Chip Kelly’s offseason quest to grab every former Oregon Duck on the planet ultimately fell short since he could not move up and grab Marcus Mariota. Quarterback is one of the big questions facing the Philadelphia Eagles this season. After Nick Foles overachieved in a big way in 2013, the former Arizona quarterback took a major step back last season as injuries and regression rear their ugly heads. As a result, the organization took a big gamble on Sam Bradford this offseason and that could really set the tone for the Eagles season.
Foles started eight games last season and posted a 13/10 TD/INT ratio over 311 pass attempts. He only took nine sacks, as his mobility wound up being a big weapon. Mark Sanchez relieved Foles and went just 4-4 in his eight starts with a 14/11 TD/INT ratio. Now, Bradford will get a shot as he looks to come back from a second ACL surgery. Through it all, the Eagles offense managed to finish third in points scored and fifth in yardage, even though their 36 turnovers were the most in the NFL.
It was a very busy offseason in the City of Brotherly Love. The Eagles made several interesting moves. They have tons of running back depth with the signings of DeMarco Murray and Ryan Mathews, even though they traded away LeSean McCoy. With one of the league’s worst pass defenses, the Eagles picked up Byron Maxwell and Walter Thurmond to replace Bradley Fletcher and Cary Williams. Kiko Alonso was the return from the Buffalo Bills in the McCoy trade and he has the opportunity to be a major impact player for this defense.
Foles was traded to the Rams in exchange for Bradford and there was also a pick swap included in the deal. Veteran wideout Miles Austin will join first-round draft pick Nelson Agholor in an attempt to replace the production lost by Jeremy Maclin’s departure. In terms of talent going in and talent going out, the Eagles may have won that part of the offseason. After the Agholor pick, every other Eagles selection was on the defensive side of the ball.
The Eagles also made waves by taking a chance on Tim Tebow. Tebow signed with the Eagles in hopes of being a quarterback, but it’s fair to say that Chip Kelly has some interesting plans for Tebow. In his up-tempo, spread offense, there are a lot of ways to get the ball into the hands of the playmakers and Tebow may have a big role in this offense.
With a lot of talent and the prospect of regression from the Dallas Cowboys, this division looks like it may be Philadelphia’s to lose. Oddsmakers at Westgate Superbook in Las Vegas opened both the Cowboys and Eagles at 9.5, with the under at -140, but that was a full win and a half higher than the Giants and 3.5 wins higher than the Redskins.
|1||@ Atlanta (Mon)||-1|
|3||@ New York Jets||-2.5|
|6||New York Giants (Mon)||-4|
|12||@ Detroit (Thurs)||+2|
|13||@ New England||+4|
|17||@ New York Giants||N/A|
The Eagles schedule is rather conducive to winning the division because of how it ends. The Eagles play three of their last four at home and will be favored in all of those games. The finale against the Giants is a little bit cloudy right now, but it remains to be seen what the Giants will look like by season’s end. It’s interesting to note that the Eagles are no lower than pick ‘em in their two road games against the NFC South and are never an underdog of more than four points.
In fact, the Eagles are only an underdog on three occasions, and one of them is a short Thanksgiving week at Detroit in which the line would probably be a pick ‘em without the short week. They draw a bye week right before playing Dallas and do not see the Cowboys again after Week 9. The road schedule is tricky, but not daunting.
Why bet the over?
If the offseason had only consisted of the trade of LeSean McCoy for Kiko Alonso, it would have been rather perplexing. McCoy accounted for 1,474 yards and five touchdowns last season. He did, however, take a major step back from the previous season in which he led the league with 2,146 yards from scrimmage. He ran for 1,607 yards that season to lead the league. The trade of the 27-year-old running back was labeled as more of a financial decision, but it could simply be that the Eagles feel like McCoy is already on the downside of his career.
Poaching DeMarco Murray off of the free agent market should represent an upgrade for the Eagles. Murray leaves the safety net of Dallas’s excellent offensive line, but he will be able to stay fresh because of the depth at this position. Murray was used and abused by the Cowboys last season, but Ryan Mathews and Darren Sproles all provide depth in Philadelphia and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Tim Tebow grab some carries as well. In terms of rushing attacks, nobody in the NFL has a better one than the Eagles.
Sam Bradford is a very interesting gamble by the Eagles. It would seem that Chip Kelly’s offensive scheme would work best with a mobile quarterback, which Bradford is not going to be. Mark Sanchez is still in the organization to serve as Bradford’s backup or as the injury replacement, but this is an area of concern. The glass half full approach would suggest that Bradford has the most talent around him that he has ever had. Even with 2014 leading receiver Jeremy Maclin gone, Bradford has Vanderbilt standout Jordan Matthews, as well as Zach Ertz and Brent Celek at tight end. Nelson Agholor will play right away and the collection of running backs the Eagles have are all stellar pass catchers.
