Philadelphia Eagles 2020 NFL Season Preview

Quarterback

The future seemed very bright for the Eagles after their Super Bowl victory at the end of the 2017 season. Not only did they win the Super Bowl, but they were able to do it despite losing quarterback Carson Wentz to injury late in the season and having to turn to backup Nick Foles. Prior to the injury, Wentz was a possible MVP candidate and was Pro Football Focus’ 6th ranked quarterback in just his 2nd season in the league, so getting him back to a team that had won the Super Bowl even without him seemed like a recipe for long-term success.

Instead, things have not been quite as good. The Eagles have made the playoffs in back-to-back seasons, but have done so at just 9-7 both times. In terms of first down rate, they ranked 15th on offense, 8th on defense, and 8th in differential in 2018 and 15th on offense,10th on defense, and 12th in differential in 2019, good but below expectations for a team that some thought would be a perennial Super Bowl contender. Head coach Doug Pederson who looked like an offensive wizard in their Super Bowl season has proven to be overmatched without top offensive assistant Frank Reich, who has since taken over as the head coach with the Colts.

Carson Wentz hasn’t been bad, but he’s fallen to 14th and 16th among quarterbacks on PFF over the past two seasons respectively, making his strong 2017 look like an outlier, he hasn’t gotten the help he’s needed around him, and he hasn’t made it through a season without suffering a serious injury, totaling just two drives worth of playoff action thus far in his career. All in all, in the regular season, he’s completed 63.8% of his passes for an average of 6.90 YPA, 97 touchdowns, and 35 interceptions, while adding 785 yards and 3 touchdowns on 206 carries (3.81 YPA) on the ground, good numbers, but definitely not consistently elite.

In 2017, the Eagles could surround the quarterback, either Wentz or Foles, with a Super Bowl contending roster because they had just 4.4% of their cap space committed to Wentz and Foles combined, with Foles on a backup deal and Wentz on a rookie deal. Now Wentz, signed to a 4-year, 128 million dollar extension with 81.97 million guaranteed last off-season, takes up 9.4% of the cap in 2020 himself and is projected to take up 16.6% in 2021. 

The Eagles have gotten creative to fit the most expensive team in the NFL by average annual salary under the cap, but it’s getting harder and harder to consistently put Super Bowl caliber supporting casts around the quarterback and they’re already 52 million over the projected 2021 cap, assuming it doesn’t get cut by revenue losses. It might not be totally fair to knock Wentz as being injury prone just because he’s suffered some untimely injuries late in the season, so it wouldn’t surprise me if he was able to stay healthy in 2020, but unless he can consistently find his 2017 form, it’s going to be tough for this team to be the perennial contender they once looked like they might be.

Given Wentz’s tendency to get hurt, it’s unsurprising the Eagles prioritized the backup quarterback spot in free agency this off-season, but what was surprising is that the Eagles used the 53rd overall pick on Oklahoma’s Jalen Hurts to be that quarterback. Hurts has the upside to develop into a long-term starter, but the Eagles need a short-term backup and Hurts comes into the league very raw, so the Eagles almost definitely would be in better hands with a veteran backup this season. Hurts’ athleticism could allow the Eagles to use some creative packages, but it’s hard to justify the Eagles taking Hurts where they did, given Wentz’s age and the Eagles’ inability to realistically get out of his contract until 2023. The Eagles will have to hope Wentz can finally stay healthy for a full season this year, as Hurts would likely struggle as a rookie.

Grade: B+

Receiving Corps

The Eagles’ biggest problem on offense last season was their receiving corps, particularly the wide receiver position. Things looked strong at the position going into last season, as they retained their leading two wideouts from 2018, Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor, and added veteran DeSean Jackson and 2nd round rookie JJ Arcega-Whiteside in the off-season. However, Jeffery and Jackson were limited to 493 snaps and 65 snaps respectively with injury, while Agholor and Arcega-Whiteside both struggled mightily, and the various other options the Eagles tried at the position, Greg Ward (308 snaps), Mack Hollins (395 snaps), Robert Davis (103 snaps), Jordan Matthews (134 snaps), all were underwhelming as well. By the end of the season, the Eagles were calling up players from the practice squad to play significant snaps in 3-wide receiver sets and they had backup quarterback Josh McCown available to be the 4th wide receiver if needed.

With Jeffery and Jackson set to return from injury and Arcega-Whiteside going into his 2nd year in the league, things would have been better by default at wide receiver for the Eagles in 2020 even if they didn’t made any big moves at the position, but they clearly made upgrading the position a priority, adding 4 wide receivers on draft day, including veteran Marquise Goodwin, who came over from the 49ers for a swap of sixth round picks. Fifth round rookie John Hightower and sixth round rookie Quez Watkins are unlikely to make much of an impact right away, but first round rookie Jalen Reagor should be in the mix for snaps immediately.

Reagor will likely primarily compete for the #3 wide receiver job with Arcega-Whitside, who still has upside, despite averaging a 0.55 yards per route run and finishing in the bottom-3 at his position in Pro Football Focus, but Reagor could also have opportunity for even more playing time if Alshon Jeffery isn’t ready for the start of the season after suffering a serious foot injury down the stretch last season. Even if Jeffery plays week one, it’s reasonable to expect him to miss the whole off-season program and, going into his age 30 season coming off of a serious injury, he might not be the same player.

