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Union essentially lock up playoff spot in the most Uniony way possible

Union essentially lock up playoff spot in the most Uniony way possible

It was an unbelievable scene Sunday at Talen Energy Stadium as the Philadelphia Union all but guaranteed their first playoff berth in five years.

There were hugs and cheers and fireworks and pure jubilation and … and actually none of that happened at all.

In fact, it was the exact opposite as the Union played perhaps their worst game of the season in a 2-0 loss to Orlando City as some fans left early and booed, the only solace coming from the fact that the New England Revolution lost to the Chicago Fire at the same time — a result that, barring a near-impossible turn of events in next week’s regular-season finale, means Philly will still sneak into the playoffs, perhaps on a seven-game winless streak.

How Union, right?

First, it should be said that making the playoffs is still an accomplishment.

Yes, it’s a little silly that six out of 10 teams in the Eastern Conference get in. Yes, the Union will finish with a below-.500 record. Yes, falling from first to sixth in the East over the past few months has been frustrating, marked by an ugly slide to end the season that will ensure them a brutal first-round road game, probably against a star-studded team like Toronto or New York City FC. 

But, let’s be honest, this team was never a true MLS Cup contender. They remain in a building process with a first-year sporting director, a first-year practice facility, a first-year minor league affiliate and a first-year star Designated Player in Alejandro Bedoya, who’s still getting his feet wet after coming to town this summer. Some of their top players are rookies who figure to only get better with time. And let’s not forget that their captain Maurice Edu hasn’t played all year.

So, yes, making the playoffs is not nothing, especially when you consider all the disappointments of the past few years. You could even go as far as calling it a good building block going into 2017, even if they get bounced in the first round as expected. And if they win a game while there, it would suddenly turn an average season into a, dare we say, successful one.  

The problem, of course, is there’s now little buzz and excitement surrounding the team because of their recent run of form. Union head coach Jim Curtin said there’d be a different feeling if they were charging into the playoffs on a roll like D.C. United, and he’s right. But there’s something to be said at peaking at the right time like D.C. as opposed to a team that’s backing their way into the playoffs like Philly.

And considering that all the Union had to do was tie an already-eliminated Orlando team to officially clinch a playoff spot and instead gave up a horrendous goal while failing to score any of their own is, well, not a good October omen.  

It also put Curtin in a weird position of wanting to sort of celebrate his team getting into the playoffs for just the second time in franchise history but, at the same time, not really knowing how to react.

Leave it to the Union to have something good happen and it STILL feels bad. 

Eagles still better off at QB than Giants

Eagles still better off at QB than Giants

The Eagles may have lost Carson Wentz for the season, but it could be worse. A lot worse. The Eagles could be in the New York Giants’ shoes.

How much better are the Eagles than their loathsome NFC East rival to the north this season? Even with a season-ending injury to an MVP-caliber player under center, the Eagles still look vastly superior to their Week 15 opponent Sunday. In fact, would you even trade their quarterback situation with the Giants?

We try to answer that question and more while we examine whether the Giants do anything better than the Eagles in 2017. Anything at all!

Probably not though.

QUARTERBACKS
Eli Manning may have a couple of Super Bowl rings, and his supporting cast with the Giants is awful, but I can’t understand why there was such a clamoring to have him remain the team’s starter. Their record is 2-11. He’s averaging 6.0 yards per pass attempt this season — only Joe Flacco has been worse. And Manning turns 37 in less than three weeks, so what’s the upside? He looks shot. At least Nick Foles gives the Eagles some hope heading into his 29th birthday. At this stage of their respective careers, you would take Foles, and it’s a no-brainer. Heck, plenty of people would take Davis Webb over Manning.

Advantage: Eagles

RUNNING BACKS
The Giants’ backfield is better than many suspected at the beginning of the season. Of course, turning out marginally better than the worst backfield in the NFL isn’t a huge accomplishment. Orleans Darkwa runs with power, and Wayne Gallman is a nice change of pace when he’s not fumbling the football. Both average better than 4.0 yards per carry. Shane Vereen looks cooked in the third-down role. Of course, the team doesn’t run the ball much, and none of the trio is a home-run hitter of the caliber of Jay Ajayi for the Eagles. Neither Darkwa nor Gallman looks like a better prospect than Corey Clement, either.

Advantage: Eagles

WIDE RECEIVERS AND TIGHT ENDS
The Eagles have three players with more yards and touchdowns than the Giants’ leading receiver. Alshon Jeffery has 732 yards and eight touchdowns, while Zach Ertz and Nelson Agholor both have 663 yards and seven scores. New York’s receiving corps was also decimated by injuries to Odell Beckham and Brandon Marshall. Despite the losses, speedy Evan Engram is having an incredible rookie season for a tight end, becoming the primary weapon in the passing attack with 55 catches, 623 yards and six touchdowns. Clearly, Engram’s stellar play hasn’t been enough to compensate. Now wideouts Sterling Shepherd and Roger Lewis are questionable to play Sunday, too.

