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August 09, 2017

Five over/unders for Eagles preseason opener vs. Packers

On Thursday night – yes, as in tomorrow night – we get our first taste of Eagles football, albeit in the form of a preseason opener against the Packers, one in which Aaron Rodgers won't play and Carson Wentz will only likely see one series. But at this point, after eight months of longing, we'll take whatever we can get.

As we've done each of the last few years, we'll be providing five over/unders for each matchup – even if it's only the preseason and the outcome matters very little – as a way of previewing the game in a somewhat different way.

If you're new to our Eagles, welcome. (Also .. what the hell took you so long?) The best way to explain the weekly over/unders is like this: it's a part what-to-watch-for and part predictions, with a bit of prop-bet flavor thrown in. And the best part – at least for you, the readers – is that you can play along and then tell me just how wrong I was.

Sometimes they're serious. Other times, not so much. And, hopefully, every once in a while they're informative ... but don't hold me to that.

With that being said, let's dive right into my five over/unders for Thursday night's game at Lambeau Field. 

Jordan Matthews' snaps in the slot: 10.5
Nelson Agholor's snaps in the slot: 10.5

We're starting with a double-whammy right off the bat – technically this counts as two over/unders but it makes more sense to talk about them both at the same time, especially since we're setting both their numbers at 10.5 for this one.

We've written quite a bit here at PhillyVoice about the battle between fast-rising contender Nelson Agholor and reigning starter Jordan Matthews for the job as the team's primary slot receiver, a battle not many people saw coming heading into camp. And there are quite a few factors that could determine how many snaps each gets in the slot Thursday night.

The first is health. If Matthews isn't 100 percent, he might not play as many total snaps as Agholor, thus making it difficult for him also to play as many or more snaps in the slot. 

Then there's the depth chart. Matthews is technically penciled in as the starter, and if Pederson is including him with Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith, then there's a chance he only plays a drive or two, something that could be aided by the fact that he's been a bit banged up this offseason.

The third is familiarity. The Eagles more or less know what they have with Matthews in the slot. They've seen what he can do against actual secondaries and not just in practice. They've also seen the chemistry he has with Wentz. There are far more question marks around Agholor, who has done well for himself in practice but has yet to prove himself in a game. 

I think people are going to put too much stock into this – the number of looks each gets in the slot – and use it as a way to predict who's ahead in the race to be the starter. If anything, I think the more looks Agholor gets could be indicative of the fact that Pederson and Co. aren't yet sold on the USC product being the guy in the slot and are giving him the opportunity to prove what he can do after a strong showing from that spot throughout offseason practices. 

In other words, try not to read too much into this. And, remember, it's only the first preseason game.

Matthews: UNDER
Agholor: OVER

Times the secondary makes you cringe: 3.5

There's some good news and some bad news heading into this one as it applies to the secondary.

Good news: Aaron Rodgers isn't playing.
Bad news: Aaron Rodgers isn't playing

One of two things is going to happen on Thursday night – and it's really a lose-lose situation for Jim Schwartz and his much-maligned crop of cornerbacks. Either the Eagles secondary will surprise everyone and play well OR they will prove to be who we're all worried they actually are.

If they play well, they're not going to get any credit for it – What did you expect? Of course, they looked good against a bunch of backups – and if they get torched, well, that's not a good sign of what's to come – It's going to be a loooong season if these guys can't even stop Brett Hundley and Joe Callahan.

Despite Rodgers' absence, the Packers' WR corps, which includes Jordy Nelson and Davonte Adams, is still quite good. And that could lead to some frustrating moments for Eagles fans.


Times Derek Barnett hits opposing QB: 1.5

One way the defense can make up for their shortcomings in the defensive backfield is by getting pressure on the quarterback. Their defensive front is one of the best in the NFL, and after some offseason additions seems to be even more talented than it was a season ago.

One of those additions was first-round pick Derek Barnett, who had a knack for getting to opposing quarterbacks in college and broke Reggie White's career sack record at Tennessee. Barnett will make his NFL debut against the Packers and should see a decent amount of playing time given that the two projected starters at defensive end, Brandon Graham and new addition Chris Long, are both veterans who don't need a ton of reps this early in the preseason.

After going up against the likes of perennial Pro Bowl tackle Jason Peters in practice, Barnett should face significantly reduced competition going up against second- and third-teamers from the Packers. If he gets enough chances, I don't think it's crazy to imagine Barnett getting a sack and possibly a knockdown or two. And with Hundley, a fairly mobile quarterback who ran for 30 touchdowns in three seasons at UCLA, expected to get the start, Barnett could get a few chances to make a play on the quarterback outside of the pocket. Notice I said number of "hits," not sacks. 


Eagles' special teams touchdowns: 0.5

The Eagles have at least one return touchdown in each of the last three preseasons. And in two of those seasons, they had multiple return TDs. I wouldn't be shocked if the Birds, who have had one of the league's best (if not the best) special teams units in the four seasons under Dave Fipp, keep that streak going this year. 

The Packers were one of just seven teams to give up a kickoff return for a touchdown last season and finished last in the NFL in average return yards allowed on kickoffs. As for punts, they were successful at keeping their opponents out of the end zone but still ranked 21st in the league in terms of average punt return yards allowed.

All those numbers suggest that Thursday would be as good a night as any for the Eagles to get their requisite return touchdown, but sometimes it's about feel, and I'm just not feeling it.


Follow Matt on Twitter: @matt_mullin

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