Is it possible to have a “Must Win” game in Week 1? Absolutely not. But I can’t think of a worse way to start a season than with a loss to the only NFL team without a name. So to save embarrassment, I’m calling this a “Can’t Lose” game. The “Washington Football Team” (WFT) comes into this season as a complete dumpster fire of an organization with a new coaching staff, a roster lacking talent, and playing in a dump of a stadium. This is the opponent the Eagles get the pleasure of playing this Sunday. Who said there is no preseason?
With that as the backdrop for this week’s match-up, let’s take a look at how the teams match up on the field.
Eagles Offense vs WFT Defense:
While the WFT has a lot of holes on their roster, by far their position of strength comes on their defensive line, especially the pass rush. This coincides with an Eagles offensive line that has had to reconfigure itself multiple times this offseason. The Eagles lost their starting RG Brandon Brooks early in training camp, which caused them to bring former LT Jason Peters back to play RG. Then starting LT Andre Dillard was also lost to a bicep injury in training camp. Although there was some controversy about whether Jason Peters would be willing to play LT this season, he eventually agreed to do so for the best interest of the team. The good news for Carson and Co. is that there is plenty of familiarity and comfortability between number 11 and his LT. Sunday will be a good test to see how much Peters still has in the tank, as he will regularly be counted on to protect Wentz against the young pass rush combination of Montez Sweat and 2nd overall pick Chase Young.
This is absolutely the key to the game: the Eagles OL vs. the WFT pass rush. The only way the Eagles have success this Sunday (and this season) is if they can keep their QB on the field. I expect to see a more vanilla offense on Sunday as Doug Pederson focuses on plays that allow Carson to get the ball out quick in a clean pocket. If Wentz can find some time in the pocket, expect him to take advantage of the WFT secondary that includes former Eagles corner Ronald Darby. While the Eagles will be without starting WR Alshon Jeffery, they got a big boost this week in rookie wideout Jalen Reagor returning from injury earlier than expected. In addition, DeSean Jackson is healthy to start the season and should be able to create plenty of space against a subpar group of cornerbacks. Also expect TE Zach Ertz to find plenty of space against a mediocre LB crew. Safety Landon Collins is a star for the WFT, but he may be busy compensating for his counterpart, Penn State alum FS Troy Apke. As for the run game, the Eagles took a big hit on Saturday when ESPN’s Adam Schefter announced that RB Miles Sanders is officially out for the game. This is a big loss for the Eagles offense, as the RBs behind Sanders on the depth chart leave a lot to be desired. In his absence, expect Boston Scott and Corey Clement to handle most of the RB duties. While the LB position is a position of weakness, there is a big drop-off from Sanders to his backups. Over the years, Doug Pederson has been known to be quick to pull the hook on the run game. it will be essential for him not to do so on Sunday, even without his starting RB. The Eagles offense could have a long day if they abandon the run game and the WFT D-line can sell out against the pass.
Before the Sanders announcement, I was confident the Eagles would be able to move the ball and put up some points against the weak WFT defense (outside the front 4). But with the late development, I think the offense will have a harder time keeping the pass rush honest. They may be dependent on some short fields thanks to their defense causing turnovers. Speaking of which lets talk about that defense…
ADVANTAGE: Barely Eagles
Eagles Defense vs WFT Offense:
The Eagles overhauled their secondary this offseason, and they should face a bit of a softball to start the season. While longtime fan-favorite Malcolm Jenkins left under less than cordial terms, people should be excited about the overall trajectory of this unit. Darius Slay represents a true shutdown corner that Eagles fans have been petitioning for for years now. He will have his hands full against 2019 breakout star WR Terry McLaurin, but fortunately for the Eagles, the cupboard is pretty bare in terms of other offensive weapons for 2nd year QB Dwayne Haskins. Speaking of the quarterback, he is playing under a new head coach in Ron Rivera, a new offensive coordinator, and a new QB coach. With no preseason to get on the same page and iron out the wrinkles, you can expect a slow start from the WFT offense. At RB, the WFT also just cut their starting RB, legendary Adrian Peterson. They have a handful of options in the backfield but none of which should put fear into most LB units in the NFL. But the Eagles have one of the most inexperienced LB groups in the league. It will be a trial by fire for this unit as it boasts two rookies while being led by Nate Gerry who also hasn’t even started a full season in his career.
Which leads us to the defensive line vs the WFT offensive line. This is easily the Eagles’ biggest strength on the team. They return stalwarts Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham, and Malik Jackson (who went down with an injury in week 1 last season after being a big off-season signing). They will be without DE Derek Barnett on Sunday, but this is still a formidable group – even without him. This unit should be able to dominate on Sunday as they go up against the WFT with an inexperienced LG and LT. The rest of their offensive line is made up of returning starters, but of those, only RG Brandon Scherff is above average. Expect to see the Eagles front four frequently hanging out in the backfield with Dwayne Haskins on Sunday afternoon. This will result in at least a couple of sacks, if not turnovers.
Overall, while the Eagles LB group leaves much to be desired, they benefit from having strong units both in front of them as well as behind them up against a lackluster WFT offense. This matchup for the Eagles defense is as close to a preseason game as any unit playing football on Sunday.
ADVANTAGE: Strongly Eagles
This match-up is basically a wash, as neither team has a great handle on what their special teams units will look like without any preseason games. The only sure thing is that Jake Elliott will hit at least one 50 yd FG while also missing either a FG inside of 40 yds or an extra point. You can take that to the bank!
This leans heavily in the Eagles favor. They see themselves as contenders for the division with sights on a deep playoff run. On the other hand, the WFT has been dealing with issues on and off the field all of this offseason. They had to cut their most talented RB (Derrius Guice) earlier in the offseason due to domestic abuse charges. On top of that, Head Coach Ron Rivera is not only being asked to prepare the team for the game this season, he is also the acting GM. He is the man tasked to give direction and stability to the whole franchise as it tries to dig itself out of endless PR nightmares and accusations of misconduct throughout the organization – all the way up to the owner Dan Snyder. Maybe all of the outside noise will galvanize the WFT, but I expect this game to be the beginning of a very long and difficult season for the fanbase of the nameless Washington franchise.
Prediction: Eagles Win 17-9