These Guys: Sixers-Celtics for First Time in '11-'12

These Guys: Sixers-Celtics for First Time in '11-'12

We thought it was safe—well, borderline safe—to bury the Celtics earlier
in the season when discussing the Atlantic Division race. The C's were
5-9 through 14 games while the Sixers were 10-4, and the C's were 15-17
through 32 games while the Sixers were 20-12. But now the Celtics have
won five in a row while the Sixers have lost eight of their last ten
(yikes!), meaning that now the two teams are separated by just a game in
the Eastern Conference standings. Yup—if the C's beat the Sixers
tonight, they'll be tied on top of the Atlantic for the first time since
the second week of the season. Spooky.

Reports have it that Nik Vucevic and Evan Turner will be starting for
the Sixers again tonight, as they did in Milwaukee. [UPDATE: Thad Young is sick and will not play this evening, so Coach Collins said he will start Tony Battie to face KG and bring Nik off the bench] To say that the
experiment was not a resounding success on Monday would be a definite
understatement—the two went a combined 4-20 from the field for eight
points in a combined 49 minutes. Howard Eskin
reports that Turner, whose 32 minutes and 1-12 shooting night accounted
for most of that inefficiency, is now going to be a starter for the
remainder of the season—an oddly timed decision if true, considering not
just his lousy Tuesday performance but mysterious concurrent reports from Stan Hochman of the Daily News about "an explanation for Turner’s inconsistent play" which "one of these
days, the team, with Turner’s permission, will reveal...and then the
criticism will back off." Yeah, that's not weird or intriguing or anything.

Both Turner and Coach Collins addressed the mysterious reports before tonight's game, shooting them down entirely.

The Sixers have somehow avoided facing off against the Celtics thusfar
this season, but the two squads will of course meet four times before
seasons' end, and with the gap between the two not being as great as we
may have previously believed, the Ballers' performance in those four
games may end up deciding which of the two teams wins the Atlantic and
guaranteed home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. The
C's have won the division easily in every season since Kevin Garnett
joined the team in 2008, and even though their team is older and much
thinner this year than in seasons past—especially up front—they still
have the Big Three and Rajon Rondo, who have proven over their five-game
winning streak to still be deadly when firing on all cylinders as a
foursome. (New add-on Brandon Bass, jump-shooting power forward, is
pretty good too.)

7:00 tip from the WFC. To win this one, we're gonna need a big
rebounding effort up front and some major defensive scrambling against
the prolific and ball-sharing C's—not to mention some much-overdue
late-game offensive production. “We shot 13 for 49 from the floor in the
second half," Coach Collins pointed out about Tuesday's performance in
Milwaukee. “I
mean, come on. Who are you going to beat?” Not many teams, and certainly
not the reigning Atlantic champ Celtics. Gotta beat the man to be the
man, ya know.

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.