League Pass Alert: Sixers Face Wolves in A Bounce-Back Game, We Hope

League Pass Alert: Sixers Face Wolves in A Bounce-Back Game, We Hope

As fun as it was to watch these Sixers for the first 25 games this year,
the last six have been pretty rough. Not historically bad or
anything—they're 2-4, but the four losses were all to good teams, and at
least one of them could have easily gone the other way—but nonetheless,
still the first really discouraging stretch of what has otherwise been a
fantastically promising season. After winning four of the first five
games of our Death March stretch, nobody can say that the Ballers
haven't beaten anyone good, but after losing four of six since, we can't
say they really deserve to be considered one of the elite teams either.

Much as we'd like to blame the recent cold streak on the condensed
season and general injuries, neither excuse really applies here. The
schedule has been rough, but no rougher than it's been for anyone
else—each of the team's four recent losses came after an off day, so
fatigue shouldn't have been a huge factor. And while obviously injuries
to some of our big man have hurt, especially the extended absence of
Spencer Hawes, it's actually been our guard play that's hurt us
recently—Friday night against Mavs, the Sixers' five primary perimeter
players went a combined 12-47, with Jrue Holiday and Jodie Meeks failing
to convert a single field goal.

So what to attribute the team's recent struggles to? Well, probably a
combination of natural factors—the schedule got tougher, scouting on the
Sixers got better, other teams (many of whom had to integrate far many
more new pieces than the Sixers) finally started to gel, and Philly was
probably due for a little regression to the mean after playing so out of
their heads in the season's first 25 games. For the record, they're not
alone in their current malaise—the Pacers, Nuggets and Blazers, all
teams that (like the Sixers) jumped out to hot starts thanks to their
deep rosters and young legs, have also struggled recently, going a
combined 12-19 for the month of February.

In any event, the Sixers get a chance to turn things around tonight in
Minnesota against a tough and trendy Timberwolves team. The Wolves,
anchored by the highlight-reel passing of rookie point guard Ricky Rubio
and the grind-it-out stat-stuffing of power forward Kevin Love, have
become the toast of the NBA blogosphere this season, a fun, young team
that, while not quite on the level of the Sixers and company
record-wise, have improved greatly this year, starting 15-16 and
threatening to give Minnesota their first winning season since 2005.
Rebounding will obviously be a key against the 'Pack, with the size and
strength of the Wolves front line of Love and surging second-year big
Nikola Pekovic a danger to muscle the Sixers off the boards completely.

7:00 tip from the Target Center. The doldrums of recent weeks are
explainable, if not necessarily excusable, but if we want to stay ahead
of the improving Celtics and the Linsane Knicks in the Atlantic
Division—and secure home-court advantage in the first round—we need to
start winning games again, pure and simple. Three more games before the
All-Star Break, let's win some of 'em, huh?

After 'soul searching,' Jaylen Watkins in line for major role with Eagles

After 'soul searching,' Jaylen Watkins in line for major role with Eagles

Every morning on his way to work, Jaylen Watkins drives down Broad Street toward the NovaCare Complex and thinks back to his three months on the Bills' practice squad.

The former fourth-round pick out of Florida in 2014 joined the Bills' practice squad after the Eagles cut him last Sept. 5 in what he has previously referred to as a “humbling” experience.

“I try to never forget that moment because it was definitely a soul-searching moment,” Watkins said on Wednesday. “Anyone who is released or fired from their job, you have to do some soul-searching.

“Every day that I drive down Broad Street, I think about Buffalo and how far I’ve come and just not wanting to be on a practice squad again. Nothing’s wrong with the practice squad, but my goal is to be on the 53 and making contributions to the team.”

Watkins isn’t just on the Eagles’ 53 after rejoining them late in 2015. For the rest of the 2016 season, he’s also expected to have a major role.

After Ron Brooks was lost for the season when he tore his quad tendon against the Vikings, Malcolm Jenkins is the Eagles’ new slot cornerback. That means that Watkins, 23, will be the second safety on the field in the team’s nickel package.

