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September 07, 2021

Five over/unders for the 2021 Eagles season

Eagles NFL
DeVonta-Smith_090621_usat Bill Streicher/USA TODAY Sports

Philadelphia Eagles rookie wide receiver DeVonta Smith.

Hello there. It's been awhile, but let me be the first to welcome you back to another year of Eagles over/unders, a tradition unlike any many some others.

We started during the preseason, but since those games don't count we figure our predictions shouldn't either (unless they were correct). You likely already know the drill, but in case you don't, each week throughout the season, we'll take a look at five numbers to watch heading into every Birds game. Some will be real — like the weekly point total — but most will be completely made up by yours truly (and verified by Eagles writer Jimmy Kempski). Then I get to decide whether or not I think it will be over or under the number I arbitrarily set. 

Sounds unfair, right? Well, my track record would suggest otherwise. And this year, it ain't getting any easier. For starters, there's a new coach, and a new scheme on both offense and defense. There's a (sorta) new starting quarterback, and the starting running back is coming off a down year but could be in store for a big season. The No. 1 wideout is a rookie, the Nos. 2 and 3 receivers are both entering their second year with some questions (for better or worse). And they have a pair of tight ends both in different stages of their careers but both fighting for targets as they each enter a contract year.

So it's not just difficult to project what this team is going to be on a macro level, but on a micro, player-by-player basis as well. But don't worry, we're certainly going to try. 

We'll have five more over/unders coming on Wednesday (update: they're up and you can read them here) but let's start with this batch of sure-to-be-wrong predictions... 

[A quick reminder for those new to our over/unders: Unless explicitly stated otherwise, these are my own numbers based on how I think the players/teams will perform on Sunday — and the advice that follows is where I would put my money if I had to. Most are not actual numbers you can bet on, but we'll let you know when they are.]

Eagles Wins: 6.5

That's currently the number that can be found at most sports books, including over at FanDuel. And despite the fanbase overall being more optimistic, it feels like the Eagles winning six or seven games is about right. As I've written several times this offseason, paying attention to wins and losses is not the most important metric for Eagles fans when it comes to deciding whether or not this season was a success. I've also written a few times that I think the Eagles are only going to win six games — and that I don't think that's the worst outcome for this team, especially if they come away from the season with a firm grasp on what direction to head at quarterback. 

Moreover, I think the Eagles are more likely to win five games than they are seven, even if all the optimism of a new season with a fresh slate is tempting me into taking the over here, I just don't see it. I think in a subpar (although better than a year ago) division, the team can win three games, although two (swept by Dallas and splitting the other four seems more likely). The question then if you want to bet the over here is whether you see four or five other wins on their schedule. I think they're going to be close in several games this year, and a few plays late in games could be the difference between the Eagles hitting this number or not. And with the Birds having a young team and coaching staff, that could lead to them losing more than winning in those situations. 

As we've said all along, this is going to be a process over results season for the Birds, and that scenario I just described is a perfect example of how that could play out on the field — and a great example of why I'm trying to caution fans to pay attention to the entire picture, not just the wins and losses. 

UNDER. 

Jalen Hurts Passing + Rushing TDs: 27.5

This is another official prop being offered over at FanDuel, and I think with a quarterback like Jalen Hurts it's definitely a more intriguing number than just his passing touchdown total (which, for the record, is 20.5). For Hurts, I think this all comes down to how many games he plays. If he plays all 17, then I think the over here is a no-brainer. For starters, that would mean that he's playing well enough to keep the job — although I think he'd have to be playing really poorly for the Eagles to go away from him. Beyond that, him starting all 17 games would mean that he would only need to average just over 1.6 touchdowns per game. 

Sure, it's a small sample size, but in the three games last season that he started and finished, Hurts averaged two total touchdowns. And when you spread those numbers out for the entire season, it projects to 34 touchdowns. He should also have a healthier offensive line in front of him and some better skill players around him, including the reigning Heisman winner in Smith (more on him in a second). Add all that to a full training camp and offseason as the team's projected starter, practicing with the first team and getting all the necessary reps (preseason games aside), and Hurts should be in a much better position than he was a year ago.

That being said, this number becomes much more difficult if Hurts gets banged up. Even if he's only out for a week or two, which is certainly not out of the question given how his style of play will wear on him over a 17-game season. It feels more like a matter of when, not if, Hurts gets injured. My better judgment is telling me to hedge here and take the under, but I can't help myself. 

OVER.

DeVonta Smith Receiving Yards: 825.5

Once again, this is a real number that you can bet on at FanDuel. I just wanted to make sure you all knew that it was the actual number and not one that I made up, since it seems quite optimistic. Sure, it's not as high as guys like Calvin Ridley (1375.5) or last year's rookie receiving leader, Justin Jefferson (1350.5), but it's second among all rookies to only Ja'Marr Chase (965.5) and is ahead of Falcons tight end Kyle Pitts (800.5). 

