Prediction Time: How Will the Eagles Fare in 2011?

Prediction Time: How Will the Eagles Fare in 2011?

Here it is: the official predictions thread. Saw some of you folks were getting a jump on them in yesterday's season preview, but if you want them to count, you better re-post them here!

After the jump, we go game-by-game for the season ahead in our most extensive Eagles predictions to date, and as always, we want to hear from all the Birds loyalists.

For the record, I don't often pat myself on the back, but as long as I've been posting these predictions on The700Level, I've been extremely accurate. In '08, I predicted an NFC Championship appearance, in '09 I correctly predicted the Division Championship would come down to Week 17 against Dallas, and last season I had the Eagles winning 10 games and making their surprise playoff appearance. Let's make it four-for-four this year.

Week 1 @ St. Louis
The Eagles are not the only team in flux to start the season. QB Sam Bradford will playing in his second offensive system in as many seasons, and had just 38 days to get it down. He isn't exactly working with a plethora of weapons in the passing game either, so the transition could be slow and painful. Head coach Steve Spagnuolo will bring a tough defense to the party, but the Birds have enough playmakers to survive. Look for LeSean McCoy to be a big factor here. W

Week 2 @ Atlanta
Back-to-back road games might be a bit much to kick off the season, especially one at the Georgia Dome, where the Falcons have been practically unbeatable in recent years. The Eagles' defensive line and linebackers will be tested by a power running game featuring RB Michael Turner, which gets the better of them in the end. Michael Vick's homecoming on Monday Night Football is spoiled when Atlanta wins the time of possession battle, thus continuing their recent trend of losing to playoff teams. L

Week 3 v New York Giants
The Giants will eventually get their defense sorted out after being absolutely decimated by injuries this summer, but it won't happen this fast. Even several of the players who will return this season won't be back by Week 3. Meanwhile, the Gmen have allowed 150 points against the Eagles in their last four meetings, and have lost a grand total of six straight to the Birds. After Week 3, it will be seven. W

Week 4 v San Francisco
The Birds draw the 49ers for the fourth consecutive season, and are the winners in the first three, though every contest has been relatively hard fought. Once again, San Fran just doesn't have the horses to keep up for 60 minutes, but it could be another close one. TE Vernon Davis will be all Jamar Chaney can handle, while RB Frank Gore will make the Eagles' smaller linebackers work. Alex Smith is still the QB however, and that only takes a team so far. W

Week 5 @ Buffalo
Could this be one of those infamous trap games, like the Raiders in Week 5 of '09? Maybe, but the Bills offense will play right into the Eagles' strengths. According to Football Outsdiers Almanac, no team went empty backfield more often than Buffalo, a whopping 15% of the time, and no offense, but QB Ryan Fitzpatrick is not the gunslinger we envision solving this secondary. Whether their defense is improved will be the X-factor, but c'mon, this isn't a cross country trip to Oakland or anything. W

Week 6 @ Washington
Believe it or not, there are actually people out there who think the Redskins will be good, maybe even win the division! We won't weigh in here, but no matter how bad things are in D.C., they always seem to take at least one off the Birds. This could be a look-ahead game (to the bye week) for a team that's starting to get a little over-confident. RB Tim Hightower gives the defense fits, and Vick has a tough outing against a defense desperately seeking redemption after 2010's 59-21 embarrassment. L

Week 7 Bye

Week 8 v Dallas
If there has been one constant during the Andy Reid era, it's the Birds will win coming out of the bye. Doesn't seem to matter who the opponent is, and the Cowboys, while a quality team, are not exactly a superpower this year. W

Week 9 v Chicago
After three consecutive appearances at Soldier Field (1-2 record), the Eagles will finally welcome the Bears back to the friendly confines of Lincoln Financial. As is the theme with the familiar foes in the early parts of the schedule, these are always close games, and we know what to expect from the Bears--average offense, solid defense. That defense matches up well against the likes of Vick, with great athletes like DE Julius Peppers and MLB Brian Urlacher. In their traditional fashion, Chitown finds a way to just barely edge the Birds. L

