Eagles (5-6) at Bengals (3-7-1)
1 p.m. on FOX
The Eagles' backs may be against the wall, but the season isn't over yet. Five games still remain, beginning with a trip to Cincinnati to take on the Bengals on Sunday.
With a 5-6 record, the Eagles would need some help to reach the playoffs. Of course, it's a moot point if they don't help themselves and end their current two-game skid. Who knows, a win over a 3-7-1 Bengals squad could be the beginning of an improbable run.
1. Unwelcome in the jungle
If the Eagles do manage to defeat the Bengals on Sunday, they would be making history. While it's not exactly a huge sample size, the franchise has never won in Cincinnati, posting a 3-0-1 record in four tries.
They've come close on multiple occasions. In 1994, the Bengals tied the Eagles with three seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, recovered a muffed kickoff, then kicked another field goal to win 33-30 in regulation. And in 2008, the clubs finished in a 13-13 tie when the Eagles committed four turnovers to Cincinnati's one.
Granted, winning at Paul Brown Stadium isn't a problem that's inherent to the Eagles. Since 2013, the Bengals are 21-6-1 at home, and that's even going 2-2-1 this year. "The Jungle" is an underrated difficult place to play — although whether the crowd will be behind a losing team this week remains to be seen.
2. The road to victory
Once again, Eagles coach Doug Pederson faced questions about balance after the offense's run-pass ratio was seriously out of whack in the loss to the Packers on Monday. This week, it would behoove Pederson to listen to critics of his play-calling, because pounding the rock will likely be the blueprint to victory.
That's because Cincinnati's run defense is among the worst in the NFL. The unit ranks 28th in terms of ground yards per game, surrendering 180 or more three times this season while allowing an average of 4.4 per carry.
Furthermore, the Bengals are much stronger defending the ball when it's in the air. They're not dominant or anything, coming into the game ranked 13th against the pass, but it's obvious where the real weakness is.
Given that top receiver Jordan Matthews is battling an ankle injury and rookie quarterback Carson Wentz has struggled to put the entire offense on his shoulders, it's clear what the Eagles should do. Lean heavily on Darren Sproles and Wendell Smallwood, and play the ball-control and field-position angles if they must.
3. Eyes on Eifert
The good news for the Eagles is they are catching the Bengals without All-Pro wide receiver A.J. Green and versatile running back Giovani Bernard — injured players who previously accounted for 60 percent of the team's offense. The bad news is Cincinnati recently got one of their weapons back.
Tyler Eifert has been back in action for five games now, and the fourth-year tight end has picked right up where he left off following a Pro Bowl campaign in 2015. In the Bengals' last four contests, Eifert has 20 receptions for 303 yards and two touchdowns, which would project to 80, 1,212 and eight over a full season.
The Eagles have a few things going for them. They haven't been getting killed by the tight end position this season, and the Bengals currently don't have anybody else the defense really needs to focus in on. That being said, this offense is centered around Eifert right now, who's been targeted 34 times in the last four games. He's an impact player.
4. Better clean up their act
It's no secret that penalties have been a huge problem for the Eagles all season. Officials are flagging the team 8.2 times per game, which is the third-highest rate in the NFL this season. Needless to say, those calls have hurt, costing them an average of 64.3 yards.
That's not going to fly against the Bengals, who believe it or not are one of the cleanest teams in the league, at least as far as the refs are concerned. At only 5.7 penalties per game, Cincinnati boasts the third-lowest rate, while their average of 44.9 yards lost is the best out of all 32 teams.
The Eagles have already proven they have trouble overcoming the officials. Going on the road and facing a team that's the total inverse could be a huge problem. They're not going to get many freebies, nor can they afford to give them away.
This team has no margin for error to begin with. In what is anticipated to be a very tight game, the Eagles better not let flags or lack there of against their opponent influence the outcome.
5. It's not over yet
At this point, the Eagles have minimal roads to the playoffs, but a victory Sunday would at least serve to get them back in the conversation. A division championship is officially off the table. A wild-card berth, on the other hand, is still a possibility.
Washington currently owns the sixth and final spot in the tournament at 6-4-1, although the Eagles would have a chance to make up some ground with their meeting next week. The Buccaneers are 6-5, and the Vikings are 6-6, followed by the Packers and Saints sharing the Eagles' 5-6 record. It's not like anybody is running away with this.
So while postseason play might seem like a long shot, it's not exactly outlandish, either. With a win over the Bengals on Sunday, the Eagles could very well be hosting Washington next week in a battle for their playoff lives. That means it's not quite time to give up just yet.