Does King Have Falcons' in Check Already?

Does King Have Falcons' in Check Already?

Coming out of a bye
week where Andy Reid admitted he would consider all options, the only
apparent change in the Eagles' starting lineup was made at left tackle.

King
Dunlap won the job from Demetress Bell during training camp, then lost
it due to a hamstring injury sustained in Week 2. Now that King has
taken it back in time for Sunday's game against the Falcons, here's why
that's a good thing.

Besides the obvious, of course. Bell was
able to buy himself a few extra weeks after showing signs of
improvement, while Dunlap healed and coaches hoped to build continuity.
The free agent addition gave perhaps his worst performance of the season
against Detroit though, bad enough that it clearly warranted a change.

As
it turns out, Dunlap may hold another advantage over Bell this weekend:
experience. In particular, experience successfully blocking Atlanta's
defenders, especially John Abraham.

What, you mean to tell me you've forgotten already?

It
was only two years ago when Jason Peters missed a pair of games to have
a torn meniscus repaired in his knee, and Dunlap was pressed into his
first career start against these same Falcons, John Abraham and all. We
were all a little afraid for Kevin Kolb that day, but as it turned out,
those fears were misplaced.

Dunlap played quite possibly the best
game of his career. Kolb was sacked just once, and with a crisp pocket
for much of the day, was able to complete 23 of 29 passes for 326 yards
and three touchdowns. The Eagles' running game wasn't much to behold,
but you wouldn't have guessed it after the 31-17 victory.

Reid
praised Dunlap afterwards, telling reporters, "His technique was just
outstanding last week ... there were several times, where he was
one-on-one with 55 [Falcons' DE John Abraham] now, with no help, and he
did an outstanding job."

Les Bowen would write in the Daily News,
"Dunlap was fine. Test passed, and in a way, devalued, because the
Falcons didn't play at all like a 4-1 squad," the latter portion perhaps
serving as a foreshadowing to this weekend.

Pro Football Focus went so far as to grade Dunlap's effort as a 'perfect game.'

"Eagles
Offensive Coordinator Marty Mornhinweg did a good job of protecting him
with the scheme, but he still handled Abraham and Kroy Bierrmann
one-on-one multiple times. Abraham won some of the initial contact, but
Dunlap’s anchor allowed him to reset and contain his man. His work in
the run game was also impressive as he dominated linebackers and
consistently sealed Abraham away from plays."

Okay, point made.
King Dunlap has in the past shown flashes of being, I don't know, let's
go with adequate. Still, one good game two years ago does not
necessarily equate to another solid outing in 2012.

For one, it
was a different scheme. Juan Castillo was the offensive line coach back
at the time (heh), and Howard Mudd has his linemen doing something else
entirely. Same goes for the Falcons, who have a new defensive
coordinator in Mike Nolan -- and that guy has been around.

On a
similar note, the Eagles have even more issues. Dallas Reynolds could
soon face competition for his job at center, and Danny Watkins has an
ankle injury that may prevent him from starting. But then again, the
2010 team was without its starting center and on to their second right
guard as well.

As the old saying goes, football games are won up
front, in the trenches. As long as that's the case, it's only natural to
be concerned with whether the Eagles are currently equipped to put
points on the board given the state of their offensive line.

Atlanta's
front four isn't exactly a dominant bunch though, so long as Dunlap and
right tackle Todd Herremans can contain Abraham -- the NFL's active
career leader in sacks. Yet if they are able to handle that much, there
is hope yet Philly's embattled offensive line can survive this week,
and even make a positive contribution toward a huge, potentially
season-altering upset victory.

No splashes, but Phillies significantly upgraded lineup this offseason

No splashes, but Phillies significantly upgraded lineup this offseason

The addition of outfielder Michael Saunders doesn't suddenly make the Phillies an NL contender, but coupled with the trade for Howie Kendrick, the Phils' projected lineup is much deeper and more well-rounded than it was at this time last year.

By adding two capable corner outfield bats, the lineup has been lengthened, and it's unlikely you'll see someone like Freddy Galvis in the five-hole much in 2017.