Distinct advantage: Eagles

OFFENSIVE LINES
The Giants’ best O-lineman, right tackle Justin Pugh, is questionable as well with a back injury and hasn’t suited up in weeks. That’s a problem because their line wasn’t very good to begin with. Left tackle Ereck Flowers has improved as the season has progressed, and isn’t nearly as bad his reputation might suggest. Otherwise, there aren’t many bright spots up front. The Eagles have had their issues. The hope is Stefen Wisniewski can go with an ankle injury, and Halapoulivaati Vaitai has looked beatable in recent weeks. At least their issues are confined to the left side. From center to right tackle, the unit is great.

Advantage: Eagles

DEFENSIVE LINES AND LINEBACKERS
If games were won and lost on reputation, the Giants’ D-line would be among the scariest units in the league. Damon Harrison, Jason Pierre-Paul and Olivier Vernon are all All-Pro/Pro Bowl players, yet New York ranks 31st against the run and is tied for 30th in sacks. The stars are not living up to the hype. Surely, it hasn’t helped that roughly all of their linebackers are on injured reserve. The Eagles still rank No. 1 against the run, though they’ve looked a little shaky of late, and are tied for ninth in sacks. Their defensive end rotation with Brandon Graham, Vinny Curry, Chris Long and Derek Bennett is becoming quite dangerous, with 20.5 sacks between them.

Slight advantage: Eagles

DEFENSIVE BACKS
Don’t worry, the Giants’ issues on defense aren’t limited to the front seven. The club also ranks 31st against the pass, and unlike so many other areas of the roster, injuries aren’t solely to blame. Janoris Jenkins was hurt all year and eventually landed on IR. For Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Eli Apple, it’s been a question of effort and will they or won’t they quit on their teammates. Apple has since been benched and left on the inactives list. The Eagles’ secondary has its flaws, but attitude isn’t one of them. They’re also an opportunistic bunch, with three players — Jalen Mills, Rodney McLeod and Patrick Robinson — with three interceptions, and three more with two.

Advantage: Eagles

SPECIAL TEAMS
As bad as the Eagles’ special teams have been for at times this season, the Giants have been worse. Their kicking game stinks — Aldrick Rosas has made only 75.0 percent of field-goal tries. Their coverage units stink, with a blocked punt and a punt return for a touchdown. And their return game stinks, with a 19.4 average on kickoffs and a 5.1 average on punts. We’re going to assume the re-signing of Bryan Braman this week (see story) fixes some of the issues the Eagles have experienced, and they’re back to being one of the top all-around units in the league.

Advantage: Eagles

COACHING
Ben McAdoo had one of the most meteoric rises and falls you will ever see. In a matter of three years, McAdoo was hailed as a genius for reinventing Manning, usurped the head coaching job from Tom Coughlin, and guided the Giants to the playoffs. Eleven months later, he was out of a job. Perennially overrated defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo took over in the interim, so no groundbreaking changes on the sideline for the time being. McAdoo’s timeline might be a cautionary tale for Doug Pederson and the Eagles. As far as this game is concerned, the staff that’s not in the midst of upheaval has the edge.

Distinct advantage: Eagles

OVERALL
There was no shortage of warning signs for New York heading into 2017. Sure, they managed to go 11-5 and make the playoffs a year ago but had not won more than seven games in any of the previous three seasons. I’m not sure anybody saw 2-11 coming, although, with an aging quarterback, shaky offensive line, and no running game, the Giants needed their defense to shoulder the load. Obviously, that didn’t happen. The Eagles have the injury under center, but I’ll take Foles with his roster over the current version of Manning and his crew of flunkies. And I wouldn’t think twice.

Distinct advantage: Eagles

Richaun Holmes' mishap does not end well

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ESPN broadcast

Richaun Holmes' mishap does not end well

You will not find Billy Donovan on the Thunder's injury report after Friday's game against the Sixers.

But Oklahoma City's head coach may be icing down alongside his players or popping a few Advil.

Why?

Donovan took an errant pass straight to his face during the Sixers-Thunder game at the Wells Fargo Center. Richaun Holmes was looking to collect an assist on a JJ Redick jumper, but the Sixers' big man put a little too much mustard on the pass.

The one-handed dish went right to Donovan … who was not ready to catch it, and why would he be? Holmes also just barely missed former Sixers player and head coach, Maurice Cheeks, who is an assistant under Donovan.

At least that was Holmes' only turnover of the game.