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NFC East Report Week 3: Everyone who didn’t face Jake Elliott won

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NFC East Report Week 3: Everyone who didn’t face Jake Elliott won

Each week, we’ll take a look at how the Eagles' division rivals fared the previous weekend (spoiler alert: the weekend worked out pretty well for anyone who didn’t have to face Jake Elliott) and what they have upcoming. This week, Jay Gruden’s squad proved at least something can be functional in D.C., Dak Prescott continued his Wentz-but-worse impression, and the Giants watched their playoff hopes get booted from 61-yards-out.

Here’s what happened, and what’s happening, in the NFC East after Week 3.

New York Giants (0-3):

What Happened: Uhhhhhh, Jake ‘SI SENOR’ Elliott, that’s what happened. After being completely shut down for 45 minutes, the Giants' offense came alive in the fourth quarter, scoring 21 unanswered in what felt like about eleven seconds, eventually giving Big Blue a 24-21 lead.

Alas, as Maya Angelou said, when someone shows you who they are, believe them. And I believe the New York Giants are a team that loves losing in creative, soul-crushing ways to your Philadelphia Eagles. With one second remaining, Elliott put himself in the all-time Birds/G-Men highlight reel with Herm, Vai, BWest, Vick, and DeSean. And sure, James Thrash, if we’re feeling charitable.

Despite two interceptions, Eli Manning played much better in this one (specifically in the 4th-quarter), while Odell Beckham had his best game of the season … though it was overshadowed by his urinating-dog touchdown celebration. Lucky for Beckham, his sophomoric celebration won’t get a fraction of the attention it typically would, as there’s some other loud-mouthed attention-seeking hot-head grabbing all the NFL headlines this week. Oohhh, a politics line! Don’t @ me, bro. I get a free pass this week.

Positive Spin: Well … I guess if you’re a Giants fan who wants Ben McAdoo on the unemployment line, or if you’re hoping to get the Davis Webb Era started sooner than later, then this was probably the result for you. Otherwise, trying to find something positive about the Giants is about as challenging as finding someone telling their barber “gimme the Trump.”

Negative Spin: The Giants season is over. O-V-A-A-H. That’s not to say they’re going 0-16, nor is it to suggest the rematch on Dec. 17th won’t be a battle. But to get to the playoffs, New York will need nine wins at a minimum. That means, for those of you counting at home, they can only afford to lose four more games. Meanwhile, they’ve still got two against Washington, one each against the Birds and the Boys, plus really tough match-ups against Denver, Seattle, Kansas City, and Oakland. Do you really see this squad, with its invisible running game, revolving-door O-line and Eli Manning quarterback winning nine of its next thirteen?!

Sure, crazier things have happened, especially in the NFC East. Eli could turn back the clock. The defense could play even better. The running game could show up. All of those things could happen. Just like President Trump could invite every single NFL player to the White House this Columbus Day for some pasta primavera. But it’s not very likely (although, if a certain dossier is to be believed, Beckham’s touchdown celebration last Sunday might actually appeal to The Donald).

What’s Next: A trip down to visit the 1-1 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who are supposed to feature the NFL’s best wide receiving duo of Mike Evans and Jaccpot Jackson. Expect the Giants to win by 50, if only because I spent the past 100-words throwing dirt on their coffin.

Washington (2-1):

What Happened: Washington tore the Oakland Raiders apart, that’s what happened. Derek Carr was turning the ball over like the 2015 version of Kirk Cousins, 2017 Kirk Cousins barely missed all night, and Dan Snyder’s squad cruised to a 27-10 victory over a Raider squad many were ready to crown as AFC Champs.

Chris Thompson once again made the highlight reel, this time deep in the 3rd quarter on a huge screen pass on 3rd-and-19 that crushed the closest thing to momentum Oakland had all evening. Yes, that’s the kind of night it was for D.C.; they converted a 3rd-and-19 with a screen pass. Despite his awesomeness, Jay Gruden has already come out and said he won’t be giving the electric Thompson any additional touches, which seems smart. It’s like when Andy knew that Brian Westbrook was his best offensive weapon, so he made sure to throw the ball at Jeff Thomason whenever they got inside the red zone. And if you know who Jeff Thomason is, you’ve been watching Eagles football long enough to qualify for a purple heart.

