Torrey Smith

Eagles have been 'disrespected all year'

Eagles have been 'disrespected all year'

The Eagles couldn’t care less about the betting line for their upcoming playoff game against the Falcons. It doesn’t even qualify as bulletin-board material.

Oddsmakers installed the Eagles as an underdog, which is a first for a No. 1 seed facing a No. 6 seed in the playoffs, going all the way back to when the NFL expanded the tournament to 12 teams in 1990. But if you expected the team to take a point spread personally, maybe use it as added motivation for their divisional round matchup on Saturday, think again.

They don’t pay attention to that stuff.

“It really doesn't change the game,” Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said Monday. “The game is going to be about preparing well. The game is going to be about executing on Saturday.

“The teams that do that, the best are going to win. Not the team that got picked by the most number of analysts or experts or what the simulation games say or any of that stuff. That has zero bearing on the game for us.

Schwartz dismissed any notion that the line was something the Eagles would discuss, this week or any other.

“That stuff makes for good talk and TV, and a lot of people have a lot of programming to fill, but I have no idea if we've been favorites or underdogs the whole year,” Schwartz said. “It's not going to change now.”

He isn’t alone.

“I don’t ever look at it,” Eagles cornerback Jalen Mills said of the point spread. “This is the NFL. It’s any given Sunday. You have to go in the game with a mindset that if you slip up, if you make one mistake, it can cost you the game.”

Even if some in the Eagles’ locker room were aware of the spread beforehand, they didn’t lend the news any relevance. In a sense, it’s merely a reflection of the tone in the media or the buzz among fans, which has been more negative in general since the season-ending injury to quarterback Carson Wentz.

Whether the Eagles hear it or not, it shouldn’t change the way they prepare for the Falcons.

“Whatever people are saying on the outside, it really doesn’t matter,” Eagles defensive end Chris Long said. “What would it sound like if I came in here and I was like, ‘Man, I wasn’t that motivated for this playoff game, but I just found out we’re underdogs and nobody picked us on ESPN.’ That’s just not the way we think.”

At this point, the Eagles are probably used to it.

“I don’t think it’s any more motivating than any of our last couple games,” Mills said. “We’ve been the underdog ever since [Wentz] went down, and we found a way to win.”

Several Eagles players expressed similar sentiments. Wide receiver Torrey Smith issued a reminder that spectators had their doubts about the team before the regular season began, and defensive tackle Fletcher Cox went so far as to say it has been “disrespected all year.”

As much as the Eagles have tried to ignore the noise, they also respectfully disagree with the narrative.

“I’m not one that gets all excited off of bulletin-board material, but I think we’re better than that,” Smith said. “But it doesn’t matter unless we show it, which is more important than talking about it.”

Underdog or not, the Eagles hold one major advantage over the Falcons — home field. No matter who oddsmakers or bettors, analysts or fans may favor, the game will still be played at Lincoln Financial Field, which is not an easy place for visitors to play.

The Eagles had a 7-1 record at home in 2017, their lone defeat coming in a meaningless Week 17 contest against the Cowboys. Take into account the Falcons’ travel — which includes flying back to Atlanta from a West Coast trip Los Angeles late last Saturday, then north to Philadelphia for the game — and the Eagles have reasons to feel confident, point spread be damned.

“We're significantly better at home,” Schwartz said (see story). “That's why it was important for us to get home-field advantage. You take the travel out of the equation, it's tough on opponents when the fans are loud. I know our fans will be loud.

“It's tough on the opponents in a hostile environment, and that's what Philly is. That's what the Linc is. It's been a great home-field advantage for us over the course of the season, and it's not just the players on the field. The fans in the stands are going to mean an awful lot to coming out with a victory on Saturday.”

We know the Eagles won’t feel like an underdog at kickoff. Will the Falcons feel like the favorite on the road?

“Our fans, that’s definitely an advantage for us to play at home in the Linc,” Smith said. “Folks are going to be fired up.”

Eagles well aware of the skeptics ... and love it

Eagles well aware of the skeptics ... and love it

The Eagles hear it. 

As much as they'd probably like to insulate the walls of the NovaCare Complex and tune it all out, they can't. They know what's being said about their team. 

Despite being the No. 1 seed, nobody is really giving the Eagles much of a chance without Carson Wentz in these playoffs. Despite being the No. 1 seed, they're more David than Goliath. 

"You see it because you get tweeted or you're watching ESPN or something," Torrey Smith said. "You know, you can't expect everyone to believe in you. No one believed in us before the season even started. I feel like our message has been the same since Day 1. It's just that more people hopped along when Carson started playing like the MVP — by the way, he is the MVP ... I'll go ahead and throw that out there. You can't expect everyone to believe in you. 

"We say it all the time: we're all we got, we're all we need. That's the way we approach it. The guys in this locker room go out there and play our best and put our best foot forward."

