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August 27, 2021

Five over/unders for Eagles' preseason finale vs. Jets

After a few weeks of training camp, two uninspiring preseason games and some dominant performances in joint practices, the Eagles' 2021 preseason slate will mercifully and unceremoniously come to a close on Friday night when they take on the Jets in the Meadowlands. This comes after a couple days of the two sides practicing together and signals the official end of training camp.

The team will now transition to a more regular, closed-to-the-media practice schedule as they prepare to trim their roster down to 53 by next Tuesday. From there, the only thing standing between them and a Week 1 trip to Atlanta is a bunch of days of practice. 

But first, there's one more preseason game to get through, capping off what has otherwise been an extraordinarily boring preseason, even with all the excitement surrounding rookie DeVonta Smith and starting quarterback Jalen Hurts (that's right, I said it even though Nick Sirianni has refused to name him the starter). And honestly, a boring preseason isn't the worst thing in the world. No one has ever won anything in the preseason, and typically if there's a lot of news coming out of your camp, it's not good news. For the Eagles — *knocks on wood* — that hasn't happened yet.

The team didn't trade away Zach Ertz. They didn't trade for Deshaun Watson. They didn't have a quarterback controversy even though the team did everything in its power to create one by not simply coming out and naming Hurts a starter. It was pretty boring. And now, they'll hope for one more boring night at the office without major incident. Will they get it? Will you even be watching if they do? 

As we do for every Eagles game, including the preseason, here's a look at five numbers to watch in the form of our weekly over/unders. Enjoy... 

[A quick reminder for those new to our over/unders: Unless it's explicitly stated, 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.]

Total points: 34.5

That's the total being offered over at Unibet — it's actually 34 but who wants to bet on a round number — and it's pretty funny given that the Eagles would've hit that number last week even though they didn't score a single point in the game. 

In fact, they've scored just 16 points all preseason, all of it coming in the first half of their opener against the Steelers. While some solace can be taken in that because it's also the only time the starters were mostly all out there together, it's also a little concerning that the team's backups weren't able to put up a single point over six quarters of play. 

The news gets worse — it doesn't look like the Eagles starters are going to play in this one either (more on that in a second) and that could make for another long night on the field. That being said, the Eagles aren't playing a Bill Belichick-coached team this week. They're playing a team in a similar situation to their own — a new head coach, a young quarterback getting his first chance to enter an NFL season as his team's starter, and lots of questions up and down the roster. In other words, it might not be as lopsided as last week's loss, but it's tough to foresee a ton of points being scored in this one. A 17-10 final or something along those lines feels more likely.


DeVonta Smith snaps: 0.5

Last week, despite a slew of starters sitting, Eagles rookie DeVonta Smith still got his first taste of NFL action. Sure, it wasn't with Hurts under center, but it was nice to see the rookie out on the field after an injury sidelined him early in camp. With news coming out that the Eagles are again going to sit "most, if not all, of their starters," it's worth wondering if Smith will get a couple more series in this one like he did against the Pats. 

The bet here is that he doesn't play. Sirianni likely wanted to make sure that Smith got his feet wet with some actual NFL action — not just a joint practice — and saw enough. Especially with Hurts sitting, it makes even less sense to play Smith, since most of what they'd be working on is their timing at game speed. Smith showed enough against New England in his ability to get off the line and make catches that there's really no sense in putting him out there for a few plays when they don't play again for 16 days. There's nothing — momentum, teaching moments, whatever — that's going to happen in this one that he can carry over to Week 1. He put enough on tape during the joint practices — and it's not like he came into the league with the reputation of a guy who needs a lot of polishing. He won the damn Heisman Trophy last year.

He'll likely be on the field for almost every snap during the regular season, but not on Friday night.

[A side note: Nick Sirianni has not publicly named Jalen Hurts the starter. But he's taken every first-team rep, started when he was healthy and now likely won't play tonight, something that's reserved for the starters. So, what the hell is Sirianni waiting for? Obviously he's the starter, and the Eagles refusal to name him that is beginning to get a bit silly.]


Joe Flacco passing yards: 99.5

The Eagles backup QB posted a big number in the preseason opener, throwing for 178 yards on 17 attempts. But that's a bit misleading, since 79 of those yards came on a Quez Watkins screen pass that went for a long touchdown. In Week 2 against the Pats, Flacco was once against 10 of 17 passing, but this time for just 83 yards and an interception. 

A lot can be said about the Eagles overspending on the backup QB position, especially after how bad the veteran passer looked last week, but he has wildly outplayed Nick Mullens through two games. 

With no Hurts expected again in this one, Flacco should a half, and that will give him plenty of chances to break the 100-yard mark. I don't think he gets there by much — the Eagles QBs combined for just 110 yards all game last week — but I think he hits triple digits and throws a touchdown in this one. 


Eagles sacks: 1.5

Given how dominant they've looked in practice, it's a bit surprising that the Eagles defensive front has recorded just one sack all preseason. Sure, as is the case across the board here, the starters haven't played their full share, but the same can be said about the Eagles opponents, and the Birds have surrendered six sacks through two games. 

With roster battles in the home stretch and this being the last chance some of these guys will have to prove to Nick Sirianni and Jonathan Gannon that they deserve one of the final 53 roster spots — or at least a practice squad spot — you can expect them to go all out tonight to put that something on tape that they can hang their hat on. A sack would certainly qualify, and I think the Birds have two in them tonight.


Kenneth Gainwell touches: 5.5

Last week, fifth-round rookie Kenneth Gainwell led all Eagles offensive skill players with eight touches (five carries for 21 yards and three receptions for 23 yards). The running back out of Memphis might wind up being a steal for the Birds after his decision to sit out the 2020 season likely hurt his draft stock a bit. Now, the Eagles are hoping the dual-threat back can be a contributor on offense, perhaps a bit in the way the team used Darren Sproles as a receiver out of the backfield. Gainwell's a little bigger, but is still just 5-foot-9 and 194 pounds, which is obviously slim for a running back. Still, he's been drawing high praise throughout training camp and should get some time against the Jets.

Has he been playing so well, however, that the Eagles dial back his usage in order to not only protect his health but also to give some other running backs a chance to earn their spot, since Gainwell is obviously making this team? Perhaps, but I think you'll still see a fair amount of the Yazoo City native. Four carries and two receptions hardly sounds like a heavy workload. And that's all you need to hit this number.


Bonus: Amount of game (in quarters) actually watched: 1.5

If it wasn't a requirement of my job, it would be under. Way, way under. I have to watch the whole game. I don't know what reason the rest of you have, other than that you're sick, sick individuals. 

Follow Matt on Twitter: @matt_mullin

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