The Eagles Fans Guide to the 2007 NFL Playoffs

The Eagles Fans Guide to the 2007 NFL Playoffs

For the second time in three years, there will be no hometown rooting interests for Philadelphians now that the playoffs have begun. But many if not most Eagles fans are NFL fans too, and we’ll watch pretty much any decent game. The problem is, with the Birds hitting golf balls or putting their houses on the market, which teams and players do we root for? Or more accurately, who we rootin’ against?

The bitter question in front of us is, would we rather see the rich get richer, or another never-been franchise pass us by on their way to join the ranks of the NFL’s Nouveau Riche? Would it be harder to watch the Colts and Patriots win more rings while we have only pre-Super Bowl National Championships, or see yet another team hoist the Lombardi Trophy before us. Is there no third option?

Let’s start with the teams playing this weekend.

Washington at Seattle
Obviously we go with the Seahawks here. I’d be hard pressed to conjure a scenario in which I’d root for an NFC East team, and Seattle’s just boring enough to not really hate. There may be some sentimental bandwagon jumping surrounding this game, as montages of Sean Taylor are bound to be part of the national coverage (and rightfully so—Taylor was a huge part of this team, and his murder was amazingly tragic).

Jacksonville at Pittsburgh
Boorrrrinnng. Don’tcha just hate how often we have to endure Steelers, Jets, Browns, and Ravens games in this market? We’ll take the Jags over our cross-state rivals, even though they’re bland as all get-out too. When it comes to sports, Philly natives have no PA pride. The Stillers? They went to the Promised Land with a rookie QB at the helm, while we’ve waited a nearly decade for our system to gel. The Jags are this year’s upstart team in the AFC, and they could make some noise, starting with this game. Jacksonville fans beware: this Eagles fan will be putting his cursed support behind your squad.

Tennessee at San Diego
After playing under Buddy Ryan in Chicago, Jeff Fisher became one of his coaching assistants. When Buddy brought the 46 to Philly, he brought Fisher with him as his D-backs coach. Fisher went on to become the Eagles defensive coordinator and achieve his career highlight, meeting me and playing Frisbee with us at a barbeque at Gootman’s house. So because of the Eagles/backyard connection, I’m backing the Titans and their possible PSU QB. Also, the Chargers deserve to get smoked for firing their coach after going 14-2 last season. What happens to the guy who took them to 11-5? Waterboarding?

New York Giants at Tampa Bay
 Hmm lemme think about it. Tom Coughlin, Eli Manning, and Jeremy Shockey, or our ’06 hero (Carmella DeCesare) and our former OC with his loveable Chuckie Face? As much pain as we’ve felt from the NFC Championship loss, the ominous start to the Linc Era, and the longest ever game-winning field goal, there’s no way we root for the Giants. The only consolation in a Giants win would be that they did it without Tiki Barber, my least favorite NFC East personality this side of Michael Irvin.

And the Bye-Weekers…

Green Bay
Yes, I flew out to Green Bay just to have the pleasure of seeing the Eagles dive into this season’s downward spiral firsthand. But I don’t hate the Packers, especially not compared to the NFC’s other team with a first week bye. The Favre story is so overdone that I barely notice the networks playing him up anymore, and Ryan Grant has quickly become the team’s most watchable player. The Pack is the NFC team I support the most, primarily because I hate most of the others so goddamn much.

Indianapolis
For many Patriots haters, the hardest thing about rooting against them is that it often means cheering for the Colts. Not me. Somewhere along the way, Dungy’s crew pulled me aboard. It started with Marvin Harrison, a Philly guy who is an elite receiver but comes with none of the regular baggage. Across the field, Reggie Wayne is cut from the same cloth, and he stepped up with Marvin missing much of the season. Peyton quieted the critics and Dungy handled unimaginable family tragedy when he finally won the big one last year, which has almost been forgotten since the Patriots began their tear. I’ll admit it. I actually like this team.

Dallas
I hope they lose their bye week. I hope they lose the turnover battle. I hope they lose their car keys. I hope they lose that swagger like this group has actually won anything. I hope they lose a game-winning field goal snap. Nothing would be worse than Dallas returning to the Super Bowl, except if they got there and beat…

New England
The psychological litmus test for NFL fans. Do you want to witness history so you can tell your kids and grandkids about it, or see the colossus toppled so you can point and laugh at its rubble (unless Dallas wins). Part of me wants to see another team win, but only because I’m an underdog guy. Despite the fact that the Eagles lost to the Pats in the Super Bowl, and again with me in attendance this year, and of course the dominance that is Boston sports in the modern era, I gotta admit, Belichick’s crew has made this NFL season far more interesting than it otherwise would have been. The Hoodie is easy to hate, but hard not to respect. Same with Brady. All he did was live all our dreams, becoming the best QB (maybe ever) and having a super model special lady friend. I have no advice on how to approach rooting for or against New England; this one’s just a visceral reaction.