Week 10 v Arizona
The Cardinals are a difficult team to get a read on, in part because despite spending four seasons here, we don't really know what to think of Kevin Kolb yet. What we do know is Arizona's offensive line has protection problems, and Kolb struggled when the pressure got to him. This has Jim Washburn-impact game written all over it. The Cards are also thin in the secondary after trading Dominque Rodgers-Cromartie and losing Greg Toler to injury, so DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin should find room to work. W

Week 11 @ New York Giants
After Week 3, the streak is up to seven, and we don't see it ending this season. Under Tom Coughlin and defensive coordinator Perry Fewell, we expect the defense to steadily improve as some guys come back, and they find answers in other areas, but not enough to run with the Eagles. It's just not their year, but the winning streak is starting to remind me of the one the Giants had over the Birds early last decade. They will eventually snap out of it, just not yet. W

Week 12 v New England
This could very well be the NFL's game of the year. Whether or not you think the Eagles can beat the Patriots depends on how good you think either team is. Bill Belichick is a brilliant coach who will find a way to get his offense moving no matter what defense it is, and the Patriots defense is questionable enough to assume they will give up some big plays. I am going with a New England loss for two reasons: 1. I think Andy Reid is due against Belichick, and 2. the Eagles play some of their best football in November. W

Week 13 @ Seattle
Scheduling gods, be damned! After hosting perhaps the best opponent on their slate, the Eagles must fly cross country to Seattle for a Thursday night game against the Seahawks. It doesn't matter how good or bad they are, that situation has loss written all over it. Qwest Field is a hard enough place to play as it is, but on three days rest after a brutal showdown against one of the NFL's best... L

Week 14 @ Miami
And then the rebound game. There really isn't much that stands out for the Dolphins. Their offense is underwhelming in basically every possible way, and
the defense is solid, but features few game-changers. With 10 days off between games, the Eagles will be extra fresh for this game, and unless Miami can find a way to come up with some big plays, the Birds should pull away. W

Week 15 v New York Jets
The number one thing with the Jets is their defense is not quite as great as its reputation. They were flat out dominant in '09, but came back to earth last season. They still have a scary secondary, headlined by CB Darrelle Revis, but they are a little soft up front after DT Kris Jenkins' retirement, and lacking a dangerous pass rush specialist. Offensively, they'll have success on the ground, but Mark Sanchez is their quarterback. Unless he drastically improves, it could be a big day for Philly defensive backs. W

Week 16 @ Dallas
With the Giants and Redskins looking very much like they will be out of the picture by, oh, let's say November, the Cowboys could step up and become the number one competition to the Eagles in the NFC East. And with Philly potentially in the mix for a post-season bye, and Dallas reaching for a playoff spot of their own, look for them to pull out all the stops in this one. New defensive coordinator Rob Ryan will do his best to confuse Vick, who at this point is still prone to laying the occasional egg, and Big D gets a much needed win to stay alive. L

Week 17 v Washington
Whether this game matters to the Eagles or not... doesn't matter. By this time, the Mike Shanahan experiment will be on the way out, as the Redskins will have nothing to play for but pride. And at many positions, the Birds are so deep, their backups could probably beat a lot of the lesser teams out there... like Washington! Eagles roll no matter what it means in the standings. W

Post-season
Ever since the Eagles' shopping spree this off-season, people have been approaching me to ask whether I think they will win the Super Bowl. If you've been reading long enough, you know I don't think things work that way.

Too much can happen between now and the playoffs, in a sport where the final score can be determined by one unlucky bounce, or one great individual effort. Part of winning a championship, obviously, is having a quality team. The other parts are being fortunate and timely.

My answer is, they will be there at the end. Maybe not the Super Bowl, maybe not even the NFC Championship, depending on who they draw. They are certainly a team to put on the watch-list though, one that the rest of the NFC will not want to see along the road to Indianapolis.

When the games are kicking off in September, 11-5 and a true contender are all you can ask. How do you see them finishing this season?

Eagles Film Review: Carson Wentz's improvisation pays off big

Eagles Film Review: Carson Wentz's improvisation pays off big

Carson Wentz takes pride in not letting plays die easily. 

