NFL PREVIEWS AUGUST 19TH BY CHARLES JAY
BetOnline customers know that the Buffalo Bills are considered the solid favorites to win the AFC East, and the Miami Dolphins are the team on the rise. But the New England Patriots might be the squad that carries the most intrigue.
The Pats won just seven games last season as they watched Tom Brady move to Tampa Bay and win a Super Bowl with the Bucs. Solving their own quarterback dilemma is one of the chief storylines of the 2021 preseason.
The Philadelphia Eagles certainly haven't lacked for storylines. The off-season saw them replace a fired Super Bowl-winning head coach and say goodbye to someone who had previously been anointed as the "franchise" quarterback.
But if they can just get healthy, they'll stand a much better chance in what could be a relatively mediocre NFC East.
The two teams tangle on Thursday night at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.
TV: NFL Network, 7:30 PM ET
NFL PRESEASON FOOTBALL ODDS from BetOnline : Patriots -1.5 (-115) / Eagles +1 (-105)
TOTAL: 38 points (-110 each way)
ABOUT THE NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
Cam Newton did not prove to be a worthy successor to Tom Brady at quarterback. He was not always available (sidelined for a time with COVID) and when he played he threw only eight touchdown passes. Yet coach Bill Belichick brought him back anyway. But he also drafted Alabama's Mac Jones in the first round, no doubt with a big "thumbs up" from his friend, Nick Saban. In the process of leading 'Bama to the national title, Jones completed 77.4% of his passes for 41 TD's and only four interceptions. He completed 13 of 19 last week against the Washington Football Team. A thin wide receiver corps was a big concern. And it still is, although they signed Nelson Agholor, who averaged 18.7 yards per catch with the Raiders last season. It is Belichick's intention to go with two tight ends (otherwise known as "12 personnel") as a major component of the offensive scheme. Right now, however, the two free agent acquisitions they made - Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry - are sidelined with ankle and shoulder injuries, respectively. Don't expect either of them to play. But you can definitely expect more time for running back Rhamondre Stevenson, the fourth-round pick out of Oklahoma, who had a 91-yard TD run in last week's 22-13 win over Washington.
ABOUT THE PHILADELPHIA EAGLES
Well, the Eagles traded Carson Wentz in the off-season. And they did not draft a promising rookie quarterback. So everything is pretty much in the hands of Jalen Hurts, the former Alabama and Oklahoma quarterback who stepped in last year when Wentz was benched. Hurts moves well, of course, and that was a way of beguiling defensive coordinators. And he averaged 7.7 yards per attempt, although he completed just 52% of his passes. That has to improve. That's part of new offensive coordinator Shane Steichen's job; he held the OC job with the Chargers last year and helped develop Justin Herbert into the Rookie of the Year. Hurts has already won a major battle; his teammates, to a man, have embraced him as a dynamic leader. For a while, it was thought that tight end Zach Ertz might be out the door. But here he is in camp, ready to team up with Dallas Goedert to give the Eagles the two-tight end setup that was so familiar under departed coach Doug Pederson. If the offensive line isn't decimated by injuries again, there's a lot that can work. As it was, they blocked well enough for Miles Sanders to average 5.3 yards per carry. Philadelphia also averaged 5.9 yards per rush on second down last year. Keep in mind that when backup QB Joe Flacco is in the game, defenses will see something radically different than Hurts, as Flacco is a stationary, dropback type. Nick Mullens, who had some starts at San Francisco, is the third quarterback. The defense was not stellar in last week's 24-16 loss to Pittsburgh, as the unit allowed Dwayne Haskins, a project at best, to complete 16 of 22 passes for 161 yards.
1. DeVonta Smith, the Heisman Trophy winner who the Eagles drafted in the first round, has an ankle injury and is not expected to play. Smith was on the other end of Mac Jones' passes last year at Alabama.
2. And speaking of Mac Jones, he completed 64% of his passes that went at least 30 yards down the field last season at Alabama. And the universally-respected Pro Football Focus gave him the highest rating of all rookie QB's in the first week of preseason play.
3. The Eagles' new head coach is Nick Sirianni, who spent the last three seasons as offensive coordinator of the Indianapolis Colts under Frank Reich, who was the Eagles' offensive coordinator when they won Super Bowl LII.
PREDICTION: Patriots 20, Eagles 14
We are hesitant to pull the trigger with the Pats, since they'll be missing their tight ends, while the Eagles will have theirs, but when it comes down to it, these teams have been engaging in joint practices and know what each other wants to accomplish on offense. It will be decided by the 2's and 3's, and we were not impressed with the way the Philly defense played last week. Newton and Jones and talking very tame, but they're in a battle, you can rest assured.
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