Injuries are unfortunately nothing new for Jeffery, who has played one full 16-game season in his last 5 tries, having missed a total of 20 games in the other 4 seasons combined. Prior to that stretch of injuries, Jeffery topped 1000 yards in back-to-back years in 2013 (89/1421/7) and 2014 (85/1133/10) and was on a similar pace in an injury limited 2015 season (54/807/4 in 9 games), but he’s been limited to a 68/923/7 slash line per 16 games over the past 4 seasons and I would expect that to continue to drop. 

Jeffery has still earned above average grades from PFF in each of those 4 seasons, but that’s a dropoff from his early prime when he finished in the top-25 in 3 straight seasons from 2013-2015, including top-6 finishes in 2013 and 2015. Jeffery may still be able to give the Eagles something in 2020, but the Eagles would have undoubtedly cut him this off-season if doing so wouldn’t have caused them to incur a huge dead cap hit.

Fellow veteran DeSean Jackson has a much better chance of bouncing back off of an injury ruined season and figures to at least start the season as the nominal #1 option. Jackson’s age is an even bigger concern, as he’ll turn 34 this December, but he’ll at least have a healthy off-season and he showed a great connection with Carson Wentz in limited action last season, averaging a ridiculous 4.18 yards per route run on 38 routes in his first season back in Philadelphia, most among any wide receiver with at least 10 targets last season.

Jackson has been frequently banged up in his career, playing all 16 games just twice in 12 seasons in the league with the Eagles and Buccaneers, but last season was also the first season he’d ever played fewer than 9 games, so he hasn’t had a lot of serious injuries and he’s had an impressive 62/1076/6 slash line per 16 games in his career, with 9 straight above average seasons on PFF. He’s likely on the decline and will probably miss at least a couple games with injuries, but he could still be the team’s leading receiver.

Veteran off-season acquisition Marquise Goodwin will just likely be reserve depth, but the Eagles need good depth, as both Jeffery and Jackson are aging and injury prone, Arcega-Whiteside is very raw, and Jalen Reagor is a rookie. In 7 seasons in the league, Goodwin’s 56/962/2 slash line in 2017 stands out, as he’s never topped 29 catches in any of his other seasons in the league, and he’s now going into his age 30 season, but he’s one of the fastest situational deep threats in the league with a career 16.6 yards per catch average, so he should provide valuable wide receiver depth for the Eagles.

With the Eagles’ wide receivers struggling in 2019, tight ends became a focal point of this offense and the Eagles fortunately have arguably the best tight end duo in the NFL, with Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert leading this team with slash lines of 88/916/6 and 58/607/5 respectively. Ertz has been one of the best tight ends in the league for years, averaging a 86/914/6 slash line over the past five seasons and finishing in the top-18 among tight ends on PFF in all 7 seasons he’s been in the league, including five top-10 finishes.

Goedert was right behind Ertz in yards per route run last season though (1.69 vs. 1.64) and is arguably the more complete player, as he’s a strong run blocker as well, while Ertz can struggle in that aspect. A 2nd round pick in 2018, Goedert has shown a lot of potential as a part-time player in two seasons in the league (1.57 yards per route run) and could be even better in his third season in the league, while Ertz’s age is beginning to become a concern in his age 30 season and he could begin to decline soon. Either way, they should remain one of the best tight end duos in the NFL, even if their target shares drop in a better overall receiving corps.

Grade: B+

Running Backs

With the Eagles so thin in the receiving corps last season, their 3rd leading receiver behind their top-2 tight ends was actually pass catching running back Miles Sanders, who flashed with a 50/509/3 slash line. Sanders did that on 317 routes run, giving him a 1.61 yards per route run average that ranked 10th among running backs and he also was Pro Football Focus’ 12th ranked running back in pass catching grade, despite being only a 2nd round rookie. Sanders has the upside to get better as a receiver going forward.

Sanders also has the upside to get better as a runner and he’ll need to. His 4.57 yards per carry average last season on 179 carries is impressive, but he didn’t consistently keep this offense on track as a rookie, ranking 34th out of 45 qualifying running backs with a 45% carry success rate, 

despite running behind an offensive line that was PFF’s highest ranked in team run blocking grade. Overall, finished with PFF’s 57th lowest run grade among 61 qualifying running backs. The Eagles let #2 running back Jordan Howard (4.41 YPC average and a 8th ranked 53% carry success rate) leave in free agency and didn’t replace him, so they’ll be counting on a lot from Sanders this season and it remains to be seen if he can rise to the challenge of being a feature back. Even if he has a higher success rate this season, that may not be reflected in his YPC average if he isn’t able to sustain a high percentage of breakaway runs.

With Howard gone, Boston Scott is expected to move up from the #3 back spot to the #2 spot, even though he had an underwhelming 4.02 YPC average in the first 61 carries of his career last season. How much work he takes from Sanders may be up to Sanders and how well he plays, as he has a clear path to every down work in this offense if he plays well. If both Sanders and Scott underwhelm in training camp, it wouldn’t be expensive for the Eagles to add a veteran to the mix, which could be a wise option at a thin position.

Grade: C

Offensive Line

Not only did the Eagles’ offensive line excel in run blocking last season, they also were one of the best pass blocking teams in the league, ranking 3rd in team pass blocking grade on Pro Football Focus. That offensive line will look different in 2020 though and probably won’t be as good. The biggest loss was right guard Brandon Brooks, who tore his achilles in June, a devastating blow, as not only was Brooks was PFF’s top ranked guard in 2019, but the Eagles don’t have a clear replacement, having lost top reserve offensive lineman Halapoulivaati Vaitai this off-season as well, after he flashed on 477 snaps last season.