In Sunday’s 34-3 win over the Steelers, one play he didn’t let die ended up being the back-breaker in the blowout. 

We’re, of course, talking about the 73-yard touchdown pass to Darren Sproles at the 13:08 mark in the third quarter. Coming into the second half, the Eagles had a 10-point lead, but this touchdown pushed it to a 20-3 advantage and the rout was on. This play was a tone-setter (see story)

“That’s something that we talk about a lot,” Wentz said after the game. “We always say that a play is never dead. I like to make plays when we need to and everyone just does a great job of getting open in those situations.”

This was the first big off-schedule play Wentz has hit during his three weeks as the team’s starter, but the signs were there. In the Chicago game, there were several times where he showed his ability to extend plays. We broke them down in a film review last week (see story).

Throughout the week, Wentz had been compared to Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. One of the reasons was their shared ability to extend plays and make something happen. Big Ben showed his ability in the first quarter and almost connected on a huge touchdown pass to Markus Wheaton in the back of the end zone, but the receiver couldn’t pull it in. 

When Wentz got his shot later in the game, Sproles was able to pull it in, then make something happen with his feet. 

“I saw Carson scrambling this way,” head coach Doug Pederson said. “Darren was literally right in front of me and when I saw him wheel, my first reaction was to find the sideline to see if he stepped out to be quite honest.  He hadn’t, and Carson just — it was like in slow motion — floated that ball up the sideline and Darren did the rest from there. It was a tremendous play from those two individuals. I guess the last thing I did is I always look back to make sure there are no flags on the ground on those long plays.”

There were no flags. Touchdown. Game. 

Let’s take a closer look at the play: 

Wentz is in shotgun with Sproles in the backfield with him. The Eagles come out with three-wide on the far side of the field and a lot of space on the near side. 

Stephon Tuitt, who actually had a pretty good game against the Eagles, takes this route to the quarterback. When he gets to left guard Allen Barbre, Barbre either didn’t see him or didn’t react quickly enough. 

While Sproles is still running his short out, Wentz feels the pressure and is able to step up through the hole created by Lane Johnson and Brandon Brooks. As soon as he makes it through, Wentz still has his eyes downfield. 

Now Wentz is through the hole and sees Sproles finishing his out-route. This is when Wentz, on the run, motions to Sproles to take off. This is something we’ve seen Wentz do a few times during his three weeks as Eagles quarterback. 

Wentz was left with a tough decision here. He could have run for 10, maybe even 15 yards. It was wide open, but he decided to try to make a play with his arm instead. 

“I always want to be a thrower first,” he said. “Even when a play breaks down, I’m always looking [to throw] because that’s where the big plays are happening. If I scramble I might get 5, 10, 15, 20 yards, but I’m not that fast. I always want to get it to the guys that can make plays. We always want to make plays when they’re there, and that’s what happened.”

With the line of scrimmage at the 27, Wentz has enough awareness to run horizontally to make sure he didn’t cross. And as soon as Pittsburgh safety Mike Mitchell takes that first step toward him, Wentz sees how much room Sproles has to work with. 

Ryan Shazier, who was covering Sproles on the play, froze and then started to step toward Wentz too. He said he thought the quarterback crossed the line of scrimmage, but Wentz was aware enough to stay behind.  

Once Sproles catches the ball in open space, he begins to do Sproles things. Defensive back Sean Davis took a bad angle on him and once he gets close, the veteran turns it inside. Davis said he was trying to buy time for the rest of his defense to get there and stop Sproles. It didn’t work. 

“Man, it’s Sproles!” receiver Nelson Agholor said. “Did you think he was going to get tackled?”

While he’s blocking downfield, Dorial Green-Beckham actually trips himself up and does a somersault. But it didn’t matter — Sproles didn’t need a great block. He pretty much did it himself. 

“Anytime that you can put it in the hands of [Sproles] something special can happen on any play, and he did the rest of it,” Wentz said. 

