Dallas Cowboys at Philadelphia Eagles: 2020 Week 8 NFL Pick

Dallas Cowboys (2-5) at Philadelphia Eagles (2-4-1)

I can’t remember a team ever falling in my rankings as fast as the Cowboys. Going into the season, I had pretty high expectations for the Cowboys, who finished last season 6th in point differential at +113 and 5th in first down rate differential at +3.24%, but missed the playoffs at 8-8 because of an 0-5 record in games decided by one score or less. With a similar roster entering the season as last year, the Cowboys looked like one of the better teams in the league, but now the Cowboys rank dead last in my roster rankings. 

Injuries have been a big part of the problem, especially on offense, where the Cowboys are missing their dominant offensive tackle duo of Tyron Smith and La’El Collins and are down to 3rd string quarterback Ben DiNucci, a 7th round rookie making his first career start this season, but the Cowboys also have a lot of players who aren’t injured that just aren’t playing up to expectations, especially on defense, where close to no one is having a good season in the first year of overmatched defensive coordinator Mike Nolan’s scheme. Some of those veteran players have already been benched, traded, or released, while others remain in the starting lineup, but have struggled mightily. 

Outside of their receiving corps and their edge rush duo of DeMarcus Lawrence and Aldon Smith, this team really doesn’t have much going for them and they will be starting one of the least qualified starting quarterbacks the NFL has seen over the past few years. The per play stats show the Cowboys to have been better than their record and final scores have suggested, but much of that is due to an offense that was much better before injuries and primarily only struggled with fumbles, which tend to be fluky. Now without Dak Prescott, Andy Dalton, and others, this offense has plenty of problems beyond their fumbling tendencies, while their defense continues to struggle even as they’ve gotten a few players back that were not available earlier this season, including linebackers Leighton Vander Esch and Sean Lee.

All that being said, I think we’re actually getting some value with the Cowboys this week. The Cowboys are 0-7 ATS on the season and when that happens the odds makers typically boost the spreads more than they should, knowing no one will want to bet on a consistent loser, which leads to those teams covering 62.3% of the time the rest of the way, including 75.0% of the time in their 8th game of the season. Case in point, the Cowboys are whopping 11-point underdogs against an Eagles team that isn’t even middling, ranking 21st in schedule adjusted first down rate differential and 23rd in my roster rankings, even with a couple players due back from injury this week. I have no desire to bet on the Cowboys, but my calculated line is Philadelphia -8 and Dallas should be the right pick if you have to make a pick for pick ‘em purposes.

Philadelphia Eagles 24 Dallas Cowboys 16

Pick against the spread: Dallas +11

Confidence: Low

New York Giants at Philadelphia Eagles: 2020 Week 7 NFL Pick

New York Giants (1-5) at Philadelphia Eagles (1-4-1)

This is yet another uninteresting Thursday Night Football game the NFL has scheduled, although it’s understandable how the NFL thought this might be an interesting game, as it’s a divisional game between a team that has been good in recent years and a team that some thought was up-and-coming. However, the Eagles were not as talented coming into this season as they’ve been in recent years and they’ve been decimated by injury, while the Giants have also had injury problems and have not seen their young players develop as expected, particularly second year quarterback Daniel Jones and rookie left tackle Andrew Thomas. As a result, both teams have just one win, although in the horrendous NFC East, that means they’re right in the thick of the race, making this a meaningful game, if not a particularly interesting one.

I don’t feel strongly on this game, but I do think this line is a little high at 4.5, as the Eagles are so banged up and shouldn’t be favored by this many points over anyone except the Jets. They’ll get right tackle Lane Johnson and wide receiver DeSean Jackson back this week, but they lose tight end Zach Ertz, running back Miles Sanders, and defensive tackle Malik Jackson and are still missing several other offensive linemen and pass catchers. My calculated line is Philadelphia -3 and I think the most likely result is the Eagles winning by a field goal, but it wouldn’t surprise me if they were able to win by more than that either. 