So that’s my take. No love for any of the NFC teams, but I’ll root for Tampa Bay and Seattle in the Wild Card, with Green Bay as the team I’d like to see play in February. In the AFC we can’t really go wrong. I like the Titans because of Fisher, although they’re painful to watch, and I’d like to see Jacksonville be an upsetter, but there’s no show like the one New England and Indy can put on.

Who you rootin’ for?

Aaron Altherr provides major spark in season debut to lead Phillies past Braves

Aaron Altherr provides major spark in season debut to lead Phillies past Braves

BOX SCORE

ATLANTA — The Phillies are still looking for the real Aaron Nola, but they may have found a useful bat Thursday night.

Aaron Altherr had the kind of season debut he’d dreamed about for the four months he was on the disabled list as he helped the Phillies beat the Atlanta Braves, 7-5, at Turner Field (see Instant Replay).

Altherr was one of three Phillies to hit home runs on a night when the offense awakened after generating just one run the previous two days in Miami. Altherr, who came off the disabled list earlier in the day after missing four months with a wrist injury that required surgery (see story), drove a two-run homer to left in the fifth inning. Earlier in the game, Maikel Franco and Tommy Joseph had back-to-back homers to headline a five-run first inning.

Franco leads the team with 19 homers and Joseph, hitting .375 with six homers in his last 17 games, has 14 in just 57 games with the club.

Altherr, who batted fifth behind Franco and Joseph, also had two hard singles in the game.

“He had a really good night in his debut,” manager Pete Mackanin said. “He provided a spark for us. He added to the offense. So I'm happy for that. It's good to get a win. We scored some runs, finally.”

Altherr was projected to be a starter in the Phillies’ opening day outfield until he suffered the wrist injury in spring training. He spent the last four months in Clearwater, rehabbing and, well, dreaming of a night like this.

“Definitely, especially sitting around thinking about how that first game's going to be being back,” he said. “For it to be like this, it was definitely special and I have to thank the Lord above for getting me back here as fast as He could.

“I was hoping to get a home run in the first game, but I definitely wasn't expecting it. Just hopeful. To have it happen like that was definitely awesome.

“It definitely surprised me a little bit because I hadn't really been driving the ball like I had wanted to down in my rehab stints. I'm just glad to know I've got [the power] in there somewhere.”

The Phillies hit all three of their home runs and scored all their runs against Atlanta right-hander Matt Wisler. He received a ticket to Triple A after the game.

The Phillies batted around against Wisler and scored five runs in the first inning. That was a welcome cushion for Nola, who desperately needed a win after failing to get one in his previous seven starts. The right-hander did manage to earn his first win since June 5, but it wasn’t exactly pretty. He lasted just five innings and threw a whopping 95 pitches as he continued to experience command issues that have been plaguing him in recent weeks.

Nola gave up eight hits and three runs. He walked three and hit a batter. That’s not Aaron Nola’s game. At least it wasn’t in his first 12 starts this season. He recorded a 2.65 ERA over that span and walked just 15 while striking out 85. He has walked 14 in his last eight starts.

“He's not the same guy,” Mackanin said. “He's just struggling with command once again. He's not dotting his fastball like he normally does. His curveball is erratic. He needs to get back on track.

“Sometimes it's harder to pitch when you have a big lead. You know you don't want to blow it. That can affect a pitcher as well. You have to have that mental toughness either way, whether it's a one-run game or an 8-0 game. You don't want to pitch poorly. There's a tendency, well, you have a five-run lead, should I throw more fastballs and challenge? But it was good to see he got a win. I'm happy for that. That should help him. He just needs to get to where he was. He's not there yet.”

Nola described his outing as “fairly OK,” which was probably right on. He got the win, but overall was not sharp. He allowed three runs in the fifth inning.

“I ran into some jams there,” he said. “I left some balls over the plate for them to hit. They took them the other way. The plan was to try to hit the outside part of the plate and they took it away.

“I feel like I have the command for the most part, but there’s some areas I still need to get better at and work to get better at.”

The Phillies used four relievers to close out the game. Edubray Ramos and Hector Neris pitched well. David Hernandez and Jeanmar Gomez did not. Gomez allowed three base runners and a run, but still managed to get the save. Hernandez allowed a hit and a pair of two-out walks before giving up an RBI double. A number of scouts from teams looking for bullpen help were on hand. Hernandez and Gomez probably did not help their trade value. Four days before the deadline, starter Jeremy Hellickson is still the Phillie most likely to be dealt.