Third year offensive lineman Matt Pryor figures to get the first crack at the job, but he’s played just 79 snaps in 2 seasons in the league and wasn’t highly thought of coming out of college, going in just the 6th round in 2018. Outside of him, the Eagles’ best option is probably 4th round rookie Jack Driscoll, so it definitely wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Eagles go out and add a veteran at some point, with Brooks having just gone down a couple weeks ago as of this writing.

One veteran option could be simply reuniting with long-time left tackle Jason Peters. Peters started 140 games on the blindside for the Eagles in 11 seasons with the team and he still finished 6th among offensive tackles on PFF in 13 starts in 2018, but was not brought back this off-season, ahead of his age 38 season, in favor of 2019 first round pick Andre Dillard. Peters likely wouldn’t be a candidate to move to guard, but the Eagles could move Dillard inside there for a year and would likely upgrade two spots at once. Drafted 22nd overall, Dillard is probably the future at left tackle, but there’s some concern about handing the blindside job over to him after 337 underwhelming snaps as a rookie as an injury replacement, especially with Brooks also gone. For now, Dillard is tentatively locked in on the blindside and he has obvious upside, but he’s far from a sure thing.

While left tackle and right guard are question marks, this rest of this offensive line remains the same. Right tackle Lane Johnson is probably their best offensive lineman with Brooks out. Drafted 4th overall in 2019, Johnson has made 92 starts in 7 seasons in the league and has finished in the top-23 on PFF in 6 straight seasons, with 4 finishes in the top-10 and a career best 2nd ranked finish in 2019. Johnson is going into his age 30 season, but he’s shown no sign of slowing down and even if he did decline a little he’d still be one of the best players in the league at his position.

Center Jason Kelce has also been one of the best players at his position for a long-time, making 108 of 112 starts over the past 7 seasons and finishing in the top-5 among centers on PFF in 6 of those 7 seasons, including 3 straight #1 finishes. Kelce’s age is becoming a concern though, going into his age 33 season, so he’s unlikely to be quite as good this year as he’s been in the past few years, even if he ends up among the top players at his position once again when all is said and done.

Left guard Isaac Seumalo is also coming off of a strong season, finishing 18th among guards on PFF, but he’s not nearly as proven as Johnson and Kelce. Seumalo was a relatively high pick, going in the 3rd round in 2016, but he was underwhelming in 15 spot starts in his first 3 seasons in the league, before breaking out as a 16-game starter in 2019. He’s a one-year wonder and might not be as good in 2020, but he could also remain a solid starter for years to come, only going into his age 27 season. The Eagles will badly need him, Kelce, and Johnson to stay healthy on an offensive line that is already missing key players from last season and that lacks depth overall.

Grade: B+

Interior Defenders

Even with the Eagles lacking much financial flexibility this off-season, they still did make one big signing to somewhat offset their other losses, signing ex-Steeler defensive tackle Javon Hargrave to a 3-year, 39 million dollar deal. Hargrave will have a cap hit of just 3.45 million this season thanks to some creative cap structuring, but Hargrave’s money will show up on the cap at some point or another, so the financially inflexible Eagles need any big contracts they sign to pan out. Fortunately, that shouldn’t be too much of a concern with Hargrave, who was one of the best defensive players available in free agency this off-season, regardless of position. 

A third round pick in 2016, Hargrave was primarily a base package nose tackle in the Steelers’ 3-4 defense for the first three years of his career, maxing out at 493 snaps, but he flashed as a pass rusher (8.1% pressure rate), in addition to playing well against the run, and in 2019 he took over an every down role in the absence of Stephon Tuitt and broke out with the best year of his career. He finished as Pro Football Focus’ 9th ranked interior defender on a career high 680 snaps, stuffing the run at a high level and adding 4 sacks, 2 hits, and a 13.1% pressure rate. Hargrave might not be quite as good as last year in 2020, but he has three down ability inside at defensive tackle in the Eagles’ 4-3 defense and is still very much in the prime of his career in his age 27 season.

Hargrave will start alongside incumbent Fletcher Cox and they’ll be arguably the best interior defender duo in the NFL, as Cox has been consistently one of the best defensive tackles in the league in recent years. Cox finished last season 8th among interior defenders on PFF and that was actually his worst finish since 2014. All in all, Cox has made 119 starts in 8 seasons in the league and he has finished in the top-14 among interior defenders on PFF in 6 straight seasons, with 39.5 sacks, 71 hits, and a 11.9% pressure rate over that stretch, while playing at a high level against the run. Going into his age 30 season, Cox’s age is becoming a concern, but he should remain one of the better players at his position for at least another couple seasons.

The Eagles will also get Malik Jackson back as a reserve, after a foot injury ended his 2019 season after 32 snaps. Jackson was once one of the better players in the league at his position in his prime, finishing in the top-31 among interior defenders on PFF in 4 straight seasons from 2014-2017, but he fell to 96th out of 130 qualifiers in 2018, missed most of last season, and now is heading into his age 30 season, so his best days are likely behind him. The Eagles likely would have let him go this off-season if his salary wasn’t guaranteed on the 3-year, 30 million dollar deal he signed last off-season, but he could still be valuable in a reserve role behind arguably the best defensive tackle duo in the NFL. This is one of the best interior defender groups in the league, a big upgrade from last season when they were very thin behind Cox.

