Are the Philadelphia Eagles going to be one-hit wonders?

Are the Philadelphia Eagles going to be one-hit wonders?

Skies were clear over Cleveland on Thursday night. Temperatures were cooling from an 80ºF midday high towards a low in the 50s. WKYC even waxed romantic over the streaking white airplane contrails accenting the purple twilight. It was perfect football weather, offering the visiting Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles no excuse for their 5-0 defeat.

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Results in preseason are allegedly meaningless. Coaches are evaluating players. Those whose jobs are guaranteed are working into game-shape. Even in the third game, starters still play just the first half. That said the Eagles are winless this summer. Following 17-point blowouts to Pittsburgh (31-14) and New England (37-20), Philly’s defense can be happy conceding only a field goal. The safety is on the offense, which netted 32 points over the three games, including the negative total on Thursday night.

The evening’s deficit might’ve been worse had Browns starting quarterback, Tyrod Taylor, not injured his wrist in the first quarter. Rookie backup Baker Mayfield, selected no.1 in the 2018 NFL Draft left after two series to go through concussion protocol after throwing a red-zone interception. He was cleared but the game was there for the taking. Mike Groh’s offence needed only one scoring drive to get the job done.

Carson Wentz remains out with a cruciate ligament injury but the offensive line failed to protect Nick Foles. The Super Bowl hero threw two interceptions and fumbled a ball from one of the six sacks Cleveland registered on the night.

It was an abject performance against a club that is 1-31 in the past two seasons and mired in a decade-long streak of losing seasons. Cleveland, 1-1 in the preseason coming into the game, are improved but not that much.

Eagles coach Doug Pederson should be concerned. With the worst performance arriving in game three, he can’t blame the outing on rust.

Nor can he blame the NFL’s hard salary cap. Fans worried over their championship team breaking up in the offseason. Thirteen players, including four starters, were eligible for one form of free agency or the other. LeGarrette Blount’s 766 yards departed for Detroit and receiver Torrey Smith’s 435 were traded to Carolina. Each scored two touchdowns on the season. Blount was 31, though, and Smith will be 30 in January. Those are roster moves you expect to make.

Wentz’s status is the biggest setback, but Foles proved in February he could step into the role. The Eagles can’t let expectations rocket into the stratosphere after their long-awaited title. At the same time, it’s not unrealistic to expect them to handle the Browns.

Cleveland Browns DE Myles Garrett forces a safety from Philadelphia Eagles QB Nick Foles

Cleveland Browns DE Myles Garrett forces a safety from Philadelphia Eagles QB Nick Foles

The coming season won’t be easy. Every team is going to be gunning for the Super Bowl champions. Legendary champions like Joe Montana’s 1982 49ers often fail to make the playoffs the following season. From 2006-13, defending champions either failed to make the playoffs or lost in the first round. The Eagles are beginning to look like one of those teams.

Philly were improbable winners, last season. They gave Tom Brady and New England everything they could handle and then some to win Super Bowl LII. The Pats will be back, though. They always are. Bill Belichick never lets his squad relax. He never accepts an excuse. Even losing Brady to injury or suspension didn’t stopped the five-time champions. Doug Pederson must find a way to keep the competitive fire burning at Lincoln Financial Field.

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Martin Palazzotto is a freelance writer and author of strange bOUnce, a collection of sport fiction.

 

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What does the early win line tell us about the 2018 NFL season?

What does the early win line tell us about the 2018 NFL season?

Vegas released its early line on total wins for all National Football League teams earlier in the week. It makes for interesting reading. Here’s a look at the numbers sorted by division.

NFL total wins for 2018

Overview

You can draw some broad conclusions by looking at the overall numbers.

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The bookies love the NFC. Especially the NFC North and South.

Overall, the early line on total wins [not ATS] favors the blue half of the league 133 wins to 125. Given every team plays a quarter of its games against opponents from the other conference, basic math says sports books think the NFC will go 36-28 against the AFC.

Given each division plays 64 games [ four teams times 16 games], 32 is the .500 win total for divisions. The NFC has three divisions above that mark and one right on it. The AFC North and East are the two teams below it.

With that in mind, here’s a look at how early predictions have each division shaking out.

AFC East

New England’s line is the highest in the entire NFL. They’re tabbed to win 11. That’s because the handicappers expect them to beat up on a weak division. Buffalo, Miami and the New York Jets are all pegged to lose at least ten.

AFC North

Pittsburgh is the favorite, as usual. Baltimore and Cincinnati will battle to finish second but likely cancel each other out in the wildcard race. That’s if you buy into the 5.5 win line for the Browns.

Cleveland went 0-16 in 2017. They had a good draft but will it bump them up to 5-11? The club hasn’t won five games in the last three seasons combined. The Ravens or the Bengals could be a good pick for the over.

On the other hand, if you think the Browns are going to rise from the ashes, you should be looking at the under for one or two of their division rivals.

AFC South

This has long been the most competitive foursome in the AFC and the experts are respecting that again. What they don’t respect is Andrew Luck’s chances to be his former self after coming back from a shoulder injury. Quarterbacks do have to throw the ball, after all. That isn’t easy with a bad wing. Doctors will tell you that recovering strength after shoulder surgery is a time-consuming process. The Colts are definitely the bet on which the South hinges.

AFC West

The strongest division in the conference. Early odds have the Chargers settling into their temporary LA digs at the StubHub Center, home of MLS side LA Galaxy. That suggests there are doubts Andy Reid can sustain the momentum in Kansas City and that Jon Gruden will have a major impact in his return to coaching after more than a decade away.

Nate Gerry feels good about winning Super Bowl LII with the Philadelphia Eagles.