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Travis Konecny leaves impression with vets in Flyers' preseason win

Travis Konecny leaves impression with vets in Flyers' preseason win

ALLENTOWN, Pa. — Michael Raffl had just finished playing alongside Travis Konecny, the 19-year-old kid that has Flyers fans abuzz about the now and future.

Yet for Raffl, he wasn’t thinking forward. Instead, he was looking back.

“Yeah, well, I couldn’t do that when I was 19, that’s for sure,” the 27-year-old said smiling, eyes wide open. “No, it’s impressive, he’s a really, really good hockey player.”

Konecny had that resounding affect Wednesday night at the PPL Center, recording a goal and an assist while leading the Flyers to a 2-0 preseason win over the Devils (see 10 observations).

He dazzled with speed and shiftiness.

He showed off vision and smarts.

When he touched the puck, he had everyone’s attention.

Paired with Raffl and Brayden Schenn in a game featuring mostly prospects, the 2015 first-round pick made the molding of Ron Hextall’s roster that much more difficult. With the general manager looking on, the highly touted winger started fast before making his imprint during a span of just four minutes and 34 seconds in the second period.

First, he redirected a blast by Andrew MacDonald to hand the Flyers a 1-0 lead. Not long after, the 5-foot-10, 184-pounder deceived the defense to find Raffl right in front off a backdoor pass for a 2-0 advantage.

“We had a cycle play going and he had a nice fake up top there and I was just going to the net,” Raffl said. “Somehow I was all by myself and he saw me, put a perfect pass on my tape and I just went around the goalie and put it in.”

Following his first goal, Konecny nearly tacked on another less than a minute later when he appeared to hit the crossbar on a shot. He also flirted with a few more assists.

“I think I just played relaxed,” Konecny said. “I came into the game tonight trying not to do too much and just keep things simple. The main thing for me was getting pucks out of the zone, so I think I did that well tonight and hopefully I can keep building on it.”

Relieving pucks from the zone isn’t a real problem when you possess the speed and skill of Konecny, who racked up 101 points last season at the junior level.

At just 19, that’s where he’ll have to return if he doesn’t crack the Flyers’ roster.

With cuts already made and more coming, that sometimes is on Konecny’s mind.

“It weighs on you a little bit. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t thinking about it and it’s definitely the time I need to step up and make sure I’m playing good hockey,” Konecny said. “And just earning another day — that’s just the way I’m looking at it. Every day I wake up and just work hard and move forward from there.

“I think everyone comes into camp and tries to give them (management) a reason not to send you back and make it hard on them.”

Wednesday night didn’t hurt his chances.

“He played a good hockey game,” Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol said. “Had an impact offensively. He did a pretty good job. There’s some youthful mistakes in there, but overall, he had a real good night tonight playing with Raf and Schenner.”

Placing Konecny with two capable NHL forwards offered the Canadian an opportunity to prove what he could do if he was in fact on the big club.

“We played well together,” Konecny said. “I think from the start we just had a lot of communication, we talked in the room, in warmups, we all knew what we were going to do throughout the game and in certain scenarios.”

If anything, Konecny left an impression on Raffl.

“He’s a very smart player,” Raffl said. “Once he has the puck, he makes smart decisions with it. It was very easy to play with him out there. He plays a mature game and I really enjoyed it.”

Time will tell if more enjoyment is in store come Oct. 14.

Loose pucks
Anthony Stolarz and Alex Lyon combined for the shutout. Stolarz started and made 11 saves over 29:23, while Lyon played 30:37 and stopped seven shots. “I like both of our guys tonight,” Hakstol said. “Stolie did a good job, he made a difference in this game in the first 10 minutes, those two or three really good saves there. Then Alex came in halfway through, which isn’t an easy thing to do and was ready to go and did his job.” … Schenn, MacDonald and defensive prospect Robert Hagg finished with an assist apiece. … With the roster currently standing at 49, the Flyers expect to make 15 cuts on Thursday. … Defenseman Nick Schultz is out four to seven days with a lower-body injury suffered in Tuesday night’s preseason game. ... The Flyers are off Thursday before likely practicing Friday ahead of Saturday's preseason game at 7 p.m. against the Bruins at the Wells Fargo Center.