The Big One? Eagles Take Early Preseason Test in New England

The Big One? Eagles Take Early Preseason Test in New England

Due to an unusual set of circumstances, the Eagles are holding their "dress rehearsal" one game early, which means when Monday Night Football kicks off tonight at 8 p.m., their starters will be going head to head with the reigning AFC Champion Patriots. Whether the opponent will treat the evening with any weight is another story.

The nearly perennial favorites to win the Super Bowl are typically a huge challenge. New England has averaged -- AVERAGED -- 12 wins per season over the last 11 years. Nine months ago they showed up at the Linc, and the scene quickly became a mugging. The Patriots marched up and down the field almost as if there were no defense out there. The Birds surely would prefer to make a better showing of themselves, and as we saw against Pittsburgh, they are still a little rough around the edges.

Unfortunately, they may not have that chance. reported earlier this morning that Tom Brady and other stars may see little or no playing time in tonight's game.

Ordinarily the third preseason game is the tune-up for the regular
season. The reason for the change this year is a matter of timing. The
Eagles play again on Friday, and against Cleveland, their Week 1
opponent. With the games being just a few days apart, there's no reason
to get your starters beat up with extended action in the second of the
two, and you certainly don't want to show the Browns too much.

The Patriots also play on Friday, but they travel to Tampa Bay to meet the Buccaneers, who do not appear on their schedule again. Bill Belichick may opt to do the reverse of Andy Reid, and keep his players fresh for the upcoming match.

Regardless, this is the big one as far as the Eagles are concerned, big as far as preseason
games go. The starters are expected to play the entire first half, and
possibly into the third quarter. Matching up with a
top-tier team such as the Patriots, even if only for a few series, would make for a nice test heading into the
regular season, one that could help prepare the Eagles for the road

Defense especially was the concern versus the Steelers, as well as last season -- the past few years actually -- and Juan Castillo's unit will have their hands full tonight. The Patriots finished second in yards from scrimmage and third in points scored in 2011, and have finished no worse than eighth in either category since '06. Brady is surgical, and he has elite talent to work with.

In particular, we're curious to see how the Eagles will match up against New England's tight ends, if either of them plays. Rob Gronkowski is coming off of an All-Pro season in which he caught 90 passes for 1,327 yards and a league-leading 17 touchdowns. Aaron Hernandez added 79 receptions, 910 yards, and seven scores. Nothing like this had ever been done before.

The Birds improved their linebacking corps with the additions of DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks, but the group has their limitations. Nobody is certain Ryans possesses the athleticism to stay with these types of vertical threats down the field, and neither Kendricks nor Brian Rolle even stands at six foot compared to the 6'6" Gronk and 6'4" Hernandez. We might see Nnamdi Asomugha used to combat these apparent mismatches, but even then the Patriots have Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd running around out there.

As for Michael Vick and the offense, they need to get something going against the Patriots early after the Steelers limited them to a pair of three-and-outs in game one. While they will likely be improved from a year ago, the Pats D ranked 31st in yards allowed in '11. The Eagles' offense was fourth in yards gained. New England was especially vulnerable against the pass, so it would be nice to see a big play or two out of DeSean Jackson now that he has his contract.

The offensive line's performance has to be a point of emphasis as well. Obviously, all eyes will be on King Dunlap making the start over Demetress Bell at left tackle. However, there is a rather large fella by the name of Vince Wilfork in the middle of the Patriots defensive line, so how the interior holds up -- specifically second-year players Jason Kelce and Danny Watkins -- could be the determining factor on whether or not we see any long drives.

Of course, while Wilfork's name was not in the report that listed primarily offensive starters, he is certainly a key piece who may be limited as well. If the Patriots are content to play only backups, you have to wonder how much good it does the Eagles to have their first team play deep into the night. Then again, maybe it depends on how well they handle the opposing club's second stringers.

Best of NBA: Dwyane Wade hits dagger 3-pointer in Bulls debut

Best of NBA: Dwyane Wade hits dagger 3-pointer in Bulls debut

CHICAGO -- Dwyane Wade scored 22 points in a triumphant Chicago debut, Jimmy Butler had 24 and the Bulls won their season opener, beating the Boston Celtics 105-99 on Thursday night.

Wade nailed a 3 from the corner in the final minute to make it a five-point game. Taj Gibson added 18 points and 10 rebounds, and the new-look Bulls got off to a winning start after missing the playoffs last season for the first time since 2008.

