The Linc Is Open For Business! Eagles Host Ravens

The Linc Is Open For Business! Eagles Host Ravens

Feels like 2004 in this joint.

That's the last time I can remember there being any serious excitement for a preseason opener. The Eagles were coming off of a huge off-season, not so very different from this summer in fact. They signed the most coveted free agent on the market (Jevon Kearse), brought back a former member of the team (Jeremiah Trotter), sought additional defensive help (Dhani Jones), upgraded their offensive line through the draft (Shawn Andrews), and pulled off one major trade (Terrell Owens).

And that team certainly delivered, at least on its promise to finally get off the NFC Championship doorstep, and bust through the front door of the Super Bowl. We all know how that story ends, but this year we are once again reminded how August feels when it's full of promise.

The promise of a legit contender that's jam packed with all star talent.

However tempting as it may be to get super-duper excited about tonight's action, I'm not about to do that, and advise you don't either. Once the game kicks off, you'll more than likely be treated to vanilla offensive schemes that make everybody look bad, and defensive mix-ups that show just how far this is from the final product we will see in September.

Then after 15 minutes of lousy football--and probably lousier than usual given these guys will be shaking the rust off from their vacations/the lockout--it will be time for the reserves to get theirs. By the fourth quarter, you won't recognize a soul.

Hey, at least it's football. Am I right? On to who we'll be watching tonight.

The Offensive Line
Particularly, we want to see what the Eagles are working with from center to right. Jamaal Jackson has returned from last season's triceps tear, but camp reports have sixth round rookie Jason Kelce getting more than his share of snaps with the first team. Of course, first round pick Danny Watkins will be making his debut at guard, while free agent signee Ryan Harris will make the start at tackle.

The Ravens are very stout up front, with Pro Bowlers Haloti Ngata and Terrell Suggs among the loads that will be bringing the heat, so this will be a good test for the revamped O-line.

Dion Lewis
Lewis could be in line for a decent number of carries tonight, as the coaches try to guage what he can bring to the table this season. The rookie out of Pitt appeared to be in line for a backup role, but the Eagles signed Ronnie Brown, which puts Lewis's role in question. The veteran Brown probably doesn't need a ton of work, so hopefully they give the fifth rounder a chance to shine.

Cullen Jenkins
One of the least discussed, but biggest free agent acquisitions this off-season, it will be interesting to see in exactly what capacity he is utilized. He is currently listed as a second stringer on the depth chart, which could indicate he'll primarily see action on passing downs, or it could mean they are simply working him into the system as well. The Eagles aren't likely to tip their hand too much in this first contest, but maybe we'll get a taste of what his role will be in Juan Castillo's defense.

Casey Matthews
The time for talk is already over. Can a rookie handle the middle linebacker job? Is Casey Matthews strong enough to shed blocks and wade through the traffic around the line of scrimmage? Of course, even if he has a solid outing tonight, that doesn't mean he won't be another Joe Mays, the original Kulp/700Level camp darling.

The Secondary
We just want to see if a quarterback can complete a pass against this group.

In all seriousness, don't get your expectations too high for tonight, but this unit is going to be fun to watch. Also, let's not forget this year's second and third round picks, Jaiquawn Jarrett and Curtis Marsh. Our own Nick Menta is attending the game tonight, and will more than likely provide some kind of write-up on his self-proclaimed man-crush of Jarrett afterwards.

Alex Henery
Because we're all very, very curious. You've got some big shoes to fill, kid, and if you miss a field goal tonight, you seriously might not ever hear the end of it. Unless you kick a game winner in February. Then it's all good.

Eagles bye week: Team soaring up national power rankings

Eagles bye week: Team soaring up national power rankings

After handling two inferior opponents in the Browns and Bears, the Eagles' Week 3 matchup with the Super Bowl-hopeful Steelers was viewed as a barometer to gauge just how good Carson Wentz and Co. really were.

Despite their 34-3 shellacking of the Steelers, no one came rushing to label the Eagles as the team to beat in the NFC nor as legitimate Super Bowl contenders less than a quarter of the way through the season, and understandably so. 

