As previously mentioned, the Philadelphia Eagles could potentially clinch the No. 1 overall seed in the NFC playoff picture prior to their game against the Oakland Raiders on Monday night. Such a situation would require the Packers beating the Vikings in Minnesota this Saturday.
If the Eagles DO clinch before Monday, which isn’t guaranteed (especially with Aaron Rodgers’ status up in the air), head coach Doug Pederson will have to decide if he wants to play his starters in a meaningless game or rest them.
Pederson was asked about the situation during his noon press conference. His response:
Q. By the time you play again, you might have home field advantage wrapped up if the Vikings lose on Saturday. Do you have a plan in place in terms of whether or not you'll rest your starters between weeks 16 and 17 or either/or?
COACH PEDERSON: I've begun thinking [about resting starters], but my focus is winning the game on Monday night, because that to me is the most important thing. Once we get to next week, we'll figure out next week. But my mindset this week is all about the Oakland Raiders, Monday Night Football, and if we win that one. And like I've said pretty much these last few weeks, we control our destiny right now. So that's the focus for me.
Q. So the plan would be to play your starters regardless of week 16?
COACH PEDERSON: I'm not going to cross that bridge because you're asking a question that I don't know the answer to yet. You know what I'm saying?
Q. Do you generally have an idea, though, of a philosophy if the opportunity arises that you have to weigh resting guys versus trying to keep momentum heading into the playoffs? How do you handle that as a coach?
COACH PEDERSON: You just make the best decisions for your football team and if that means resting a guy, you rest a guy, or two or three. But you also have to maintain the edge with these players, and you've got to maintain that confidence and that dominating swagger and you've got to keep that alive. You just can't go -- it's not a preseason game, you know what I'm saying, where you can rest in week four and rest all your guys. You can't do that because you're still limited to the roster limits on game day. Guys are still going to have to play, but at the same time, I'm going to be smart about the decisions we make moving forward and getting guys who need it rest, if possible.
This makes sense. Pederson needs to prepare his team this week as if Monday’s game matters. They can’t just rely on Minnesota losing. If the Vikings win against Green Bay, beating the Raiders would ensure the Eagles get home field advantage in the 2018 NFL Playoffs.
Even if the Vikings DO lose, it might be hard for the Eagles to rest their starters for two final regular seasons games before also having a first-round bye in the playoffs. That’s a long layoff.
At the same time, this Eagles team has already suffered a lot of key injuries and can’t afford to go through many more. Especially at quarterback.
Q. With QB Nick Foles specifically, how do you balance the fact that he has not had much work and he has not played that much, but also, you want to keep him healthy?
COACH PEDERSON: Right. And that's a great situation because right now with two [quarterbacks] on the roster, you want Nick to play as much as you can and get as many reps as you can and let him play and continue to work through some things and work the rapport with the offense and all of that. That's another one that when we win and if we get to cross that bridge, we'll make that decision.
The Eagles will have to balance the potential “reward” of getting Foles snaps while also trying to prevent him from getting hurt.
They also could really benefit from getting Nate Sudfeld some playing time. The 2016 sixth-round pick has never played in a regular season NFL game.
Q. You didn't have Sudfeld in the summer for preseason games, so he hasn't played. Would you ideally like to get him some reps and get him some snaps, if he's going to be No. 2 moving forward?
COACH PEDERSON: Ideally, yeah, you'd like to get him some time and some reps here in the next couple of ballgames.
The feeling here is the Eagles will treat their Week 16 game against the Raiders like a regular game, regardless of whether they’ve clinched by that point or not. It’d be surprising if they rest their starters on Christmas.
Week 17 against the Cowboys could be a different story. With Philly potentially having everything wrapped up by then, the Eagles could look to do something like Dallas did against them last season. When the Cowboys came to the Linc in Week 17 last year, they only played their starters for a series or two before pulling them out. They treated it like a preseason game.
In an effort to get Sudfeld some playing time, perhaps we’ll see the Eagles do the same this year. The thing about that, though, is the Cowboys could potentially be playing for a playoff spot. Do you really want to see the Eagles roll over and help Dallas qualify for the post-season?
Ultimately, the “rest versus rust” debate is a luxury to have. The Eagles are in really good shape at 12-2 with two games to play. Just get the No. 1 seed and then figure everything else out from there.
Assuming the Eagles clinch the No. 1 seed before the Raiders game, should Philly rest their starters?
This poll is closed
Yes, in Week 16 and Week 17
Yes, in Week 17 only
No, not at all
Here are some other highlights from Pederson’s press conference.
Why the Eagles are rolling with Sudfeld instead of a veteran backup
COACH PEDERSON: Probably the biggest reason is the time invested. If you bring in a guy off the street this late in the season, you're talking about spending time with that player trying to get him just caught up to speed on our offense. We've already spent the time with a guy with Nate. We've developed him and worked with him. So that's probably the biggest reason right there.
Ronald Darby is still impacted by his Week 1 ankle injury
COACH PEDERSON: Obviously the interception was huge, so a big play there. A couple PBUs during the game. I think he's still sort of learning the scheme. I think there's times where, do I think he can be more aggressive? I do. I think he can. I think he knows that. But at the same time, he's still fighting through a little bit of injury with the ankle but yet he's out there practicing every single day, putting in the time and wanting to get better. We have a lot of confidence in him and what he's done and what he's brought to this football team, and we'll just continue to work.
Defensive struggles could be attributed to three straight road games
COACH PEDERSON: I do know this: It's been a rough three games. We've been on the road. There was a West Coast trip in there with Seattle and L.A., and then [we were] up in New York. I think back to when we played the Broncos. I believe the Broncos were on the road for three games in a row at the time we played them and you saw what happened there.
I think there's something to say about that, being on the road, and traveling. All of that can affect coaches and players. I do my part during the week to limit the amount of reps that we're taking and try to get the guys on and off the practice field and make sure that they are getting rest and all the proper hydration, nutrition, whatever it takes, this time of year, to stay as healthy as possible.
So it may appear that guys are fatigued at times, and I think it's just a compounding interest of everything that's sort of taken place in the last month of our season.
The toughest challenge Doug Pederson has had to deal with this season
COACH PEDERSON: Injuries, they are a big -- they are going to happen. Of course in our case, it's happened to some starters and some Pro Bowl-type players and our quarterback. So that's a tough thing to manage, and then getting guys play time.
We keep talking about the running backs and feeding the running backs, and getting all the guys in the game and getting them the proper touches and everything like that. That's a challenging thing each and every week as we design the run game and same thing in the passing game. How many times is Alshon [Jeffery] or [Zach] Ertz or any of those guys going to touch the football.
Managing all of that, too, can be tough. But one thing that I know about this football team is it's very unselfish and it's a group that doesn't really care who gets the ball. The bottom line is trying to win the game. So managing everything to win and if we win, then we just move on to the next one.
But those are just a couple examples of kind of what we've had -- or what I've had to go through a little bit this year on a weekly basis. But the injuries are definitely the biggest thing.