Sunday, September 25, 2016

Eagles Need a Big Effort on Defense to Remain Undefeated

Carson Wentz has been the big story in Philadelphia this season behind the Eagles' surprising 2-0 start. He is the first rookie quarterback since 1970 to win his first two NFL starts without throwing an interception. With the favored 2-0 Pittsburgh Steelers coming east on the PA Turnpike for a late Sunday afternoon in-state showdown at the Linc, Wentz will most likely need his best effort to date to keep the Eagles perfect on the year.

The main reason why the Eagles will either stun the Steelers with another win as underdogs or go down in defeat to their cross-state rivals will hinge on the play of Philadelphia's defense. This unit was one of the worst in the league last season in almost every major category; however with Jim Schwartz at the helm as the new coordinator, the Birds are currently sitting at a very lofty second in the NFL in points allowed and fourth in total yards allowed.

Granted, Cleveland and Chicago are hardly offensive juggernauts in this league, but Pittsburgh is. In victories over Washington and Cincinnati, the Steelers have racked up an average of 31 points and 405.5 yards a game. Ben Roethlisberger is healthy and playing at a high level and the combination of Antonio Brown and Sammy Coates have hauled in 16 receptions for 318 yards and two scores. The only plus is that running back Le'Veon Bell is still out of the lineup due to a league suspension.

If the Eagles can hold Pittsburgh to 24 points or less they have a real good chance to win this game. Unfortunately, I do not see things playing out quite like that in a 27-17 loss at home.


A Few Other Bold Predictions

Wentz throws his first NFL interception

Wendell Smallwood has a big return on special teams

Backup tight end Trey Burton has another productive day in place of an injured Zach Ertz

Monday, September 19, 2016

Eagles Look to Go 2-0 with a Monday Night Win in Chicago

I was reading an article earlier today clearly spelled out the benefits of going 2-0 to start the season in the quest to make the playoffs. According to Odds Shark, of the past 75 teams that started the new season 2-0, 44 went on to qualify for the postseason which equated to over 58 percent of the time. The opposite end of the spectrum paints a pretty bleak picture for any team going 0-2 to start the season. Going back over the last 75 teams to lose their first two games, just seven were able to turn things around and make it into the postseason.

Earlier this year when the new NFL team schedules were first released, I did pencil this game in as a win in anticipation of a loss to Pittsburgh the following week at home. I felt a 2-1 mark heading into a Week 4 bye would actually not be all that bad. However, that was when Sam Bradford was still the starting quarterback for this team. Now that first year head coach Doug Pederson has turned the keys to the offense over to rookie Carson Wentz, we could be in for a wild ride almost every single week.

Wentz looked good last week against Cleveland, but there is a reason why the Browns are widely considered to be the worst team in the league this year. I do not put all that much weight on those kind things considering that the "Any Given Sunday" syndrome appears to be alive and well with both favorites and underdogs hovering right around .500 through the first two weeks of games in head-to-head play.

Chicago did look pretty bad against Houston last week on the road, so the Eagles might catch a break in what has been a pretty tough road venue to play in over the years. I am actually more interested to see how the Eagles' defense plays against Bears' quarterback Jay Cutler, who was intercepted once and sacked five times in the 23-14 loss to the Texans in Week 1. Houston actually trailed 14-10 in that game at the half before outscoring Chicago 13-0 in the second half.

A Few Bold Predictions for Monday Night

-Eagles win 27-16

-Carson Wentz throws for more than 250 yards and he runs for more than 25 yards

-Backup tight end Trey Burton has at least one catch in place of an injured Zach Ertz

-The Eagles' defense comes up with at least one interception and one fumble recovery against the Bears' offense


Enjoy the Game!!!

Saturday, September 10, 2016

The Carson Wentz Era in Philly Get an Unexpected Early Start

So much for sitting the rookie quarterback so he can better learn the game at the pro level from the sidelines. With Sam Bradford shipped off to Minnesota and Chase Daniel still penciled in as a backup, it will be a baptism of fire for Carson Wentz when he starts his first NFL game on Sunday against the Cleveland Browns. Right off the bat Wentz has two things going for him. First he is playing at home and even the worst Eagles' fans should give him a pretty big break no matter how bad he plays. The second thing is that he his playing against the Browns, which are widely recognized as the worst team in the league.

On a scale of one to 10, I have set my personal expectation level for Wentz's first NFL start at five. I think he is going to do a few good thinks and can also see him throw a pick or two as well as take some unnecessary sacks. All told, I still have the Eagles winning this game on the strength of their defense and special teams. It probably will not be a pretty game given that it is Week 1 and both teams on the field are coming off a losing record, but in the NFL a win is a win no matter how you get it.

