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Carson Wentz #11 of the Philadelphia Eagles (Photo by Rob Carr / Getty Images)

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Eagles Hope Risk Outweighs Reward in “Meaningless” Week 17 Matchup Against Cowboys

The debate is almost as old as the game itself: Do you rest starters in meaningless games for the sake of their health? Or do you still play them to prevent them from getting “rusty”?

The Los Angeles Rams, who have clinched a playoff berth, are still playing for a divisional title and better seeding. However, they have chosen to rest what some may consider to be three of their biggest stars; quarterback Jared Goff, defensive tackle Aaron Donald and running back Todd Gurley.

The Philadelphia Eagles on the other hand, have clinched home field advantage throughout the playoffs. Now, many would claim that their week 17 matchup against the Dallas Cowboys was a meaningless one and yet, head coach Doug Pederson wants “all the starters to play.”

So who’s made the right call?

Well, the argument is far from black and white, but each organization has their own reasons to back up their decisions.

The Rams are 4-1 in their last five with the lone loss coming from the Eagles. The record, however, doesn’t tell the full story. The Rams are one of the hottest teams in the NFL despite the Eagles loss, and only squeezing by against a decent Titans team, last Sunday.

Injuries can happen at any time and week 17 is no different, but it’s obvious that most of the Rams success this season has been because of Goff and MVP candidate, Gurley.

The Rams could be the first team to go from 32nd in scoring (2016) to 1st in scoring this year. They are built around their offensive stars.

Depth is also an important factor to consider when putting these decisions into context. The Rams only healthy backup quarterback, Sean Mannion, has thrown 13 passes in his career, (which will obviously change when he starts this week).

Todd Gurley has carried the ball 279 times this season. The next closest on the team is wide receiver, Tavon Austin, with 55, which says something about how the coaching staff feels about Gurley’s backups.

An injury to Goff or Gurley would all but derail the Rams playoff hopes.

A Rams win, or New Orleans Saints loss would lock them in at the three seed, meaning they likely wouldn’t face the Eagles until the NFC championship, given they both make it that far.

Professional teams rarely lose on purpose for the sake of a specific match up, but after how Eagles quarterback Nick Foles looked last week, they’d be foolish not to do whatever they can to match up with them. That really gives them even more of a reason to rest Gurley and Goff.

On the other side of the spectrum, Foles, who took over for quarterback Carson Wentz when he tore his ACL against the Rams on December 10th, has looked anything but comfortable in the offense.

In 2013 he finished the season with 27 touchdowns, to only two interceptions leading the Eagles to their first NFC East title in three years.

Since then, he has struggled to find the same magic that allowed him to excel that season, throwing 28 touchdowns compared to 22 interceptions since 2013, as he’s bounced from the Eagles, St. Louis Rams, Kansas City Chiefs and now, a return to the Eagles.

Despite going 2-0 as a starter and making a few passes to seal the victory against the Rams after stepping in for Wentz, Foles has not looked good. The stats don’t tell the full story, but he has been hesitant with his decision making. He’s been inaccurate and overall, has looked panicky.

Backup quarterbacks are generally, bad by NFL standards, so nobody would have expected him to come in and do the job a normal starting quarterback can, or even what Wentz has done this season, but there is still hope for improvement. Stranger things have happened.

Foles didn’t take a single snap this past pre-season and was out for much of training camp with an elbow injury, limiting his offseason reps.

While it’s unclear whether his poor play is partially due to the lack of reps he’s had with starters, letting him get some more game action with the starters will give him more of an opportunity to build chemistry with his offense.

Sure, you could argue Foles shouldn’t be playing at all considering his backup is Nate Sudfeld, who wasn’t even with the Eagles in the preseason nor has he never thrown a pass in a regular-season NFL game, but the Eagles are an all-around balanced team and have a multitude of offensive weapons at Foles’ disposal.
If Foles could just play average, the Eagles could still make a run in a wide-open NFC East.

If playing Sunday makes him even just marginally better, the risk will definitely outweigh the reward.

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