No, Virginia, the Eagles didn't tank the game | Mitchell
This was certainly a different kind of football season in the NFL. (Well, everyone had a different kind of season so that makes it pretty much the norm.)
I have watched a lot of games during my nearly 24 years as a sports writer and not once did I ever suspect a team was tanking just to spoil someone else's chances.
That said ... I've seen teams completely gassed by the third or fourth quarters but that's not even close to the same thing ... but nothing could prepare me for what I had to witness in Washington and Philadelphia season-finale game last Sunday evening.
I'll confess, I had no emotional stake in the game. The two teams I followed were not going to the playoffs. Jason Garrett made sure that the Cowboys would not go into the playoffs ... again. I've started to follow the Jets for the last few years. The Jets have a clause built into its charter to disappoint fans each season. At least I know what I'm getting.
Now ... the question at hand, did the Eagles purposefully tank the game to benefit themselves? No.
There are motivations as the Eagles would both get a better draft pick and keep the Giants out of the playoffs. I find the second one difficult to believe. The coaches I've been around are friendly rivals at best. I've heard more than one coach say something along the lines: "Congratulations. We played [the next team in the playoffs] this season. Let me know if you want the film." Or "If there's anything I can do to help you prepare for next week, let me know."
As storied as the NFC East was this season, having two teams in the playoffs would look better than one. Each of the coaches knows this. No coach wants to be in a weak conference. It doesn't help you in the postseason. Of course, there are exceptions.
In my experience, coaches and players would much rather win that last game of the season even if it meant there's nothing to play for. Teams with no postseason will sometimes gladly take up the role of a spoiler but only if it's a win for them. If the situation was different and the Giants needed an Eagle loss to reach the playoffs... would we be having this conversation if the Eagles had won?
Draft picks alone are iffy at best.
The only certainty of a draft pick that it will guarantee the person being drafted and his agent a great deal of money depending upon how they fall in the draft. A team gains more benefit trading away their draft pick for additional picks or players. Unless there's a desperate need for a particular player for a specific role, a team will make a deal with others.
I guess the argument can be made to gain a higher pick for better leverage but there are too many unknowns that can happen between a game played on Jan. 3, 2021, and April 29 when the draft occurs. The only difference in the loss for the Eagles is the team moved up just three spots. Seems hardly worth the effort to tank a game.
Did the Eagles play poorly? Absolutely. You don't get to just four wins in a season for being a good team.
Eagles coach Doug Pederson is no different than the others. There isn't a coach out there who has had a bad game... made some calculated gambles and lost... tried something different in a game that really had no meaning other than just to chalk up a win.
Considering how badly the Eagles played, they almost won. It should be more of an indictment against Washington for barely winning. I'll be surprised if Washington scores more than two touchdowns this weekend against the Buccaneers.
If the Eagles did tank the game for their own gain, the coaches and the management should all be fired. They broke the integrity of the game and shouldn't be allowed back. To me, it's really no different than point shaving.