Expected to rebuild in 2016, the Eagles scrapped and clawed their way to a 7-9 record for new coach Doug Pederson. Rookie quarterback Carson Wentz suffered some growing pains but overall played like someone who would stop the franchise’s revolving door at the position. He survived a banged-up offensive line and shaky receiving play to put up solid numbers. The Eagles revamped secondary took their lumps early but eventually regrouped to help the team to a respectable defensive standing. Wins in the season’s final two games provided hope for the future.
The Redskins couldn’t sustain enough momentum to force their way into a playoff spot, finishing a half-game back of the second wild card spot at 8-7-1. The Redskins pretty much lived and died with their passing attack, as Kirk Cousins spread the ball around the field to the tune of 4,917 passing yards. Still, the offense faltered at key moments of close games. On defense, the Redskins shelled out big money to Josh Norman to be a stopper at cornerback. Offenses simply threw away from him and Washington ended near the bottom of the barrel in most defensive categories.
Wentz Version 2.0 – Wentz surpassed most expectations as a rookie, especially since he was thrown into the fray with little preparation. The Eagles feel they have given him more tools to succeed this time around, especially at receiver with acquisitions Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith joining the squad. Jeffery will probably see a lot of Josh Norman, but Wentz now has enough options that one shutdown corner shouldn’t effect his day.
Cornering The Market – Unlike the Redskins, the Eagles don’t have anything resembling a shutdown corner on their roster. They’ll instead be throwing a lot of bodies on the field early in the season to see what sticks. Unfortunately for them, Washington is not the kind of team you want to face when you’re experimenting with your secondary, as Cousins can pick and choose between an array of talented receiving options.
A Little Help, Please – While Cousins and Wentz are certainties, neither team has a clear idea of who’ll be doing the damage from the running back position. Rob Kelley appears to have held off rookie Samaje Perine to be the Redskins lead back, but third-down back Chris Thompson will also get a lot of play. The Eagles situation is even more muddled, with former Patriot LeGarrette Blount, Wendell Smallwood and ageless Darren Sproles competing for snaps. The team that develops a solid running game should be the one that wins this contest.
Matchup to watch
Eagles RB Darren Sproles vs Redskins ILBs Zach Brown and Will Compton – Compton and Brown are solid stuffing the run, with Brown, newly-arrived from the Bills, particularly fine in that department. But neither are known for their coverage ability, which could be problematic against Sproles. Even at age 34, there are few running backs in the league shiftier and more elusive coming out of the backfield on short passing routes.
Fantasy football tip
TE Zach Ertz – At the end of last season, especially in a Week 17 monster performance, Ertz seemed to find a real rhythm with Wentz. The Redskins safety play is suspect, especially with Su’a Cravens unexpected departure from the team within the last week. Ertz should find plenty of open spaces to rack up yardage in this one.
Prediction: Philadelphia Eagles 27-17 Washington Redskins
An Eagles win shouldn’t be considered too much of an upset, as the trajectories of the two franchises seem to be diverging at this point. Look for a big day from Wentz to start off a big year.
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