By Jeremy Gottlieb, Patriots Daily Staff
The Patriots play the Eagles this week and while some of this space has always been reserved for critiques of the Philadelphia coach, there hasn’t been too much time spent on the actual team. So why not start now?
At 4-6, there are few teams in the league as disappointing as the Eagles. When the lockout ended, Philly went nuts, throwing big money and huge contracts at one name free agent after another. The Eagles brought in the top two corners on the market (Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie), top-flight pass rusher (Jason Babin), one of their arch rivals biggest weapons (Steve Smith) and a couple former top-five picks (Vince Young, Ronnie Brown) while also lavishing QB MIchael Vick with the second $100 million contract of his career.Young, always thinking, referred to them as the “Dream Team.” Breathless experts picked them to win the Super Bowl. And then, the games started. Philly lost four in a row after winning in Week 1 then pissed away a modest, two-game winning streak with a couple more losses. There have been breakdowns in every area; the offense, the defense, the special teams, even the locker room atmosphere have all been compromised in one way or another. Four losses have come in games they led in the fourth quarter. The Eagles feel like a fantasy team trying to play real football. There doesn’t seem to be much common ground on this team. And, their head coach being Andy Reid and all, they are wilting under the pressure of their gigantic expectations.

Philly isn’t quite buried yet. After beating the Giants last week, the Eagles are 4-6 but are 3-1 in the NFC East. Getting to five wins in the division would be huge but first and foremost, they have to win every week to keep pace with the Cowboys, now atop the standings and who they will play in Dallas on Christmas Eve. To put it bluntly, they are desperate and already in playoff mode. Add that to the fact that they are oozing with talent on offense, with the league’s No. 1 rusher LeSean McCoy leading the way, and they are also dangerous. If they beat the Pats, the Eagles have a couple of winnable games (Seattle, Miami) on tap and could be back over .500 just like that. And given both the Cowboys and Giants propensity to puke on their shoes when it matters most, they could sneak into a wild card spot with a few breaks.

Or they may lose again on Sunday, finish 6-10 and finally, finally make a coaching change. That’s the more likely scenario.

This Week’s Five Best Teams
1. Green Bay: Surprise! The Packers blew out the Lions on Turkey Day, are now 11-0 for the first time in franchise history and have won 17 straight games going back to last season. Also, just read that through 11 games, Aaron Rodgers passer rating is 128.0. In 2007, when the Patriots were 11-0, Tom Brady’s passer rating was 127.9. Unreal stuff.
2. New Orleans: This is almost a default pick, as the Saints were on a bye last week. But their experience, super powers on offense and fantastic QB/coach combo give them the edge over a host of excellent, just not Green Bay, NFC contenders.
3. (tie) Baltimore/Pittsburgh: Fitting that these two teams are so so close together this year. What separates them are the Ravens two head-to-head wins but it’s hard to think of two rivals who are as similar in so many ways as these AFC North foes. Baltimore took on the super tough, physical 49ers last night and beat the snot out of them in winning a game that felt a lot like most of their games against the Steelers. Some day, the Ravens will figure out how to avoid playing down to lousy competition. But as constituted, they are a tough, tough team and their defense looks like it’s rounding into form. Oh and by the way, Pittsburgh fans: After the win over San Francisco, Ray Rice called the Niners, “the best team we’ve played all year.” Just so you know.
4. San Francisco: Give the Niners a lot of credit for hanging in with the Ravens as long as they did. Their limited offense was exposed somewhat in the 16-6 loss, which snapped an 8-game winning streak; their line couldn’t protect QB Alex Smith to the tune of nine sacks and they gained just 170 total yards (only 96 passing, an astonishing stat). The circumstances of the game did them no favors either (see below). But this is a powerful team. The Niners defense is awesome; anyone who goes toe-to-toe with their front seven is in deep shit. But if they meet a defense playing anywhere near the caliber of Baltimore’s in the playoffs, it may be a quick exit.
5. Dallas: Can you believe it? The Cowboys have won three in a row and the last two were of the close, late-game drive variety, situations in which they usually fail miserably. At 7-4 following their Thanksgiving win over Miami, the ‘Boys lead the NFC East outright but have another game against the Eagles and two against the Giants in their last five. Let’s see how Tony Romo and Jason Garrett do in December in all those division games when the lights are really bright. And then, let’s see what Coach Jones says.

