The Eagles Fans Guide to the 2007 NFL Playoffs

The Eagles Fans Guide to the 2007 NFL Playoffs

For the second time in three years, there will be no hometown rooting interests for Philadelphians now that the playoffs have begun. But many if not most Eagles fans are NFL fans too, and we’ll watch pretty much any decent game. The problem is, with the Birds hitting golf balls or putting their houses on the market, which teams and players do we root for? Or more accurately, who we rootin’ against?

The bitter question in front of us is, would we rather see the rich get richer, or another never-been franchise pass us by on their way to join the ranks of the NFL’s Nouveau Riche? Would it be harder to watch the Colts and Patriots win more rings while we have only pre-Super Bowl National Championships, or see yet another team hoist the Lombardi Trophy before us. Is there no third option?

Let’s start with the teams playing this weekend.

Washington at Seattle
Obviously we go with the Seahawks here. I’d be hard pressed to conjure a scenario in which I’d root for an NFC East team, and Seattle’s just boring enough to not really hate. There may be some sentimental bandwagon jumping surrounding this game, as montages of Sean Taylor are bound to be part of the national coverage (and rightfully so—Taylor was a huge part of this team, and his murder was amazingly tragic).

Jacksonville at Pittsburgh
Boorrrrinnng. Don’tcha just hate how often we have to endure Steelers, Jets, Browns, and Ravens games in this market? We’ll take the Jags over our cross-state rivals, even though they’re bland as all get-out too. When it comes to sports, Philly natives have no PA pride. The Stillers? They went to the Promised Land with a rookie QB at the helm, while we’ve waited a nearly decade for our system to gel. The Jags are this year’s upstart team in the AFC, and they could make some noise, starting with this game. Jacksonville fans beware: this Eagles fan will be putting his cursed support behind your squad.

Tennessee at San Diego
After playing under Buddy Ryan in Chicago, Jeff Fisher became one of his coaching assistants. When Buddy brought the 46 to Philly, he brought Fisher with him as his D-backs coach. Fisher went on to become the Eagles defensive coordinator and achieve his career highlight, meeting me and playing Frisbee with us at a barbeque at Gootman’s house. So because of the Eagles/backyard connection, I’m backing the Titans and their possible PSU QB. Also, the Chargers deserve to get smoked for firing their coach after going 14-2 last season. What happens to the guy who took them to 11-5? Waterboarding?

New York Giants at Tampa Bay
 Hmm lemme think about it. Tom Coughlin, Eli Manning, and Jeremy Shockey, or our ’06 hero (Carmella DeCesare) and our former OC with his loveable Chuckie Face? As much pain as we’ve felt from the NFC Championship loss, the ominous start to the Linc Era, and the longest ever game-winning field goal, there’s no way we root for the Giants. The only consolation in a Giants win would be that they did it without Tiki Barber, my least favorite NFC East personality this side of Michael Irvin.

And the Bye-Weekers…

Green Bay
Yes, I flew out to Green Bay just to have the pleasure of seeing the Eagles dive into this season’s downward spiral firsthand. But I don’t hate the Packers, especially not compared to the NFC’s other team with a first week bye. The Favre story is so overdone that I barely notice the networks playing him up anymore, and Ryan Grant has quickly become the team’s most watchable player. The Pack is the NFC team I support the most, primarily because I hate most of the others so goddamn much.

Indianapolis
For many Patriots haters, the hardest thing about rooting against them is that it often means cheering for the Colts. Not me. Somewhere along the way, Dungy’s crew pulled me aboard. It started with Marvin Harrison, a Philly guy who is an elite receiver but comes with none of the regular baggage. Across the field, Reggie Wayne is cut from the same cloth, and he stepped up with Marvin missing much of the season. Peyton quieted the critics and Dungy handled unimaginable family tragedy when he finally won the big one last year, which has almost been forgotten since the Patriots began their tear. I’ll admit it. I actually like this team.

Dallas
I hope they lose their bye week. I hope they lose the turnover battle. I hope they lose their car keys. I hope they lose that swagger like this group has actually won anything. I hope they lose a game-winning field goal snap. Nothing would be worse than Dallas returning to the Super Bowl, except if they got there and beat…

New England
The psychological litmus test for NFL fans. Do you want to witness history so you can tell your kids and grandkids about it, or see the colossus toppled so you can point and laugh at its rubble (unless Dallas wins). Part of me wants to see another team win, but only because I’m an underdog guy. Despite the fact that the Eagles lost to the Pats in the Super Bowl, and again with me in attendance this year, and of course the dominance that is Boston sports in the modern era, I gotta admit, Belichick’s crew has made this NFL season far more interesting than it otherwise would have been. The Hoodie is easy to hate, but hard not to respect. Same with Brady. All he did was live all our dreams, becoming the best QB (maybe ever) and having a super model special lady friend. I have no advice on how to approach rooting for or against New England; this one’s just a visceral reaction.