That meant that he played 46 snaps against the Vikings after Brooks went out. And with how much teams pass in the current NFL, he’ll probably play a considerable amount the rest of the season.

“It’s something that I’ve been waiting for and I’ve just been patient,” Watkins said. “I’ve been waiting for this experience, so I’m just excited. This week was amazing for me. ... It was good for me this past week to be in the game plan and putting yourself in position that this could possibly be me on the first play of the game.”

Jenkins has said multiple times that he enjoys playing as the slot corner, but until Brooks went down, the team thought it was better off with him staying at safety.

With the secondary shuffle, what’s different with Watkins at safety instead of Jenkins?

“Nothing really man,” the Eagles’ other starting safety, Rodney McLeod, said. “It’s been a next-man-up mentality this whole year. ... Guys have a lot of experience back there. I don’t think we’re going to miss a beat. It’s obviously an unfortunate situation with Ron playing great. But Jenkins is ready and so is (Jalen) Mills and Watkins.”

Watkins was drafted by the Eagles in the fourth round in 2014 and played just four games as a rookie before he was cut at the start of his sophomore season. He spent three months in Buffalo, where his younger brother Sammy is a star receiver.

When Jim Schwartz became the Eagles’ defensive coordinator, Watkins was moved to safety. He quickly asserted himself as the first option off the bench at that position.

And just like McLeod and Jenkins, he’s a safety with a history and knowledge of every position in the secondary.

“He’s kind of our Tyrann Mathieu a little bit as far as being able to play safety, being able to play nickel, being able to play corner, being able to play all those positions,” cornerback Nolan Carroll said. “A swiss-army knife if you want to call it that. For him, it’s just about continuing to get reps, continuing to be confident.”

Jenkins, McLeod and Watkins are so interchangeable, Watkins joked that sometimes they get confused because they forget which position they’re playing. According to McLeod, there haven’t been any communication issues between him at Watkins when Jenkins moves down into his role as the nickel corner.

Watkins still thinks about his time in Buffalo, but he also thinks he’s a much better player now than he was before he went there.

“Just more confident player, I would say,” Watkins said. “My coaches believe in me. My teammates believe in me. Now, I’m just confident and relaxed when I go out and play, making plays, doing what I did in college. I think I’m a much better player than before.”

Carson Wentz falls far behind Elliott, Prescott in Rookie of Year odds

Carson Wentz falls far behind Elliott, Prescott in Rookie of Year odds

Carson Wentz's Rookie of the Year odds took a hit, the Eagles' Super Bowl odds shortened and the Vikings' lengthened after Sunday's 21-10 win.

The Eagles are 33/1 to win it all, a week after being listed by Bovada at 50/1. The Vikings, meanwhile, went from 7/1 to 9/1. They still have the third-shortest Super Bowl odds in the NFL and are two spots ahead of the Cowboys (14/1). 

Wentz, who had his worst statistical game against Minnesota, is now 9/1 to win NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, according to Bovada. Last Wednesday, he was 6/1.

Wentz trails Cowboys studs Ezekiel Elliott (2/5) and Dak Prescott (11/5) on that leaderboard.

As far as this week, Wentz is favored to throw for more yards than Prescott. Wentz is 5/7 to outgain Prescott through the air in Week 8, while Prescott is 1/1 to outgain Wentz.

Elliott's over/under rushing total against the Eagles is 99.5. He's rushed for 130-plus yards in each of his last four games, and the odds are 3/1 that he'll reach that number again this week. 

The Eagles have allowed just one 100-yard rusher this season, Washington's Matt Jones (16 for 135).

Elliott is also now on pace to break Eric Dickerson's rookie rushing record. Dickerson had 1,808 in 1983; Elliott is on pace for 1,875. Will Elliott break that 33-year-old mark? A "yes" bet pays 2/1; a "no" bet pays 1/3.