5 players to watch when the Eagles battle the Giants in season finale

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Philadelphia Eagles running back D’Andre Swift celebrates after scoring against the New York Giants during the second half of an NFL football game Monday, Dec. 25, 2023, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Well, it’s here. The final week of the regular season. Week 18. It’s been quite the year for the Eagles that has been well documented here at PSN. There’s still something to play for some teams around the league, but for the Eagles, their fate is pretty much locked in unless the Cowboys inexplicably lose to the Commanders. An Eagles win and a shocking Cowboys loss would give the Eagles a second-consecutive NFC East Division title and the coveted #2 seed.

This regular season finale for this year’s team has a lot of questions surrounding it. Does Nick Sirianni play the starters at MetLife Stadium, known for having the worst turf in the league? This team needs to put in a good performance to build some type of confidence heading into the playoffs after one of the worst losses in the last decade for the organization last Sunday against the woeful Arizona Cardinals.

Will Sirianni play them the whole game? That remains to be seen. There will certainly be scoreboard watching as the Eagles and Cowboys both play at the same time with a 4:25 EST kickoff.

Others think Sirianni should not play the starters in what could potentially be a meaningless game. The Cowboys are a 13.5-point favorite against the Commanders, so why risk injuring any key player right before the playoffs with the slim chance of clinching the division and #2 seed if the Cowboys somehow fall on the road?

That’s what makes this week’s players to watch challenging. We will go as if the starters are going to play at least the first half.

A.J. Brown, Wide Receiver

Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver A.J. Brown, right, celebrates a catch with cornerback Darius Slay, center, and head coach Nick Sirianni, left, during the second half of an NFL football game against the Los Angeles Rams Sunday, Oct. 8, 2023, in Inglewood, Calif. (AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian)

This is the most obvious. After his media scrum at his locker earlier in this week where he explained his silence and what he’s frustrated with, all eyes will be on how he goes out and performs. Brown has been a top-10 wideout in the league over the last two seasons and was in the early MVP conversation after his historic six-week stretch to start the season. However, the offensive woes have hampered his production.

Brown enters Sunday’s game with the longest touchdown drought of his career, not finding the end zone in five straight games. His last score was back in Week 12 in the thrilling overtime win over the Bills. Last week against the Cardinals, Brown had the second fewest targets on the season (5) and tied for his second fewest catches in a game (4) and finished with 53 yards receiving, his fourth lowest total of the year.

Against the Giants just two weeks ago, Brown hauled in six catches for 80 yards against. The pass defense of the Giants has been poor all season and enters the final week, allowing the 7th-most yards to receivers this season (178.4). It would be a positive sign to see Brown have one of his signature games right before the Wild Card round next weekend.

D’Andre Swift, Running Back

Philadelphia Eagles running back D’Andre Swift scores against the New York Giants during the second half of an NFL football game Monday, Dec. 25, 2023, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Quietly, the Philly native returned home and has put up a solid season despite not being featured as much as he should be. Swift has put together his first-career 1,000-yard rushing season, earning his first Pro Bowl Nod.

Everyone drooled over the possibility of Swift being a weapon out of the backfield doing what he does best, catching passes. However, he hasn’t been featured much in the passing game with a career-low 39 catches. Now, that’s obviously not on Swift. It’s the lack of ability and willingness from the Eagles not throwing to the backs or running successful screen plays.

Swift has done a solid job in the ground game, averaging 4.6 yards per carry. He certainly has that explosiveness that can change a game. He showed that two weeks ago at the Linc against the Giants, running for 92 yards and nearly scoring a touchdown (ruled down at the one-yard line). That same game, fans chanted “run the ball” to encourage the coaching staff to return to what was working against the Giants’ front seven because of Swift’s success.

Jalen Carter, Defensive Tackle

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) scrambles as Philadelphia Eagles defensive tackle Jalen Carter (98) defends during the first half of an NFL football game, Monday, Nov. 20, 2023, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Carter has put together a solid rookie year, showing flashes of how he can be a dominant force in the trenches for the foreseeable future, but also dealing with some bumps in the road as to be expected. The odds-on favorite to be named Defensive Rookie of the Year, the former Georgia Bulldog has been losing some ground in the race due to the struggles of the defense. Carter needs to help generate pass rush that just has not been nearly as effective as it was a year ago.

The first-round pick by the Eagles has 18 tackles, six sacks, two forced fumbles, a fumble recovery and touchdown in 15 games. He has shown that he can beat double teams and possesses a vicious knack to get to the quarterback.

He has hit a bit of a wall, as most rookies do, with the length and physicality of an NFL season compared to in college and some have speculated if the team is tired.

Fatigued or not, Carter will need to put together one final strong performance to cement himself as the Defensive Rookie of the Year and needs to be a driving force for this defense who will have a much tougher task defending Tyrod Taylor compared to Danny DeVito this week.

Jason Kelce, Center

Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts (1) helps up Philadelphia Eagles center Jason Kelce (62) during the first half of an NFL football game against the Miami Dolphins on Sunday, Oct. 22, 2023, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)

No disrespect to Brandon Graham, but the Eagles’ longtime center has become arguably the most beloved player this organization has had over the last two decades.

There’s not much to say that fellow Eagles’ writer David Neisz didn’t in his wonderful piece on one of the city’s most beloved athletes here on PSN. But like it or not, this could be the final regular season game fans see Kelce in an Eagles’ jersey. When you ask those in the city who their favorite Eagle is, or even favorite Philly athlete, you would be hard pressed to not hear Kelce named. Whether it is his final regular season game or not, fans have been able to enjoy what he has brought to the organization during his 13-year tenure.

He’s embodied what this city is all about. Hard-working, gritty and determined. Sunday’s start will mark the 11th season he’s played in every regular season game.

AP Photo/Matt Rourke