5 things to watch as Eagles host Giants in Week 18

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5 things to watch as Eagles host Giants in Week 18 originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

Every Friday during the season, I highlight some key matchups to watch in the upcoming game but that’s a little tricky this week.

The Eagles are playing to win on Sunday and get up the No. 1 seed but we’re not exactly sure what the Giants are going to do. They’re already locked into the 6-seed so it wouldn’t make a ton of sense for them to play their starters all game.

So in lieu of matchups, here are several things to watch closely on Sunday afternoon:

1. The Eagles went 0-2 without Jalen Hurts over the last couple of weeks so it’ll be a welcome sign to get No. 1 back on the field if that happens.

Hurts (right shoulder) was limited on Wednesday and Thursday to start the week but there have been positive signs too. He’s taken first-team reps and went through the ball security drill on Thursday.

In the losses to the Cowboys and Saints, there were so many plays where you couldn’t help but think Hurts would have solved the problem. Watching the Eagles lose twice with Gardner Minshew should put to rest all that scheme quarterback talk. Sure, the Eagles have a ton of talent on offense but that includes their MVP-candidate quarterback. And Hurts is so unique because not only is he responsible for the passing offense, but he changes the numbers in the Eagles’ favor when they run the ball. He’s a nightmare on the backside the way few quarterbacks around the NFL are.

But we have to see if Hurts is 100%. Even if he’s on the field, he’s getting over that right shoulder sprain and it’s fair to wonder if it’ll affect him in the game. The best case scenario is that Hurts looks like the pre-injury version of himself going into the playoffs.

And if Hurts can’t play, it’ll be up to head coach Nick Sirianni and OC Shane Steichen to have a better plan with Minshew. If the backup is needed, they’ve got to help him get into a better rhythm than what we saw last week.

2. While the top thing on everyone’s mind will be the Eagles’ getting a win to clinch the top spot in the NFC and the bye week that comes along with it, we could see some history on Sunday.

• A.J. Brown enters this game with 1,401 receiving yards on the season. He needs just eight more yards to tie Mike Quick’s franchise record of 1,409 from 1983. Yes, Quick did it in 16 games and Brown would do it in 17, but it’s still an impressive accomplishment. Brown is fourth in the NFL in receiving yards behind just Justin Jefferson, Tyreek Hill and Davante Adams.

• The Eagles already set the franchise mark for sacks in a season last week. They have 68 through 16 games but have a legitimate chance to set the new NFL record:

1. 1984 Bears: 72
2. 1989 Vikings: 71
3. 1987 Bears: 70
t-4. 2022 Eagles: 68
t-4. 1985 Giants: 68

The next closest team in the NFL this season is the Patriots with 52. That 16 sack difference is the distance between No. 2 and 21 on the list.

3. Lane Johnson is sitting out at least the last two games of the regular season in an attempt to rejoin the Eagles in the playoffs. But in order to do that, he’ll need to play through a groin injury that will require surgery in the offseason. Johnson is a tough guy but it’s fair to wonder if he’ll be able to pull this off and even if he does play, how well he’ll play.

So in this finale, keep an eye on backup Jack Driscoll, who will get his second straight start. Against the Saints, Driscoll was OK. He gave up 5 pressures and 2 sacks but he was facing veteran Cam Jordan. And it’s fair to wonder if those are sacks with Hurts at quarterback.

“I thought he did a good job. I really did,” Steichen said. “He battled. He did a nice job. Obviously, he was firm in there at times, and then in the run game he was solid too. Feel good about Jack, where he is at.”

Driscoll has proven himself to be a solid backup in his career and we’ve seen the Eagles run through the playoffs with a backup tackle before. In this game, we might see Driscoll get some snaps against Kayvan Thibodeaux and others. That’s good work for Driscoll, who the Eagles hope won’t have to play in the playoffs.

4. Eagles safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson returned to practice this week after missing five games with a lacerated kidney suffered in late November. While there’s no guarantee Gardner-Johnson returns this week, it would be a big boost. And it would at least be a big boost for the playoffs if it doesn’t happen this week.

Gardner-Johnson is somehow still tied for the lead league in interceptions with six in just 11 games. The Eagles’ takeaways have really dried up without him. In the five games since CJGJ has been out, the entire Eagles’ defense has just four. They had 23 in 11 games to start the season.

Also keep an eye on Robert Quinn (knee), who also has a chance to return this week. Quinn’s five games with the Eagles before landing on IR were disappointing. But the Eagles did trade away a draft pick to get him and Quinn did have 18 1/2 sacks last season. So if they get anything from him in the playoffs, it would be a nice extra boost for a defense that leads the league in sacks and has a chance to break the all-time record.

5. Miles Sanders played a season-low 22 snaps (40%) against the Saints last week and had just 12 carries for 61 yards. Sanders entered that game on the injury report and wore a knee brace on his left leg. While Sanders said after the game he felt fine and the brace didn’t bother him, one of the consequences of not taking care of business the last two weeks is that the Eagles have to play their starters and risk injury in Week 18.

But it also means that a player like Sanders, who is banged up going into the playoffs, can’t get an extra week of rest. Sure, if the Eagles win on Sunday, they’ll get a first-round bye and that will help. But I’m curious to see if they’ll limit Sanders for a second straight week.

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