Eagles-Jets Yes, They Are Still Alive...

Eagles-Jets Yes, They Are Still Alive...

Update: Dallas predictably steamrolled hapless Tampa Bay last night, but Washington is currently taking care of business against the Giants, which would leave the window cracked for the Eagles in the NFC East. Woo? Now they need the Giants to lose to the Jets on Christmas Eve, then beat the Cowboys Week 17, while Philadelphia must win out.

Alternate headline: Eagles-Jets -- Hope You Just Love Football, or Have Fantasy Interests.

Face it. If you're still watching, you're either a hopeless optomist who believes the Birds can sneak another miracle post-season berth (or merely counting on the inevitable collapses of Tony Romo and Eli Manning), or you love the NFL. Nothing wrong with that, and since the Eagles are mathematically still in the running, you should be treated to a competitive football game against a strong New York Jets team either way you approach this afternoon.

A breakdown of some of the key story lines after the jump.

Welcome Home?
The last time the Eagles played in front of a Lincoln Financial Field crowd, the fans started chanting "Fire Andy" in the third quarter, then flooded out the gates in the middle of a game that was not quite out of hand. Who could blame them? The Eagles have only won one game at home all season, racking up an impressive 1-5 record in Philadelphia. Home field advantage, indeed.

How or why they can't win at home is almost beyond explanation, but we're curious to see what kind of atmosphere the Linc provides today. With those slim playoff hopes still out there, there's a good chance 69,000 people will start the afternoon fully behind their Eagles.

But how quickly will they turn on their Birds? How early will the sea of humanity transform into large expanses of empty seats? After the old fashioned walkout, will some ticket holders choose to send a message and never show up at all? Lots of intrigue in the stands, as well as on the field.

Eagles Receivers v. Jets Secondary
Will DeSean Jackson visit Revis Island?

Back in August, we hoped the Birds' secondary would be one of the best in the league, only rivaled by the group in New York. But while Nnamdi Asomugha appears to have been vastly overrated, and Asante Samuel plays a fairly one-dimensional role, Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie are the real deal. Revis is a shutdown corner who expertly uses his body and the boundaries to disappear receivers, Cromartie a freak who can match size and athletic ability with practically any receiver in the league.

Yet as we all know, Jackson is a unique talent capable of blowing by any defensive back out there. Rarely if ever do you see any team attempt to cover him one-on-one, so even though it is Revis -- the consensus best corner in the league -- I would expect to see a scheme that provides at least some help over the top.

And on that front, the Jets lost safety Jim Leonhard for the season to injury last week, which could come as good news for the Birds. Leonhard is their best safety, the quarterback of their defense, and when he went down last year, New York's defense took a step back. We'll see if Mike Vick and the Eagles can take advantage.

Eagles Defense v. Jets Running Game
Juan Castillo's unit will have their hands full today with running back Shonn Greene, who has really turned up the noise in recent weeks.

The Eagles enter the game with the NFL's 18th ranked run defense, allowing 115 yards per game, and 4.4 yards per carry. New York's ground attack is only 22nd overall, but they are strong up front, and Greene is on a roll. After getting out to a slow start, the Iowa product is beginning to reach his potential, gaining 711 yards on 4.6 per carry, and punching in five scores over his last nine games.

With playmaking wide receivers Santonio Holmes and Plaxico Burress, and athletic tight end Dustin Keller to test them vertically, the Eagles will not easily be able to over-commit to stopping the run. That means a pair of Pro-Bowl offensive linemen -- D'Brickashaw Ferguson and and Nick Mangold -- could have multiple opportunities to tee off the Birds' beleaguered linebackers.

Meaningless Trivia
The Eagles have never lost to the Jets in eight games. That means they never will lose to the Jets, right?

Sixers-Celtics 5 things: Slowing down Isaiah Thomas

Sixers-Celtics 5 things: Slowing down Isaiah Thomas

The Sixers (4-15) continue their homestand against the Boston Celtics (11-8) at the Wells Fargo Center on Saturday night (7:30 p.m./CSN and CSNPhilly.com).

Let's take a closer look at the matchup.

1. A green giant-sized challenge
Just crumple it up and move on.

That's about the only thing the Sixers can do after getting ran out of the gym by the Orlando Magic on Friday. Instead of looking like a team that hadn't played since Monday, the Sixers appeared flat in a 105-88 loss.

Outside of Joel Embiid's first 20-point, 10-rebound game (he had 25 points and 10 boards) and a strong effort from Jahlil Okafor (16 points and 13 rebounds), not much else went right for the Sixers.

Now Embiid will sit the second game of a back-to-back set and Okafor will be thrust into the starting lineup, as the Sixers try to deal with Boston big man Al Horford. 

