Vegas says the Birds are the favorite to win Superbowl XL, but many experts are picking against the Eagles in the season opener on Monday night. ESPN Insider's Scouts, Inc. picks the Falcons to win 23 to 20. They believe that an improved Falcons defense, a speedy Vick on turf, a diverse running game, and the home field edge will be the difference. A few reminders:
The wait is over for Philly fans. A new season starts tonight and the Eagles begin the quest to Detroit. pictures from phillyburbs.com
Reasons the Eagles will win the Monday night opener against the Falcons:
-Andy Reid. We all know how well Andy performs with a few weeks to prepare for a team. While Jim Mora may one day be a great NFL coach, he lacks the experience that Big Red has over the past few years. Andy will have his team ready.
-Brian Westbrook and Terrell Owens. Both of these Eagles weapons have something to prove and where better to show the nation what they are really made of than on Monday night football. T.O. has been yapping all off season, but going to Atlanta and playing in front of his hometown, there is no doubt he will be ready to tear up Atlanta's secondary. We didn't even have T.O. the last time we played Atlanta and we still beat them easily. Vick can't use the Milli Vanilli excuse when this one is over. I'm hoping for about two chances to see Terrell to his endzone thing. Westy is basically playing every game for a new contract. I'm really rooting for him.
-Donovan McNabb. People remember Donovan's last meaningful game for his choking, literally. He is still the man running the show and one of the games best. He is the quarterback Mike Vick wants to be. Donovan has a lot of the running ability Vick has, granted not the elusive quickness, but Vick hasn't showed us he can pass the ball anywhere near as well as McNabb. I'm putting all my faith in Donovan for another season.
Some things to watch:
Corey Simon may or may not be missed, but the D-line stopping the Atlanta rushing game will be important. Hollis Thomas moves back into a starting roll and Mike Paterson will have to show us what he can do. Last year Jim Johnson's "mush rush" really held Mike Vick in check and I expect to see something similar.
My prediction: Eagles 27 Falcons 17
I wouldn't take the Falcons lightly, if both teams play perfect games I give the Eagles the edge. The Eagles are defending NFC champs and the Falcons have to prove they can beat us. Anything can happen when playing Mike Vick, but I'll take my chances with Donovan and T.O. any day.
I'm ready for some football. Are you?
Andre Blake continues to rack up the accolades.
A couple of weeks after being named MLS Goalkeeper of the Year, the rising Philadelphia Union star was named to the MLS Best XI team as one of the league’s top players in 2016.
The rest of the team included:
• Forwards Sebastian Giovinco (Toronto FC), David Villa (New York City FC) and Bradley Wright-Phillips (New York Red Bulls)
• Midfielders Ignacio Piatti (Montreal Impact), Sacha Kljestan (Red Bulls), Mauro Diaz (FC Dallas) and Giovani dos Santos (LA Galaxy)
• Defenders Matt Hedges (FC Dallas), Axel Sjoberg (Colorado Rapids) and Jelle Van Damme (Galaxy)
Blake’s inclusion on the Best XI is not a surprise considering he already took home top goalkeeper honors. Even though he didn’t have the best numbers in the league, he made the spectacular look ordinary in his first full season as an MLS starter.
But it is unique for the Union, who haven’t had a player make the Best XI since Sebastien Le Toux was included for his 14-goal, 11-assist effort in Philly's 2010 expansion season.
Union winger Chris Pontius, who recently won the 2016 MLS Breakout Player of the Year award, made Best XI while with D.C. United in 2012. Former Union players to be honored on the prestigious list were Bakary Soumare with Chicago in 2008 and Justin Mapp with Chicago in 2006.
Another big honor like this will likely only increase the chatter that Blake could be sold to a big team in Europe soon. But a couple of weeks ago, the Union goalkeeper insisted his only focus for 2017 is on Philadelphia.
“From a personal standpoint, I’m hoping to have an even better season than 2016,” he said at the time. “To be able to go in and be consistent and do everything I can for the Union — and maybe be the goalkeeper to get them their first [MLS] Cup.”
There’s a number of reasons why the Flyers have a five-game winning streak, why they’re playing better hockey, and why they own the No. 1 wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.
Perhaps the biggest reason of all is goaltender Steve Mason, who has won four of those games, compiling a 1.71 goals against average and .945 save percentage during that span.
Mason was named the NHL’s first “Star of the Week” on Monday. St. Louis Blues right wing Vladimir Tarasenko and San Jose Sharks goalie Martin Jones were second and third stars.
“The team is on a roll right now and I’m a benefactor of that,” said Mason, who needs a win Tuesday against Florida to tie his career-high streak of five set Dec. 17-30 in 2013, during his first, full season as a Flyer.
“There’s strong play in front of me. The team is playing a little tighter in our defensive zone of late and making the goaltender reads that much more simple.
“Right now, there’s a comfort level with the guys in front of me … Winning five in a row is nice and we’d like to keep making ground in the standings.”
His four victories last week were tops in the NHL. Among them, he had a season-high 45 saves in a 3-2 shootout win against Boston.
Like many goalies, Mason prefers action. Games such as the 3-2 overtime win at Ottawa last week when the Senators only fired 21 shots, bother him.
“Those games, when you are not getting a lot of shots, the ones you do get will be a high-grade scoring chance,” he said. “And when you’re sitting around a few minutes not seeing the puck and all of a sudden see a chance like that …
“It’s more difficult to play [those games] than the games where there is a constant workload and you’re not thinking, but just playing. For myself personally, those are the games I enjoy the most. When I see a lot of pucks.”
The Flyers have seen dramatic improvement over the past month in their overall defensive play, from both their defensemen in down-low coverage in the slow and with their forwards on the backcheck.
Mason said the team has gone through “growing pains” with trying to integrate some younger bodies to the lineup this season – Ivan Provorov, Travis Konecny, and Nick Cousins come to mind.
“You have to familiar with everybody,” he said. “Have a constant lineup where guys go out shift after shift and night after night, you know what to expect from one another. When you have that kind of confidence in guys, it makes playing easier.”
Mason’s 4-2 victory at Nashville on Sunday saw him go over .500 for the first time this season with a 9-8-3 record.
His GAA is coming down at 2.76 while his save percentage has risen to .904.
“I was aware of it obviously, just because of the way the year started,” he said. “It’s taken a lot of work to get it above the .900 level.
“We’re obviously going to continue to work at getting it even better. The way the team’s playing right now and the way everybody’s clicking, we’re going at a good pace right now.”