Eagles-Packers Game Predictions: Three-and-out
The Philadelphia Eagles play the Green Bay Packers on Monday night at Lincoln Financial Field. Here’s how we expect the game to unfold.
EAGLES PLAYER I’LL BE WATCHING
BLG: Wendell Smallwood.
Smallwood is expected to have an increased role this week. Eagles leading rushing Ryan Mathews is out due to a knee injury and Darren Sproles is playing through a broken rib. In addition, ESPN’s Adam Caplan reports Smallwood is going to “play a lot.”
The fifth-round rookie running back has shown some promise in limited playing time this season. Smallwood is averaging 4.4 yards per attempt on 57 carries and he also has nine receptions for 45 yards. Smallwood is averaging 4.6 yards per attempt in the three games he’s received at least 13 carries this season.
The Eagles relied heavily upon their running game to beat the Falcons in Week 11. Following Carson Wentz’s struggles in the Seattle game, Doug Pederson talked about how Philadelphia needs to get back to running the ball in order to take pressure off their rookie quarterback. The Eagles will likely look to establish the run again on Monday night.
Running on the Packers hasn’t been an easy task this season. Green Bay’s defense ranks seventh in rush yards allowed per attempt. Their pass defense is much more vulnerable. Still, there’s reason to believe the Eagles can run the ball effectively. The Packers are dealing with a number of linebacker injuries. If Smallwood can take advantage of this opportunity, the rookie rusher might earn more playing time moving forward.
One potential concern with Smallwood is his pass protection. He’ll need to show improvement there before the Eagles’ coaching staff can trust playing him in a full-time role.
Josh: Nelson Agholor.
One of the big questions tonight will be answered before the game even starts: Will the Eagles’ 2015 first-round pick be a healthy scratch? Pederson said it will be a game-time decision of whether or not Agholor is active for the game, but NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport tweeted that the Eagles plan to play the receiver on a limited basis or could even deactivate him.
It’d be somewhat of a surprise if the Eagles don’t make Agholor available, as Mathews is out and the Birds could activate all five of their receivers. When Pederson addressed reporters Saturday, he seemed to be genuinely unsure of what he would do.
“Quite honestly, I don’t know. He’s had a good week of practice. I feel like his mind has been in a good spot. He’s done everything right this week. So it’s hard to say at this point, if he would be the odd man out,” Pederson said. “I’m not ruling him out right now. Again, we are preparing five (receivers) to go into this football game. Haven’t made a decision yet. He’s been working extremely hard and doing everything right this week. We’ll see come game time.”
There are two perspectives through which you can watch how this unfolds. The first, of course, is the short-term view of how much Agholor contributes to a win or loss. The Packers’ pass defense is poor, and Wentz could use some help to outpace Aaron Rodgers.
The second — and the more important — perspective is to consider what tonight means for his future with the Eagles. This game alone obviously won’t determine what the team does with Agholor, but even Pederson said it’s “a big week” for the 23-year-old, noting it will be telling about Agholor can “handle a little adversity in his career.”
One thing I thought was interesting when talking to the players last week was they openly spoke from the perspective that Agholor may be on the outside looking in when it comes to a roster spot next season.
Here’s what Brandon Graham had to say: “My biggest hope for him is to finish strong this year so he can at least have a shot of making sure he’s here next year. So just finish strong and don’t worry about what you can’t control. Upstairs, (the front office) will do what they do, but at the same time, it’s all about what you put on tape and everybody else — all 31 other teams — will see it, too.”
It wouldn’t be shocking for the Eagles to part ways with Agholor, but it’d cost about twice as much for the Eagles to cut Agholor in the offseason ($4.94 million in dead money) than it would be to keep him ($2.56 million against the 2017 salary cap), per Over The Cap. And while the Birds could add receivers in free agency or in the draft, there’s no guarantee they’ll end up with four or five guys who are better than Agholor.
Regardless, whatever happens tonight will give us a clue as to how long Agholor’s tenure will be in Philadelphia.