This Week’s Five Worst Teams
1. Indianapolis: The Colts didn’t play last week but that didn’t get them any closer to vacating their spot at the head of the crap class. Food for Thanksgiving thought: Indy is last, second to last or third to last in seven of the eight major stat categories on offense and defense.
2. St. Louis: If the Rams were ever going to get anything going, it was last week at home against division rival Seattle, a team almost as bad as they are. Instead, they were blown out, not managing a single drive of more than 42 yards, gaining just 185 total yards and gaining less than three yards per play.
3. Carolina: Cam Newton is practically a shoo-in for Offensive Rookie of the Year and the Panthers have a handful of other very good players on that side of the ball. But their defense, which blew a 24-7 lead against Detroit en route to a 49-35 loss, is atrocious. They play the Colts this week which should be a win. But if Carolina can’t even slow down the woeful Indy offense, that will be the most telling sign of all.
4. Jacksonville: After a bevy brainless play calls in the waning seconds of last week’s 14-10 loss at Cleveland, a game which the Browns were practically trying to give away, Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio said, “Our offensive coordinator calls the plays. I can’t get to his thinking. You’ll have to get with him.” Del Rio, one of the biggest assholes in the league, did nothing to dispel that notion with such patently absurd comments. So I guess he wasn’t informed of those play calls by his offensive coordinator (whose name is Dirk Koetter, by the way) even though he’s the head coach, was wearing a headset that allows him to hear whatever is being said or called by his coaching staff and has final say on everything. The NFL will be a better place when Del Rio isn’t one of its coaches anymore following this season.
5. (tie) Minnesota/Arizona: The Vikings fought valiantly against the Raiders, nearly making up a 27-7 deficit, but were undone by five turnovers and the loss of Adrian Peterson, only their best player by far, to an ankle injury. Meanwhile, the Cards, who’d shown signs of life under backup John Skelton in winning two in a row, crashed hard back to the surface with a 23-7 loss to the 49ers in which Skelton was 6-of-19 for 99 yards, three picks, a fumble, a less-than-robust 10.5 passer rating and a merciful benching.

What’s Trendy
Carson Palmer, Raiders: Since coming out of “retirement” following his trade from Cincinnati to Oakland, Palmer has led the Raiders to a couple of wins in three starts and thrown six TDs while completing over 70 percent of his passes in the two wins. The Raiders are decent this year for the first time in eons and in the crappy AFC West, they’re likely to make the playoffs unless something crazy happens. Palmer, who is looking as good as he has in years and is the best QB Oakland has had since Rich Gannon, may be just the right guy to lead this franchise even further.
The Broncos Defense: Perhaps lost in the whirlwind of Tebowmania is the Denver D, which has been outstanding during a three-game winning streak. Over that stretch, this group has allowed an average of just 15.7 points per game, picked off four passes and gotten otherworldly efforts from pass rushing demons Elvis Dumervil and rookie, second overall draft pick Von Miller. Miller has 9.5 sacks on the year, 3.5 in the last three games while Dumervil has registered four during the same time frame. Given how spotty the offense has been (even though they’ve been winning with Tebow), the Broncos have to be thrilled their D has come together and kept them in games.
Matt Ryan, Falcons: Finally, after weeks of mediocrity, Matty Ice has seemed to find his groove. Atlanta has won four of five and over the course of that run, Ryan has thrown eight TDs against just two picks, with at least 275 yards passing in each of the last three. With the Vikings on tap this week, look for another strong game out of the former BC star.

What’s Not
Ndamukong Suh, Lions: Already saddled with a reputation as a dirty player, Suh, Detroit’s star defensive tackle, did himself no favors by slamming a Green Bay O-lineman’s head to the turf three times then standing up and kicking the same guy in the arm, earning himself an ejection. Not only that, Suh’s thoughtless actions came after his defense had actually stopped the Packers on third down which gave Green Bay another shot. Predictably, the Pack scored a TD two plays later. Suh is a truly great player, a real difference-maker as a pass rusher and a run stuffer. But he is also a terrible knucklehead and his misbehavior seems to happen with regularity. If Suh wants to be a truly special player, he’ll grow up. Fast.
Mark Sanchez, Jets: Now in the home stretch of his third year in the league, Sanchez doesn’t look too much better than he did as a rookie. He rarely plays like shit, but he never seems to be able to engineer the Jets offense to rally or come from behind and always seems to make at least a couple massive mistakes which usually cost his team dearly, like his inexcusable pick-6 against the Broncos last Thursday night. It wasn’t his fault that the Jets supposedly great defense rolled over for Tebow in the waning minutes of that game. But if the Jets, now 5-5, truly are contenders, as coach Rex Ryan continually guarantees they are, it’s getting very close to referendum time on whether Sanchez is really the man.
The Bills: I hate to include teams multiple weeks in a row on this list but poor Buffalo looks as cooked as my turkey from earlier. After getting run off the field in Miami to the tune of a 35-8 final score, giving them three straight losses by a total margin of 106-26, the Bills discovered that running back Fred Jackson, only their best player by a mile, would miss the rest of the season with a broken fibula. This is the second time in four years the Bills have played like a playoff team through September and October only to completely fall off the map by Thanksgiving. The enxt time it happens, sadly, it won’t be that much of a surprise.

And finally…
What’s with the schedule makers anyway? Why did the 49ers have to travel East to play Baltimore on a short week, their fifth trip to this time zone of the year, and resulted in a 16-6 loss? Sure Baltimore was on their schedule. And the two teams’ head coaches being brothers is a storyline made for primetime. But then why couldn’t the game be played on Sunday or Monday night? Home field advantage is bigger in football than in any other sport. When a team has to travel 3,000 miles to play during a regular week, it’s usually even bigger big. So in a four-day week? Yikes. There are scheduling quirks that make little sense every year. Teams often have to play three road games in a row (like the Jets, who played at Oakland, at Baltimore and at the Pats in consecutive weeks earlier this season and lost all three times) and that in itself doesn’t seem very fair. We all know this is a business and the TV contracts rule. But why put any team at a further competitive disadvantage just for sake of a good story?  Bad NFL, bad.