Eagles-Bengals Game Predictions: Three-and-out

Can the Eagles keep their playoff hopes alive?

Wendell Smallwood. (Jeff Fusco)

Wendell Smallwood. (Jeff Fusco)

The Philadelphia Eagles play the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium. Here’s how we expect the game to unfold.


BLG: Nelson Agholor.

Six days after being a healthy scratch in favor of two rookie undrafted free agents, Philadelphia’s 2015 first-round pick is expected to be active this week. Doug Pederson indicated as much on Friday morning.

“I plan on keeping him in the mix because of Jordan [Matthews’] situation right now,” Pederson said. “I got to find out how Jordan does today. Nelson, his mind has been great, his attitude has been really good and he’s been working hard. Right now, nothing says [we’re] not keeping him up, keeping him out. Everything’s leaning toward keeping him active.”

As Pederson mentioned, the Eagles are likely going to need Agholor active due to Matthew’s injury situation. Matthews suffered an ankle injury on Monday night and he sat out of Wednesday’s practice before being limited on Thursday. Matthews is questionable to play on Sunday.

It’ll be interesting to see how much playing time Agholor gets this week. Prior to being benched, Agholor had played the second most snaps of any Eagles receiver. Philadelphia will likely have to rely on him a lot this weekend, especially if Matthews is out.

It’s hard to imagine the Eagles giving Agholor a game off is suddenly going to make him a better player. But maybe it really did help him work through his mental issues.

“Just watched the game and understood that my team needs me and I want to be there for my team,” Agholor said regarding his benching. “Some of the things that really stuck out to me was realizing a game that I love, I didn’t get a chance to play. So I have to make sure I seize that moment and seize this opportunity because regardless of whatever is going on, I want to play. I’m a competitor and I love football. I have fun playing football, so the fact that I didn’t get to play that day was an eye-opener. You got to make sure you always have fun every opportunity you do get to play.”

Agholor has a lot to prove. This week would be a perfect opportunity for him to step up. The Eagles don’t have much at receiver to begin with, and the weakness is only exacerbated by Matthews’ injury injury.

It’s not like the Eagles even need Agholor to have a monster game. The bar is low here. As long as he can be serviceable and avoid big mistakes, that would be a step in the right direction.

Josh: Brandon Graham.

Andy Dalton has been sacked the second-most times of any quarterback in the league this year, averaging three a game. The Eagles are 4-1 this year when they sack the opposing quarterback at least three times, and the matchup works out well for them as the strength of their defense squares off against the weakness of the Bengals’ offense.

While the Eagles are 11th in the NFL in sacks, they’ve dipped in that category recently as they’ve only brought the quarterback down four times in the last four weeks. Brandon Graham and Fletcher Cox keep getting close — Graham ranks second in the NFL in pressures, while Cox is third among defensive tackles, per Pro Football Focus — but this is a game where they could finally get home again.

“We haven’t had sacks the last couple weeks. We need sacks to be able to help our team,” Jim Schwartz said. “That puts them in third down-and-longs; it gets off the field on third-and-long; it forces turnovers. We haven’t forced turnovers the last couple weeks.”

Schwartz’s mention of turnovers is also critical: The Birds have just one takeaway in the last three weeks, but the Bengals have five giveaways in the last three weeks. Graham has helped force critical turnovers before — like Rodney McLeod’s red zone interception against the Vikings — and he gets to face the weak spot of a subpar offensive line this week.

Bengals right tackle Cedric Ogbuehi has allowed eight sacks and 40 pressures this season, according to Pro Football Focus. Only three offensive tackles have allowed more sacks than Ogbuehi this year, while only six offensive tackles have given up more pressures. Expect Graham to have a big day and to play a key role if the Eagles pull out the win on the road.

OVER/UNDER: 120.5 rushing yards for the Eagles’ offense — Whaddya got?

BLG: Over.

Look for the Eagles to really pound the rock this week. Cincinnati’s 28th-ranked run defense allows an average of 120.5 rushing yards per game. The Eagles, meanwhile, are averaging nearly 115 rush yards per game.

Philadelphia got away from the run game too much in their loss to the Packers. The feeling here is the Birds will be looking to right that wrong against the Bengals. The Eagles simply can’t rely on their lackluster receiving corps, especially if Matthews is out, to move the ball consistently through the air. In addition, Carson Wentz has thrown seven interceptions in the team’s last six games. The Bengals rank tied for fourth in interceptions so the Birds should look to limit their rookie quarterback’s passing attempts and rely on the run.

Look for Wendell Smallwood to get involved early and often. The 2016 fifth-round pick made his first career start last week and had nine carries for 37 yards before Philadelphia abandoned the run.

Josh: Over.

The Eagles are 13th in the NFL in yards per carry (4.3), while the Bengals rank 26th in yards per attempt allowed (4.4), so the Birds should be able to carry the ball efficiently. It’s tempting to say the Eagles will reach 121 rushing yards because Pederson has overcorrected his mistakes before, but he has said several time this year that he needs to even out the run-pass balance, so he could continue to say that without actually changing anything.

I’m also curious how Matthews’ potential absence affects the game plan. Pederson used multiple tight end sets more often with Matthews out against Green Bay, but he also threw the ball much more out of those sets than he typically does. Did he do that because they were down, or because he wants Zach Ertz and/or Trey Burton more involved through the air?


BLG: Eagles 20, Bengals 16.

The Eagles are 1-5 on the road this year and they’re 2-6 in their last eight games. There’s ample reason not to feel good about the Birds’ chances, especially since they’re coming off a discouraging loss to the Packers on a short week.

But the Bengals don’t appear to be any better. They’ve only won three games this year. Their first victory was a one-point win over the 3-8 Jets. Their second win came over the Dolphins when Miami wasn’t playing well. The Bengals’ third victory was against the Browns, which is like being handed a free win. Cincinnati would have lost the game they tied if Washington didn’t miss a chip-shot field goal at the end.

In addition to the Bengals not really being any good, they’re missing some of their best players. A.J. Green is a superstar talent who had 66 receptions for 964 yards and four touchdowns before suffering an injury that might keep him out the rest of the year. Cincinnati running back Giovani Bernard ranks second in rushing and fourth in receiving. He’s out for the season as well. With these players, the Bengals have only scored an average of 13 points in their last two games.

The Eagles figure to be the more desperate team in this situation. Philadelphia’s playoff hopes aren’t officially over, but they’re very much on life support. The Eagles pretty much need to win out in order to make the post-season. They can keep their slim chances alive with a win this week. The feeling here is that this game won’t be pretty, but the Eagles will get the job done.

Josh: Eagles 17, Bengals 10.

I’m picking the Bengals to lose more than I am the Eagles to win. It’s a nice matchup for the Birds on defense, but Cincinnati has really struggled to score lately. Plus: Not only do the Bengals have just three wins, but they have only one win against a team with a record better than 3-8.

Many Eagles feel their last five games will tell them about what kind of team they have after seeing how they play with their playoff chances looking so bleak, but this contest alone could tell us a lot. Each of Cincinnati’s last four games (three losses and a tie) have been close, but this still isn’t a very good team.

The Birds are tied for 9th in the NFC standings, but they’re only 1.5 games back from Washington for the second wild card spot. According to the New York Times’ simulator, the Eagles’ playoff chances would jump from about two percent to 16 percent with a win instead of a loss. While Philadelphia has a tough road to the postseason, they’d essentially eliminate themselves if they lose this week.