It will be very interesting to see what type of offensive scheme first-year head coach Doug Pederson goes with on Sunday. Is he going to try and run the ball and limit Wentz to short high-percentage passes to the sidelines or is he going to open things up to see how well he can move the ball downfield through the air. I do think we will get a good taste of the rookie's mobility with a few scrambles out of the pocket. This would quickly endear him to the crowd at the Linc, especially if he runs for a first down or two in an effort to extend a drive.

Overall when it is all said and done, I see Sunday's game turning out to be like an old Clint Eastwood movie; The Good, the Bad and the Ugly!

Friday, September 2, 2016

My Fearless Forecast for the NFC East

The Eagles just completed a perfect 4-0 run through the preseason, but that has not changed the fact that they still have the longest odds on the board at BetAnySports to win the NFC East this season. The race to a title in the NFC East this season is expected to be the tightest one in the league according to the NFL divisional futures odds now that Tony Romo is out of the lineup in Dallas for the foreseeable future. Things could easily come down to the outcome of Week 17's games with New York on the road against Washington and the Eagles playing host to the Cowboys.

The Redskins start the new season as the defending division champs after going 9-7 last year, but they have the third-best odds to repeat. Dallas had been the favorite to win the NFC East the entire offseason, but with Romo on the shelf they have fallen into the second-favorite position behind the Giants. The following is a direct quote from a NFC East preview piece I wrote for SportsBettingStats.com early last month detailing my official prediction for the NFC East this season:

2016 NFC East Prediction

The early money has been on the Cowboys as slight favorites, but Romo is just one hard sack away from another shoulder injury. The Redskins will have a hard time defending last season’s division title and Philadelphia is still a few years away from possibly turning things around. This all adds up to New York taking its turn in the rotation by winning the NFC East at 9-7.

I thought the Romo injury would have come in the regular season, but it just goes to show how vulnerable this team really is without him in the lineup in the eyes of the betting public. Cowboy fans can get as pumped up as they want about rookie quarterback Dak Prescott, but he is definitely in store for a few "welcome to the NFL' moments over the next few weeks. Romo could be back in as early as six weeks, but I have a sneaky suspicion that his days in Dallas as the starting quarterback could be in jeopardy if Prescott has any level of success in his place.

Washington still has the pieces in place to make a repeat run behind quarterback Kirk Cousins given the overall parity in this division and if Sam Bradford can stay healthy and upright while playing to his potential, the Birds can hang around in this race deep into December. With everything I have seen from all four teams this preseason, the scales still tip slightly in the Giants' favor. They have a veteran quarterback at the helm who has already guided this team to two Super Bowl victories and if Victor Cruz can return to form, they would have the most formidable receiving corps in the division (sorry Dallas fans).

None the less, it should be a very interesting season in the NFC East and the only change I might make to my earlier prediction is that 8-8 could be a realistic record to win the title in 2016.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Eagles Running Game in the Spotlight on Saturday Night

This piece is not meant to be a knock on Sam Bradford and the Eagles' passing game. Rather it is a closer look at a ground game that I believe will be instrumental in the level of success this offense has in the 2016 regular season. Running the ball and playing defense may make for a boring football game, but it also makes for a winning season. Philly's projected win total this season is seven games and if this team is going to have any shot at eclipsing that mark to actually compete for the NFC East Division title it is going to need a strong effort from a ground game that was ranked 14th in the NFL last season.

DeMarco Murray was the featured back in last season's offense and that obviously did not work out as planned. This season things are shaping up to be a running back-by-committee approach. Ryan Mathews would have to be considered the lead back, but you also have Darren Sproules in the mix as well as Kenjon Barner. You also have Wendell Smallwood as the Eagles' fifth round draft pick out of West Virginia. He is expected to see his first action of the preseason this Saturday night against Indianapolis after being hampered with a leg injury for most of training camp.

Earlier this year I wrote a post for this blog that touted Smallwood as the next Wilbert Montgomery or for the younger fans in the crowd Brian Westbrook. Duce Staley was a great running back in Philly in his own right and he remains the team's running back coach under Doug Pederson. Duce himself is pretty high on Smallwood for his all-around talent as a runner, receiver out of the backfield and pass blocker. He will definitely be my main focus on Saturday night against the Colts.

I will not go out on a very thin limb and predict that the Eagles actually win the division this season, but I will stand by my belief that Pederson is putting the right pieces in place for a bright future that should result to a return to the top of the NFC East somewhere down the road. Whether it is Mathews, Sproules, Barner or Smallwood leading the way on the ground remains to be seen, but I think we are going to see the running game and defense return to a spotlight that was pretty dim last season.