Grade: A

Edge Defenders

Along with Fletcher Cox and Javon Hargrave in the middle, the Eagles also have a dominant player on the edge of this defensive line in Brandon Graham. Like Cox, Graham is a former first round pick (2010) who has been consistently one of the best players in the league at his position for years. Graham’s career got off to a slow start because of two injury plagued years and then it took him a few years to become a regular starter, even after playing at a high level as a reserve, but in total he’s finished in the top-19 among edge defenders on Pro Football Focus in each of the past 8 seasons, including 6 seasons in the top-10. 

Also a high level run stuffer, Graham has totaled a ridiculous 15.0% pressure rate over those past 8 seasons, including five seasons as a regular starter (73 starts). Graham’s age is becoming a concern, going into his age 32 season, but he hasn’t shown many signs of slowing down, though his 16th ranked finish among edge defenders was his “worst” season since 2014. Even if Graham declines in 2020, he should remain among the better players at his position.

Another former first round pick (14th overall in 2017) Derek Barnett remains as the starter opposite Graham, although he hasn’t been the same caliber of player. Barnett was a solid reserve as a rookie (424 snaps), got off to a decent start to the 2018 season in his first year as a starter, before suffering a shoulder injury that ended his season after 6 games, and then last season in his first full season as a starter, he disappointed, finishing as PFF’s 89th ranked edge defender out of 118 qualifiers. Barnett is still only going into his age 24 season with a high ceiling and it wouldn’t be hard for him to be better in 2020 than 2019, but it becomes less and less likely every year that he will ever deliver on his promise.

Vinny Curry was the top reserve last season with 393 snaps played and he excelled as a situational pass rusher (16.0% pressure rate), but he was not brought back for his age 32 season. In his absence, the Eagles could get more from last year’s #4 defensive end Josh Sweat, who was alright in 352 snaps in the first legitimate action of his career, after being drafted in the 4th round in 2018, but most likely it will be Genard Avery, a mid-season trade acquisition last season, who sees the biggest uptick in snaps with Curry gone.

Avery only played 34 snaps after being acquired by the Eagles, but they gave up a 2021 4th round pick for him, so they clearly have a role for him in mind long-term. Avery still has two years left on his rookie deal, so the Eagles likely made that move with the future in mind more than the present. Now that Avery has more time in the system under his belt, I would expect him to play significantly more, especially with Curry’s departure freeing up snaps. Drafted in the 5th round in 2018 by the Browns, Avery played a hybrid off ball linebacker/edge defender role as a rookie and flashed as a situational pass rusher, with 4.5 sacks, 8 hits, and a 11.5% pressure rate, but he weirdly fell out of the rotation entirely in 2019, playing just 5 snaps with the Browns, before being traded to the Eagles. 

With the Eagles, Avery is likely to just focus on being a reserve defensive end rather than playing linebacker as well. He’s undersized at 6-0 250, but he could still be a valuable situational rusher for them going forward. With him and Sweat, the Eagles have adequate depth behind Graham and Barnett, though Barnett remains a question mark, having been underwhelming through 3 seasons in the league.

Grade: B+

Linebackers

As I mentioned earlier, the Eagles have the highest payroll in the NFL in terms of average annual salary. It’s also a pretty top heavy payroll, with 9 players making at least 10+ million annually and 12 players making at least 8+ million annually. One consequence of a top heavy payroll is that there are some position groups that get very little investment. For the Eagles, that is definitely the case in the linebacking corps this season. 

The Eagles released veteran Nigel Bradham ahead of a 8 million non-guaranteed owed to him in 2020, even though he was their best off ball linebacker last season and led the position with 717 snaps played. The Eagles also lost their 3rd linebacker in terms of snaps played Kamu Grugier-Hill (300 snaps) in free agency and released veteran hybrid safety/linebacker Malcolm Jenkins ahead of 7.85 million non-guaranteed. As a result, they are reworking their linebacking corps on the fly and they are doing it without making significant outside investments.

Free agent acquisition Jatavis Brown is probably the closest thing to a replacement for Bradham that they added this off-season, though the Eagles signed him for close to the minimum. A 5th round pick in 2016, Brown played 40.5 snaps per game in his first 3 seasons in the league, faring well in coverage, but struggling against the run, but in the final year of his rookie deal in 2019, Brown was limited to just 94 defensive snaps as primarily a special teams player. It wouldn’t be hard for him to carve out at least a role as a situational coverage linebacker, but he’s a very underwhelming starting option and may end up focusing on special teams.

Another free agent acquisition Will Parks is probably the closest thing to a replacement for Malcolm Jenkins, as Parks has the versatility to play safety, slot cornerback, and linebacker, but he’s never topped 597 snaps in a season in 4 seasons in the league, so he’s probably not an every down option, and he’s earned a below average grade from Pro Football Focus in 3 of those 4 seasons, so he’s an obvious dropoff talent wise from Jenkins, even if he does have the same versatility. Parks will likely see sub package snaps as a linebacker, in addition to any snaps he may play in the secondary in base packages.

Holdovers Nathan Gerry and TJ Edwards will also be in the mix for snaps. Gerry ranked 2nd on the team with 620 snaps as a linebacker, so he’ll likely be locked into a starting role in 2020, even though he struggled last season, finishing 61st out of 100 qualifying off ball linebackers on PFF in the first significant action of the 2017 5th round pick’s career. He’s unlikely to be much better in 2020, but the Eagles don’t really have another option.