Positive Spin: Washington fans can feel pretty good about this one, as their team has improved in each of the past three weeks … or as good as you can feel, knowing you’re rooting for the team from Washington. Get a few better bounces in the home opener against Philadelphia, and this team could be undefeated. Could be. They’re not, but they could have been, y’know, had they not turned the ball over four times against the Iggles. Just like how Trump could have disinvited Steph Curry from visiting the White House, if only Curry hadn’t already said he wasn’t going. #RealNews.

As per usual, the media attention in the NFC East is directed toward the only team not actually located in the East. But don’t sleep on Washington just yet. This team is acting a lot like Robert Mueller; out of sight, out of mind, but working hard, and may be the biggest story we talk about down the road.

Negative Spin: TRAP GAME! This was a blatantly obvious trap game for the Oakland Raiders, the kind you can just envision Derek Carr dubbing a “wake-up call” on the NFL Films Team DVD after the season. Besides, Oakland was doomed to lose. The second team owner and man-who-still-cuts-his-hair-with-a-salad-bowl Mark Davis opted to stay in his owner’s box (instead of standing unified with his players) during the national anthem. For Shame!

If you’re looking for a knit to pick against Washington in this one, the only real thing worth grabbing onto here would be that Oakland was maybe destined to choke this one before it started, either by the conventional “trap game” or by some weird twisted bargain between the Football Gods and the Karma Gods.

What’s Next: Come on Andy, you pass-happy mustache-lovin’ example of above-mediocrity. Washington travels to Kansas City to face the undefeated Chiefs on Monday Night Football. It is the third consecutive week an NFC East team will play on Monday Night, and I for one feel incredibly left out. This must be how Tiffany Trump feels, except the NFC East does way more winning than Eric, Don Jr., and Ivanka.

Dallas Cowboys:

What Happened: The Cowboys bounced back from an embarrassing display last week, overcoming the Arizona Cardinals 28-17. Dak Prescott was a yawn-inducing 13-of-18 (or as Doug Pederson calls it, one-drive’s-worth of passes), but managed the game well enough to get Dallas the win. Though they didn’t look electric, the Cowboys offense seemed to always come up with a big play right when they needed it.

Arizona dominated the first half in every aspect except the score, which is unfortunate, as every great football mind will tell you, scoring points is kind of a big deal. Despite Larry Fitzgerald playing like the game was at Lincoln Financial Field, Dak’s measly 183 yards in the air and Ezekiel Elliott’s equally-measly 80 on the ground were enough to get Big D the W. (Editor’s Note: No relation between Ezekiel Elliott and Football Legend Jake Elliott, in case you were wondering)

Positive Spin: As Rocky said, it’s not about how hard you get hit, it’s about how hard you can get hit, and keep moving forward. Well, the Cowboys got hit pretty hard last week, and they responded with a road victory. If you had been told dem Boys would only have 282 yards on the game and that Larry Fitz would tie a career high in catches, you’d feel safe assuming Jerry Jones’ squad had dropped to 1-2. Alas, despite getting lit up on the stat sheet, Dallas walked out of the desert with a win.

Negative Spin: We’re not so sure how good the Cardinals are, so let’s not praise this conquering quite yet. The national media loves to slobber over Dak and Zeke like Trump does when he’s taking some girl furniture shopping, but to suggest either one of them played immaculately is a bit of a stretch.

And while I love Larry Fitz as much as the next guy (when he’s not putting Eagles cornerbacks into retirement), the fact that the Cowboys secondary gave up 149 yards to a 34-year-old wideout is a pretty big red flag. A week ago, we noted the Dallas secondary may be their downfall. This week did nothing to change that. Alshon Jeffrey better tear this team apart.

What’s Next: The Cowboys play host to the Los Angeles Rams who, to their credit, lead the NFC West with a record of 2-1. And if we’re subscribing to the idea that Washington is actually pretty good, then their one loss doesn’t look so bad. That being said, expect Jason Garrett (who has two winning seasons in six years as the Cowboys coach) and Co. to be heavily favored in this one.

Did the Sixers Really Win That Game II: The Portis vs. The Process

Did the Sixers Really Win That Game II: The Portis vs. The Process

Geez, if you only watched the ends of the last two Philadelphia 76ers games, you'd think they were owed years' worth of good karma from getting perpetually screwed in the fourth quarter or something. That's right, the basketball gods may have finally approved the Sixers' line of credit: One game (and eight days) after Brett Brown's squad came back from 20-plus down to squeak one past the Miami Heat, the team again pulled out a miracle last night in Chicago, coming from five down in the final minute against the Bulls to win 116-115. 

