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What to watch for in Raiders vs. Eagles on Christmas

What says Christmas more than T.J. Yates in a Texans uniform?

Many things, to be fair, but he's the gift you're getting on Monday as part of a nationally televised NFL double-header for you to observe while downing Aunt Regina's Bundt cake and pounding day-old eggnog.

In both Christmas tilts, a team from Pennsylvania is being asked to handle their own business against inferior competition en route to January's playoff party.

Here's what we'll be watching for:



  1. Using nothing more than Week 15 as a sample size, Nick Foles looked fine for the Eagles in replacing Carson Wentz. Philly's backup can't match Wentz in terms of the pre-snap magic, the aggressive and accurate darts downfield and the eye-popping athleticism and field vision. Foles, though, helped the Eagles to 34 points against the Giants -- topping their season average of 31.1 -- while throwing four touchdown passes along the way. He displayed chemistry with wideouts Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor, but Foles authored most of his handiwork on short and intermediate throws. He was 0 for 3 on passes of 20-plus air yards, an area where Wentz was often magical. This isn't the same Raiders team that Foles dropped an outrageous seven touchdown passes on in 2013, but Oakland's secondary is an inviting proposition.
  1. Look for the Eagles to keep rolling on offense, but what happened to the defense last week? Facing a moribund Giants attack, Philly allowed an aging Eli Manning to unfurl lobs for nearly 500 yards in an unexpected shootout. I see that result as a freaky aberration for Jim Schwartz's rugged defense, a group chock-full of star players, but one that has also allowed 24, 35 and 29 points over its last three outings. Their play on Christmas night is worth monitoring as the Eagles prepare to enter an NFC postseason fray dotted with offensive powerhouses in Los Angeles and New Orleans.
  1. The Raiders stand out as arguably the most disappointing team in the AFC. Billed as a Super Bowl juggernaut during the endless offseason, Oakland has emerged as a white-hot disaster on both sides of the ball. Outside of a Week 7 thrashing of the Chiefs, last year's mighty Derek Carr-led attack has refused to rear its head in 2017. The offense has dipped from seventh to 22nd overall in points per game and drifts through Sundays alongside a dragging, dull, talent-poor defensive unit that has failed to generate turnovers. At 6-8, they're somehow still alive for a playoff berth, but that's nothing more than a mythical mathematical possibility. Plenty of changes loom in the distance for a team that has failed to live up to the hype.
  1. The Steelers own the AFC North crown, but Pittsburgh's final seeding in the conference remains up in the air. The Steelers could wind up with the No. 1 spot or without a bye at all if they fall to the Texans or Browns over the next two weeks. Logic says they'll win out against a pair of damaged, floating opponents, but the loss of MVP candidate Antonio Brown -- sidelined with a partially torn calf -- reduces what this offense can do. After Brown was injured against the Patriots last Sunday, Ben Roethlisberger's yards per attempt fell from 10.2 to 8.6, while his passer rating plummeted 32.7 points. Half of Big Ben's 138 yards post-Brown came on one winding, 69-yard catch-and-run by JuJu Smith-Schuster. In the four games Brown has missed since 2012, the typically explosive Steelers have averaged 14.0 points per game. Whether it's Smith-Schuster and Martavis Bryant stepping up or Le'Veon Bell playing the role of a do-everything hero, Pittsburgh must find a way to keep flying on this side of the ball.
  1. The Texans are fresh off an ugly 45-7 loss to the Jaguars that saw Yates complete just 38.7 percent of his throws, the lowest figure for any signal-caller throwing 30-plus passes since Nick Foles in 2015. It's hard not to wonder what this Texans team could have accomplished in the AFC had dazzling rookie passer Deshaun Watson stayed healthy. Without him, this foundering attack has scored 20-plus points just once since Week 9. On a weekly basis, though, star wideout DeAndre Hopkins reminds us why he's a top-three player at his position, piling up numbers and generating highlight-reel catches no matter what ham-and-egger the Texans shove under center. Pittsburgh's primary goal is keep Hopkins from turning this into a game.
  1. It's not the same as losing Brown, but James Conner's season-ending knee injury puts Pittsburgh's backfield in a tough spot. Stevan Ridley and Fitzgerald Toussaint are the last men standing behind Bell, the dictionary definition of a workhorse who's on pace for more touches (442) than any back since DeMarco Murray (449) with the Cowboys in 2014. This level of volume is largely unheard of in the NFL. Prior to Murray, the last two runners to record 410-plus touches in a season were Larry Johnson and Steven Jackson way back in 2006. The question is how you keep Bell fresh when Pittsburgh could still play up to five more games if it reaches the Super Bowl.
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