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September 02, 2019

What they're saying: Eagles season predictions, roster reactions and more

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Doug Pederson Ronald Darby 3 - Philadelphia Eagles Training Camp Linc Bastiaan Slabbers/for PhillyVoice

Eagles head coach Doug Pederson and cornerback Ronald Darby

It's almost hard to believe, but the Philadelphia Eagles will play their first (real) game of the 2019 NFL season in just six days. And with such a short time before the first game, we've got a lot to cover between now and Sunday. 

The Eagles' 53-man roster is set (for now) and the practice squad has been filled out to give the team its full complement of players for the first time all summer, so there is plenty there to be analyzed. We're also into prediction season around the NFL, and with the first game kicking off on Thursday night in Chicago, it's also about to be gambling season. 

So, before getting into the roster breakdowns and the prognostications for the 2019 season, let's take a quick look ahead to the Eagles' first matchup of the season against Washington. Interestingly enough, the Birds will be one of the biggest favorites around the NFL on opening weekend, and heavy betting on Philly has caused the line to increase from the 8.5 points it opened at to up to 10 points at some sports books. 

Here's more from Brandon Lee Gowton of Bleeding Green Nation

There’s no shortage of reason to be excited about the Eagles’ Week 1 game. As of Monday, it’s been 232 days since the Eagles last played a football game that matters. Moreover, it feels like the 2019 season has the potential to be a special one. The Eagles’ roster is loaded with talent and the team is a conceivable championship contender. Unlike 2018, there’s no Super Bowl hangover or Carson Wentz lingering injury to worry about. Expectations are high, as they should be.

Evidence of such high expectations can be seen in the NFL odds. The Eagles opened Week 1 as the biggest favorites; Philadelphia is favored to beat Washington by 8.5 points...

It’s hardly a shock that people are willing to bet the Eagles to comfortably beat Washington. While the Eagles project to be a really good team in 2019, Washington does not. The Eagles’ Week 1 opponent is hardly devoid of talent; Washington held an NFC East lead for a good portion last year.  []

But what about after that? I mean, Washington is expected to be one of the worst teams in the NFL this season, so it's no surprise to see the Eagles, a team with Super Bowl aspirations and the home team in Week 1, as a significant favorite. 

Will that trend continue throughout the season? Do the Eagles have a legit shot at winning the NFC and getting back to the Super Bowl after falling to the Saints in the Divisional Round back in January? Let's take a look at what they're saying... 

Setting the stage

Mike Clay | ESPN+

In the first of a trio of ESPN links, we take a look at Mike Clay's breakdown of the NFL for ESPN+ that was published this weekend. 

First, Clay went through each position group to determine who was the best and worst at each position. The good news for the Eagles is that they had two units that were graded as the best in the entire NFL. 

Tight ends: Philadelphia Eagles

Zach Ertz set the NFL single-season record for receptions by a tight end last season, and he's joined by 2018 draft pick Dallas Goedert who, by all accounts, appears to be a budding star.

Offensive line: Philadelphia Eagles

The Eagles' terrific 2018 unit remains in place with Jason Peters, Isaac Seumalo, Jason Kelce, Brandon Brooks and Lane Johnson set as starters. First-round draft pick Andre Dillard adds some much-needed security behind the aging Peters.  []

The better news for the Eagles is that they didn't have any positional groups in the "worst" section. The even better news, according to Clay, is that the Eagles have the fourth easiest schedule in the league.

Easiest Schedule

4. Philadelphia Eagles

The Eagles ended up with the toughest regular season schedule among last season's 12 playoff teams, but that's unlikely to be the case in 2019. Philadelphia will benefit from four games against the Giants and Redskins, as well as showdowns with the Bills, Dolphins and Jets. The Eagles' toughest games are early-season trips to Green Bay and Minnesota and their matchups with Seattle and New England are at Lincoln Financial Field.  []

And when you combine these things — their impressive roster and easy schedule — Clay puts the Eagles second to only the Saints in his initial 2019 NFL power rankings.