The offense was never a worry, though the influx of talent is impressive. The defense was the biggest problem for the Eagles last season. They addressed their cornerback problems by bringing in Byron Maxwell, Walter Thurmond, and three 2015 draftees to address the depth issue. The Eagles defense forced 28 turnovers last season and recovered 16 fumbles to lead the league. The problem for the Eagles is that they were torched when they didn’t force a turnover. Even with 28 turnovers and 49 sacks, the Eagles allowed over 6,000 yards. That’s almost unfathomable. On the bright side, it could suggest some positive regression and the addition of more talent doesn’t hurt.
Why bet the under?
Can either Sam Bradford or Mark Sanchez take this team to the next level? There’s no question that running the football or throwing short passes as an extension of the running game is going to be the modus operandi for this team. There are benefits to that, but there are also negatives as well. With eight or nine guys in the box on almost every play, there is little margin for error. Every block must be made and every hole must be opened. If the defense gives up 400 points again, there are bound to be games that have to be won by one of the two quarterbacks. Is that going to happen?
There are a lot of new faces in Philadelphia and continuity could certainly be an issue early on. The Eagles are basically starting over from scratch in the secondary with new starters at CB and also at strong safety with Nate Allen’s departure. In a division with the Cowboys, who will return to throwing the ball a lot, and the Giants, who have always thrown the ball a lot, the secondary will have to grow up and gel rather quickly. The schedule also includes heavy passing teams like New England, New Orleans, Detroit and Atlanta. The Atlanta game comes right away in Week 1. That will be a sign of how far the secondary has to go in order to be an upgrade.
The elephant in the room has to be what happened last season. After starting 7-2, the Eagles finished up the season at 10-6. They struggled against good teams, specifically teams with good defenses, as they lost to the 49ers, Cardinals, Packers, Seahawks, Cowboys, and, surprisingly, the Redskins. The Eagles had one game without a turnover last season. They scored a season-high 45 points in a blowout win over Carolina. Has something changed enough for the Eagles to take the next step?
One of the things to look for while previewing the season for these win totals is regression certain stats. The Eagles lost 15 fumbles, which was the second-most in the league, and they recovered 16 fumbles to lead the league. If both of those regress simultaneously, they will cancel out. If one does and one doesn’t, it all depends on which one regresses. The Eagles threw 21 interceptions last season, the most in the NFL. Imagine what they could be like without all of those turnovers.
Pick: Over 9.5
The Eagles made a lot of good moves in the offseason and people should be buying into this team. The quarterback situation is clearly an issue, but it may not matter who is under center. Nick Foles played out of his mind in 2013 and the Eagles won 10 games. Nick Foles struggled, Mark Sanchez was arguably worse, and the Eagles still won 10 games in 2014. Sam Bradford is an upgrade to those two if he’s healthy, but the running game will drive this team. The Eagles are very hard to defend in space and the defensive additions of Byron Maxwell, Kiko Alonso, and Walter Thurmond represent an enormous upgrade to a defense that desperately needed it.
-END OF 2015 PREDICTION-
Speculation about how Chip Kelly’s offense would translate to the NFL was ended pretty quickly. Kelly’s Philadelphia Eagles ranked second in yards, fourth in points, first in rushing offense, and ranked in the top 10 in passing yards and touchdowns, despite a rank of 27th in passing attempts. The bend, but don’t break, big play defense forced 31 turnovers and the Eagles enjoyed a 10-6 season that ended in the first round with a loss to New Orleans in the wild card round.
The Eagles rattled off seven wins in their last eight games to achieve their first winning season since 2010. They finished in the top 10 in yardage differential, point differential, and turnover margin for the first time since that 2010 season. The Eagles were merely average in the situational stats, finishing 14th in third down conversion rate and 13th in red zone touchdown conversion rate. Defensively, they ranked 24th on third down and 12th in the red zone.
One has to wonder if the defense would have fared better had the Eagles sustained longer drives. The Eagles finished dead last in time of possession at just 26:19 per game. Between quick scores and the defense’s third down performance, that unit spent a lot of time on the field and it showed as the Eagles allowed 7.7 points per game in the fourth quarter, the ninth-most of any team, and the fourth-most points in the second half at 14.4.
Adjustments are sure to be made in year two, both for the Eagles and for opposing defenses. The Eagles had what appears to be a strong offseason on paper and the addition of Darren Sproles alongside LeSean McCoy looks like a matchup nightmare for the opposition.
Oddsmakers remain cautious with the Eagles. At Sportsbook.ag, the Eagles win total rests on 9 with -115 on both sides. At 5Dimes.eu, the Eagles are also set at 9 with -120 on the over and -110 on the under.
