Three-And-Out: Eagles-Jags Predictions
Player I’ll be watching:
Kapadia: Jeremy Maclin
The biggest question facing the Eagles’ offense this season is: Can they hit on big plays downfield?
The running game’s going to be good, and the offensive line should be able to hold up. Like everyone else, I’m expecting Zach Ertz to have a breakout season. But the wide receiver position is where there are question marks.
And that brings us to Maclin.
The Eagles’ No. 1 wide receiver is about 13 months removed from the ACL injury that sidelined him in 2013. He went to all the home games last year and watched the away games from his couch. Maclin had a scare towards the end of a practice in the spring and another one during the preseason game against the Steelers.
He’s looked OK this summer, but there are still questions about how explosive Maclin can be in this offense. On Sunday against the Jaguars, we’ll start to get answers.
McManus: Darren Sproles
It’s going to be fun to see what a creative offensive mind like Chip Kelly does with a weapon like Sproles. Kelly didn’t tip his hand this preseason, so there’s some mystery heading into the Jacksonville game as to how he might be deployed. His presence alone gives opposing defenses something extra to think about, which is a win within itself. I’m guessing he’ll be moved all over the place to further complicate things for the Jaguars’ ‘D’. Assuming he still has some zip in his 31-year-old legs (and it looked that way this summer), Sproles should be a nice addition.
Over/under: 3 sacks for the Eagles. Whaddya got?
Kapadia: I’ll take the over.
The pass-rush is another area to watch early in the season. The Eagles had 37 sacks last season (20th in the NFL). The Jaguars made changes to their offensive line, but it’s still a below-average group. Chad Henne is a pocket quarterback, and Jacksonville gave up 50 sacks a year ago.
I think the Eagles get four. Vinny Curry should be on the field in all passing situations. Look for him to get Henne once. Mark Brandon Graham and Trent Cole down for a sack apiece. And Mychal Kendricks gets home on an A-gap blitz.
McManus: I’ll go under. Marcus Smith could be inactive for this game. Even if he’s up, I’m not expecting an immediate impact. I think they’ll get to Henne once or twice, but I don’t have enough confidence in the group going into the season to predict much more than that. Perhaps they’ll surprise.
Kapadia: Eagles 27, Jaguars 14; 10-6 season record
I think the Eagles get a bit of a break going up against Jacksonville early in the season. The Jaguars’ offensive line hasn’t played a regular season game together. We know who Henne is at this point in his career. And while the defense has improved, it’s hardly an elite unit.
The Eagles’ offense may look rusty early on, but eventually LeSean McCoy will get going, and Nick Foles will spread the ball around. Put me down for a 13-point win that’s never really in doubt.
As for the season, I’ve got the Eagles at 10-6. I think this is a very good team that will build on the foundation that was put in place a year ago. The offense won’t be as explosive as it was last year, but should still be a top-five unit. The defense should show marginal improvement.
Look for the Eagles to take advantage of a weak NFC East and advance to the divisional round of the playoffs before bowing out.
McManus: Eagles 24, Jaguars 17; 9-7 season record
I’ll say the offense is slow to start but finishes strong.
I have heard a lot of Super Bowl talk of late and, who knows, maybe they are Arizona-bound this season. My feeling is that the conversation is being had a year early.
The Eagles definitely have some things going for them. The division looks weak. McCoy looks great and his backup is no slouch, either. Kelly’s operation is up and running and it is smooth, fast and efficient. The players are more comfortable in the system and the coaches are more comfortable with what they are teaching. The defense should be better in the back end, and a couple players like Kendricks and Fletcher Cox may very well break out on ‘D’. Same for Ertz on offense. They have the coach and it appears they have the quarterback, and that’s largely what this league is about.
On the other side, the schedule is more difficult. Kelly’s system and the offensive tempo is still a hell of a thing to try and find a counter to, but it’s less foreign to defensive coordinators now. A key playmaker was removed, and it’s unclear how much the team’s receivers of the future can contribute in the here and now. Even before the first snap, we know the offensive line will not enjoy the same level of continuity as a year ago. On defense, there is little evidence to this point that their pass rush will be significantly improved. Given the way illegal contact will be called down the field this year, applying QB pressure is more important than ever. It seems to me like they are still in the middle of the construction project on that side of the ball.
All of these factors balance themselves out in my mind. Quarterback play is a variable that can push the team in either direction. I’m predicting that Foles takes a small step back this year, and that the team will finish 9-7. That could be enough to get them into the playoffs in this division.
I do believe that there is a very good chance that the first Eagles Super Bowl is won under Kelly, and maybe in the very near future. But I don’t think they are there quite yet.