PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The NFL kicks off its divisional round tomorrow afternoon in Kansas City, when the Chiefs play host to the Colts. That game will be followed by Rams-Cowboys later Saturday night and then Chargers-Patriots on Sunday. All that leads up to the only game of the weekend that Philly fans truly care about, when their Eagles head down to New Orleans to face the Saints.
This year, more so than in past years, the playoff field feels wide open. One could make an argument for any of these teams to move on to the conference championship games. Or, you could make the case for why every single one will lose this weekend.
Longtime NFL analyst Merril Hoge shared that exact sentiment when he stopped by the CBS Local studios on Friday. Hoge, who was in town promoting his book Brainwashed: The Bad Science Behind CTE and The Plot to Destroy Football, told us that this was the first time since he has become an analyst when he thinks you could pick any team and have pretty good odds of being right.
“When you look at the matchups that exist, this has not been a year where I can say I’m definitive on one side or the other, like I have been in the past,” said Hoge. “When I look at stuff now, it’s like, ‘Wow.’ Easily I could come up with all kinds of reasons that the Chargers could beat the Patriots going on the road. The way Indianapolis is playing, going into Kansas City. Philly and the way things have gone as they go into New Orleans. It’s going to be a fantastic run.”
Speaking of those Birds, they find themselves on another hot streak, with Nick Foles as their quarterback, winning four straight games. Now, they enter a rematch with the New Orleans Saints on Sunday, a team that routed them 48-7 during the season. But, with Foles, the offense seems different than it was with Carson Wentz. We asked Merril why that is.
“Carson, when he comes back, there are some plays that he can make and some throws I have seen him make, that Nick Foles just flat can’t. That is the kind of gifted player that he is,” said Hoge. “What you have to realize is, when he was playing, they had a lot of injuries on both sides of the ball. They’re starting to actually get healthier, ironically, now that Nick Foles is playing. I think Carson was trying to do too much. Carson was part of that Super Bowl, but he wasn’t the quarterback. That is tough because even though you were a part of that team and did your part in getting them there, you didn’t play in that game. I know that he really wanted to validate himself and sometimes, you press when you do that.”
That all said, Wentz won’t be on the field this Sunday when the Eagles play the Saints. But, despite the Eagles facing the top seed in the conference, Hoge isn’t counting them out by any stretch, noting they have been a different team in their last four games.
“That team isn’t playing like it did four weeks ago,” said Hoge. “That is why I tell fans all the time, you always evaluate a team based on the last four weeks, not the full 16. That is what every NFL team does, that is what we did every week. Take a look at how did they play in their last four games. That gives you the true flavor of who they are and what they are. If you look at their (the Eagles) last four weeks, it is the best they have had all year long.”
The Eagles meet the Saints on Sunday afternoon with kickoff set for 4:40 p.m.
Hoge’s book, “Brainwashed: The Bad Science Behind CTE and The Plot to Destroy Football” is available now at all retailers.