OVER/UNDER: 250 passing yards for Carson Wentz — Whaddya got?
Green Bay’s defense allows the most pass yards per attempt in the NFL at 8.1. The Packers have allowed an average of 38.25 points in their last four games (all losses). It’s hard not to think the Eagles’ offense could have a big day after looking at those numbers.
This is a game where Wentz seems primed to rebound to early-season form after struggling to post great numbers recently. The rookie quarterback has thrown only four touchdowns to six interceptions in his last five starts.
Now, the question is: who will be catching those Wentz passes? Because certainly it’s hard to rely on Philadelphia’s lackluster receiving corps. It’s a fair concern. But if there was ever a game for the Eagles’ receivers to have some success, one would think it would happen against this Green Bay defense.
And even if the receivers struggle, the Eagles still have some quality tight ends to rely upon. Zach Ertz has 20 receptions for 187 yards and one touchdown in his last three starts. He would have 21 for 244 and two scores if not for Agholor’s costly touchdown-canceling penalty.
The good news for the Eagles is that the Packers struggle to defend tight ends. Green Bay is one of only four teams this season to allow 700+ yards to tight ends. As previously mentioned, the Packers are dealing with a number of linebacker injuries, which could help the Eagles utilize the middle of the field.
While Wentz averages just 234 passing yards per game and he’s only thrown for more than 238 yards once in the last seven games, Green Bay gives up 266 passing yards per game. The Packers have allowed the opposing quarterback to throw for more than 280 yards in each of their last four games, and they continue to get bit by the injury bug.
I also agree with BLG about Wentz having some type of bounce back game. Even in the recent contests when he hasn’t played well, he still makes throws in practically every game that few quarterbacks can make. Playing in the friendly confines of Lincoln Financial Field against a bad defense should help spark Wentz to a productive outing.
As for the receivers, the Packers rank 29th in the NFL in defending opposing teams’ No. 1 receivers and are 30th against No. 2 recievers, per Football Outsiders. Ertz is a logical choice for a guy who could have a big game because of the recently built chemistry between he and Wentz and Green Bay’s injuries, but don’t sleep on Jordan Matthews either. Matthews is averaging five catches for 64 receiving yards this year, which is on the low end of the spectrum of what he could do against the Packers.
BLG: Eagles 31, Packers 17
The Packers still have Rodgers, so there’s always a chance he puts the team on his back and carries his team to a win. Green Bay will be desperate to avoid their fifth straight loss and drop to 4-7.
But the Eagles are also desperate to keep their season alive. Winning this game would mean the Eagles are only 0.5 games back on a wild card spot in the NFL playoff picture.
It’s difficult to be against Philadelphia at home this season. They’re 4-0 at the Linc and they’ve outscored opponents by 108 to 38. The Packers, meanwhile, have struggled on the road this year. Green Bay is sporting a 1-4 away game record.
The Eagles’ offense should be able to have success against a struggling Packers defense. The Eagles’ defense should be able to get enough pressure on Rodgers to prevent him from totally dominating Jim Schwartz’s defense. If the Eagles can merely keep Rodgers in check, this should be a game they should win. Philadelphia also holds a distinct advantage over Green Bay on special teams.
The feeling here is the Eagles advance to 5-0 at home and keep their playoff hopes alive with five games remaining after tonight.
Josh: Eagles 27, Packers 20
I’m just not going to pick against the Eagles at home as long as they keep winning in impressive fashion at the Linc. There are only a few teams I’d take over the Birds in Philly, and the Packers certainly aren’t one of them.
But I’m also not going to predict a blowout because the Packers still have Rodgers — although he hasn’t been quite the same quarterback this season — and he could take advantage of Leodis McKelvin or Jalen Mills. Jordy Nelson ranks third in the NFL in receiving touchdowns, and he’ll be a touch matchup for the Birds in the red zone.
After this game, though, I expect the Eagles will edge closer to that second wild cart spot. The NFC East will once again be the only division in football with every team above .500, and it will be a heck of a finish to see who is still alive when January rolls around.