But as the Eagles go on their Week 4 bye, the national media has begun to buy stock in the Birds as a playoff team following their 3-0 start, a far cry from the bottom-five team many projected them to be in 2016.

Here's what they're saying about the Eagles during their bye week:

Power Rankings
Many in the national media expected the Eagles to flop in 2016, but since the start of the season the Birds have experienced a rapid rise in power rankings. 

ESPN: No. 7 

CBS Sports: No. 5 

FOX Sports: No. 5 

NFL.com: No. 6

USA Today:  No. 4

Carson Wentz for ... MVP?
Through the first three games of his NFL career Carson Wentz has been nothing short of stellar. The rookie quarterback has posted a 64.7 completion percentage, five touchdowns and a 103.8 passer rating, all while throwing zero interceptions. 

Is it safe to say Wentz is the early leader in the clubhouse for Offensive Rookie of the Year? Sure. How about for league MVP? It may sound crazy, but Jeff Dooley of The Washington Post would tab Wentz as the Most Valuable Player through three weeks for being the league’s best quarterback thus far.

"Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz is off to the best three-game start that Pro Football Focus has ever recorded from a rookie QB in 11 seasons of grading players,” Dooley wrote. “His 90.5 grade (on a 0-100 scale) is not only better than the three-game starts of each of the star rookies from 2012’s renowned QB class (Indianapolis’ Andrew Luck, Washington’s Robert Griffin III and Seattle’s Russell Wilson, all of whom led their teams to the playoffs in Year 1, and by season’s end ranked among PFF’s top 15 quarterback grades), but it is the top mark among all QBs so far for the 2016 NFL season.”

Show the defense some love too
Enough Carson Wentz talk, how about this Eagles defense?

Jim Schwartz’s unit paces the NFL in total points allowed (27), is third in total sacks (10), fourth in yards per game (274.3) and seventh in total turnovers (eight).

Under the tutelage of Schwartz this defense has come a very long way since last season, when opposing offenses torched the Eagles for an average of 26.9 points on 400-plus yards per game. 

According to Kevin Patra of NFL.com, that improved defense is so important because it’s going to keep the Eagles alive in games when Wentz is having a rough outing.

"With Fletcher Cox making an early case for consideration behind Von Miller in the Defensive Player of the Year discussion, Brandon Graham in a defense better suited to his talents and a playmaking safety duo in Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod, the Eagles defense is soaring,” Patra wrote. “Through three games it's the prefect mesh of talent and scheme. If Wentz ever stumbles this season, the Eagles' D will be there to help prop up the rookie and get through a rough outing or three."

Playoffs?
The Eagles had the longest odds (plus-600) by a wide margin to come out of the NFC East before the season began. Now, they’re the favorites (2/1) to capture the division crown as they sit alone atop the NFC East.

There's still a lot of football left to be played, including all six division games, but the Birds simply reaching the playoffs for the first time since 2013 with a rookie quarterback and first-year head coach would be an impressive feat. 

According to Peter King of Sports Illustrated the Eagles' ceiling is even higher than just a division title and a playoff berth.

"It shouldn’t be happening this fast for the Eagles, coming up from 7-9 with a rookie head coach and a rookie quarterback from North Dakota State and a defense that needed a new leader," King wrote. "But it is, and there’s nothing fluky about it. The Eagles are legitimate deep-into-January contenders right now."

Flyers Notes: Michal Neuvirth starts big season; Travis Konecny with new chance

Flyers Notes: Michal Neuvirth starts big season; Travis Konecny with new chance

VOORHEES, N.J. — In many ways, Michal Neuvirth’s contract year officially gets underway Saturday night at the Wells Fargo Center.
 
The Flyers’ goalie will make his preseason debut against the Bruins and head coach Dave Hakstol’s plan is to play Neuvirth the entire game.
 
The 28-year-old can become an unrestricted free agent following the 2016-17 season, as can his goalie partner Steve Mason. The two make up a formidable tandem and both are considered No. 1 goalies.
 