Edwards, meanwhile, flashed on 112 snaps as a run stuffer last season, despite being just an undrafted rookie. He showed he deserves a larger role in his 2nd season, but he’s still a projection to that role, so he’s no guarantee to develop into a long-term starter. The Eagles also have veteran Duke Riley, who played just 29 snaps for the Eagles last season, but played 632 snaps between 2017-2018 (16 starts) with the Falcons, primarily as a base package run stuffer. He’ll be in the mix for a base package role with Gerry and Edwards, even though he struggled mightily with the Falcons. Third round rookie Davion Taylor could also be in the mix, though he enters the league very raw. This is a very underwhelming linebacking corps.

Grade: C-

Secondary

The Eagles will also have to replace Malcolm Jenkins in the secondary and he was a solid starter last season, even if the aging veteran had dropped off a little from previous seasons. Also gone are veteran backups Andrew Sendejo and Johnathan Cyprien, who have starting experience in the past, so this is a very different safety group from last season. I already mentioned Will Parks, who will be in the mix for snaps in the secondary as well. He’ll primarily be competing for playing time with converted cornerback Jalen Mills and 4th round rookie K’Von Wallace, with Mills being the likely favorite for the job. 

A 7th round pick in 2016, Mills has primarily played cornerback thus far in his career, but he’s earned a below average grade from Pro Football Focus in 3 of 4 seasons in the league and he has adequate size (6-0 196), so the Eagles are trying him at safety, though he’s no guarantee to be better there. He also hasn’t been durable in recent years, missing 15 out of a possible 32 games over the past two seasons combined.

Rodney McLeod remains as the other starting safety, re-signed to a 2-year, 8.65 million dollar deal this off-season, after making all 16 starts in 2019. McLeod didn’t fare all that well last season, finishing slightly below average on PFF (56th out of 100 qualifying safeties), after 4 straight above average seasons prior to 2019. He also missed most of 2018 with a knee injury and is now going into his age 30 season, so it’s unlikely he finds his prime pre-2018 form again. He should remain a capable starter, but an underwhelming one.

Part of the reason why Mills is moving to safety is because the Eagles are significantly deeper and more talented at cornerback this season than they’ve been in the past. The headline move was the acquisition of long-time Lions #1 cornerback Darius Slay for the price of a third round pick, a fifth round pick, and a 3-year, 50.05 million dollar extension, but the Eagles also made a great under the radar signing when they signed slot cornerback Nickell Roby-Coleman to a one-year deal that doesn’t pay him much more than the minimum.

Slay should be an upgrade over anyone the Eagles had at cornerback last season, but he was a risky acquisition at a high price, as he’s actually coming off of a pretty down season, finishing below average on PFF, after five straight seasons in the top-28 at his position prior. Slay is still relatively young in his age 29 season, so he has obvious bounce back potential, but he’s also never finished higher than 10th among cornerbacks on PFF in 7 seasons in the league, so he could easily prove to not be quite worth top cornerback money over the duration of his new contract. 

Robey-Coleman, meanwhile, has finished above average in 4 straight seasons, including 3 straight seasons in the top-20 among cornerbacks on PFF. That’s a little misleading because Robey-Coleman is a pure slot cornerback (85.3% of his snaps on the slot), who predictably struggles outside at 5-8 180 when asked to play there, but his 0.77 yards per route run allowed on the slot over the past four seasons is among the best in the NFL and, only going into his age 28 season, I don’t expect that to suddenly change in Philadelphia. Even if it’s only for a year, Robey-Coleman will likely be a steal for an Eagles team that has had trouble finding a consistent slot cornerback in recent years.

At the other outside cornerback spot opposite Slay, the Eagles have a trio of holdovers competing for playing time: Rasul Douglas (583 snaps in 2019), Avonte Maddox (518 snaps), Sidney Jones (293 snaps). Douglas and Maddox both earned below average grades from PFF, finishing 116th and 89th respectively out of 135 qualifying cornerbacks last season, and have never been better than a middling cornerback since entering the league as a 2017 3rd round pick and a 2018 4th round pick respectively. Both still have some potential, but it’s possible neither ever develops into a consistent starter. 

Jones was a little better last season, but didn’t play that much and has been limited to just 643 snaps in 3 seasons since being drafted by the Eagles in the 2nd round in 2017, in part due to injury, in part due to ineffectiveness. He also has upside, but the #2 cornerback is a question mark. The addition of Darius Slay and Nickell Robey-Coleman make them better at cornerback, but the loss of Malcolm Jenkins without a true replacement will be significant and this is still a questionable secondary overall.

Grade: B-

Conclusion

The Eagles still have a lot of veteran talent on this team, but it’s tough to keep all your players under the cap once you start paying your quarterback at the top of the market, after some underwhelming drafts, and the cracks are definitely getting bigger on this roster, with an underwhelming defensive backend, and a declining offensive line and running game. They should still compete for a playoff spot this year and aren’t in real trouble until next season when they have to figure out how to clear at least 50 million in cap just to get to even, but they’re significantly behind the Cowboys in the division, as the Cowboys should have better luck in close games this season, and the Eagles are not guaranteed to pick up one of the three wild card spots either, in a loaded NFC. It would help if they could find more low cost help in free agency at positions like linebacker, guard, and running back. I will have an official prediction closer to the start of the season.

Offensive Score: 75.22

Defensive Score: 73.19

Total Score: 74.21 (2nd in NFC East)

Seattle Seahawks at Philadelphia Eagles: 2019 NFC Wild Card Round Pick

Seattle Seahawks (11-5) at Philadelphia Eagles (9-7)

These two teams met in Philadelphia back in week 12, with the Seahawks winning a game that was 17-3 before a late Eagles touchdown cut it to a one score game. The conventional thinking is that the Seahawks shouldn’t have much trouble winning again in Philadelphia, but that historically has not been the case, as teams are 32-19 ATS over the past 30 years in same-site rematches against non-divisional opponents, including 15-5 ATS when the previous matchup was week 11 or later. 

