The Eagles kick off their “Super Bowl or bust” season Sunday against the Redskins at Lincoln Financial Field. The game isn’t supposed to be close with the visiting team in rebuild mode and the home team in win-now mode.
Philadelphia has been installed as a 10-point betting favorite, according to Bovada. That line has steadily increased since it opened at nine points. This is the NFL, though. Nothing is given, nothing is guaranteed. The Eagles are going to have to go out and prove they deserve all the preseason hype. The first stop on that journey begins on Sunday at 1 p.m.
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Top Five Questions and Storylines
1. Can Carson Wentz Take a Hit?
The Eagles quarterback didn’t play a single preseason snap, so the last real hit he incurred happened nine months ago — in that overtime thriller in Dallas way back on December 9, 2018. The knee brace is off. The back is fine. But can Wentz absorb a hit and get back up? The Eagles have talked at length about their intense fear and respect for Washington pass-rusher extraordinaire Ryan Kerrigan. He’ll be gunning for Wentz in this one. Simply put, the Eagles’ Super Bowl chances come down to the health of No. 11. Wentz needs to hit the ground running and show what he’s made of from the jump. Expect him to drop back and drop a 50-yard dime to DeSean Jackson on the first play from scrimmage.
2. How is DeSean Jackson’s Finger?
The speedy receiver joked with reporters that he may be out there as a decoy Sunday. Jackson broke his left ring finger last week and while everyone in the organization has insisted it isn’t serious, imagine trying to catch a fastball from Wentz with a bum finger. It’s going to hurt. The good news it’s on his non-dominant left hand. Still, wide receivers are taught to catch the ball with two hands. The Eagles need their deep ball threat healthy for 16 games. Jackson surely wants revenge against his old team in this one, but he can’t jeopardize his health over one game. If there’s any inkling of a concern, they should shut him down. And start rookie J.J. Arcega-Whiteside.
3. What’s the Split in the Backfield?
Jordan Howard is the starting running back, all well and good. But it’s no secret the team is googly-eyed over rookie Miles Sanders. Will there be an exact 50-50 split in touches against Washington? Or will the Eagles take the “ride the hot hand” approach? Head coach Doug Pederson has never cared about his players’ stats — he’s not running a fantasy football team — so it stands to reason that he would have plays specifically designed for both guys. Plays that cater to their varying strengths. Sanders appears to be the home-run hitter in this equation, with Howard serving as the bellcow.
4. How Healthy is Derek Barnett?
The third-year defensive end is coming off shoulder surgery and has been limited in practice all week, including missing the entire preseason as he continued to recover. Barnett is being counted on mightily as the starter opposite Brandon Graham in a four-man pass-rushing rotation. Daeshon Hall looked like the best player on the field in the preseason, but that could have been smoke and mirrors. Barnett is a legitimate stud, an aggressive “attack end” that defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz loves to turn loose. They need him to log a lot of minutes in Week 1 against a pretty weak Redskins offensive line.
5. How About the Cornerbacks?
Donovan McNabb — of all people — pointed out the cornerbacks might be the biggest area of concern. This is a unit that was decimated by injuries in 2018 and was torched. In their defense, they were often forced to rotate guys in with limited experience, triage style. Those players — Rasul Douglas, Sidney Jones, Cre’Von LeBlanc, Avonte Maddox — logged serious snaps in big games. Douglas, Maddox and Jones all looked starter-worthy in training camp. LeBlanc, of course, will start the year on IR. Jalen Mills will start the year on the PUP list. Ronald Darby is another question mark after sitting out the majority of the preseason. Are these guys all healed up and ready to lock down NFL receivers? This should be an easy test in Week 1 as the Redskins are severely lacking at the skill positions. Their starting wide receivers — Paul Richardson Jr. and Trey Quinn — have a combined six years NFL experience. The toughest matchup will be locating tight end Jordan Reed.
Game Preview & Score Prediction
Here we go: the Eagles will absolutely not lose this football game. The only thing they can’t do is look ahead to Week 2 and Atlanta. As stated at the top, the Redskins are trying to build something for the future and don’t have the pieces to compete against an Eagles team constructed to win now. Journeyman Case Keenum will get the start — and he surely will get flashbacks from the 2017 NFC Championship Game — and he’s never been a stabilizing force under center. Look for Jim Schwartz to send the house at him for 60 minutes. No mercy, a relentless pass rush. The over-under for Eagles sacks has to be five.
On the offensive side of the ball, it will be interesting to see what DeSean Jackson can do. Is he merely a decoy with a broken finger? Or do they unleash the beast? I’d lean toward the latter, and fully expect him to haul in a touchdown — probably 50-70 yards down the field. Carson Wentz will need a few series to get into a rhythm after not having played in nine months. Don’t boo him after the first quarter! He’ll start feeding his tight ends — Zach Ertz, Dallas Goedert — and show everyone why he was an MVP candidate in 2017. Eagles win big, really big. Final score: Eagles 31, Redskins 17.