September 18, 2016
With each passing week, the tests are going to continue to get more difficult of Philadelphia Eagles rookie Carson Wentz. Some weeks, it will be due to the fact that he's facing a tougher opponent. Other weeks, it will have to do with the environment or the stakes of the game.
This week, he has to deal with both. Not only is he facing a better team in the Bears, but he's also going to get his first taste of what it's like to play road football in the NFL.
Oh, and it's going to be the only game in town – Wentz and the Eagles will square off on Monday Night Football, the rookie's first time playing a nationally televised game since he was drafted out of North Dakota State earlier this year.
Last week, all three of us (as well as most people who make NFL picks) were right to pick the Eagles over the Browns. Let's see if we can make it happen again.
TV: ESPN | RADIO: 94.1 WIP
SPREAD: Bears -3 | TOTAL: 42.0 (via topbet.eu)
The Bears were better in 2015 than many thought they'd be, and they still only won six games. For the second straight week to begin the season, the Eagles will face a very flawed team that lines up nicely for a rookie quarterback in Carson Wentz trying to get his feet wet.
Like the Browns a week ago, the Bears don't have much in the way of proven pass rushers. The Bears' starting front seven has a combined 23 years of NFL experience and just 54.5 career sacks.
The Bears' lack of pressure in 2015 led to a lack of takeaways, as they had just 8 interceptions on the season. To put that in perspective, last year Kurt friggin' Coleman had 7 interceptions on his own.
Offensively, the Bears' offensive line sorely needs upgrades at both tackle spots, where Bobbie Massie and Charles Leno are replacement level players, at best. The Eagles win this game in the tranches, and therefore, on the scoreboard.
The bookmakers have Chicago as a three-point favorite on Monday night, which means that they see the Eagles and Bears as relatively even teams. This early in the season, it’s hard to quibble much with that line.
I worry about the Eagles cornerbacks in this game. It’s looking like Leodis McKelvin won’t play, which means Jalen Mills might have to cover Alshon Jeffrey at times. That’s not a favorable matchup at all for the Eagles. There will be a lot of pressure on the front four to get after Jay Cutler, something that group is certainly capable of.
What can Carson Wentz do for an encore? His debut went about as well as you could hope for, but all week we’ve heard about how bad the Browns defense is. Chicago doesn’t figure to be a great team this season, but they’re likely a step up in competition from Cleveland. I’ll say Wentz throws for 250 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions, with a late one putting an end to the Eagles comeback.
The Bears fell to the Texans on the road in Week 1, meaning this is their home opener. I expect them to come out all fired up against the rookie quarterback and head coach who will lead the Birds into Soldier Field. And the one thing Carson Wentz didn't have to deal with in his debut was playing from behind. The Eagles marched right down the field and scored on their opening drive and then never looked back. But given the way Wentz has handled all the other tests with which he's faced in his short time as the Eagles starter, I think he'll do just fine with that one.
Once again, I believe the Eagles defense will be the most talented and impactful unit on the field Monday night -- if they can do their job against Jay Cutler and Alshon Jeffrey without starting cornerback Leodis McElvin, that will go a long way towards making things less stressful for Wentz. But they're no Cleveland Browns, and at some point, Wentz is going to need to face a bit of stress to prove that he can remain calm when his team needs him most.
And the first chance to do that could come late Monday night (or early Tuesday morning depending on how long the game takes).
Unlike Rich, however, I see that late fourth-quarter comeback attempt being successful, and the Eagles improving to 2-0 before receiving a reality check against the Steelers in Week 3.