Eagles-Seahawks Game Predictions: Three-and-out

Can the Eagles pull out the upset on the road?

Brandon Graham. (USA Today Sports)

Brandon Graham. (USA Today Sports)

The Philadelphia Eagles play the Seattle Seahawks this Sunday at CenturyLink Field. Here’s how we expect the game to unfold.


Paunil: Brandon Graham.

For me, it came down to either a kick or punt returner or a defensive lineman. The Birds need a big play on special teams if they want to win the game, which is very doable as they have the best special teams unit in the NFL, according to Football Outsiders.

The Eagles lead the league in kick return average (33.7 yards), rank second in the NFL in punt return average (14.1) and are the only team to return multiple kick returns for a touchdown this season. However, it’s tough to pinpoint which guy would make that play as Sproles is a huge threat on punt returns, and three different Eagles have returned a kickoff for at least 52 yards.

The defensive line will also have to come up big for the Birds to pull off the upset. The Seahawks start an undrafted free agent at left tackle, a rookie at right guard and a second-year player who has only started 10 career games at left guard. Seattle ranks second-to-last in the NFL in yards per carry (3.3), so you’d think the Eagles’ defensive line will be able to tee off on second- and third-and-long situations.

Still, Russell Wilson is a heck of an athlete, and he’s shown he’s healthy enough to make life miserable for defensive linemen trying to bring him down. If an Eagle is able to consistently get to him or just disrupt him in the pocket, I’d bet on Graham, who has probably been the most valuable player on the team through nine games. Jim Schwartz heaped a ton of praise onto Graham during his Thursday morning press conference.

“He’s a good player. There’s no substitute for good players. Not only is he a good player, but he plays with incredible effort. He plays with toughness. He’s very conscientious,” Schwartz said. “He doesn’t make mistakes very often, and when he does make a mistake, he’s quick to correct. He’s also quick to take responsibility for plays that he doesn’t make or plays that he should make. He’s a great teammate. I can’t say enough good things about him. He plays the way the game should be played.

“I’ll give him — in my mind, my greatest compliment — I wasn’t a very good player, but if I played in the NFL, I hope I would have played like Brandon Graham.”

BLG: Nelson Agholor.

If there was ever a game for Agholor to step up and prove everyone wrong, it couldn’t come at a better time for the Eagles than this week.

Make no mistake: it’s not likely to happen.

Agholor has been a bad player to this point in his career. A year after finishing as the worst graded wide receiver by Pro Football Focus, Agholor ranks 118th out of 119 players this season. He also ranks 73rd out of 75 players ranked by Football Outsiders’ metrics. Agholor’s career average of 24.9 yards per game is worst in the NFL over the last two years among receivers who have started at least 20 games, per Reuben Frank.

It’s nearly impossible to imagine Agholor will have much success against Seattle’s secondary, which is one of the best in the NFL. But the Eagles might be forced to throw his way more often than usual this Sunday. Both Jordan Matthews and Zach Ertz have been ruled questionable on the final injury report. Even if they suit up, they could be limited by their injuries.

Matthews leads all Eagles players in targets with 75. Ertz ranks fifth with 35. If one or both of those players can’t suit up, it only seems logical the targets would go to the Eagles’ second most targeted player: Agholor. That’s not an encouraging prospect, but it’s potentially the reality the Eagles face this week.

OVER/UNDER: 85.5 passer rating for Carson Wentz — Whaddya got?

Paunil: Under.

Carson Wentz’s passer rating is 87.6, while the Seahawks’ defense allows an average passer rating of 82.5. If you want to get into the splits, Wentz’s passer rating on the road is 83.9, while Seattle allows a quarterback passer rating of 80.1 at home.

While I think both Ertz (hamstring) and Matthews (back) are more likely than not to play on Sunday, both will be playing through recent — albeit relatively minor — injuries. I’d be shocked if any of Wentz’s outside receivers do much against the Legion of Boom, so Darren Sproles will probably be one of the most targeted players in Seattle.

If Sproles records just two receiving yards, he will have his ninth consecutive season with at least 300 reciving yards, the longest streak by an NFL running back since Tiki Barber did it from 2002 through 2010. And if Sproles catches one receiving touchdown, he’ll become just the eighth player in NFL history with at least 30 career receiving touchdowns and at least 20 career rushing touchdowns.

BLG: Under.

Wentz has only been held under 85.5 three out of nine games this season, but the fourth game could easily be coming on Sunday. The rookie quarterback lacks offensive weapons to begin with and the status of Ertz and Matthews is obviously concerning. Even if they play, it’s hard to imagine they’ll be 100% healthy.

The crowd noise is a legitimate concern for the Eagles this week. Philadelphia ranks near the top of the league in false starts and delay of game penalties. Playing in such an intimidating environment against an a tough challenge will be a really big challenge. The feeling here is he won’t totally collapse, but it’s hard to imagine he’ll have a great day.

The Eagles will obviously hope that Josh and I are wrong about Wentz’s outlook this weekend. The team might really need their rookie quarterback to step up in this one. Seattle’s pass defense hasn’t been as good as their run defense so the Birds might have to rely on throwing the ball.


Paunil: Seahawks 23, Eagles 17

The Eagles have proven they can show up in big games. They dominated the Steelers before Ben Roethlisberger’s knee injury altered Pittsburgh’s season, they beat the Vikings by 11 points and they defeated the Falcons by nine points. The problem, of course, is all of those wins came at the Linc and the Birds haven’t played consistently well on the road this season.

The Seahawks — when Wilson is relatively healthy — look like the best team in the NFC, and beating them in Seattle — where they’re undefeated — is an even taller task. They’re coming off of a big win in New England, so this could be a potential let-down game for them, but I think the talent disparity is too big for the Eagles to make up.

The Seahawks allow just 17.6 points per game this season, and I’d be surprised if the Birds cross that threshold. Seattle ranks second in the league in yards per carry given up (3.5) and seventh in the NFL in average passer rating allowed. I mentioned up top that the Eagles need a big special teams play to win the game, but they’ll also likely need a huge takeaway as their offense is expected to sputter.

BLG: Seahawks 17, Eagles 10

As Josh mentioned, I like to think the Eagles have a shot this week because they’ve played well against some tough opponents. I’m still of the belief Philadelphia is a better team than their record indicates; they still rank No. 1 in DVOA.

But the Seahawks — the No. 2 team in DVOA — are just too good, especially in Seattle. They’re 35-5 in their last 40 home games. The Eagles, meanwhile, have obviously struggled on the road this year. It’s hard to have confidence in Philadelphia. I agree with Josh that the Eagles might need multiple scores on defense/special teams to steal a win on the road.

The good news for the Eagles is that this isn’t a must-win game for them. A victory would be big for Philadelphia’s playoff push, yes, but the Eagles’ season is still alive even if the Birds lose on Sunday.