November 21, 2020
The Philadelphia Eagles will travel to Cleveland on Sunday to face the 6-3 Browns as the Birds look to maintain their lead in the NFC East standings heading into Thanksgiving week. Currently, the Eagles are 2.5-point underdogs, according to TheLines.com, which is actually down a point from earlier in the week — and kind of a surprise after Philly just lost to the Giants last week.
We've given you some matchups to watch, broken down the injuries, and offered up our own predictions — as well as rounded up some from the local and national media. Now, as we do every week, let's give you some numbers we'll be keeping an eye on in the form of our five over/unders...
[A quick reminder for those new to our over/unders: Unless it's explicitly stated, these are my own over/unders 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. They are not all actual numbers you can bet on, but we'll let you know when they are.]
That's the current total being offered at FanDuel, according to TheLines.com. Neither of these teams are offensive juggernauts — in fact, they're both ranked in the bottom half of the league in points scored and yards — and while neither is great defensively, they're both pretty average. That suggests that the defenses will be enough to keep the scoring down.
On top of that, the weather is going to help keep this one a low-scoring affair. Reports are calling for 100% chance of rain throughout the day in Cleveland on Sunday. The Browns are already a run-heavy team with Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, and we've been talking in this space for weeks now that the Eagles need to trust their running backs to carry the ball more, not only because they've been successful but because it might help take some pressure off Carson Wentz, who's been having the worst season of his career. Well, the rain could force Pederson's hand against the Browns, and a lot of rushing attempts means a running clock, and in turn, fewer points.
Our writers are split on the total in our weekly predictions, with four taking the under and three taking the over. But when you average them out, the nod goes to the over, just slightly, with 48 total points. Yours truly is one of those on the under. Moreover, along with John McMullen, I've got the lowest total of the bunch at just 45, so I think you know which way I'm going here.
Believe it or not — and the number of Eagles games you've seen this season will likely decide whether you do in fact believe it — but that above number is actually above Wentz's passer rating on the season (73.1). Needless to say, that's the lowest of his career, and there haven't been many promising signs recently that it's suddenly going to turn around.
[NOTE: For an idea of just how bad that 73.1 rating is for Wentz, it's lower than every single game last season except one. In other words, he only had one game last year where he played worse than his average this season.]
Last week, Wentz finished with no touchdowns or interceptions for just the third time in his career, and the first time since his rookie year. While the zero interceptions was a nice change of pace, it marked the eighth time in his career he failed to throw a touchdown and the second time this season. That comes after throwing at least one TD in each of his starts in 2019.
Then there's the opponent, a Cleveland team that is sixth in the NFL in takeaways and fourth in fumbles, with seven of those takeaways coming on the ground. The Eagles have been one of the more turnover-prone teams in the league — and their quarterback, who has a well-documented fumbling issue, has been the main culprit. Sure, the Browns will be without Myles Garrett, but Wentz will be dealing with sloppy conditions, not to mention the fact that the Eagles will be without their passing game coordinator Press Taylor, which is an interesting wrinkle to this whole thing. If Wentz goes out and has his best game of the season with Doug Pederson (and not Taylor) as the primary voice in his ear, then maybe it should stay that way.
I honestly think (read: hope) the Eagles will keep things simple against the Browns and present a more balanced attack. And that, despite the bad weather, should lead to a better performance for Wentz.
Despite the Eagles being in the bottom six in the NFL in terms of rushing attempts, they're 10th in the league in rushing yards. And that's because they're a top five team in terms of yards per attempt (5.1 YPA).
On Sunday, they'll face a Browns team that gets a lot of hype for their own ground attack (third in the NFL). But their rushing defense flies a bit under the radar, as it is in the top 10 in both rushing yards allows (8th) and yards per attempt (7th). They're allowing an average of 104.9 yards per game, so if Miles Sanders has a slow start to the game, Pederson would be wise not to abandon the run as Sanders is capable of breaking a big one against any defense. Sometimes you just have to suffer through a couple of minimal gains to get the reward of a big carry. That's part of the reason the Eagles are averaging 122.8 yards per game despite their lack of rushing attempts: big plays.
This one will largely come down to the number of times the Eagles actually run the ball. But given the weather and Wentz's struggles, we're hoping for a slightly different gameplan on Sunday from Pederson. That, or one of those big 50-plus-yard runs we've been getting from Eagles running backs seemingly every week should do the trick.
Mayfield has thrown multiple touchdowns in five of nine games this season. Twice he's thrown one, and twice he's failed to find the end zone. The two in which he had zero TDs? They also happen to be his last two games.
The Eagles defense, meanwhile, has actually been pretty good at keeping opposing receivers out of the end zone, allowing just 13 TD receptions on the season (1.44/game), which is good for sixth in the NFL. Once again, the weather could be a factor here — that, or the fact that the Browns tend to rely on Chubb and Hunt even more when they get down into the red zone — and it seems like a safe bet that Mayfield won't have more than two TD passes. He's done that just once all season (against the Bengals) and is averaging 1.67 touchdowns per game. Is it that much of a stretch that the Eagles defense, with Odell Beckham Jr. out for the season, can do one better and keep him below two TDs?
This is solely based on a stat from Reuben Frank's observations this week that we previously included in a What They're Saying. And I can't get it out of my head.
IS THIS EVEN POSSIBLE?: The Eagles are averaging less than 5.0 yards per pass play [4.96] and more than 5.0 yards per running play [5.12]. The only NFL teams to do that over a full season since 1950 are the 1972 Steelers and 1973 Bills. They're on pace to become only the fourth team in NFL history to average less than 5.0 net yards per pass play while throwing the ball over 600 times. The others were the 2001 Bengals, 2012 Cards and 2014 Raiders. [nbcsports.com]
And when you couple that with this other stat from Roob, it's even tougher to swallow.
HEY, DOUG ... READ THIS: After nine games, the Eagles are on pace to become only the second team in the last 64 years to average at least 5.1 yards per carry but run the ball 24 times or fewer per game. The other was the 1990 Lions. [nbcsports.com]
Doug, what are you doing, man?
I get that he is a former quarterback, loves passing the ball and blindly trusts his quarterback, but this is ugly.
Sure, some of this can be explained away by the fact that the Eagles have found themselves playing from behind on a regular basis and need to throw to get back into games, but that's not entirely true. Anyone who has watched the Eagles play this year knows that there have been plenty of times early in games in which the Eagles seemed to inexplicably go away from the run, even when it appeared to be working quite well for them. On top of that, this team hasn't really been blown out often this year, and has remained in games until the end for the most part. They haven't really been in early pass-only situations much, if at all. Yet they seem to be throwing the ball all the same.
This might be one of the toughest ones to call because of, you guessed it, the weather. We've already established that the Browns have a solid run defense, so while the rain would normally lead me to take the ground game here, I'm not so sure. I think I'll take the coward's way out.