The Eagles also played better than the final score suggested in that game, with the game largely swinging on the turnover margin, which the Seahawks won by 3. Outside of 3 snaps, the Eagles played the Seahawks evenly and might have actually outplayed them, winning the first down rate battle by 5.73%. Turnover margin is highly inconsistent on a week-to-week basis, so the Eagles won’t necessarily lose the turnover battle this week just because they did in the previous matchup. In fact, teams have an average turnover margin of -0.1 in a same-season rematch against a team who won the turnover battle by 3 or more in the previous meeting.

The Eagles didn’t just win the first down rate battle in the first matchup either, as the Eagles finished with a higher first down rate differential at +1.97% on the season, as compared to -1.17% for the Seahawks. The Seahawks won two more games than the Eagles, but of the Seahawks’ 11 wins, all but one came by one score or fewer, including two wins because of last second missed makeable field goals. The Seahawks actually finished just 1-3 in games decided by more than one score. Close wins got them into the playoffs, but blowout wins tend to be much more predictive of future success than close wins. The Eagles had 3 wins by 17 points or more and finished with a higher point differential at +31 vs. +7.

The Eagles have some key injury absences, but that was the case in the first matchup as well. In fact, if both tight end Zach Ertz and right tackle Lane Johnson can play through their questionable labels, the Eagles might actually be in better injury shape in this game than in the previous matchup, as Johnson didn’t play in the first game, along with a number of other key players. The Seahawks, meanwhile, are missing left tackle Duane Brown, left guard Mike Iupati, running backs Chris Carson and Rashaad Penny, and linebacker Mychal Kendricks from the first matchup. 

I’m somewhat concerned that this is Carson Wentz’s first career playoff start and teams are 14-32-1 ATS with a first time starter at quarterback, but the Eagles have plenty of playoff experience around Wentz on the roster and on the coaching staff, so they might end up being an exception to the rule like Pat Mahomes and Kansas City were last year. Even with Johnson and Ertz out, I have these two teams about even in my roster rankings, so I like the Eagles enough as 2.5-point home underdogs to bet them even if Ertz and Johnson can’t play, but if Ertz and/or Johnson are able to go, this will be a larger bet.

Update: Ertz is playing, but Lane Johnson is not. Johnson is the more important player so I am keeping this as a medium confidence pick.

Philadelphia Eagles 20 Seattle Seahawks 17 Upset Pick +115

Pick against the spread: Philadelphia +2.5

Confidence: Medium

Philadelphia Eagles at New York Giants: 2019 Week 17 NFL Pick

Philadelphia Eagles (8-7) at New York Giants (4-11)

The Eagles put themselves in the driver’s seat in the NFC East with a win over the Cowboys last week, but they haven’t locked the division up just yet. It would take a loss and a Cowboys win for the Eagles to fall out of first place, but the Cowboys are 11-point favorites at home against a skeleton crew Redskins team this week, so the Eagles definitely can’t count on the Cowboys losing that game, making this game in New York against the Giants a must win for the Eagles.

The Giants are just 4-11, but beating them will be tougher than their record suggests. Turnovers have been a big problem for the Giants, as they rank 3rd worst in the NFL with a -15 turnover margin, but turnover margins are highly unpredictable on a week-to-week basis, so the Giants aren’t necessarily going to lose the turnover battle in this game just because they’ve had trouble with turnovers for most of the season. In terms of first down rate differential, the Giants rank 21st in the NFL at -1.49%, not great, but better than their record suggests.

The Eagles also enter this game at far less than full strength, particularly on offense, where they are missing their top-3 wide receivers, featured tight end Zach Ertz, and stud right tackle Lane Johnson. Given that, this line is too high at Philadelphia -4.5. The Eagles might not necessarily lose this game outright, but I like the Giants’ chances of at least keeping it close. I don’t think the Giants are worth a huge bet, but there’s enough here for the Giants to be bettable this week.

Philadelphia Eagles 19 New York Giants 17

Pick against the spread: NY Giants +4.5

Confidence: Medium

Dallas Cowboys at Philadelphia Eagles: 2019 Week 16 NFL Pick

Dallas Cowboys (7-7) at Philadelphia Eagles (7-7)

The Cowboys had their most impressive performance of the season last week, convincingly beating a solid Rams team in a 44-21 game in which they won the first down rate battle by 5.88%. That’s not all that surprising, as they’ve been better than their record this season. Including the Rams’ game, their average margin of victory is 18.57 points per game, while their average margin of defeat is just 5.71 points per game. That gives them a point differential of +90, 6th in the NFL, which suggests they’ve played significantly better than their 7-7 record suggests. They also rank highly in first down rate differential at +4.57%, 5th in the NFL.

Unfortunately, we’ve lost line value with the Cowboys in the past week, with this line moving from even a week ago on the early line to Dallas -2.5 this week. The Eagles have been up and down this season, but they’ve been about an average team overall, ranking 15th in first down rate differential on the season at +0.58%. I have the Cowboys calculated as 3-point favorites, but there’s not nearly enough here for the Cowboys to be worth betting on, especially with quarterback Dak Prescott barely getting practice reps this week while dealing with a shoulder injury.