Best of MLB: Sale loses in White Sox return, Chapman saves Cubs' 3-1 win

Best of MLB: Sale loses in White Sox return, Chapman saves Cubs' 3-1 win

CHICAGO -- Chris Sale returned from his jersey-trashing suspension and threw six effective innings, but John Lackey outpitched him and Aroldis Chapman got the final four outs to save the Cubs' 3-1 victory over the White Sox in Chicago's rivalry series Thursday night.

Sale (14-4) was greeted with smiles and hugs from his teammates following a five-day ban for tearing up 1976-style uniforms he didn't want to wear before his previous scheduled start. He had command issues, but worked out of trouble while allowing two runs and six hits.

Lackey (8-7) allowed one run in six innings for his first win since June 8. Chapman, in his second appearance since being acquired from the Yankees, struck out two and consistently hit 102 mph in his first save for his new team.

Kris Bryant, who homered against Sale in the All-Star Game, hit an RBI double off the center field wall in the first inning (see full recap). 

Diaz's homer helps Cardinals beat Marlins and Fernandez, 5-4
MIAMI -- Aledmys Diaz homered, doubled and drove in three runs against childhood pal Jose Fernandez, helping the St. Louis Cardinals beat the Miami Marlins 5-4 Thursday.

Fernandez gave up five runs in five innings and fell to 26-2 at Marlins Park.

Miami's Dee Gordon, the 2015 NL batting and stolen bases champion, returned from an 80-game suspension for failing a drug test and went 0 for 4. Ichiro Suzuki doubled as a pinch hitter in the seventh for Miami and needs two hits for 3,000.

Diaz and Matt Holliday homered in the third inning against Fernandez (12-5), who had never previously given up more than one homer in a home game. His only other loss at Marlins Park came on opening day this year against Detroit.

Michael Wacha (6-7) allowed three runs in six innings, and three relievers completed an eight-hitter. Seung Hwan Oh pitched around a one-out single in the ninth for his seventh save (see full recap). 

Familia falters again, Rockies rally for 2-1 win over Mets
NEW YORK -- Mets steady closer Jeurys Familia stumbled for a second straight game, allowing two runs in the ninth inning as the Colorado Rockies beat New York 2-1 Thursday for their seventh win in eight games.

Less than 24 hours after Familia's streak of 52 consecutive regular-season saves was snapped, the right-hander entered in the top of the ninth with a 1-0 lead, and couldn't hold it.

Trevor Story had a leadoff single and stole second. After fellow rookie David Dahl walked, Daniel Descalso bunted up the first base line. Mets catcher Rene Rivera watched as the ball spun toward foul territory but it stopped fair, loading the bases with no out.

With one out, Familia (2-3) got pinch-hitter Cristhian Adames to hit a slow grounder to the right side. First baseman James Loney booted the ball and Story scored to make it 1-all. Familia then threw a wild pitch, allowing Dahl to cross the plate with the go-ahead run (see full recap).

Instant Replay: Phillies 7, Braves 5

Instant Replay: Phillies 7, Braves 5

BOX SCORE

ATLANTA — Aaron Nola picked up his first win since June 5 as the Phillies beat the Atlanta Braves, 7-5, at Turner Field on Thursday night.

Nola was supported by some strong offense. After scoring just one run in losing the previous two games in Miami, the Phils erupted for five runs in the first inning. They hit three homers in the game.

The Phillies had been winless in Nola’s previous seven starts.

The Phillies are 47-57.

The Braves have the worst record in the majors at 35-67.

Starting pitching report
Despite leaving with a 7-3 lead after five innings, Nola was not particularly sharp. He gave up eight hits (one was a fly ball that was lost in the twilight sky), walked three and hit a batter. He needed 95 pitches to get through the five innings.

Nola is 6-9 with a 4.78 ERA in 20 starts.

Atlanta’s Matt Wisler gave up seven hits and seven runs in five innings. Five of the runs came in the first inning when the Phillies batted around. Wisler allowed two homers, two singles and walked two in the inning.

Bullpen report
David Hernandez was the first Phillies reliever out of the bullpen. He struggled. But Edubray Ramos, Hector Neris and Jeanmar Gomez combined to close it out.

Gomez allowed two hits, a walk and a run in the ninth, but earned his 27th save.

At the plate
Aaron Altherr, activated off the disabled list earlier in the day (see story), had a big night in his first game of the season with the big club. He hit the ball hard all night and had three hits, including a two-run homer in the fifth.

Maikel Franco and Tommy Joseph hit back-to-back homers in the first inning. Franco’s was a three-run shot. He leads the club with 19 homers. Joseph has 14 homers in 57 games.

Adonis Garcia had two hits and two RBIs for the Braves.

Transaction 
Peter Bourjos was placed on the disabled list and Altherr was activated (see story).

Up next
The series continues Friday night. Vince Velasquez (8-2, 3.34) pitches against Atlanta right-hander Tyrell Jenkins (0-2, 6.17).