Philadelphia Eagles 23 New York Giants 20

Pick against the spread: NY Giants +4.5

Confidence: Low

Baltimore Ravens at Philadelphia Eagles: 2020 Week 6 NFL Pick

Baltimore Ravens (4-1) at Philadelphia Eagles (1-3-1)

The Ravens had a stinker of a performance at home against the Chiefs week 3, a 34-20 loss that was worse than the final score, as the Ravens got 11 points of benefit from their special teams, didn’t score an offensive touchdown until the 4th quarter, and lost the first down rate battle by 14.50%, but, despite that terrible game, the Ravens still rank 7th in the league in first down rate differential at +4.12%. Even more encouraging is the fact that the Ravens have been led by their defense, which was their more questionable side of the ball coming into their season, as their 4th ranked defense (33.63% first down rate allowed) has made up for an offense that actually ranks just 20th in the NFL in first down rate at 37.76%. 

The Ravens’ offense will almost definitely be better than that going forward, as they’re obviously more talented than that on paper, so, if their defense continues to play at a high level, the Ravens have a good chance to end up as the top ranked team in the league in first down rate differential again at the end of this season, after leading the league by a wide margin with a +8.87% rate last season (the 49ers were 2nd at +5.29%). Even with their relatively “slow” start to this season, the Ravens still have a +8.64% first down rate differential over their past 16 games, including that loss to the Chiefs and their playoff loss to the Titans last year, which also happen to be their only losses over that 16-game stretch. 

Even more impressive, of the Ravens’ 14 wins over that stretch, 12 of them have come by 14 points or more and in total they have a ridiculous +262 point differential over those 16 games, which would be the 4th best differential in a single 16-game season in NFL history if the Ravens had done it across a single season, rather than split between the two. My calculated line suggests this line is about right, favoring the Ravens by 9.5 points in Philadelphia, but that might be giving too much weight to that one loss to Kansas City and not enough weight to the Ravens’ tendency to blow teams out, particularly inferior opponents like the Eagles, who are in especially bad shape this week without injured right tackle Lane Johnson. This is a no confidence pick because we’re not getting real line value with the Ravens, but the Ravens should be the right side for pick ‘em purposes.

Baltimore Ravens 34 Philadelphia Eagles 24

Pick against the spread: Baltimore -9.5

Confidence: None

Philadelphia Eagles at Pittsburgh Steelers: 2020 Week 5 NFL Pick

Philadelphia Eagles (1-2-1) at Pittsburgh Steelers (3-0)

The Eagles got their first win of the season last week in San Francisco, but they were facing a very banged up 49ers team and got lucky that they won the turnover battle by 2 on a pair of terrible interceptions by 49ers backup quarterback Nick Mullens that swung what ended up being just a 5-point Eagles win. Turnover margins are highly inconsistent on a week-to-week basis anyway (the Eagles were -7 in the first 3 weeks of the season) and the Eagles lost the first down rate battle in that game by 6.10%, giving them a 29th ranked -5.19% first down rate differential on the season, despite the fact that they haven’t faced a particularly tough schedule.

This game in Pittsburgh is arguably the toughest game of the Eagles’ season so far. The Steelers are 3-0 and, though they haven’t been quite as good as their record, with their wins all being close and a 15th ranked first down rate differential on the season (+0.87%), their defense has still been one of the best in the league, ranking 5th with a 34.43% first down rate allowed, while their 26th ranked offense (35.29%) should be better going forward, especially with top offensive lineman David DeCastro healthy after missing the first two games of the season. 

Despite that, the Eagles are only touchdown underdogs in this game. I have this line calculated at Pittsburgh -10, as the Eagles are one of the worst teams in the league and are 8.5 points behind the Steelers in my roster rankings, so we’re getting good line value with the Steelers. The Eagles are also in a tough spot as they have an even tougher game on deck at home against the Ravens. Big upcoming home games like that tend to serve as a distraction, as teams are 37-60 ATS since 2016 before being home underdogs of 6 or more. It’s even tougher for teams when it is back-to-back tough games, as teams are 51-73 ATS since 2016 as underdogs of 6 or more before being underdogs of 6 or more again the following week. I don’t love the Steelers, but they’re worth a bet at -7 and I’d consider a larger bet at 6.5. It’s going to be tough for the Eagles to keep this one close.