Lines courtesy of CG Technologies:
|2||@ Indianapolis (Mon)||+2.5|
|4||@ San Francisco||+6|
|6||New York Giants||-4.5|
|11||@ Green Bay||+4.5|
|13||@ Dallas (Thu)||+1.5|
|16||@ Washington (Sat)||-1.5|
|17||@ New York Giants||N/A|
Along with their NFC East counterparts, the Eagles will take on the NFC West and AFC South with matchups against Green Bay and Carolina thrown in as part of the Eagles’ first-place schedule. With the improvements expected from Atlanta and Houston, that gives the Eagles one of the league’s toughest schedules. Cole Ryan rated the Eagles schedule 20th, but opponent win-loss record was the metric used for that and Houston, Jacksonville, and Washington really skew that number.
The Eagles play two road back-to-backs, including one to end the season against divisional competition. They are favored in eight of their 15 lined games in the numbers posted by CG Technologies. Considering the degree of difficulty that the schedule presents, it’s not particularly surprising to see such a high-scoring, public-backed team like the Eagles lined conservatively.
The four-week stretch coming out of the bye week may be the make or break point of the season for the Eagles. Road games at Arizona, Houston, and Green Bay with a tricky Monday Night Football game against Carolina provide a true litmus test in the middle of the season.
Why bet the over?
The offense is going to show no signs of slowing down under Chip Kelly. Not only may the tempo pick up, but Kelly now has Darren Sproles at his disposal along with LeSean McCoy, who racked up over 2,100 yards from scrimmage last season. Nick Foles wound up being the perfect fit for Kelly’s offense, posting a 27/2 TD/INT ratio with a 64 percent completion percentage.
Desean Jackson was a surprise release by the Eagles this offseason for character issues, but the Eagles get Jeremy Maclin back and also added Jordan Matthews and former Chip Kelly recruit Josh Huff in the draft. Maclin was responsible for 16 of the 22 man games lost for the Eagles last season. Jackson is definitely a loss as the team’s leading receiver, but there’s plenty of talent and plenty of touches to go around in Kelly’s offense.
The offense was going to remain good, but the defense is the reason to take the over. It was an all-or-nothing show on defense in the first year of a 3-4 in Philadelphia. The defense managed only 37 sacks and allowed seven yards per pass play. It was the 31 turnovers and the +12 turnover margin that helped out this group, a defense that spent the most time on the field per game of any team in the league.
The run defense was stout, allowing just 3.8 yards per game, but teams threw all day long on the Eagles. The opposition threw 41.2 passes per game against the defense. That’s why the Eagles made acquiring secondary depth their chief objective in the offseason. Former Dolphins starting cornerback Nolan Carroll joined former Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins as the highlight free agent signings.
There’s talent all over this roster and Kelly’s offensive scheme was more of a success than anybody could have imagined. The defense is deeper and should naturally improve in the second year of playing a 3-4. This is a high quality team capable of beating anybody.
Why bet the under?
Regression is certainly a possibility from the offense since Nick Foles probably won’t post a 27/2 TD/INT ratio this season. When the Eagles lost the turnover battle last season, they were 0-3 and managed just 26 points in those three games. Teams will start to adjust to Kelly’s offense and may find better ways to disguise coverages or blitzes that will lead to more turnovers.
Regression is a possibility from the offense just because of the numbers but also because of the schedule. The Eagles faced four playoff teams last season. They’ll face five this season but also Arizona and St. Louis. The Giants were the most injured team in football last season, so expect them to improve. As bad as the Texans were, their defense was serviceable. The schedule is a real step up in class for the Eagles.
Jeremy Maclin’s health is imperative for the Eagles. Without Desean Jackson, the Eagles are very young and inexperienced at wide receiver and it wouldn’t be a big surprise to see Jordan Matthews starting. Jackson accounted for 82 of the team’s 310 completions and over 1,300 yards.
Seven players on the defensive side of the ball started all 16 games for the Eagles. Three offensive linemen did the same. In a rather complex set of schemes, the Eagles must stay healthy. Every NFL team will suffer given the right injuries, but injuries could be magnified that much more because what the Eagles want to do.
Pick: Over 9 (-115)
Despite the schedule concerns, it’s hard not to buy the Eagles. This is an extremely talented team with a lot of ways to spread out a defense and create matchup problems. The NFC East still features a collection of mediocre teams to help ease the schedule difficulties of playing the NFC West.
The offseason that the Eagles had was really beneficial to the future of the franchise. The secondary was clearly tested early and often last season and depth at that position is a must. In today’s NFL, teams basically need to be at least three deep at corner, preferably more, and have experienced safeties because it’s a quarterback-driven league. The Eagles have those things and then some.
The value side appears to be the over with a push at 9-7 as a possibility and repeating last season’s 10-6 mark is very possible. The schedule is tougher, but it’s year two of the system and that tends to lead to improvement.
Adam Burke is a freelance writer and amateur handicapper with a knack for finding value through matchup analysis and a deep understanding of the sports betting market. His main area of expertise is baseball, with a background in sabermetrics and advanced statistics. He is the host of The Gridiron Gambling Report and our college football and college basketball BangTheBook.com podcasts on the BlogTalkRadio Network.