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Seahawks-Eagles: NFC Wild Card Weekend preview

The Backstory

Title this bout the Battle of the Walking Wounded.

Both teams enter Wild Card Weekend severely deteriorated after watching key player after key player fall by the wayside due to injuries. The Seahawks (7) and Eagles (9) combined to have 16 Week 1 starters miss Week 17. If those numbers hold this week, it would mark the most combined missing Week 1 starters in a playoff game since 1970, per NFL Research.

The Seahawks enter Sunday's matchup sans their top three running backs this season in Chris Carson, C.J. Prosise and Rashaad Penny, all of whom landed on IR. Always a ground-first team under Pete Carroll, Seattle brought back the great Marshawn Lynch, but how much does the 33-year-old have left in his legs after playing just one game in more than 445 days? Sixth-round rookie Travis Homer played his best game in Week 17, but can Carroll trust the first-year player on the road in a playoff game?

Seattle started the season hot and looked poised to potentially swipe the No. 1 overall seed in the NFC after beating the 49ers in San Francisco. However, the Christmas season was not kind to the Seahawks. With a banged-up crew on both sides of the ball, Carroll's team limped to the finish, losers of three of their final four games, including a brutal home loss to the five-win Arizona Cardinals, and fell an inch short of the division title against San Francisco at The Clink. The loss sent Seattle on the road to open the postseason in hostile territory. One benefit for Russell Wilson and Co.: They've already beaten the Eagles in Philly this season (17-9 in Week 12).

Philadelphia, however, has looked like a better team since that home loss to Seattle. Carson Wentz guided the Eagles to four straight wins to close out the season, albeit all against the moribund NFC East. If you think the Seahawks are struggling through injuries, Eagles fans would love to enjoy that kind of health. Doug Pederson's team has battled injuries the entire season. Perhaps at this point, they're so used to fighting without many top playmakers it's become something of a comfort zone.

Philly started the season out as one of the most disappointing teams in the league, even falling at home to an eventual three-win Lions squad. As the injuries mounted, the Eagles' play rose and fell like a tide being pulled by the moon. One week it'd appear Wentz and crew turned the corner, then the bottom would fall out the next. One game the defense seemed to finally play well, then they'd get flamed the next. The good news is Pederson's team is postseason-tested -- outside of the quarterback -- and they've basically been in playoff mode for the past month. Momentum is a myth, but confidence is a reality in sports. With a home crowd at their back, the Eagles surely believe they can keep their win-streak alive, even if they're facing a better, slightly healthier roster at this point in the year.

Under Pressure

Carson Wentz: The Eagles have now been to the playoffs in three of Wentz's four NFL seasons. The quarterback has yet to take a postseason snap. After ending the past two campaigns on IR, leaving Nick Foles to lead the Eagles, Wentz will finally play a January football game. Despite the crumbling situation surrounding him, the signal-caller performed admirably down the stretch, averaging 301.8 passing yards per game, a 99.3 passer rating, and throwing 10 TDs to just one INT (on a Hail Mary) in December to will the Eagles to the playoffs. Wentz did all this while watching nearly every single one of his top weapons get injured at some point.

Here is a list of notable injuries on the Eagles offense: RB Miles Sanders, ankle (missed second half of Week 17); RB Corey Clement, shoulder (out for season); RB Darren Sproles, hip (out for season); WR DeSean Jackson, abdomen (missed 13 games, on IR); WR Alshon Jeffery, foot (out for season); WR Nelson Agholor, knee (missed 5 of last 6 games); TE Zach Ertz, ribs/back (missed Week 17); G Brandon Brooks, shoulder (out for season); T Lane Johnson, ankle (missed Weeks 15-17). Even if Sanders -- who has been the team's motor down the stretch -- Ertz and Johnson return, that list still represents massive hits the Eagles took on offense this season.

It wasn't pretty at times, but Wentz played his best football down the stretch, throwing lasers and making practice-squad players look formidable. He'll need to double-down against Seattle. Taking every game as a referendum on a quarterback is nauseating, and Wentz doesn't need a win this weekend to prove he's Philly's franchise quarterback. Given how the last two years have ended, however, the pressure remains on the QB to wipe out Foles' shadow once and for all.

Seahawks offensive line: Another year, another season of Russell Wilson running for his dadgum life every week. Seattle's O-line ranked among the worst in pass blocking and was mediocre opening holes in the run game for long stretches of the season. We saw what the group looked like without left tackle Duane Brown the past two weeks, and it wasn't pretty. Brown is expected to miss Sunday's game once again. Facing an Eagles defensive line that can dominate games with Brandon Graham and Fletcher Cox leading the way, Seattle's blockers will be under siege Sunday. In their first meeting, Philly sacked Wilson six times, and that was with Brown playing. Philly owns one of the top run-stuffing units in the NFL -- it took a career game from Penny in the last meeting to puncture it. If the Seahawks' line collapses, it could spell doom for Seattle's chances of pulling off a road playoff victory.

Matchup to Watch

Tyler Lockett vs. Eagles secondary: While the Eagles' front could be a problem, the backend is ripe to be pillaged by Wilson. After a very quiet end to the season following the receiver's hospitalization due to a leg injury, the Eagles need the Lockett of old to return.

Weeks 1-9: 8.0 targets/game, 6.6 rec/game, 85.2 rec YPG, 6 rec TD
Weeks 10-17: 5.4 targets/game, 3.3 rec/game, 41.4 rec YPG, 2 rec TD

In the first meeting, Lockett was held to one single catch for 38 yards. Seattle will need more this time around, given the state of its RB crew.

Philly's secondary has been scorched for long stretches this season but fared well in Week 12 against Wilson. If the Eagles secondary locks down Lockett once again, Wilson's life will be extraordinarily pained.

Prediction

Since the last meeting, Wentz has found some semblance of a groove, and Eagles players who weren't getting run, like Greg Ward and Boston Scott, have found niches in the offense and will help Wentz move the ball better Sunday than in Week 12. Meanwhile, Wilson's magic has been snuffed out of late, thanks to a bevy of injuries and faulty line play. Two key fourth-down calls will play a crucial role in the outcome. Down two points midway through the fourth quarter, Pederson gives the go-ahead on fourth-and-4 from his own 23-yard-line. Wentz completes the pass to Ward and drives the Eagles the rest of the way for the go-ahead TD. Later, with just over three minutes left and the ball near midfield, Carroll elects to punt with two timeouts left trailing by four. Philly converts three first downs, and Wilson never gets the ball back.

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