Isaiah Thomas led Boston with 25 points. Avery Bradley had 16, and Jae Crowder 14 points, but the Celtics came up short after opening with a win over Brooklyn the previous night.

The Bulls remade their roster in the offseason, jettisoning one hometown superstar and welcoming another when they traded Derrick Rose to New York and signed Wade to a two-year deal worth about $47 million in a move that stunned Miami.

The three-time NBA champion and 12-time All-Star is off to a good start with the Bulls after 13 seasons with the Heat.

Wade hit 4 of 6 3-pointers in this game after making just seven all of last season (see full recap).

New-look Hawks roll past Wizards
ATLANTA -- Dwight Howard dominated the boards in his Atlanta debut, Paul Millsap scored 28 points and Tim Hardaway Jr. ignited the new-look Hawks to a 114-99 victory over the Washington Wizards in their season opener Thursday night.

Howard grabbed 19 rebounds to go along with 11 points, just what the Hawks expected from their new center, and it certainly wasn't unusual for three-time All-Star Millsap to lead the way in scoring.

But Hardaway's performance was totally unexpected given the way he struggled in his first season with the Hawks, when he was largely confined to the bench and even forced to spend time in the D-League.

He scored 21 points, matching his high in an Atlanta uniform, and broke open a close game with back-to-back 3-pointers in the fourth. The Hawks, who led only 81-80 heading to the final period, outscored the Wizards 33-19 over the final 12 minutes (see full recap).

Best of NHL: Canadiens rally past Lightning for 6th straight win

Best of NHL: Canadiens rally past Lightning for 6th straight win

MONTREAL -- Max Pacioretty scored the tiebreaking goal in Montreal's three-goal third period as the Canadiens beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 3-1 Thursday night for their sixth straight win.

Alex Galchenyuk and Torrey Mitchell also scored to help Montreal improve to 7-0-1. Carey Price made 29 saves to win for the fourth time in four starts this season.

Alex Killorn scored the lone goal for the Lightning, who lost against an Eastern-Conference opponent for the first time this season. Ben Bishop stopped 23 shots.

With the scored tied 1-1, Pacioretty got the go-ahead goal at 10:23 by beating Bishop glove-side. Blown coverage by the Lightning left the Canadiens' captain all alone on the edge of the face-off circle, and Bishop couldn't see the shot with Andrew Shaw posted firmly in front of goal.

Montreal remains the only NHL team still undefeated in regulation (see full recap).

Crosby's late goal gives Penguins win over Islanders
PITTSBURGH -- Sidney Crosby scored the tiebreaking goal late in the third period to lead the Pittsburgh Penguins to a 4-2 victory over the New York Islanders on Thursday night.

Patric Hornqvist, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel also scored -- each getting his third of the season -- to help the Penguins win for the third time in four games and improve to 5-0-1 at home.

Crosby, playing for the second straight game after missing the first six with a concussion, scored with 2:25 left as he caught a pass from Scott Wilson at the top of the crease and quickly turned to his forehand to put the puck behind Islanders goalie Jaroslav Halak.

Kessel added a power-play goal to cap the scoring 32 seconds later.

Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 35 shots while starting for the eighth straight game.

Travis Hamonic and Shane Prince scored for the Islanders, and Halak finished with 31 saves (see full recap).

Streaking Red Wings win marathon shootout vs. Blues
ST. LOUIS -- Henrik Zetterberg scored in the eighth round of a shootout to give the Detroit Red Wings a 2-1 victory over the St. Louis Blues on Thursday night.

Zetterberg's goal gave the Red Wings a six-game winning streak.

In the shootout, St. Louis' first shooter, Alexander Steen, scored but then Vladimir Tarasenko, Kevin Shattenkirk, David Perron, Nail Yakupoc, Robby Fabbri, Patrick Burgland and Dmitrjij Jaskin all came up short.

Gustav Nyquist scored on Detroit's second attempt but Frans Nielsen, Dylan Larkin, Andreas Athanasiou, Tomas Tatar, Riley Sheehan and Darren Helm all missed.

St. Louis had the better chances in overtime. Center Jaden Schwartz missed a wide-open net early in the extra session. Jori Lehtera was stopped on a breakaway midway through the period by Detroit goalie Petr Mrazek (see full recap).