The reason that this could be high for Smith is simple: the Eagles don't really have a pass-happy offense — at least when it comes to the wide receivers racking up yards. Since 2016 when Doug Pederson took over for Chip Kelly, the Eagles have had exactly one wide receiver accrue more than 825 receiving yards in a season (Alshon Jeffery had 843 in 2018) and haven't had one come within 280 yards of hitting this number since. 

But part of that was the personnel, something the team thinks its solved in 2021 with the addition of Smith, as well as what appears to be a breakout season on the horizon for Quez Watkins. Between those two and last year's first-round pick, Jalen Reagor, the Birds will have more speed on the outside than they've had in recent years, and that should help open things up for everyone (including the running game, which we'll touch on in Wednesday's over/under post). If Smith is as good as advertised — we didn't get to see much of him during the preseason — and his connection with his former college teammate in Hurts remains strong, then this could be a big season for Smith. We're not saying it would be like the record-setting numbers Jefferson posted last season, but he'd only need to average 48.5 yards per game to hit this number. And even if he misses a pair of games, he'd still only need 55 yards per game. 

In other words, it can be done. And for an Eagles team that has been devoid of a true No. 1 wideout for some time now, it would be more than welcome. 

OVER.


MORE: WTS: Bold Eagles predictions, prime breakout candidates and more


Sacks by Eagles defense: 49.5

Last year, the Eagles defense finished third in the NFL with 49 sacks. Unfortunately, it didn't translate to a good pass defense as the team allowed the fifth best passer rating by opposing quarterbacks. The two teams that finished ahead of the Eagles in sacks, the Steelers and Rams, allowed the two worst opposing QB passer ratings. So clearly, something was broken on the back end of the Eagles defense. Much of that could've been attributed to the Eagles shuffling of the secondary last season, which included the loss of Malcolm Jenkins and the decision to move Jalen Mills from cornerback to safety. Rodney McLeod also went down with a knee injury and Darius Slay had a down year. In front of them, the Eagles linebackers, specifically Nate Gerry, became absolute liabilities in coverage for the most part, meaning that opposing quarterbacks were able to eventually beat the Eagles pass rush.

But that didn't stop them from getting home more often than not. And if the Eagles fixed the back two thirds of their defense, then maybe Jonathan Gannon's unit can put up some impressive numbers. It's not hard to imagine that number being higher if the coverage had given the defensive front a couple more seconds here or there. Getting 50 sacks is a lot — only two teams did it last year and typically it's no more than three or four that hit that number, although it could climb with an extra game this season.

I think the Eagles are going to come out of the gate racking up sacks, but teams will quickly begin scheming against their pass rush, ultimately causing their sack rate to slow. At the end of the day, I think they're somewhere in the mid-40s, a respectable number for sure, and likely finish in the Top 10 in the league in sacks (maybe even the Top 5), but I don't think they reach 50. In fact, they haven't hit 50 since 2011, when Jason Babin led the way with 18 sacks. 

UNDER.

Eagles 2022 first-round picks: 2.5

Right now, the Eagles have two first-round picks in the 2022 NFL Draft. And they could get a third if things go their way in Indianapolis. As part of the Carson Wentz trade, the Eagles got a second-round pick that converts to a first if Wentz plays 75% of the snaps (or 70% and the Colts make the playoffs). Needless to say, Eagles fans are going to be paying close attention to their former quarterback this season. 

His Colts career didn't get off to the best start though, as Jimmy Kempski so accurately portrayed here:

The good news, however, is that Wentz is back and appears to be on track to start the Colts season opener, which is great news for Philly fans. But really, the stress is just beginning. See, there's probably a reason this playing time incentive was tied to that second-round pick — and it likely has to do with the fact that since his sophomore season, Wentz has played a full season just once (and even that was ended by a postseason injury). In the three other seasons, the 28-year-old QB has played 78% (2017), 66% (2018) and 72% (2020), although that last season was due to him sucking rather than being injured. 

So, if you're an Eagles fan, you know this is hardly a lock to convert. And it's definitely one worth keeping an eye on throughout this season. The good news is that two of the four AFC East teams are more or less out of the picture — the Texans are a mess and the Jaguars still have a long way to go — so only the Titans really stand between the Colts and a division title. Now the Colts just have to keep Wentz healthy and active on Sundays, which is easier said than done, especially since he refuses to get vaccinated and could be held out simply for being a close contact at the wrong time. 

Could you imagine Wentz not hitting this number because he missed a game due to COVID protocols when a simple vaccination would've allowed him to keep playing? That sounds like the most Philly outcome possible here.

UNDER.


Follow Matt on Twitter: @matt_mullin

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