The Green Bay Packers started the season, as they always do, with championship aspirations.
The Philadelphia Eagles, after crushing Pittsburgh 34-3 to improve to 3-0, looked like they were emerging as a surprise challenger.
Instead, Monday night’s game at Lincoln Financial Field could serve as an elimination game. The Packers have lost four in a row to plunge to 4-6 and 14th place in the NFC playoff race. Even with an upset victory over the Eagles, they figure to be two games behind in the NFC North, with Minnesota (6-4) visiting Detroit (6-4) playing on Thanksgiving.
The Eagles have crashed back to Earth with losses in five of their last seven games. At 5-5, they are in ninth place in the NFC and trail Washington (6-3-1) for the final NFC wild-card spot.
For the Packers, this is unexpected territory as they join New England as the only teams to qualify for the playoffs in each of the past seven seasons.
Coach Mike McCarthy’s confidence, however, hasn’t waned.
"We have the right kind of men," he said. "This group of men, we’re going to get to where we want to go. I’m fully confident in that. The process, the approach, the preparation, we’re going to get this the way it needs to be. This locker room is awesome.
"We’ve got to win. We get that. It’s about results. But everything leading up to that, I’m very pleased with. So we’re just going to keep stoking our fire and we’re going to do everything we need to do this week and prepare to go beat Philadelphia."
For the Eagles, their up-and-down play isn’t surprising considering rookie Carson Wentz, the No. 2 overall pick in this year’s draft, is learning on the job. That doesn’t mean there isn’t disappointment.
They lost last week at Seattle by 11 points but their other four losses have come by a combined 19 points.
"It’s something that we kind of in the back of our minds sort of planned for," first-year coach Doug Pederson said. "Still, to be 5-5 and to be in the thick of it is a credit to him and the rest of the team and how well they’ve played. We’ve had our chances. We’ve had moments to pull out some of these close games that we’ve been in. It’s just something that it is what it is right now. He’s learning. Every rep that he takes, he’s learning. It’s going to make him a much better quarterback down the road."
If there are big advantages for the Eagles, it’s defense and venue. The Eagles rank fourth in the league with 18.6 points allowed per game. They’ve allowed a total of 38 points in going 4-0 at home.
The Packers, meanwhile, gave up 47 points at Tennessee in Week 10 and 42 more at Washington in Week 11. Green Bay hasn’t allowed back-to-back 40-point games since 1953 or four consecutive 30-point games since 1952. The Packers have lost four in a row on the road for the first time since 2008.
Injuries are a factor for both teams.
The Eagles’ top running backs, Ryan Mathews and Darren Sproles, were knocked out of the Seattle game. Sproles (broken rib) is more likely to play than Mathews (knee), Pederson said. Still, it could leave the Eagles’ running game in the hands of rookie Wendell Smallwood.
Top cornerback Leodis McKelvin is in the concussion protocol.
The Packers had seven starters out by the end of the Washington game, including both starting cornerbacks and both starting inside linebackers. With the injuries to Jake Ryan (ankle) and Blake Martinez (knee) at inside linebacker, the Packers might be forced to move Clay Matthews back inside, where he played the previous season-and-a-half.
There’s a chance the Packers could get back second-year cornerback Damarious Randall, who’s missed the past five games following groin surgery, but veteran Sam Shields will spend the rest of the season on injured reserve with a concussion.
Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins and Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota took advantage of that depleted secondary to post passer ratings of more than 145 the last two weeks.
Can Wentz take advantage, too? In his first four games, Wentz had a 103.5 passer rating with seven touchdowns vs. one interception. In the last six games, he’s had a passer rating of 72.3 with four touchdowns and six interceptions.
Against Seattle, Wentz completed 51.1 percent of his passes, threw two interceptions and had a passer rating of just 61.2.
"We’ve just got to be on point. We had a couple mistakes that really hurt us," Wentz said. "Especially when you’re facing good teams, you can’t have those letdowns. You have to be sharp. You can’t have those little mistakes that can really cost you big in the end. I think we’re learning that. Unfortunately, we have too many of those every week, even in wins."