Pittsburgh Steelers 24 Philadelphia Eagles 13

Pick against the spread: Pittsburgh -7

Confidence: Medium

Philadelphia Eagles at San Francisco 49ers: 2020 Week 4 NFL Pick

Philadelphia Eagles (0-2-1) at San Francisco 49ers (2-1)

This has been an especially brutal year for injuries in the NFL, but it’s possible no team is as banged up on one side of the ball as the Eagles are on offense. On the offensive line, they were already without left tackle Andre Dillard, left guard Isaac Seumalo, and right guard Brandon Brooks and now they’ll also be without veteran Jason Peters, who was signed originally to replace Brooks at right guard and had been playing left tackle since Dillard went down. 

In the receiving corps, the Eagles are missing tight end Dallas Goedert and incredibly are without their top-4 wide receivers, leaving them with just two healthy wide receivers on the active roster (45 career catches between them), with the rest of the spots to be filled with practice squad players. The Eagles are much healthier on defense, but their offensive injuries are a major problem, especially since quarterback Carson Wentz is struggling independent of the problems around him. Overall, I have the Eagles just 26th in my roster rankings right now.

This week, the Eagles get to play a 49ers team that is also dealing with significant injury absences, including quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, running backs Tevin Coleman and Raheem Mostert, cornerbacks Richard Sherman, Akhello Witherspoon, and Emmanuel Mosley, linebacker Dre Greenlaw, and defensive ends Nick Bosa, Dee Ford, and Solomon Thomas, but the 49ers are still significantly more talented than the Eagles in their current state. They have one of the best backup quarterbacks in the league in Nick Mullens, fresh off an easy victory over the Giants in his first start of the season last week, and he’ll get a pair of valuable weapons back from injury this week in Deebo Samuel and George Kittle, though Samuel is expected to be limited. Overall, I have them 4.5 points better than the Eagles in my roster rankings.

Given that the 49ers are favored by a touchdown at home, where they’ll have minimal crowd noise, we aren’t really getting line value with them. The 49ers are in a much better spot though, for a couple reasons. For one, the Eagles could be exhausted after playing the Bengals to a tie last week and teams are understandably 9-17 ATS after a tie over the past thirty seasons. On top of that, while the Eagles have to turn around and go to Pittsburgh for another tough matchup next week, the 49ers have another easy game on deck at home against the Dolphins.

Favorites of 7+ are 102-59 ATS since 2012 before being favorites of 7+ again, while underdogs of 7+ are 55-90 ATS since 2012 before being underdogs of 7+ again. Combining the two, favorites of 7+ are 27-5 ATS since 2012 before being favorites of 7+ again when their opponent will be underdogs of 7+ again the following week. Good teams tend to take care of business against bad teams without upcoming distractions on their schedule, while bad teams tend to struggle to keep it close against good teams with another tough game on deck. All of those conditions should be true this week. There’s not quite enough here for the 49ers to be worth betting with this line being where it is, but they should be the right side.

San Francisco 49ers 21 Philadelphia Eagles 13

Pick against the spread: San Francisco -7

Confidence: Low

Cincinnati Bengals at Philadelphia Eagles: 2020 Week 3 NFL Pick

Cincinnati Bengals (0-2) at Philadelphia Eagles (0-2)

The Eagles’ season has gotten off to a terrible start, as not only are they 0-2, but they’re also tied with the Jets with the 2nd lowest first down rate differential in the league at -28. The Eagles were injury ravaged in week 1, missing right tackle Lane Johnson and defensive tackle Javon Hargrave, among others, but they still lost by double digits to a Washington team that is one of the worst in the league and then they got blown out at home by the Rams in week 2, even though Johnson and Hargrave had returned. Part of the problem has been their league worst -5 turnover margin, which is a metric that tends to be inconsistent week-to-week, but they also rank 26th in first down rate differential at -5.58%, so their issues go far beyond the turnover margin.

The Eagles should be better going forward, if only because Carson Wentz is unlikely to be one of the worst quarterbacks in the league all season, but even if he bounces back, this team has real weaknesses on both sides of the ball, as Wentz’s growing cap hit has made it tougher to them to keep talent at positions like linebacker, safety, and running back, while their offensive line is missing both starting guards due to injury and their receiving corps is banged up as well.