Power Rankings

2. Philadelphia Eagles.* GM Howie Roseman had yet another terrific offseason, landing vertical threat DeSean Jackson, revamping running back with Jordan Howard and Miles Sanders and replacing key defenders Michael Bennett, Jordan Hicks and Chris Long with Malik Jackson, Zach Brown and Vinny Curry. All that while adding luxury picks OT Andre Dillard and WR J.J. Arcega-Whiteside during the first and second round of April's draft. Carson Wentz is healthy, and the Eagles are locked and loaded for another Super Bowl run.  []

Clay didn't do predictions for each round of the playoffs, but he did predict the Super Bowl — and the Eagles weren't one of the two teams. 

It isn't always sunny

Seth Walder |

Staying with ESPN and their season projections, Seth Walder and ESPN's analytics department simulated all 276 games of the NFL season based on ESPN's Football Power Index (FPI). And they didn't just do it once — they did it 20,000 times. 

Unfortunately, the results weren't great for the Eagles, although they weren't all together terrible. With expectations so high, however, if the season plays out the way the computers suggest, it's going to be a long, cold winter in Philly.

They have the Eagles winning the NFC East ... but with just an 8-7-1 record. They have the Eagles getting the 4th seed in the NFC and hosting a playoff game ... but losing that game to the Rams. It's not a total disaster, but it's not great either. And the way they have the Eagles playing this season — wildly inconsistent with almost alternating wins and losses, including losses to both Buffalo and the New York Jets — could be enough to drive fans mad. 

(5) Rams 30, (4) Eagles 26: It's the old 2016 NFL Draft postseason battle. And yes, Carson Wentz is healthy this January. But perhaps because the Eagles lacked the magic of Foles or perhaps because the Rams are just sizzling after their second-half run, Sean McVay gets the best of Doug Pederson is a closely contested matchup.  []

6.9 yards of separation

Tim McManus | ESPN+

Our last ESPN link comes courtesy of Tim McManus and their advanced stats department. Each NFL writer wrote about one important next generation stat for the team they cover, and McManus chose this one regarding DeSean Jackson and the respect he still gets from opposing cornerbacks.

Next Gen stat: While playing for the Bucs in 2018, DeSean Jackson received an average of 6.9 yards of cushion pre-snap, the most among any receiver with at least 50 targets. Here's the catch in which Jackson received the most cushion, a 17-yard completion in which Washington's Foster Moreau gave Jackson 13.2 yards of cushion on a 1st-and-10 from the Tampa Bay 4-yard line:

Analysis: Jackson still managed 19 yards per reception. Everyone knows the deal: Jackson is going to take off downfield. It is his greatest gift. Since downfield throws started being tracked in 2006, he has the most receiving touchdowns on passes thrown 20-plus yards with 34 -- six more than the next-highest player. Defenders will continue to give him ample cushion, and it will still not be enough, even at age 32. -- Tim McManus  []

Roster by the numbers

Reuben Frank | NBC Sports Philadelphia

Now, let's switch gears to taking a look at the Eagles' 53-man roster and practice squad, which was finalized this weekend. Our own Jimmy Kempski took a look at one important number regarding the Eagles roster: 26.6 (the average age of this year's team, which is the second oldest in the NFL). 

Over at NBC Sports Philadelphia, Reuben Frank broke down some more numbers regarding the team's roster. Here's a look at a few of them. 

There are only 24 players on the 53-man roster who played in the Super Bowl just 18 months ago. There are only 11 players left who played under Chip Kelly — including Vinny Curry and DeSean Jackson, who returned this year — and there are only six left who played under Andy Reid.

The 53-man roster includes:

• Eight 1st-round picks
• Twelve 2nd-round picks
• Five 3rd-round picks
• Seven 4th-round picks
• Five 5th-round picks
• Six 6th-round picks
• One 7th-round pick
• 11 undrafted players  

There are 17 players on the roster who weren’t with the Eagles last year. That’s nearly a third of the roster. Of those 17, four are rookie draft picks, seven were signed as free agents, four were acquired in trades and two are undrafted rookies.  []

Instant upgrade?

Mike Kaye |

Clayton Thorson was hard to watch this preseason. And after the Eagles fifth-round pick was cut and ultimately signed by the Cowboys, Howie Roseman went out and did something similar, picking up a quarterback that was discarded by an NFC East rival.

