Remember Carson Wentz? Forgiveness if he’s already been erased from the minds of Philadelphia Eagles fans, as Jalen Hurts has clearly usurped Wentz as the Eagles quarterback of the present and the future.
And while it’s all too easy for reporters and headline writers among us who came of age in the 1980s to go with the “Jalen Hurts So Good” John Mellencamp pun, a better Mellencamp metaphor is lurking in “Jack and Diane.” Replace “Jack” with “Jalen” and you have what is quickly becoming a popular opinion: “Jalen’s gonna be a football star.”
Mellencampisms aside, Hurts put on a show in the Eagles’ 33-26 loss to the Arizona Cardinals last week, throwing for 338 yards and three touchdowns, and running for another score and 63 yards.
Yes, Hurts only has two games as a starter to his name and yes, two games does not a career make, but good golly is he an exciting presence on the football field. That second-round gamble on Hurts sure does look like it has the potential to be a 15-year winner.
Eagles playoff hopes still alive
And while Hurts almost single-handedly kept the Eagles in the game last week, the fact does remain the Birds lost — which was crushing because if they had won, they would’ve found themselves only a half-game behind the Washington Football Team in the NFC East.
Even with the loss, the Eagles still have a path to win the division and make the playoffs. And while it’s not an easy path, it’s not impossible either: They need to beat the Cowboys this week and Washington in Week 17. Additionally, they need Washington to lose at home against Carolina this week, and they need the Giants to lose to either the Ravens this week or the Cowboys in Week 17. While the scenario outlined above is unlikely to come together as laid out, it’s also somehow well within reason considering the zany state of the division.
First up for the Eagles, however, is getting back in the W column against the Cowboys in Dallas Sunday.
And based on the way the Dallas defense has been playing, Hurts might very well torch the Cowboys like paper in fire (and thus concludes the Mellencamp references, we promise).
The Eagles opened up as 1.5-point road favorites on BetMGM and FanDuel, though they were as high as -2 on DraftKings. The over/under is at 49.5 at BetRivers, and the best moneyline price early in the week on the Birds was at -125 at numerous books, including FOX Bet.
Looking at the numbers, the over seems awfully attractive, as both teams have put up at least 24 points in each of their last two games. Additionally, there will be a bit of scoreboard watching, as if Washington is pasting Carolina, this game quickly gets meaningless, as a Washington win eliminates both the Eagles and Cowboys from playoff contention. So by the second half, it’s entirely possible these two offenses — with plenty of firepower — end up playing in a meaningless game. A meaningless game with Hurts playing for a starting job next year and Andy Dalton playing for another chance to start somewhere next year … and yeah. That over might come — wait for it — crumblin’ down. (Sorry for breaking the non-Mellencamp pact.)
Steelers hoping to get back in win column
Meanwhile, across the state, the Pittsburgh Steelers rebounded nicely Monday night after two straight losses, taking care of business against the hapless …
Oh. Wait. That’s not what happened. The Steelers instead dropped their third straight game, losing to the still-hapless Bengals in Cincinnati. Now, Steelers fans can take solace in the fact …
OK, you know what? Nope. No solace. It was an embarrassing loss in front of a national audience, and the once invincible-looking Steelers are now looking entirely vincible. Like, get-knocked-out-in-the-first-round vincible.
— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) December 22, 2020
The question, of course: Can Mike Tomlin and Ben Roethlisberger right this ship before it sinks in all three rivers? Short answer? Yes. This is a veteran coach and veteran quarterback, and to count either of these guys out seems short-sighted.
Fact is, the Steelers could drop their last two games, limp into the playoffs, and still make a run. They have a lot of talent on both sides of the ball, even though it hasn’t looked that way in recent weeks.
Colts present a challenge
First things first, though, and that first thing is a tilt at home against the Indianapolis Colts, where the Steelers are — whoa — getting 1.5 points on FanDuel, and 2 points over on DraftKings. Meanwhile, at FOX Bet, the Steelers moneyline is paying +120.
Clearly, sportsbooks are buying into the Steelers’ fall from grace, so much so they are ‘dogs. At home. Against a strong Colts team, to be sure, but still: Name ten players on the Colts.
OK, the game itself: It’s important. The Colts are tied with the Titans in the AFC South by won-loss record, but they currently lose out on tiebreakers, namely division record. This week, both teams are out of division, and if the Colts can capitalize on the Steelers’ swoon, they have a good shot at finding themselves atop their division by the end of the weekend, as the Titans are headed to — all together now — the frozen tundra of Green Bay.
Additionally, the Colts would secure a playoff spot with a win and either a Dolphins or Ravens loss or tie. So the Colts are certainly looking to win.
As for the Steelers? They can clinch the division with a win or a Browns loss. And while the Browns are headed to New Jersey to play the now-dangerous(?) Jets football squad, the Steelers need the win this week to get their heads straight.
So what to expect?
Close, tough game on the docket
Sportsbooks expect a relatively low-scoring affair, with the over/under sitting at 45.5 across the board.
On the field, while both teams have high-powered offenses, it’s clear both teams are also prone to slow marches as opposed to lightning strikes. If the Colts have their way, they will use rookie running back Jonathan Taylor as a workhorse. He could easily see 25 carries if the Colts are dominating the game, and it’s certainly doable against the maybe-suspect Steelers rush defense. While they are 10th in the league in yards per carry allowed, they haven’t exactly faced a string of blistering rushing attacks. Taylor has come on strong in the second half of the year and has the potential to dominate the game.
On the passing front, Philip Rivers is content to spread the ball around and find the open receiver. While T.Y. Hilton has flashed glimpses of his former self in recent weeks, the Colts pass attack on the whole is what Pittsburgh’s defense needs to be worried about. There’s a whack-a-mole nature to the Colts game plans, and week-to-week, it’s impossible to say where the targets are going to go.
On the Steelers side of the ball … well, some good news. The Colts play zone defense at one of the highest rates in the league, and this plays into the one thing the Steelers have managed to do well most of the year, and that’s quick-hit passes to Diontae Johnson, JuJu Smith-Schuster, and Eric Ebron. Over bets on their reception prop numbers may end up being a good source of value come Sunday.
With the Steelers run game in neutral-bordering-on-call-AAA all year, expect a heavy dose of Big Ben. Conversely, Tomlin knows a strong running game is still a key component to winning playoff games, and while the Colts will certainly be looking for those short passes, perhaps he’ll try to get the — if healthy — James Conner machine moving again.
Time, as they say, will tell.
Speaking of time telling … you probably could’ve gotten +1000 odds a month ago that the Eagles fans were going to be the more excited Pennsylvania football fan base right now. Any given Sunday, right?