Three-And-Out: Eagles-Patriots Predictions
PLAYER I’LL BE WATCHING
McManus: Fletcher Cox
The Eagles’ defense is obviously faced with a gigantic challenge this week. Coming off a pair of dreadful performances against the Bucs and Dolphins in which it yielded five touchdown passes apiece to Jameis Winston and Matt Stafford, Billy Davis‘ unit now braces for arguably the greatest quarterback of all time in Tom Brady. Granted, he is missing some key weapons because of injury, but Brady has a knack for elevating the players around him. No matter what group he’s been surrounded by over the last 15 years seemingly, he’s still been able to carve it up.
The only way to slow him down is to generate a pass rush — preferably organically, as he can diagnose and expose a blitz as well as anyone. Problem is, the Eagles are having trouble getting after the quarterback.
Someone is going to need to step up, and Cox seems to be about as good of a candidate as any. It’s been a bit slow-going statistically the last five games, as the 24-year-old has registered just a half-sack during that stretch.
Cox still leads the team in sacks (5.5), though, and is also tops on the the team in tackles for a loss (12.5) and hurries (16). Now would be a good time for the type of explosion like he had against New Orleans, when he registered three takedowns.
There aren’t many players that can take over a game on this team right now. He’s one of them, and needs to do so Sunday in New England.
Paunil: Sam Bradford
How can I not pick the most important guy on the Eagles offense? Both Chip Kelly and Pat Shurmur have repeatedly talked about how Bradford improved before his concussion, and although Chip isn’t exactly straightforward with us all the time, I completely agree.
In his last two games, Bradford’s average passer rating was 111 — compared to 78 in his first seven games. He recorded a noticeable increase in his completion percentage and average yards per pass attempt, but as you now, it’s not all about statistics.
Bradford seemed to get more comfortable not only moving around the pocket, but operating the offense in general. Based on discussions with his teammates and coaches, he also seemed to work through his progressions better.
“I think the receivers were becoming more comfortable with him, catching more of his passes,” Shurmur said on Tuesday. “So there was a comfort level. I’ve always felt that Sam’s a naturally accurate passer. It’s a coordination when you throw the ball from your toes on up. I think he was getting much better at that as time went along.”
It’d be fair for you to say that even if Bradford plays well, the Eagles could get blown out. However, these last five games will essentially serve as a tryout for him. The odds are against Bradford returning next year, but he could play his way into a new deal despite a rough start to the season.
OVER/UNDER: 2 1/2 touchdowns for Tom Brady — Whaddya got?
McManus: I’ll go over.
Brady is averaging 2.5 TDs per game this season, and is coming off a three-touchdown performance against the Broncos in that overtime thriller that resulted in the Patriots’ first loss of the season.
The Eagles, meanwhile, have been very generous in the red zone of late. Detroit converted all six of its trips into touchdowns on Thanksgiving, and Tampa went 5-of-6 the week before that. The Eagles defense is suddenly second from the bottom in red zone efficiency, yielding TDs 67.5 percent of the time.
Rob Gronkowski or no, Brady will likely find a way to take advantage of a very giving defense.
Paunil: Way over.
Tim, you always do a great job of coming up with these over/unders, but I think you’re low-balling this one. Even if the line was 3.5, I think I’d take the over.
Are the Eagles capable of holding him to two or less? Absolutely. Back in Week 5, Davis’ unit held Drew Brees to a pair of touchdown tosses, and the first was a pre-snap miscommunication while the second was in garbage time.
However, as you mentioned, they’ve given up five touchdown passes each in the last two weeks to Stafford and Winston. Stafford ranks 8th in the NFL in touchdown passes while Winston is tied for 15th. Brady? He checks in at No. 1.
McManus: Patriots 33, Eagles 20
The Eagles are coming off a long week and a pair of humiliating losses. A lot of the players are stinging and are tired of being beat down, and know that a signature win against the Pats could be the type of tonic that they desperately need. In many ways this can be viewed as a last stand, and so I’d expect some fight. And I think getting Bradford back will help this team a bit as well.
But I just don’t think the Eagles have the horses on offense to get it done. Bradford is still working through a shoulder injury and I don’t have much confidence in the offensive line to protect it. This attack hasn’t been particularly difficult to solve, and I’m sure Bill Belichick and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia have an idea or two on how to take it down.
The Patriots are too well-oiled of a machine to stumble here, even with the injuries. I think the Eagles keep it interesting before being overtaken by the superior team.
Paunil: Patriots 38, Eagles 17
I can buy the theory that the Eagles will come out strong and hungry for the unlikeliest of upsets, but the disparity in talent and coaching between the two teams will be on full display. Brady vs. Davis? I don’t care if Brady is throwing the ball to me and you, he’s going to carve up Davis’ unit.
The Eagles haven’t responded well to adversity all year, and there’s no reason to believe they will now. As I mentioned in Press Coverage, my biggest issue with Chip is not his career winning percentage, but the team not bouncing back when they’re put in a corner.
A few weeks ago, I couldn’t really imagine Jeffrey Lurie firing Chip at the end of this season. However, I think it’s fair to say the Eagles need to at least be competitive in this final stretch for him to stick around. Chip certainly doesn’t seem like a guy who is happy about “moral victories,” but those kinds of close losses may be the difference in his employment status next month.