In a season marred by the ongoing COVID-19 season, the Philadelphia Eagles and Head Coach Doug Pederson fittingly capped the season off with controversy in their Sunday Night Football defeat at the hands of the Washington Football Team. After defeating the Dallas Cowboys earlier in the day, The New York Giants were an Eagles win away from taking the NFC East division title from Washington. Two 2nd quarter touchdown runs by Eagles QB Jalen Hurts had things looking good for the Giants, as Philadelphia led 14-10 with less than four minutes remaining in the half. Washington recaptured the lead with 20 seconds remaining in the first half after QB Alex Smith connected with Logan Thomas for a 13-yard touchdown pass, but that was ok for Giants fans. There was plenty of time remaining and plenty of fight left on the Eagles sideline, or so they thought.
With 17 minutes left in the game, Pederson made what many believed to be a questionable decision by going for it on 4th and goal from Washington’s 4-yard line when a field goal would have tied the game against a sluggish Football Team offense. Philadelphia failed to convert and then it was only downhill from there. In the Eagles’ first drive of the 4th quarter, Pederson pulled Hurts in favor of third string QB Nate Sudfeld, who promptly threw in an interception on his second pass. Hurts wasn’t lighting the world on fire by any means, but anybody with half a brain and a TV set could tell you he was the better QB. This move clearly signaled that Pederson and the Eagles had no desire nor intention of winning the game, thus punching Washington’s ticket to the playoffs. An ugly fourth quarter saw Washington emerge with a 20-14 victory, much to the dismay to the Giants and their fans.
What Pederson did was the very definition of non-competitive and I don’t disagree with Giants Head Coach Joe Judge’s claim that it was “disrespectful to the game.” The thing is, it was probably a smart move for the future of his team. For all the cries that tanking is detrimental to the morale of a locker room, it was really only a little more than a quarter of not trying to win. Now I’m sure that the move rubbed some Eagles players the wrong way, but it’s hardly the same thing as the Jacksonville Jaguars season long embrace of mediocrity in pursuit of top QB prospect Trevor Lawrence.
The main reason I’m not upset about the Eagles blatant tanking is that Pederson and the Eagles were doing what made sense given the NFL’s draft rules. Philadelphia had nothing to gain from a win, and in fact would have actually stood to lose 3 spots worth of draft value had they held on to secure the meaningless victory. With Sunday’s loss, the Eagles have secured the 6th pick in the 2021 NFL draft. Had they defeated Washington, they would have picked 9th, a difference worth a 4th round draft pick according to draft capital estimates. The Eagles didn’t have any playoff implications on the line, so why should they care what the Giants have to gain or lose from their Sunday Night Football result?
Like I’ve already said, this was an obvious tank job, but who’s to say that Jalen Hurts wasn’t spared a freak fourth quarter injury by his coach’s questionable decision? The bottom line is that Pederson and the Eagles are free to run their team however they see fit, and that may mean phoning in the remainder of the season when you’re already eliminated in Week 17. The Eagles wouldn’t have gotten any closer to a championship by keeping their foot on the gas in the 4th quarter of Sunday’s loss, but they at least have a chance to by “moving up” in the draft by losing. If the NFL doesn’t like it, change the rules and implement a draft lottery like the NBA does.
Aside from the draft pick incentive behind the move, the other reason I don’t really mind it is it’s hard for me to feel too sorry for any NFC East team who missed the playoffs. They all had losing records (as did the division champ Football Team), so as far as I’m concerned, none of them deserved to be playing playoff football anyways. You don’t like it? Try winning more than 6 games. The Giants would have a much more legitimate gripe if they didn’t play sorry football all year and have to count on limping in via the clear worst division in the game. Besides, whoever won that division was destined to go on to be annihilated by Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers anyways. As far as I’m concerned, the NFC East hasn’t deserved a playoff berth in three seasons.
That brings up another opportunity to follow suit with the NBA. Why not keep divisions for the sake of scheduling but determine playoff seeding by taking the best records from the conference? It wouldn’t have made much of a difference in the NFC this year, unless you’re the 8-8 Arizona Cardinals who would have snuck in over the Football Team, but look across to a much more competitive AFC,, where a team like the Miami Dolphins could have won the NFC East by three games. Instead Miami will be sitting at home with the rest of us watching Washington get trounced by the Bucs. See Giants fans, it’s not always a fair game, is it?
We’ll have to wait until the draft to fully analyze the effects of the Eagles decision, but I think the logic behind the decision checks out. Perhaps a QB such as Justin Fields will end up slipping and the Eagles will have lucked in to their QB of the future. Even if he doesn’t fall, the Eagles are now in a better position to trade up to get him, or any other top five prospect they may have their eyes on. Maybe the Eagles will end up taking a huge bust at 6th overall and a future Hall of Famer will go off the board in the nine slot. Giants fans certainly wouldn’t mind that kind of poetic justice. Tanking can be bad for the game and still smart for the teams that practice it. Those two things aren’t mutually exclusive. You can hate the result but if you’re like me, you can’t fault the thinking that led to it.