The Saunders signing is not yet official, but assuming it goes through, the Phils' lineup could look like this on opening day:

1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B (S)
2. Howie Kendrick, LF 
3. Odubel Herrera, CF (L)
4. Maikel Franco, 3B
5. Michael Saunders, RF (L)
6. Tommy Joseph, 1B
7. Cameron Rupp, C
8. Freddy Galvis, SS (S)

Considering the Phillies started Cedric Hunter and Peter Bourjos in the outfield corners last opening day, this is a huge upgrade even if Kendrick and Saunders are not huge names. 

Phillies leftfielders hit .212/.284/.332 last season. Unless Kendrick forgets how to hit overnight, he won't come close to those numbers. Phillies rightfielders had eight home runs in 637 plate appearances last season. Give Saunders that many PAs and you're likely looking at 27 to 30 homers.

Before last season, Kendrick hit between .279 and .322 every year from 2006 to 2015. Having a guy who can hit .290 with a .330-plus on-base percentage in the two-hole is a big deal, especially if he's hitting between Hernandez (.371 OBP last season) and Herrera (.361 OBP). You can foresee plenty of scenarios where, if that's the 1-2-3, Herrera comes up with runners on the corners in the first inning.

Saunders is another 20-plus home run bat. When you look through the Phillies' lineup, there are potentially five of those. Plus, don't sleep on the improvement Herrera made in that department last season, almost doubling his HR total from eight to 15.

The balance of left-handed and right-handed bats will make the Phillies more difficult to pitch to. It was important that the outfield bat they added was left-handed, because if not you'd be looking at an extremely right-handed heavy middle of the order.

Also, don't underestimate the impact of adding two veteran hitters who have had success in the majors. Franco could use all the additional advice he can get. Herrera, too, is at an impressionable age. Might Franco be less likely to give away an at-bat, as he did so many times in 2016, with someone like Kendrick there to greet him at the top step of the dugout? That question may sound silly, but the entire environment changes when you add a respected veteran leader to a clubhouse filled with kids.

This is not to say the Phillies will have a top-five offense in 2017. They'll still likely be toward the bottom-half or bottom-third of the National League, but as of right now this isn't the NL's worst lineup like it was for the majority of last season. The Reds and Padres have worse lineups, and you could add the Brewers and Pirates to that list if Ryan Braun and Andrew McCutchen are traded.

Pete Mackanin has called for more offense and more lineup flexibility and he's gotten it, even though it doesn't involve real star power. Kendrick's ability to also play first base and second base could allow Aaron Altherr to get some playing time in an outfield corner when Hernandez or Joseph sits. 

The only real casualty of the Saunders signing is Roman Quinn, who Mackanin confirmed Tuesday night would likely spend the year at Triple A. Quinn showed some flashes late last season and is an exciting player, but it would have been risky to rely on him as a starting outfielder in 2017 given he's never even reached 400 plate appearances in a season. 

Sixers' game vs. Rockets Jan. 27 moved to national TV

Sixers' game vs. Rockets Jan. 27 moved to national TV

With the Sixers winning and Joel Embiid turning heads nationally, interest in Brett Brown's team continues to grow. So much so, apparently, that the Sixers' home game against the Rockets on Jan. 27 has been moved to ESPN.

The announcement that Sixers-Rockets would replace Bulls-Heat was made by the NBA Tuesday night. It will be the second Sixers game on national TV this season and they'll look for a better result than the 24-point loss in Minnesota on TNT Nov. 17.

The Sixers host the Rockets a night after the NBA announces the All-Star Game reserves. (Starters are named Jan. 19.) It seems likely at this point Embiid will have a spot on the Eastern Conference roster.

The Sixers have five games before then and all will be challenging: vs. Toronto, vs. Portland, at Atlanta, vs. Clippers, at Milwaukee. Add in Houston and those teams are a combined 151-101 (.599).

They will catch a break in one of those games by missing Clippers PG Chris Paul, who will miss six to eight weeks after having left thumb surgery.

The Rockets, at 32-12, are third in the Western Conference, 1½ games behind the Spurs and 4½ behind the Warriors. Houston is on pace to shatter some NBA three-point records under first-year head coach Mike D'Antoni, an assistant on Brown's Sixers staff last season.

The Rockets set the NBA record on Dec. 17 for threes made (24) and attempted (61) in a game. And this past Sunday, the Rockets and Nets tied the NBA record by attempting 88 threes.