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August 29, 2019

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

The Eagles preseason will mercifully come to an end on Thursday night when the Birds make the trip up I-95 to visit the New York Jets. 

No starters will play — and several backups will likely also get the night off — as Doug Pederson and Co. try to cut the roster down to its final 53 players. There are still several decisions to be made as players compete for positions on both sides of the ball. 

So if there's any reason to tune in to the Eagles preseason finale, it's that. Of course, if you're hoping to see Carson Wentz, Zach Ertz and the rest of the starters, you can keep your TV off until next Sunday. For those who do intend on sitting through four quarters of what can only generously be considered actual football, here are some things to keep an eye on against the Jets, as always, in the form of five over/unders... 

Total Points: 35.0

That's the current total being offered over at Bovada, and it's exactly the same total that was given last week against the Ravens. In that game, despite it being shortened by nearly a full quarter, Philly and Baltimore combined for 41 points. But that was with some actual NFL players on the field. This time around, we'll likely be getting four quarters of Clayton Thorson (and probably some Cody Kessler too).

With the rookie Thorson only playing a few snaps before lighting halted, and ultimately cancelled, last week's game, it stands to reason that the Eagles will want to see some more of him in this one, and that doesn't bode well for the offense. That being said, the Jets have been averaging 19 points per game this preseason and have scored 22 points in two of their three games. If they can keep that pace in this one, they'll hold up their end of the bargain, and the Eagles will only need two or three scores to put them into the over. Unfortunately, it's hard to tell if they're up to that challenge without knowing everyone who will be playing, or for how long. Maybe it's the optimist in me, but I'm hoping there's enough scoring in this one to keep people (read: me) interested for four quarters.


Josh McCown snaps: 0.5

It seems weird that Josh McCown, who signed out of retirement less than two weeks ago and is presumably in line for the backup quarterback job, might be in jeopardy of sitting out the preseason finale, but here we are. It's just the reality of life in the new NFL. 

McCown impressed in his Eagles debut, going 17-of-24 for 192 yards and a pair of touchdowns in about a half of football, which was much better than anyone expected from a 40-year-old who was coaching high school football before the Eagles called him up. But is that really enough game action with a new playbook to get McCown ready for the season?

"I mean, obviously you would love to see more," head coach Doug Pederson said earlier in the week. "We are down to the wire right here and we are still evaluating every position. And so it's hard. There's a fine line there. But obviously what he did last week was good, and probably good enough, so we'll see."

That doesn't sounds like McCown's going to play — and there are other reasons to keep him out, beyond a potential for injury, like the Eagles have seen suffered by two other quarterbacks this summer in Kessler and Nate Sudfeld.

First, the Eagles are hoping McCown never has to see the field this season. As the backup to Carson Wentz, it's not like the team is planning on McCown getting any reps next Sunday against Washington, so after this game, he'd be going back on ice anyway. How much can he actually get, at 40, out of playing with a bunch of guys who won't be on the team after this weekend?

Then there are the other guys competing for a spot on the Eagles roster: Kessler and Thorson. This is the last chance for the Eagles to see what they have in either of these guys and decide whether or not they want to keep them. The guess here is that they either find a way to get Thorson onto the practice squad, or he suffers a mysterious and possibly fake injury and winds up on IR for the season. Kessler's fate, on the other hand, was likely sealed when he suffered that concussion in Week 2 of the preseason and the Eagles decided to bring in McCown. With Sudfeld a virtual lock to make the roster, there's just no room for Kessler. 

It's cold-blooded, but it's also the reality in the NFL. 

Both Thorson and Kessler will get a chance to show what they can bring, whether that's to the Eagles or to one of the other 31 teams in the NFL, and that likely means McCown will be able to spend Thursday night watching from the sideline.


JJAW receiving yards: 65.5

Last week against the Ravens, the Eagles rookie wideout had himself a night. While finding excellent chemistry with McCown, J.J. Arcega-Whiteside went off for eight catches, 104 yards and a touchdown. Not that it was ever in question whether or not the tall Stanford product would make the Eagles' 53-man roster, but he solidified his spot in their wide receiver rotation as someone who can be more than just a red zone threat. 

And that's all great, but what will Thursday night have in store for JJAW? For starters, with the Eagles seemingly having seen enough from him so far this preseason, the rookie might not play the entire night as the Eagles look to see if there are any other wideouts worth keeping after cutdowns — like Greg Ward or Marken Michel — especially in light of DeSean Jackson's injury

Additionally, JJAW looked his best when playing with McCown. Not only was he put in positions to make plays, but he was also McCown's favorite target, by far, finishing with twice as many receptions (and nearly twice as many targets) as the Eagles' next closest receiver. It's not like he hasn't been heavily targeted by the other quarterbacks — he lead the team with seven targets in Week 2 against Jacksonville when Thorson took the bulk of the snaps — but the production just hasn't been there to match — he also finished that game with just two catches for 20 yards. 

For those reasons, I have to take the under here.


Eagles takeaways: 1.5

Through three games this summer, the Eagles have forced a whopping ... wait for it ... one turnover. One. That's it. 

This is becoming a potentially troublesome trend for the Eagles that they better hope doesn't carry over into the regular season. During their Super Bowl season in 2017, the Eagles finished fourth in the NFL with 31 takeaways. Last year, that number fell to just 17. Part of the reason for that was the offense. Yes, the offense. They were putting up so many points on teams that they were forcing them to throw the ball like crazy, and that resulted in some forced passes and ultimately turnovers. They were also much better at stopping the run in 2017, holding teams to just 3.8 yards per carry compared to 4.7 last season, which forced teams to abandon that approach and try their luck through the air.

Sure, it's still early, but just one turnover over three games — especially when you're playing against most teams' backup quarterbacks, isn't going to get it done. A multi-turnover game is just what the Eagles defense needs heading into the regular season. And they're due.


How long you actually watch: 0.5 quarters

Unless you have to watch for your job, I really hope it's the under. But since Eagles fans are Eagles fans, I have a feeling that's not going to be the case.


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