The outlook doesn’t change, though, for Neuvirth.
 
“Every season is big,” he said Saturday after taking the ice at Flyers Skate Zone. “It’s a good opportunity. I want to play my best hockey.
 
“Just going to focus on myself and try to prepare the best I can for the season right now.”
 
Neuvirth started his preparation by playing in the World Cup of Hockey for Czech Republic. His last game was Sept. 17 when he lost to loaded Canada, 6-0, still making an impressive 44 saves on 50 shots.
 
He’s now ready to get back between the pipes at the Wells Fargo Center.
 
“Very excited,” Neuvirth said. “I haven’t played for a while and it was a good week for me in practice and finally get into a game.”
 
Entering his second season with the Flyers, Neuvirth is fresh off a career year in 2015-16, when he went 18-8-4 with personal bests in goals-against average (2.27) and save percentage (.924). He also shined in the postseason when he relieved Mason, going 2-1 against the top-seeded Capitals and stopping 103 of 105 shots.
 
Despite the internal competition, Neuvirth and Mason have always supported each other.
 
“It’s a great situation,” Neuvirth said. “Mase is a great guy, I love to be with him on the same team. Unfortunately only one guy can play. Like Mase said, we’re making each other better every day.”
 
Sean Couturier, Shayne Gostisbehere and Jakub Voracek, all of whom played in the World Cup, will also make their preseason debuts.
 
Trying the left
Travis Konecny’s tryout at left wing starts tonight, as he’ll be centered by Sean Couturier with Jakub Voracek on the right, making up the Flyers’ second line.
 
Hakstol debuted the trio during Friday’s practice. It will now see its first game action.
 
“It’s exciting,” Konecny said. “They’re high-skilled, hard-working forwards, so it makes it easier for a guy like me to just keep things simple and just let the game take over and have fun.”
 
Left wing is Konecny’s greatest shot at making the Flyers’ roster. The Flyers are heavy at right wing, where if Konecny were to play, it would be on a bottom-six line. If he makes the roster, the Flyers likely want their prized prospect to play more than bottom-six minutes for developmental reasons.
 
“New spot for Travis in terms of playing on the left side, in our camp anyways,” Hakstol said. “He’s played there before. It’s his second day at left wing and he’ll get the opportunity there tonight.
 
“There’s an adjustment but good players make those adjustments.”
 
Konecny is happy to play left — whatever is asked of him.
 
“As far as I’m concerned, it’s just the other side of the ice,” he said. “I’m sure I’ve found myself on the other side of the ice when I’m right wing before.
 
“I’m not too worried about it.”
 
Young pairing
Instead of pairing Ivan Provorov with a veteran blueliner, which has oftentimes been the case during preseason, Hakstol is putting him with fellow 19-year-old prospect Philippe Myers.
 
“Those two young guys have played a little bit together on the power play, they’ve paired up pretty well in practice and I think they’ll handle things well,” Hakstol said. “They’ve got pretty good chemistry between the two of them. I’m sure there will be some challenges, but they’ll be fine.”
 
Five to Phantoms
As expected, forwards Petr Straka, Andy Miele, Chris Conner and Greg Carey, as well as defenseman T.J. Brennan have cleared waivers and will join AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley. The Flyers' roster now stands at 34, including injured Nick Schultz, Mark Alt and Cole Bardreau. It needs to be at 23 before the Oct. 14 season opener.
 
Schultz skates
Injured defenseman Schultz (knee) skated before practice Saturday. It was announced Wednesday he would miss four to seven days.
 
Projected lineup
F:
Brayden Schenn-Nick Cousins-Wayne Simmonds
 
Travis Konecny-Sean Couturier-Jakub Voracek
 
Scott Laughton-Jordan Weal-Dale Weise
 
Chris VandeVelde-Boyd Gordon-Roman Lyubimov
 
D: Shayne Gostisbehere-Michael Del Zotto
 
Ivan Provorov-Philippe Myers
 
Travis Sanheim-Andrew MacDonald
 
G: Michal Neuvirth
 
Steve Mason