So that’s my take. No love for any of the NFC teams, but I’ll root for Tampa Bay and Seattle in the Wild Card, with Green Bay as the team I’d like to see play in February. In the AFC we can’t really go wrong. I like the Titans because of Fisher, although they’re painful to watch, and I’d like to see Jacksonville be an upsetter, but there’s no show like the one New England and Indy can put on.

Who you rootin’ for?

NBA draft profile: F Dragan Bender

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NBA draft profile: F Dragan Bender

Dragan Bender

Position: Power forward
Height: 7-1
Weight: 225
Team: Maccabi Tel Aviv

Croatia’s latest basketball export is just 18 years old. He won’t turn 19 until November. Like a lot of teenagers, he’s hardly a fully finished product. The kid is raw, but his obvious potential figures to make him a high lottery pick in the upcoming draft.

Through 38 games with Maccabi Tel Aviv this season, Bender averaged just 12.9 minutes. He took 3.7 shots per game. He shot 42.3 percent from the floor, 33.8 percent from deep (on 2.0 attempts per game) and 71.9 percent from the line. He didn’t get to the line very often, by the way. In fact, he hardly got there at all, taking less than one attempt per game from the stripe.

But Bender’s appeal isn’t about what he is right now; it’s rooted in what he could become with time. There’s a reason why all 30 NBA teams sent someone to watch him play this year, according to DraftExpress. Investing in him could yield a significant return. Also, dude’s name is Dragan Bender. He was destined to become a pro athlete or conquer King’s Landing. Either way, good things ahead.

Strengths
Bender has been on the NBA’s projection radar for a while now. He’s worked hard to develop his shooting. Initially thought of as a non-shooter with wonky mechanics, Bender changed his stroke. It’s more compact and efficient now. Despite the small sample size, Bender had a 54.1 true shooting percentage and a 51.4 effective field goal percentage through 38 games this season.

He could pass more, but when he does he’s pretty savvy — particularly with the full-court outlet pass. Defensively, he’s not a rim protector, but he has a long wingspan (7-2) that should help him be a good pick-and-roll defender with time. In the increasingly switch-everything NBA, that’s a plus.

Also, did we mention his name is Dragan Bender? Donald Bender works in Croatian finance. Dave Bender has a nice B&B on Hvar Island. Dragan Bender is a potential NBA star.

Weaknesses
He’s reportedly put on some weight recently and worked hard to develop a better base, but he’s 7-1 and 225 pounds. Someone needs to feed him lots of sandwiches and protein shakes. Adding muscle for the long-slog NBA season will be important.

In addition to having a still-developing body and skill set, he hasn’t faced top-level international competition yet on a regular basis. He needs minutes against the best in the world, and in order to get those minutes he’ll have to refine his game – particularly his ball-handling and driving, which are still works in progress.

Unlike some other recent NBA imports (Nikola Mirotic and Kristaps Porzingis among them), it’s probably going to take a while before Bender can be a consistent contributor in the league. Any team that takes him has to acknowledge the inherent time commitment.

How he’d fit with the Sixers 
If we’re talking about how he’d fit with the Sixers, who had a long-term plan and weren’t in a hurry to rush anything, the Sixers who embarked on an open-ended journey with no fixed timetable or end point, you could make a case for Bender (but not with the first overall pick). Five or seven years from now, Bender could be a polished product – an outside shooting threat with, perhaps, an expanded offensive game that allows him to put the ball on the floor and optimize his passing and scoring. You could imagine him growing defensively and creating mismatch problems. You could envision it – over time.

The question is whether these Sixers, who keep talking about transitioning from the rebuild into whatever comes next, are about to scrap the slow-and-low approach to cooking their roster in favor of adding on-court heat and off-court PR sizzle. If that’s the case, Bender wouldn’t fit well at all. Not to mention that taking Bender means adding another body to an already clogged frontcourt.