And boy, did this one feel like a loss, too. After surging out to a 25-7 lead in the first, the Sixers quickly relinquished the majority of their lead to the Bulls, who pulled even in the third and kept the Sixers from ever running away with it. They hit an absurd 18 threes, tying a season high, and two role players posted career highs: starting wing David Nwaba (21 points on 9-14 shooting) and bench forward Bobby Portis (38 points on 15-26 shooting, including a stupefying 6-9 from three). 

Meanwhile, the Sixers went cold down the stretch; Robert Covington missed a clean look at a three, Ben Simmons missed two of two from the line, Joel Embiid dribbled the ball off his foot. When Zach LaVine hit a tough pull-up three to put Chicago up five with a minute to go, and then Cov missed an open baseline two, it almost felt a merciful end to our suffering. 

But somehow, that wasn't it. Portis shot a long two a little too quickly at the other end and missed, and Simmons put back his own miss at the other end for a quick two to cut it to three. LaVine bricked a tough jumper with 17 to go, and J.J. got fouled at the other end to prevent a possible tying three. He made both, and then good ball denial on the ensuing Chicago inbounds led to an Embiid steal and pass to Simmons, who got fouled. 

After going just 4-9 from the line to that point, Simmons calmly nailed both his free throws to put Philly up one. Embiid stonewalled a Portis attempt near the basket at the other end with seconds to go, Denzel Valentine's putback attempt missed, and the game was over, with the Philly outscoring Chicago 6-0 in the final minute to seal the W. 

It was beautiful, man. There aren't going to be many games in this life where you give up 18 threes, allow two opposing players to go for career highs, miss 14 free throws and go down five with 60 seconds to go and still somehow manage to win the damn thing. 

But there also aren't gonna be many teams in this life with a one-two punch as potent as Simmons and Embiid. The latter picked up where he left off at the All-Star Game, scoring 30 (on 11-17 shooting, including 3-3 from deep) with 13 boards, five assists, three steals and two blocks -- just a few box score tallies away from his first 5x5 game. And the former picked up where he left off before the All-Star Game, scoring a career-high 32 (13-18 shooting) to go with seven boards, 11 assists a steal and a block. And maybe most impressive of all? The two had just three turnovers between them in 69 combined minutes. 

Ben and Jo were nothing less than dominant on offense all night. They couldn't turn the faucet off on the Bulls defensively for most of the game -- though aside from a couple slow-ish rotations in the first half, I'm not even sure they played all that badly, rather just paying the three-point defense regression to the mean that Liberty Ballers writer Sean O'Connor had long been warning fans about

But in any event, Embiid finally got the best of Portis in the final minutes, shutting him down on a couple crucial possessions (including the final one), and he made the play of the night on that inbounds steal. When you have two transcendent talents -- as Embiid and Simmons undoubtedly have proven they are, even this early in their careers -- you win a lot of games you probably shouldn't, and gravity was finally on the Sixers' side tonight. 

Of course, the Sixers might not've needed such combined brilliance from their two best players if their supporting cast was able to pick up the slack a little. But no one else was really cooking for Philly last night, and as is becoming a distressingly frequent occurrence this season, Covington hit a couple shots early and then went flat for the rest of the game. Even on the Bulls broadcast, they were talking about how Cov was gonna have to hit shots in the playoffs for the Sixers to have a chance, and they're probably right: We need Rock's defense and smarts out there, but if he's gonna routinely brick open looks in big moments, he's gonna be a liability -- and he's now 6 of his last 29 from deep. 

But that's a concern for another day -- one that seems more and more likely to actually be upcoming at this point. In the meantime, Philly is 31-25, having won six in a row, and with a creampuff game coming up next at home against Orlando, before a three-game roadie against East playoff teams (Washington, Miami and Cleveland) that represents the only really tough swing remaining on the Sixers' schedule. The playoffs seem increasingly probable, and with Simmons and Embiid playing at this level, just about anything seems possible if we get there. Pity the foolish rival execs who still don't trust the process at this point. 

Eagles, Vinny Curry better off going separate ways

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Eagles, Vinny Curry better off going separate ways

There are multiple scenarios that end in Vinny Curry’s departure from the Eagles in 2018, but likely just one where he is retained. The veteran defensive end will need to agree to a pay cut to return, assuming a contract restructuring is offered by the club.