Over at Sports Illustrated, 10 of 11 staffers have the Eagles losing in the divisional round. It was 9 out of 10 at ESPN (see story)

It's all to be expected, of course. Despite winning three of their last four games, the Eagles simply haven't looked like the same team since Wentz went down in Los Angeles. Nick Foles has struggled over the last couple of weeks. 

It might seem strange because they're the top seed, but the Eagles are taking an "us vs. the world" mentality into the playoffs. 

"At the end of the day, it doesn't really matter what the outside world thinks," Jay Ajayi said. "Because at the end of the day, when you're on a team, it's a bubble. We believe in what we have in this team. And obviously, the media, they come out with the storylines and everything that's going on, but we don't buy into that. We believe in what we have. We understand what's in front of us and we're in a great position to go achieve our goals. Other teams are at home right now. We're ready to go get it done next week. Excited to see who we'll be playing." 

Rookie ready 
Derek Barnett missed the Eagles' regular-season finale, resting because of a groin injury. But he said he's fine and ready to go for the playoffs. 

Barnett said he never hit the "rookie wall" we hear so much about, but said he just needs to continue to get better. Barnett finished the regular season with 25 tackles and five sacks. He was a big part of the defensive line rotation. 

What does he want to do in the playoffs? 

"Make plays and help us win," he said. "That's what I hope to contribute. Play my role and do what I can do best to help the team win. That's anything, get to the quarterback, block kicks, special teams. Whatever I can do, I'm going to try my best." 

No respect
The numbers show that the Eagles have an elite defense (see story).

The Eagles sort of know that the defense is going to need to carry the team into the playoffs without Wentz. At times this season, the defense has faltered — think 504 yards against the Giants — so maybe that's why Jim Schwartz's unit doesn't get mentioned among the top ones in the league.

Stop us if you've heard this before, but the Eagles are using that slight as motivation. 

"I think it keeps motivating us, at the end of the day," linebacker Nigel Bradham said. "You go and look at the teams we've faced and the players that we've faced. We faced some of the top running backs. And to do some of the things we did, it doesn't go unnoticed by us. Maybe it goes unnoticed by other teams. It's just a respect thing, keeps a chip on our shoulder, continue to motivate us and prove that we're the best defense." 

Quote of the Week I: "We've earned the right to sit and watch games for a week." — Chris Long 

Quote of the Week II: "We have an opportunity to win and put ourselves deep into the playoffs. We win one game, we’re in the NFC Championship at home. I don’t care who we got at quarterback, who we’ve got on offense. We’ll take those odds." — Malcolm Jenkins 

Quote of the Week III: "Basically we're getting ready for war out there. Three-game season, leave it all out on the line. That's our focus." — Ajayi (see story)

Random media guide note: Jason Kelce's three items needed on a deserted island: duct tape, lighter, fishing pole.

Give Torrey Smith an MVP vote

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USA Today Images

Give Torrey Smith an MVP vote

Torrey Smith doesn't get an MVP vote, but if he did, we know where it would go. 

He thinks the honor belongs to Carson Wentz. 

In the Eagles' locker room on Thursday, Smith volunteered his opinion that Wentz should be the 2017 NFL MVP, despite Wentz's missing the final three games of the season after with a torn ACL. 

"Absolutely," Smith said. "And I'm biased too. I'll tell you that, I am biased. I think he still should be, even with the missed games. I mean, what he meant to this team, what he was actually able to do and he missed two games. 

"It's pretty crazy. Because he probably wouldn't have played the last game if he was there. He missed two games. Still was right up at the top of everything else. I think it says a lot about him."

Smith actually brings up a good point. Had Wentz not been injured, he very likely wouldn't have played in the regular-season finale anyway, which means his ACL injury forced him to miss only two games in the regular season instead of three. 

Wentz finished his season with 3,296 passing yards and 33 touchdown passes. Only Russell Wilson threw more touchdown passes (34) and it took him all 16 games. Wentz is just 19th in passing yards but fourth in passer rating (101.9) behind just Alex Smith (104.7), Drew Brees (103.9) and Tom Brady (102.8). 

It seems like Wentz's biggest competition for the MVP might be two-time winner Brady, who had another stellar season. 

So why would Smith take Wentz over Brady? 

"Tom Brady's the G.O.A.T. though. He is the G.O.A.T.," Smith said. "But Carson was able to make plays athletically that Tom can't physically do, even though he's the greatest quarterback ever. Carson plays the game differently and what he's meant to us on third down, when he's scrambling, the crazy plays he's made. It's not like he's Vick or anything, but the way he makes those plays, it was huge for us. 

"At times we were struggling and those plays turn into opening the gates. He's made some amazing plays all year. I don't know, put their highlight tapes together and see what you think."

The Eagles haven't had an MVP since Norm Van Brocklin won it back in 1960, so it's been a pretty long wait. 

This year's MVP award will be announced Feb. 3, the day before the Super Bowl. 

Unfortunately, although Smith thinks Wentz deserves the award, he doesn't think he's going to get it. 

"No. Because he missed a couple games," Smith said, "but I think he's the MVP."