NFC East

Vegas is sold on the Super Bowl champion Eagles. Philadelphia is second only to Tom Brady and the Patriots in the betting line, despite their win in February. The Cowboys at 8.5 is an interesting pick. It expresses doubt about Jerry Jones’ project. There’s reason to worry. Will Allen Hurns be an upgrade on Dez Bryant? Can Geoff Swaims and Rico Gathers step up following Jason Witten’s move to the Monday Night Football booth?

There’s not much love for Washington or New York. I Kill Giants is probably a staple in the DVD collection for children of division rivals.

NFC North

The Black and Blue Division is set to flex its muscle in 2018. Minnesota and Green Bay are the only division rivals both rated as ten-game winners. With Kirk Cousins and Aaron Rodgers behind center respectively, why not? Matthew Stafford and Detroit are the dark horses again, while the Bears continue to hibernate.

NFC South

This is an even tighter race than the North. Three teams, New Orleans, Atlanta and Carolina, are all expected to win at least nine. There’s no love for Jameis Winston and the Bucs, though. Tampa just hasn’t done much to improve a 5-11 team.

NFC West

It’s a similar story to the South in the Pacific time zone. There’s affection for Jared Goff and Jimmy Garoppolo in LA and San Fran respectively. There’s even some fondness for Russell Wilson and the Seahawks? Sam Bradford and the Cardinals come in; the room goes quiet. When you consider how Kurt Warner and Carson Palmer experienced a renaissance in the desert, Bradford looks like something of a sleeper pick for Arizona. On the other hand, you weren’t as likely to wake up to find Warner and Palmer on the DL.

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Martin Palazzotto is a freelance writer and author of strange bOUnce, a collection of sport fiction.

Is the Cleveland Browns draft class new hope or another false dawn?

Is the Cleveland Browns draft class new hope or another false dawn?

What is the most wonderful thing about the offseason? No matter what happened last year, you can let your imagination off the leash.

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Life is cruel, however. The first things to go after the initial meaningful game are hopes and dreams.

Occasionally, though, the unexpected happens. Everything falls into place. Hope is fulfilled, dreams realized, and your club goes all the way. In 2017, the Houston Astros won the World Series. Three months later, the Philadelphia Eagles won the Super Bowl.

In the latter case, a few thousand memes had to be revised to fit a new team.

If I were Eagles owner, Jeffrey Lurie, the first person I’d call would be Cleveland owner Jimmy Haslam. The Browns were winless in 2017. They’ve only won four games in the last three seasons and had just two winning seasons since their reincarnation in 1999.

Hi Jimmy? It’s Jeff. Listen I’ve got all these old Super Bowl memes lying around that we can’t use anymore…

Of course, some aren’t transferrable.

Dad, what’s a Super Bowl ring? How should I know, son? We’re brown.

That doesn’t make sense. And can a color see its shadow?

On the other hand, Ned Stark is universal. You can put Cleveland, Detroit, Buffalo, Minnesota, whoever, in there and it works. It could be leased out to baseball, basketball, and soccer trolls, too. Haslam would see a return on his investment. The Back to the Future meme offers double value. After all, Marty McFly’s mentor is Doc Brown. It’s a natural fit.

Getting good value might be a problem for Lurie, however. The Browns already have some existing inventory.

Right now, there is optimism in the Dawg Pound. Cleveland is a .500 team again at least until Week 1. There may be reason to hold out hope. The Browns had a strong draft, landing Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield and Ohio State cornerback Denzel Ward in the first round, as well as Georgia running back Nick Chubb in the second. The team also acquired quarterback Tyrod Taylor from Buffalo, receiver Jarvis Landry from the Dolphins, and right tackle Chris Hubbard from Pittsburgh. Left tackle Joe Thomas retired but Vegas sport books have the Browns as early favorites in two games, Week 3 v the New York Jets and Week 15 when the Cincinnati Bengals come to town.

It’s encouraging to think the Browns might be competitive in 2018 but let’s not jump the gun. They’ve made exciting personnel moves in the past. Tim Couch never panned out. Johnny Manziel, Robert Griffin III. If anything, Baker Mayfield might deserve our sympathy. The Oklahoma quarterback has a different skill set than Griffin and more self-control than Manziel but is another unique personality. The team has already demonstrated it can’t deal with characters, preferring to cookie-cutter everyone in the squad.

Nor does the executive show patience or long-term thinking. Its five first-round picks in the 2017/18 NFL Drafts were courtesy former Executive VP of Football Operations Sashi Brown’s draft policy. Building a club through the draft is a multi-season endeavour. It didn’t happen quickly enough for owner Jimmy Haslam. He fired Brown in December to resolve a power struggle between the executive and head coach Hue Jackson.

Cleveland Browns EVP of Football Operations Sashi Brown and head coach Hue Jackson.

Brown wasn’t perfect as a GM. He took a gamble on Griffin’s injury history and lost. He traded away a second-rounder to Philadelphia that turned out to be Carson Wentz. As if the quarterback was guaranteed to enjoy the same success in Cleveland as he has in Philly.

Brown clashed with Jackson because his focus was on collecting draft picks rather than paying too much to free agents or in trades with other teams. The team is now benefitting from that policy and likely will for the next few seasons.

Like Jackson, Haslam is impatient. When he hired both Jackson and Brown in January 2016, it was his fourth franchise reboot in five years as owner. It’s easy to imagine the team struggling early, Jackson turning to Mayfield too soon in the young quarterback’s tutelage, the team struggling further, and Haslam initiating the search for a new coach before season’s end. It’s more fun to dream, however.

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Martin Palazzotto is a freelance writer and author of strange bOUnce, a collection of sport fiction.