The New England Patriots have big questions on the O-line, while the Philadelphia Eagles have overflowing depth on the D-line. This is just one of the factors that have me backing Eagles Nation in week 2 action.
Thus far, all I've heard is how Andy Reid doesn't care about the preseason and that he should be among the top coaches to fade again this year. What I want to ask is whether or not we should simply follow this trend blindly? My answer is a resounding no. I picked the Eagles to win games last preseason and I picked them to win last week vs the Steelers.
Reid is no longer a sure thing to keep his job anymore and the pressure to win is higher than ever. This creates an added sense of urgency in camp. Additionally, the Eagles have enjoyed greater depth at the QB position in the last couple of years allowing them to be more productive late into NFLX games. Including last year, Reid is now 4-1 SU in preseason play.
Speaking of trends, Bill Belichick usually opens up the preseason with a win under his belt and last week was no exception. It wasn't pretty, but he is now 10-4 SU in week 1 NFLX play. However, after that it traditionally becomes a mixed bag. He sports a 6-6 SU record in each week after the opener. I do expect the Patriots to be sharper in this game with the added practice time they've had this week, but with three upcoming games in nine days, playing time will be managed appropriately.
NFL odds for week 2 of the preseason were released on Monday and the Patriots opened as -3.5 point favorites. The hook was quickly gobbled up and we are now looking at -3 across the board (odds courtesy of SBR Forum). However, since the move to 3 we've seen a steady trickle of money come in on New England. This gives us Philly at even money, but if you wait you might be able to get better odds if you wait until later in the week.
Throw Tom Brady's performance out from last week. Given the circumstances and the limited reps, it was nothing worth noting. The interesting part for the starters this week will be how they handle Brady's time behind that offensive line. Belichick has never been afraid of playing his starters, but it's a situation that everyone will be monitoring.
Ryan Mallett didn't have a good game and the no-name receivers he was throwing to both dropped passes along the way vs the Saints. With a full offseason under his belt he should be further along at this point. He should have a chance to improve in week 2, but the heat is on.
Brian Hoyer fared better with the only scoring drive of the game last week and he does have a chance to put the pressure on Mallet here.
For the Eagles, it can't get much worse than two three-and-outs for the starters vs the Steelers. They should have a marked improvement in week 2—especially vs a defense in transition. Mike Vick's thumb is fine so it should be full steam ahead for this dynamic group of playmakers.
The real interesting development for the Eagles is the injury to Mike Kafka. This could be a blessing in disguise because he didn't look very good in his limited time vs the Steelers. Third-round pick Nick Foles looked much better by comparison. It's only one performance against backups, but he passed the 'eye-ball' test to start 2012. He's developed at a high rate ever since his first mini-camp back in the Spring and could become an early fan favorite if he strings together good back-to-back performances.
Behind him, Trent Edwards put together a nice bit of film vs Pittsburgh and he could make this QB rotation interesting with another quality showing on Friday. The backups will have guys like Bryce Brown and Damaris Johnson to work with—both of whom have made inroads on the coaches radar.
Regular Season Tune-Up
Perhaps the biggest reason I like the Eagles in week 2 is due to the fact that they are playing the Cleveland Browns in week 3 of the preseason. Philly also opens up the season against the Browns so the team is treating this game vs the Patriots as their official regular season tune-up. This means more playing time for the top half of the roster and more installations in practice. No playing time has been announced yet, but there's a very good chance that there will be some unit mismatches as the game unfolds.
Speaking of mismatches, a big advantage I see for the Eagles comes in the trenches. LT Nate Solder allowed three hurries vs the Saints, while RT Marcus Cannon gave up a sack, three hurries, and two knockdowns. Overall it was an ugly night for the entire Patriots O-line. This is bad news given the stellar depth Philly boasts on their D-line.
A lot of teams around the league are concerned about who to start on their front four, but the Eagles are worried about who they'll have to cut. Guys like Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham, Phillip Hunt, and Darryl Tapp could conceivably start for another club. Even if this group doesn't compile sacks on Friday, they should be wreaking havoc in the backfield at the very least.
I won't be surprised if Belichick counters with more two-tight end sets and an emphasis on the run game. Shane Vareen looked great vs the Saints so the battle at RB will heat up with Stevan Ridley. Both will be featured heavily on Friday.
Dane Fletcher is out with a torn ACL, so the Pats will be relying on a lot of youth at linebacker. Chandler Jones has been impressive in camp and that carried into the game vs the Saints. He's going to provide a nice test for LT King Dunlap of the Eagles—who gets the start ahead of Demetress Bell.
Nnamdi Asomugha was knocked out of practice on Monday, but all initial tests came back negative for a concussion. These situations can develop slowly, so keep an eye on his progression during the week.
Unless bettors know something I don't, it's puzzling why early action would come in on the Patriots. The Eagles have good depth at QB and boast an outstanding D-line rotation. Recall what the Lions' D-line did to New England's O-line last preseason? How about the Giants D-line in the Super Bowl? Philly are also treating this game like their regular season dress rehearsal. I'm happy to take the points and ride the road dog.
NFL Pick: PHI +3 (SBR Forum)