Curry is scheduled to cost the Eagles $11 million under the salary cap next season, a figure most everybody can agree is much too high. Where the two sides go from there is the tricky part.

The Eagles may approach Curry about a pay cut. Then again, they may opt to trade or — more likely — release him outright instead. Even if the Eagles are willing to renegotiate Curry’s contract, he may decline the club’s offer, again prompting a trade or his release.

Any way you slice it, there are a lot more roads leading out of Philadelphia than back in.

Though he hasn’t quite lived up to the $47.5 million contract extension signed in 2016, Curry is coming off of a quality season. His 18 quarterback hits tied for first among Eagles defensive linemen, while his 42 tackles and 10 tackles for loss were second to Brandon Graham. Three sacks is a low number for a 16-game starter, but Curry made a greater impact than that tally suggests.

Now comes the hard part. Will the obviously talented Curry and the cap-strapped Eagles be able to agree on his value? And does such a deal behoove either side?

The Eagles could very well arrive at the difficult decision to move on. The club is over the projected cap for 2018 in the first place, with Graham, Chris Long and Derek Barnett all under contract.

While Curry’s release creates $6 million in dead money against the cap, designating the transaction as a post-June 1 cut splits that cost over the next two seasons. It’s not an attractive option but allows the Eagles to save as much as $8 million in 2018, quite a bit of space.

A trade is less likely, simply because not many teams would be willing to inherit Curry’s remaining contract — more than $28 million over the next three years. That being said, the Eagles are among the most creative front offices in the NFL, so if they’re able to package Curry in any way for draft picks, don’t rule that out.

This is business for the Eagles. Of course, it’s business to Curry as well, and as much as he might want to stay, there are other teams that would jump at the opportunity to pay for his services.

Let’s say the Eagles do request Curry takes a pay cut. Will that amount be more or less than what he might command as a free agent? Put another way, if Curry were a free agent this offseason, would he land a deal for significantly less than the $28 million he’s already owed, or his $9 million in base salary for '18? Probably not.

As simple as it is to say the Eagles can try to restructure Curry’s contract, in this case, that might not be in the player’s best interest. Doesn’t mean he’ll say no, but it’s certainly not something the Eagles should count on.

It’s difficult to envision this situation working out for everybody, given how badly the Eagles need the money and how much Curry stands to gain on the open market.

DEFENSIVE ENDS BREAKDOWN
*Ages as of Sept. 6, 2018

Vinny Curry
Age: 30
2018 cap hit: $11M

To put Curry’s cap number in perspective, he’s currently the 15th-highest paid edge defender in the NFL under contract in '18. Statistics don’t do his performance justice, but that’s undeniably a level his play on the field hasn’t matched. A large portion of Curry's base salary becomes guaranteed in March, so expect a decision soon. The Eagles need not wait to reap the benefits of the so-called June 1 designation.

Brandon Graham
Age: 30
2018 cap hit: $8M

Meanwhile, Graham is in the final year of his contract, and clamoring for a new deal he definitely earned. The magic number for the top defensive ends in the league right now is around $17 million per year, so this could get complicated. Ultimately, the Eagles would be wise pay an All-Pro talent, locker room leader and Super Bowl hero — probably something slightly less than that amount — but negotiations probably drag into the summer. Freeing up some of Curry’s money would help.

Derek Barnett
Age: 22
2018 cap hit: $2.92M

The 14th overall pick a year ago, Barnett is poised for a bigger role in 2018. Finished with 6.0 sacks as a rookie, including playoffs, and could push double digits next season with more playing time.

Chris Long
Age: 33
2018 cap hit: $2.35M

Long seems to have landed in the perfect scheme to extend his career, though it will be difficult to match last season’s production. At this price, the Eagles have nothing to lose.

Steven Means
Age: 27
2018 cap hit: $905,000

If the Eagles get desperate for coin, Means’ salary isn’t guaranteed, and he’s rarely active on game day. Then again, the team really likes the intensity he brings to practice. Given the chance, maybe Means could be effective on Sundays, too.

Bryan Braman
Age: 31
Free agent

Brought back strictly to reprise his role as a specialist, Braman’s job is likely done now that the Eagles have won the Super Bowl. Regardless, he’s not in the mix at defensive end.