The Eagles face another 0-2 team this week, a less surprising 0-2 team as the Bengals are coming off a season in which they finished 2-14 and had the worst record in the league. The Bengals were better than that record suggested, with 8 of their losses coming by 8 points or fewer in 2019, primarily due to a defense that is better than you’d think, and their offense should be better this season with #1 overall pick Joe Burrow taking over under center and getting back top wide receiver AJ Green and left tackle Jonah Williams, who both missed all of 2019 with injury, but the Bengals are still unlikely to win many games and their defense has struggled early in the season, likely in large part due to the continued absence of defensive tackle Geno Atkins.

If the Eagles play like they have, the Bengals could steal this one in Philadelphia, especially with the Eagles having limited homefield advantage, but it also wouldn’t surprise me if the Eagles bounced back this week, with Carson Wentz likely to work through his issues at some point. I have this line calculated at Philadelphia -3, so we’re getting line value with the Bengals at +4.5, but not enough for them to be worth betting against a desperate Eagles team that is used to making playoff appearances.

Philadelphia Eagles 23 Cincinnati Bengals 20

Pick against the spread: Cincinnati +4.5

Confidence: Low

Los Angeles Rams at Philadelphia Eagles: 2020 Week 2 NFL Pick

Los Angeles Rams (1-0) at Philadelphia Eagles (0-1)

The Eagles lost in embarrassing fashion on the road in Washington last week, blowing a 17-0 lead in a 27-17 defeat against one of the worst teams in the league. That shifted this line pretty significantly, moving from Philadelphia -3.5 to a -1 in the wake of the Eagles’ defeat. That loss is definitely reason for some concern in Philadelphia, but they will get a big boost this week with right tackle Lane Johnson returning from injury. 

Johnson hasn’t been the most durable player in his career, but he’s been one of the best offensive linemen in football when on the field and that shows up in a significant way in Carson Wentz’s career splits (his QB rating is about 20 points higher with Johnson on the field). Johnson’s return is especially important because the Eagles are already without right guard Brandon Brooks for the season and had to re-sign 38-year-old Jason Peters to start at left tackle because expected left tackle Andre Dillard is out for the season as well. 

I don’t think this huge line shift fully takes into account the impact that Johnson’s absence had against Washington and the impact that his return will have this week. The Eagles will also get running back Miles Sanders and defensive tackle Javon Hargrave back from injury. However, even with those players returning, I still only give the Eagles a slight edge in my roster rankings over the Rams, whose young offensive line was surprisingly impressive last week. Given that they only have a minimal edge in talent, there isn’t enough line value for the Eagles to be worth betting at home in front of an empty crowd as 1-point favorites, but they should be the pick for pick ‘em purposes, as the most likely result of this game is an Eagles win by a field goal.

Philadelphia Eagles 27 Los Angeles Rams 24

Pick against the spread: Philadelphia -1

Confidence: Low

Philadelphia Eagles at Washington Mascots: 2020 Week 1 NFL Pick

Philadelphia Eagles (0-0) at Washington Mascots (0-0)

The Eagles enter the season as arguably the most banged up team in the league. They’ve already lost a pair of expected starting offensive linemen in Andre Dillard and Brandon Brooks to season ending injuries and, while Dillard was replaced by Jason Peters, who could be an upgrade, Brooks is a massive loss and they have absences at other positions as well, including expected starting wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, defensive tackle Javon Hargrave, a big free agent acquisition, starting defensive end Derek Barnett, and starting running back Miles Sanders. 

Fortunately, to begin their season, the Eagles get an easy trip to Washington to play the team that used to have a mascot. In addition to not having a team name, Washington enters the season as one of the worst teams in the league and has injury issues of their own, with top cornerback Kendall Fuller and top linebacker Thomas Davis both out this week. We’re not getting enough line value with the Eagles as 5.5-point road favorites to bet them in their current condition, but they should be the right side for pick ‘em purposes.

Philadelphia Eagles 26 Washington Mascots 20

Pick against the spread: Philadelphia -5.5

Confidence: None

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.

Update: The Eagles re-signed Jason Peters and he will replace Brooks at right guard, at least to start the season, though it wouldn’t surprise if he ended up at left tackle if Dillard doesn’t progress. Either way, he’s a big re-addition for this team and he improves their playoff chances.

Final Update: The Eagles continue to have injury problems, with their receiving corps becoming even more banged up and Jason Peters now moving back to left tackle to replace Andre Dillard, who is also out for the season for injury. They could still make the post-season, but they’re a long way behind the Cowboys.

Projection: 8-8 (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