Some very big quarterback questions loom over the Eagles’ and Steelers’ games Sunday. For Philadelphia the uncertainty is with its own signal caller, while for Pittsburgh it’s the opponent’s.
Conversation this week surrounding Jalen Hurts’ potential return from a shoulder injury to play against the New Orleans Saints has been similar to that in Baltimore concerning Lamar Jackson’s possible return from a knee injury to line up against Pittsburgh.
In both cases, it could happen, but neither had practiced this week with their teams as of Wednesday. Neither quarterback’s coach was willing to rule them out yet for Sunday, but the Eagles could very well have Gardner Minshew behind center for a second straight game and the Ravens could go with Tyler Huntley for a fourth straight.
Between now and Sunday, Pennsylvania’s sportsbooks could change their lines significantly based on new announcements about the two dynamic quarterbacks. The lines for the Eagles as a favorite and Steelers as an underdog already tightened between Wednesday and Thursday, based on the lack of any positive news concerning the injuries.
We describe below where things stood as of Thursday morning for one team hoping to clinch the NFC’s lone playoff bye and another trying to make a miraculous late-season run into the playoffs.
NFC’s top seed is in reach
The Eagles (13-2) had their five-game win streak snapped Saturday in a 40-34 loss in Dallas, but Minshew in many ways was an impressive stand-in for Hurts, throwing for 355 yards and two touchdowns.
His two interceptions, however, were among four costly Eagles turnovers in a game they had the potential to win, which would have sewn up the NFC East and the conference’s top seed while Hurts rested. Instead, they will look to do that at home at 1 p.m. Sunday against a mediocre Saints squad.
— Howard Eskin (@howardeskin) December 25, 2022
New Orleans (6-9) won in Cleveland 17-10 last week in numbingly raw conditions, which kept alive its own playoff hopes due to competing in a division led by Tampa Bay’s 7-8 record.
Online sportsbooks consistently have the Eagles as a 5.5-point favorite, down from 6.5 to 7 points earlier in the week. Some books require extra vig to take the Eagles giving 5.5, but DraftKings, PointsBet, BetMGM, Barstool Sportsbook, BetRivers, betPARX, Unibet, Betway and Wind Creek/Betfred all list the standard -110.
The Eagles’ passing game looked as strong as ever Saturday, with DeVonta Smith and A.J. Brown combining for 14 catches, 216 yards, and Smith’s two TD receptions. But the running game missed Hurts more. The Eagles had only 87 rushing yards, led by Miles Sanders’ 65 on 21 carries. Sanders missed practice Wednesday with an injury and may be questionable to play Sunday.
The Saints, however, have far more offensive questions, even with a healthy quarterback in Andy Dalton. Most of his best receivers are out for the game or uncertain at best due to injury. That leaves New Orleans heavily dependent on versatile Alvin Kamara in both the running and passing games.
Playing in the brutal conditions in Cleveland over the weekend, neither the Saints nor Browns amassed 250 total yards as they combined for 27 points. The Saints have scored more than 21 points just once in their last seven games, while the Eagles average 30 points when playing at home.
Rematch of close game that Baltimore won
The Ravens beat the Steelers 16-14 just a few weeks ago, on Dec. 11, in a game with its own crazy quarterback twists.
Steelers starter Kenny Pickett suffered an early concussion and was replaced by Mitch Trubisky, who threw three disastrous interceptions. Huntley was subbing for Jackson at the game’s start, only to be sidelined by head injury himself in the third quarter, with rookie Anthony Brown replacing him in a game in which Baltimore relied on 215 rushing yards.
The combination of its running game and stout defense also helped the Ravens (10-5) beat the Atlanta Falcons 17-9 last week, while a healthy Pickett led the Steelers (7-8) on a late touchdown drive to beat the Las Vegas Raiders 13-10. Both games were played in frigid conditions.
Even though Sunday’s meeting in Baltimore is a night game — flexed for NBC to have a more interesting matchup than the originally scheduled-for-prime-time Chargers-Rams game — the temperature will be far more tolerable. If the contest ends up like nearly every other between the two teams in this millennium, it will be close, hard-fought, low-scoring, and entertaining — so long as you don’t need to see the scoreboard light up to be entertained.
— Melissa Y. Kim (@melissaykim) December 28, 2022
The oddsmakers consistently have the Steelers as a 2.5-point underdog, down from the 3 they listed Wednesday. The best moneyline return for a Pittsburgh backer is the +130 from Wind Creek/Betfred.
The over/under is the lowest of any on this week’s NFL slate — all the way down at 35 the majority of sites, with FanDuel, FOX Bet, and PointsBet using 35.5.
A Ravens win would keep their hopes alive of winning the AFC North, if they could also beat the Bengals in traveling to Cincinnati for their final regular-season game Jan. 8. For the Steelers to sneak into the playoffs, they need to close the season with wins against Baltimore and at home against Cleveland while some teams ahead of them in playoff tiebreaker scenarios lose. Things did go their way enough last weekend that DraftKings pushed their odds of making the playoffs to 10/1, an improvement from 30/1.
By winning their final two games after already winning their last two, the Steelers can also avoid saddling Mike Tomlin with the first losing season of his lengthy coaching career.
Photo: Eric Hartline/USA TODAY