred to face Atlanta in the divisional playoff. Now that it has turned out that way, many of the same fans are hiding under their beds at the prospect of playing the Falcons. It's this weird pathology that has taken over the city since the injury to Wentz. People just don't think this team with Foles is equipped to beat anybody. OK, maybe the Cleveland Browns.

No one is going to say it will be easy because it won't be. The Eagles are clearly a different team with Foles. They are not as explosive, not even close. With Wentz, when it was third down, it didn't matter if it was 3rd-and-2 or 3rd-and-15, he could make the play and move the sticks. That's no longer the case. Now a sack, a false start, a holding penalty, any negative play is a likely drive-killer. So the Eagles can't afford to make those mistakes.

It is a pretty simple formula: The Eagles have to run the ball effectively, win the turnover battle, pressure Ryan (yes, we're looking at you Fletcher Cox), make a big play or two on special teams, all of which will expand Foles' comfort zone. No one expects him to throw for 400 yards. Just when, say, Zach Ertz is open on a seam route, hit him with the pass, don't sail it over his head.

The Falcons are the defending NFC champs and they are peaking at the right time, but I don't see the Eagles' season ending this quickly.

Eagles 20, Falcons 16

Andrew Kulp (13-3)
The more I talked to players, the more I got the sense Pederson was holding back the last two weeks of the regular season. And the more I felt the dialed-back practices and game plans were largely responsible for poor offensive performances in the Eagles' last game and a quarter, the more comfortable I felt about Foles moving forward.

We all know Foles has his limitations, and he's prone to playing very poorly. He also has the ability to play exceptionally well, or at least OK. I'm not worried about him. He'll be fine.

Where the game might really be won or lost is on the other side of the ball, at the line of scrimmage. The interior of the Falcons' offensive line is a mess right now, specifically the guards. Cox and Tim Jernigan should be able to do some damage. If the Eagles' defense can stop the run and get to Ryan, I don't think Atlanta's offense has this in it.

Eagles 20, Falcons 16

Corey Seidman (11-4) 
My brain tells me the Falcons will win, but years of watching football, years of watching teams who feel truly disrespected and years of seeing the most likely scenario not occur has me leaning Eagles.

Jones is unbelievable but there have been plenty of times this season he didn't swing the game. He scored in only two of 16 regular-season games and reached 100 yards four times.

I trust the Eagles' run defense to hold Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman in check, though I do expect Freeman to have a big game receiving — Texas routes, screens, etc.

But at the end of the day, the Eagles' defense is good enough to hold the Falcons to 17 or fewer points, especially in an outdoor stadium.

Eagles 20, Falcons 17

Eagles-Cowboys predictions

Eagles-Cowboys predictions

Just like last year, this game means absolutely nothing. Yet unlike last season, the Eagles are the 13-2 team gearing up for the playoffs, while the Cowboys (8-7) were eliminated from playoff contention with their 21-12 loss last Sunday to Seattle. 

Though playoff spots or seeding aren't at stake, a win over the Cowboys would be the Eagles' 14th of the season, which would set a franchise record. A victory would also seal a perfect 8-0 home record. 

It appears Nick Foles will at least start at quarterback for the Eagles, though it seems unlikely he'll play the entire game. He's eager to show what he learned from a rough outing Monday night in the Eagles' 19-10 win over the Raiders (see story).

Eagles fans should, however, get a good look at quarterback Nate Sudfeld and a number of other backups heading into the postseason.

Reuben Frank (14-1)
So I apparently have to put my 14-1 prediction record on the line in a meaningless game where we don’t even know who’s going to play for either team. What’s that all about? The difference between 15-1 and 14-2 is huge. If I go 15-1, that’s a .938 winning percentage. If I finish 14-2, that’s only .875. So how am I supposed to decide whether to pick an Eagles team that could have Sudfeld playing a good portion of the game vs. a Cowboys team that’s finishing a lost season? There’s literally nothing to base a prediction on, so I’m just going to pick the Eagles on general principles. I just don’t see them losing at home. And 15-1 will be so sweet! 

Eagles 20, Cowboys 17

Dave Zangaro (12-3)
The final score in this game doesn't matter. 

This prediction doesn't matter. 

The Eagles will play Foles and hope to see some offensive life. They'll get Sudfeld out there and hope he looks like an NFL quarterback. They'll rest guys who need rest. There are plenty of things to watch in this game — the final score isn't one of them. 

The most important thing for the Eagles is, they don't get hurt. Would it be nice if they got to 14 wins for the first time in franchise history? Sure. 

Doesn't matter. 

Cowboys 26, Eagles 17

Derrick Gunn (12-3)
We've just about reached the finish line of the 2017 NFL season, and while this game is meaningless to the Eagles in terms of playoff positioning, it does have significance for a few reasons. The players say they'd like to finish off this run with a franchise-best 14 regular season wins, and they'd like to head to the postseason on a winning note. But at what cost are the Eagles willing to achieve those goals?

It's no secret the offense needs some work after their Christmas night performance against Oakland, but how long do you keep the starters in? Foles says he's preparing this week to start and work on a few things. Over the last two games, the defense has started at a sluggish pace but finished strong. As for Dallas, the Cowboys are going home after Sunday to begin a long offseason. Head coach Jason Garrett says all healthy bodies will play. 

I say minimize the risk and get the starters out no later than halftime. You can't afford to have another key player injured before the start of the second season. Ezekiel Elliott will play the Birds for the first time this year, and you know Dallas will try to establish their run game. It will be interesting to see how Doug Pederson handles this one. I say Dallas wins this one by default because Pederson pulls everybody he can and we get to see what Sudfeld, who has never played in a regular game, looks like under center.

Cowboys 24, Eagles 20

Ray Didinger (13-2)
Whatever incentive there is in this game belongs to the Cowboys. They are 8-7 so they need this game to finish with a winning record. Also, they are coming off a galling home loss to Seattle so they don't want to finish the season on a two-game skid.

Even with his suspension, Elliott still has a chance to rush for 1,000 yards (he has 880) so he will get plenty of carries, and while the Eagles have the No. 1 defense against the run, most of those guys will be watching this one from the bench in the second half.

This will be like a preseason game, only colder.

Cowboys 21, Eagles 17

Andrew Kulp (13-2)
It hardly seems fair to predict the result of what essentially amounts to a preseason game for the Eagles, but I suppose we may need a 50/50 game like this to create some separation in the standings. And the chances of the Cowboys' starters beating the Eagles' backups probably is around 50/50. After all, Dallas is only a 2.5-point favorite.

My guess is Foles will lead the first-team offense down the field for a quick score on the Eagles' first or second possession, then Sudfeld gets to flail around for the rest of the afternoon. Sudfeld will do OK, because the Cowboys' defense isn't anything to write home about, and may just quit on an offense that hasn't been capable of holding up its end of the bargain all season. A Derek Barnett strip-sack in the fourth quarter either shuts down Dallas' last gasp or puts the Eagles in position for the go-ahead score.

Eagles 20, Cowboys 17

Corey Seidman (10-4) 
The Cowboys were slight favorites early in the week because their key players are expected to play more than the Eagles' key players. Elliott talked this week about itching to play because he missed so much time with the six-game suspension.

As much as I'd like to see the Eagles finish 14-2 for the first time in franchise history, I can't see them holding onto a second-half lead if Sudfeld is under center. 

Who could have possibly predicted that a Week 17 game between the Eagles and Cowboys would have absolutely no meaning? The NFL tries to set up big divisional showdowns in the final week but will get no drama from the NFC East pairings.

Cowboys 20, Eagles 16