Dallas Cowboys 27 Philadelphia Eagles 24

Pick against the spread: Dallas -2.5

Confidence: None

Philadelphia Eagles at Washington Redskins: 2019 Week 15 NFL Pick

Philadelphia Eagles (6-7) at Washington Redskins (3-10)

This was one of the toughest games of the week to decide. The Eagles are favored by 6 points on the road in Washington and my calculated line for this game falls slightly to either side of 6 depending on whether or not Redskins top cornerback Quinton Dunbar is able to play after not practicing all week due to injury. It seems like he won’t play, so I’m taking the Eagles, but I would flip to the Redskins if Dunbar is able to go. Either way, this would be a no confidence pick. I may have an update tomorrow morning.

Final Update: Dunbar isn’t playing, so I’m leaving this as is. Much has been made of how thin the Eagles are at wide receiver, but the Redskins have an awful group of cornerbacks without Dunbar.

Philadelphia Eagles 24 Washington Redskins 17

Pick against the spread: Philadelphia -6

Confidence: None

New York Giants at Philadelphia Eagles: 2019 Week 14 NFL Pick

New York Giants (2-10) at Philadelphia Eagles (5-7)

The Eagles’ season hit an embarrassing low last week with their loss to the Dolphins. The Eagles have a top-10 roster on paper, but have been a middle of the pack team in first down rate differential all season and enter this week 17th at -0.04%. The Eagles under-achieved last season too, barely making the playoffs, despite one of the more talented rosters in the league, so this is back-to-back disappointing years for the Eagles.

At some point, it’s fair to question how much of this falls on head coach Doug Pederson. Pederson was anointed the next great coach after he defeated the Patriots to win the Super Bowl in his 2nd year on the job, but so far that’s his only impressive season in 4 years in the job and much of his success that season came as a result of offensive coordinator Frank Reich, who left following the Super Bowl and now is doing a similarly impressive job as the head coach in Indianapolis. Without Reich, the Eagles have not been the same and Pederson no longer looks like the offensive mastermind that hung 40 points on Bill Belichick in the Super Bowl. If not for Frank Reich, Pederson might not even still have his job right now.

With that in mind, I expect the Eagles to continue under-achieving. The Eagles get another easy matchup this week, but they’ve proven they will play down to the level of their competition and the Giants have been better than their 2-10 record suggests, entering this game 24th in first down rate differential at -2.60%. Turnovers have killed them, as they lead the league with 28 giveaways and are tied with the Dolphins for the worst turnover margin in the league at -14, but turnover margin tends to be very inconsistent on a week-to-week basis, so they won’t necessarily lose the turnover battle again this season.

One reason to expect fewer giveaways from the Giants is that they are going back to veteran quarterback Eli Manning, with rookie Daniel Jones dealing with an ankle injury. Manning is only a borderline starting caliber quarterback, but Jones was responsible for 21 of the Giants 28 giveaways by himself and was averaging 2.10 giveaways per start. As underwhelming as Manning has been over the past 4 seasons, he only averages 1.14 giveaways per start over that stretch. If the Giants can play turnover neutral football, they should be able to keep this game relatively close, so my calculated line is Philadelphia -7. We’re not getting quite enough line value with the Giants at +9.5 for them to be worth betting, but they should be the right side.

Philadelphia Eagles 24 New York Giants 17

Pick against the spread: NY Giants +9.5

Confidence: Low

Philadelphia Eagles at Miami Dolphins: 2019 Week 13 NFL Pick

Philadelphia Eagles (5-6) at Miami Dolphins (2-9)

The Eagles have had back-to-back bad offensive performances in home losses to the Patriots and Seahawks, scoring a total of 19 points combined in the two games. There are a couple reasons not to expect that to continue into this week, however. For one, the Eagles offense is much healthier now. The Eagles get back right guard Brandon Brooks, who has been out since the first quarter of the Seahawks game, and right tackle Lane Johnson, who has been out since the first quarter of the Patriots game. Those are two of the best players in the league at their respective positions. They’ll also get back top wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, who missed the entirety of both games, and fellow starting wide receiver Nelson Agholor, who missed the Seahawks game. 

Even with those two bad offensive performances taken into account, the Eagles rank 19th in the NFL in first down rate 34.78%, so, when healthy, they’re not a bad offensive team by any means and their defense, which ranks 8th in first down rate allowed at 33.83%, is able to keep them in most games even when they don’t have a good offensive performance, as just one of their 6 losses has come by more than 8 points.

The second reason I don’t expect the Eagles’ offensive struggles to continue into this week is that their competition is getting much easier. After facing a pair of teams with 3 losses between them, the Eagles now get a Dolphins team that has just two wins all year. The Dolphins aren’t going 0-16 like many assumed they’d be a lock to do when they struggled at the start of the season, but even with their two wins they still rank dead last in first down rate differential (-9.08%), point differential (-183), DVOA (-47.9%), and in my roster rankings. The Eagles have faced the 8th toughest schedule in the NFL in terms of DVOA thus far this season, so this is a welcome change. 

This line is pretty high at Philadelphia -10, but I’m not concerned about laying this many points. The Dolphins have already lost 7 games by double digits this season and a whopping 22 dating back to the start of the 2017 season. The Dolphins are at home this week, but with the Dolphins in the middle of a lost season in which they never actually had any intention of competing, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the majority of the crowd supporting the visitor. The Eagles are also in a great spot, with an easy home game against the Giants on deck, a game in which they are currently 8 point favorites on the early line. Big favorites tend to take care of business without any upcoming distractions on deck, as favorites of 6+ are 106-69 ATS since 2014 before being favorites of 6+ again. This isn’t a huge play, but I like the Eagles enough to bet on them.