NBA comparison
Lots of people have drawn a parallel between Bender and Porzingis. That’s the easy, reflexive comparison. Both are tall, lanky stretch fours from a not dissimilar region of the world. But really that’s unfair to Bender. Porzingis declared for the NBA draft back in 2014, only to withdraw his name and wait until last year. The wait helped elevate him to more of a known commodity. At that point, he had played three seasons for Sevilla of Liga ACB in Spain, one of the best leagues in Europe that features some of the premiere international talent. Bender isn’t there yet in terms of experience, and their games aren’t one-to-one equivelants anyway. Bender might ultimately shake out as something closer to Andrei Kirilenko (if he can improve his handle) or Nikola Mirotic.

Draft projection
Top five. If he lasts any longer, it will be a surprise.

Eagles mailbag: Jordan Matthews; injury concern, leading rusher

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Eagles mailbag: Jordan Matthews; injury concern, leading rusher

Another day, another mailbag. 

I hope you're enjoying your Memorial Day Weekend. If you're reading this on the beach or at a BBQ, well done. 

Yesterday, I answered the first round of your questions about Doug Pederson, Brandon Spikes and the possibility of adding another running back. 

Today, I'll answer some more: 

At times, Jordan Matthews will still be in the slot this season. But he won't be there all the time. 

In Doug Pederson's offense, the receivers will move around quite a bit, which means we'll see Matthews lining up out wide on both sides and in the slot. He has the ability to do both. Either way, he's going to be on the field. He's clearly the Eagles best receiver and they're not going to take him off the field. 

I think there's a good chance we'll see some Josh Huff in the slot this year, which would make a ton of sense to me. Huff is at his best when he gets the ball in his hands and can make something happen. He's shifty enough to play in the middle. 

The idea that slot receivers are just small, shifty guys is outdated. It's all about matchups and Pederson won't be afraid to move his receivers around to find the best ones. 

Good question. I'll give you two names. One on offense and one on defense. 

Now, I didn't just pick the best players, I picked the best players with the biggest drop off to their backups. So on offense, it's Jason Peters and on defense it's Jordan Hicks. 

The scary thing: it wouldn't be shocking if either of these two go down in 2016. 

If Peters goes down, the Eagles will be fine at left tackle, because Lane Johnson will shift over. But that means either Dennis Kelly or Halapoulivaati Vaitai will come in. We all know what's happened in the past when Kelly comes in, and Vaitai is just a rookie. Not a ton of great depth at tackle. 

As for Hicks, we saw what happened to the defense when he went out last season. And this year, the team has virtually no depth at linebacker. If Hicks went down, either veteran special teams player Najee Goode or rookie Joe Walker would need to fill in. Yikes. 

I understand it's kind of a cop-out to just pick the top running back on the depth chart, but that's what I'm doing. I know Ryan Mathews has a lengthy injury history, but I can't see Darren Sproles, Wendell Smallwood or Kenjon Barner being the team's leading rusher. 

And when healthy, Mathews was the team's best running back in 2015, going for 539 yards on 106 carries, an average of 5.1 yards per attempt. If he manages to play 12 games this year, I think he'll be the team's leading rusher. 

Phillies pitching prospect Mark Appel hits DL with shoulder strain

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Phillies pitching prospect Mark Appel hits DL with shoulder strain

Mark Appel, whose fastball velocity was down considerably in the first inning of his last start, was placed on the disabled list Friday with a shoulder strain.

Appel, 24, is 3-3 with a 4.46 ERA and 1.57 WHIP in eight starts for Triple A Lehigh Valley in his first year in the Phillies' system. He's struggled his last four times out, allowing 18 runs (15 earned) in 16⅓ innings on 20 hits and 11 walks.

The No. 1 overall pick in 2013 out of Stanford, Appel has had a disappointing pro career to this point. In 62 minor-league games (61 starts), he has a 5.04 ERA. The Phillies acquired him from Houston as part of the Ken Giles trade this past winter.

Appel's trip to the DL creates an opportunity for right-hander Ben Lively, who was promoted from Double A Reading to Triple A to take Appel's place in the IronPigs' rotation. Lively, acquired from the Reds for Marlon Byrd prior to the 2015 season, is 7-0 with a 1.87 ERA this season.

Rehab updates
Leftfielder Cody Asche and left-handed reliever Mario Hollands had their rehab assignments transferred to Triple A Lehigh Valley. 

Asche is 5 for 34 (.147) with two home runs and 12 strikeouts during his stints with Clearwater and Reading. 

Hollands has been sharp, posting a 1.04 ERA in 8⅔ innings with 12 strikeouts and one walk.