Horford, the Celtics' prized free-agent acquisition, is coming off his best game so far for his new team. He recorded 26 points, eight rebounds and six blocks in the Celtics' 97-92 win over the Kings on Friday.

2. Little big man
Even with Horford coming off a productive performance, the Sixers' game plan against the Celtics has to focus on slowing down Isaiah Thomas.

The 5-foot-9 guard continues to put up big numbers in the scoring department. Despite his shooting percentages taking a dip this season, Thomas still ranks ninth in the NBA with a career-high 25.7 points per game. 

And even though he is a willing passer (averaging a career-high-tying 6.3 assists), expect Thomas to try and score early and often against the Sixers. After all, the reserve-turned-All-Star has put up 21.5 points per game against the Sixers during his career, his highest mark against any opponent.

3. Dial up the long-distance defense
The Sixers need to be aware of Thomas and just about all of his teammates when they toe that three-point line.

The Celtics rank fifth in the league in three-pointers attempted (31.1), three-pointers made (11.3) and eighth in three-point percentage (36.3) per game.

The C's have four players shooting above 40 percent from beyond the arc, and perhaps a bit surprising, three of them are big men. Jonas Jerebko (46.4 percent), Horford (42.4 percent) and Amir Johnson (40.0 percent) have all been on target from long range.

4. Injuries
Robert Covington (knee) and Jerryd Bayless (wrist) are both questionable. Embiid (rest), Nerlens Noel (knee) and Ben Simmons (foot) are out for the Sixers.

The Celtics have no players listed on the injury report.

5. This and that
• The Sixers have lost five games in a row overall and eight straight to the Celtics.

• The Celtics rank 25th in rebounding with 42.2 a night.

• Dario Saric had two points Friday against the Magic and has failed to reach double digits in scoring five of his last six games.

Worst loss of the year for excuse-less Sixers against Magic

Worst loss of the year for excuse-less Sixers against Magic

Another new feeling for the rebuilding Sixers: The bad loss with no excuse. For at least one and possibly multiple seasons, there was no real such thing as an inexcusable L, because they were so never the favorite going into any game that their excuse could almost always be "the other team was better." But four wins and one transcendent player into this season, the Ballers actually do need an excuse for dropping a home game against a subpar team by double digits. And if they had one last night in their 105-88 loss to the Orlando Magic, they weren't telling the rest of us.

Really, this game couldn't have been teed up much better for Philly: We were home, well-rested after Wednesday's weird-ass cancellation, against a 7-12 team we nearly beat early in the season, who were on the second night of a back-to-back after ceding a tough one to the Grizzlies -- and we had Joel Embiid for up to 28 minutes. If this one was to be a laugher by early in the fourth quarter, you'd almost have to assume that it'd been the Sixers who put it to bed early. 

Instead, the Sixers slumped horribly from the field in the first quarter, missing bunny after bunny and plenty of open jumpers, as they dug themselves a hole they were never quite able to climb out of. Philly kept it manageable and D.J. Augustin and Nik Vucevic caught fire for Orlando in the third quarter, and the game was suddenly in Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot territory before we could even process what was happening. 

Of course, you can't blame Embiid for this one. Though JoJo was a little out of sorts defensively on this one -- and personally, I really wish he'd stop trapping five feet outside the arc, it may cause panic in the Magic's ball-handlers but it really seems to compromise our own half-court D -- he still finished with a resounding 25-10-4 with three triples, and for the first time in his young career, 0 turnovers. (I coulda swore I saw at least one, but so says the box score, anyway.) Just another game for the Process, though the Sixers (for some reason) needed him to be immaculate last night, and he was merely phenomenal. 

Less phenomenal were the rest of the Sixers' shooters. Our bench in particular was absolutely putrid, going a combined 0-12 from three, with Nik Stauskas's streak of consecutive games with a three snapped at 15 after his scoreless, 0-6 performance. (Five assists for Sauce, at least.) Jahlil posted a dominant stat line of 16 and 13 (on 8-10 shooting) but was again hapless on defense, ending a team-worst -19 for the night. And Dario Saric's slumping continued with a 1-5 shooting outing with no rebounds or assists, likely his worst game of the season. 

It was a surprisingly listless effort from a team that should have looked much sharper, and the most positive non-Joel-related thing to be said about it is that it's (sort of) nice to finally have expectations high enough to have them let down. It'll be a lot harder for Philly to let down tonight against the Celtics, without JoJo, against a pretty good and mostly healthy Boston team. But that's five losses in a row already for the improving Sixers, and it'd be nice to cut off that streak soon, before it starts threatening double digits -- we could certainly do with being done with those for the forseeable future.