The player they signed is Exton native Kyle Lauletta, who grew up cheering for the Eagles. And while he's had his struggles with the Giants, he's certainly better than Thorson. Here's what's Mike Kaye had to say about the Eagles new practice squad QB:

Kyle Lauletta is an upgrade over Clayton Thorson.

The Eagles’ failed experiment with Thorson is over. The fifth-round pick was cut on Saturday. He cleared waivers and signed with the Dallas Cowboys’ practice squad on Sunday. Before that move within the division was made, the Eagles agreed to terms with former Giants quarterback Kyle Lauletta. The former fourth-round pick will serve as the developmental arm behind Carson Wentz, Josh McCown and Nate Sudfeld.

Unlike Thorson, who was a disaster throughout most of the summer, Lauletta has the upside to earn a job on the active roster at this point. While he lasted only a year with the Giants, the University of Richmond alum showed promise during the preseason. With Sudfeld and McCown set to become free agents next year, Lauletta could push his way into a backup job with a strong campaign on the practice squad.  []

Time to shine

Daniel Gallen | Penn Live

An early injury in camp to defensive end (and front office and coaching staff favorite) Joe Ostman opened up the competition for the fourth defensive end spot, and it was seemingly a two-man race between Josh Sweat and rookie Shareef Miller. Then Daeshon Hall happened. 

After Hall dominated the preseason, he appears to have earned that fourth DE spot, although all three players made the team's 53-man roster. But Sweat and Miller still have work to do if they want to get regular action on Sundays. 

The Eagles need Josh Sweat and Shareef Miller to develop.

The Eagles went heavy at defensive end with six players on their initial roster. The top three spots for Brandon Graham, Derek Barnett and Vinny Curry were set, and Roseman said Curry looks even better than he did two years ago when he started for the Super Bowl LII winners. The other three spots, though, were up for grabs between Daeshon Hall, Josh Sweat and Shareef Miller after Joe Ostman went down with a torn ACL during practice.

Sweat and Miller were handpicked by the Eagles in the past two drafts. Hall entered the mix in December when the Eagles signed him off the Houston Texans practice squad. The former 2017 third-round pick vastly outperformed the other young ends during the preseason, and he should be the No. 4 defensive end when the season starts. The Eagles, though, will need Sweat and Miller to take some strides this season.

“We have to understand that we have to develop players and when we are talking about our roster, and we have a lot of guys who are good players and make good money,” Roseman said. We have to bet on our young players. We have to bet on our scouting. We have to bet on our coaching, and we are going to take that bet at that position.”  []

Getting defensive

Les Bowen |

Speaking of the defense, it does feel like they've been a little marginalized in recent years, especially this season, with so much talk about the Eagles offense. 

Last season, Jim Schwartz's unit wasn't great — and sure, injures played a big role in that. But perhaps the most troubling thing about the Eagles defense last season was their sudden inability to create turnovers. I've been banging the drum on this dating back to early last season in our weekly Eagles over/unders and will continue to do so until they show improvement. Two seasons ago, when they won the Super Bowl, they averaged nearly two takeaways per game. Last season, that number was nearly cut in half. 

So. Is this defense better than last year’s model? If the offense is so much improved, does the defense need to be better?

The second question is the easiest to answer. Though the offense got the most scrutiny, and the defense played pretty well in the postseason, the Eagles absolutely lost games last season because their defense couldn’t make a stop at a critical moment...

“Our job is to keep the score down, and our job is to try to create some turnovers to put the offense in position,” Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said recently.

The first part of that, last year’s defense did, most weeks. The second part was the problem. The 2017 Eagles intercepted 19 passes and recovered a dozen opposition fumbles, with a plus-11 turnover differential. The 2018 Eagles intercepted 10 passes, recovered seven fumbles, with a minus-six turnover differential.

Obviously, offense affects the differential, but 31 turnovers created is a whole lot more than 17, in a 16-game season. The Eagles lost twice in overtime last season, six of their seven losses were by seven points or fewer. Create 14 more turnovers, maybe that second-round playoff game is at the Linc, instead of at the Superdome.  []

With the margin of error in the NFL as small as it is, it's impossible to argue with Les' last point there. And who knows what would've happened had the Eagles been facing the Saints at home instead of on the road... 

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