Philadelphia Eagles 31 Miami Dolphins 17

Pick against the spread: Philadelphia -10

Confidence: Medium

Seattle Seahawks at Philadelphia Eagles: 2019 Week 12 NFL Pick

Seattle Seahawks (8-2) at Philadelphia Eagles (5-5)

The Seahawks have three more wins than the Eagles, but these two teams aren’t far apart talent wise. Many of the Seahawks’ 8 wins could have gone the other way, with a 7-1 record in games decided by 7 points or fewer and a 5-0 record in games decided by 4 points or fewer. They have just a +21 point differential, 11th in the NFL, and rank just 13th in first down rate differential at +1.71%, only slightly better than the Eagles, who rank 17th at +0.52%. 

My roster rankings also have these two teams close, with the Eagles just one spot behind the Seahawks. The Eagles will miss injured right tackle Lane Johnson, but he’ll be replaced by first round pick Andre Dillard, who started for Jason Peters earlier this year and held up well, and they are expected to get wide receiver Alshon Jeffery back from injury, while the Seahawks are expected to be without dominant defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. 

The Eagles are also in a much better spot than the Seahawks. While the Seahawks could have a little bit of split focus this week with a big Monday Night Football matchup against the Vikings on deck, the Eagles have an easy game in Miami that won’t be a distraction at all. Teams are 64-43 ATS since 2012 before being road favorites of 7 or more and the Eagles are currently favored by 9 points against the Dolphins on the early line. Unfortunately, we’re not getting much line value with the Eagles as 1-point home favorites, as my calculated line is Philadelphia -2.5. The Eagles should still be the right side, especially since the home team winning by a field goal is the most likely outcome of any game, but there’s isn’t enough here for me to bet on them.

Update: Alshon Jeffery surprisingly was ruled out after warm ups, but the line has shifted to Seattle -2 overnight. This is still a low confidence pick because only about 8% of games are decided by 1-2 points, but I like the money line value at +115, as this game as no worse than a toss-up for the Eagles, even without Jeffery

Philadelphia Eagles 23 Seattle Seahawks 21 Upset Pick +115

Pick against the spread: Philadelphia +2

Confidence: Low

New England Patriots at Philadelphia Eagles: 2019 Week 11 NFL Pick

New England Patriots (8-1) at Philadelphia Eagles (5-4)

The Patriots suffered their first loss of the season in their last game against the Ravens, as a defense that had allowed just 4 offensive touchdowns through the first 8 games of the season allowed 4 offensive touchdowns in a 38-20 loss in Baltimore. It’s easy to look at that game and who the Patriots faced in the first half of the season and say their defense isn’t for real, but their defense got off to a dominant start even when you adjust the numbers for strength of schedule and they seemed to simply not be prepared to face the Ravens’ unique style of offense in their defeat. Even with that game included, the Patriots still have the lowest first down rate allowed in the league at 26.50% and rank 1st in first down rate differential at +8.95%.

The Patriots typically bounce back pretty well off of a loss anyway. Not only are they 58-20 straight up in the Bill Belichick era in games after a loss, but they’re also 51-27 ATS, including 42-13 ATS when not favored by 7 points or more. The Patriots are only favored by 4 points here and, while I wish we were getting more line value with them after a bad loss, they’ve been almost automatic in this spot historically. On top of that, they are coming off of a bye and road favorites of 3.5 or more are 40-12 ATS since 2002 after a bye, also an almost automatic spot. This line is about right, as the Eagles are still a tough opponent, but this is too good of a spot to not bet the Patriots this week, especially when you add in the added motivational aspect of this being a revenge game for New England after their Super Bowl loss two seasons ago.

New England Patriots 24 Philadelphia Eagles 17

Pick against the spread: New England -4

Confidence: Medium

Chicago Bears at Philadelphia Eagles: 2019 Week 9 NFL Pick

Chicago Bears (3-4) at Philadelphia Eagles (4-4)

The Bears seemed to have a statement win week 4 over the division rival Vikings, but they’ve lost three straight games since then and now have matched their loss total from all of last season. It’s not exactly a surprise the Bears have regressed this season, after facing one of the easiest schedules in the league last season and losing a pair of valuable defensive backs (Adrian Amos and Bryce Callahan) and their defensive coordinator Vic Fangio (now head coach of the Broncos) this off-season. 

Also missing stud defensive lineman Akiem Hicks for the year with injury, the Bears have fallen from their dominant 2018 unit, ranking 8th in first down rate allowed. Their offense, meanwhile, has gotten worse play from both their quarterback Mitch Trubisky and their offensive line and none of their skill position players aside from Allen Robinson have done much this season. Overall, they rank just 23rd in first down rate differential and 22nd in my roster rankings, suggesting their record is not a fluke. 

The Eagles have also disappointed this season, sitting at 4-4, but they’re getting healthier. Cornerbacks Ronald Darby, Jalen Mills, and Avonte Maddox will all be active for the first time this season, while defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan and wide receiver DeSean Jackson look likely to join them. They’re still without left tackle Jason Peters and outside linebacker Nigel Bradham, but the former has been replaced by first round pick Andre Dillard, while the latter was off to a poor start to the season before his injury. The Eagles, who are coming off of their best game of the season in Buffalo last week, have a significant talent edge in this game and should be favored by more than 4 points at home. I have this line calculated at Philadelphia -7.5, so we’re getting enough line value to bet the Eagles confidently.

Philadelphia Eagles 26 Chicago Bears 19

Pick against the spread: Philadelphia -4

Confidence: Medium