Week 2: The preseason is finally over. Let the real opponents begin. OK, so the Eagles had to fight tooth and nail and Michael Vick’s indecision to scrape past the Browns last week. And that alone was a positive sign considering how last season’s Eagles would have surely folded in the fourth quarter. But Cleveland was never going to be a barometer, especially with rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden at the commands. The Ravens, of course, will be a better test. I think the Eagles will come with their No. 2 pencils sharpened. Problem is it won’t be enough. Vick can’t possibly be as bad as he was last week. That’s a low bar to set, but I think we’ll see significant improvement and a game plan that takes some of the decision-making out of the quarterback’s hands. So there will be more balance and quicker throws. The wrench in the plan is that the Eagles’ wide receiving group could be short a starter, possibly two. DeSean Jackson’s hamstring injury doesn’t appear serious enough to hold him out, but Jeremy Maclin (hip pointer) will likely be a game-time decision.
Juan Castillo’s defense was very good last week, Weeden or no Weeden. But the unit was able to take advantage of a quarterback that had no chance of beating them through the air and a rookie running back also playing in his first NFL game. Joe Flacco and Ray Rice are significant upgrades. If I was Castillo, I would have Mychal Kendricks shadow Rice, who can line up in multiple spots. I would give the linebacker additional help, too. Make Flacco beat you. If the defensive line can generate pressure against a Ravens offensive line that is strong in the middle and weaker on the edges, Flacco can be rattled. All that being said, I think Rice will be too much to handle. Ravens 23, Eagles 21.
What goes right: Eagles cornerbacks Nnamdi Asomugha, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Brandon Boykin keep Ravens wide receivers Torrey Smith and Anquan Boldin in check.
What goes wrong: Ravens defensive tackle Haloti Ngata gives the interior of the Eagles offensive line all it can handle.
Week 2: Expect a better performance on Sunday from the Eagles, who should rebound with a more focused and polished effort in their home opener. That won't be enough, especially with Maclin battling a hip injury. Vick will look sharper and cut down his interceptions against Baltimore, but he won't have as much success downfield. Look for LeSean McCoy to have a big game catching the ball out of the backfield. But the Ravens will remain stout on defense and keep the Eagles from taking a lead. The Ravens won't score 44 points, but they'll do enough -- particularly with Rice -- to outscore the Eagles. It will be a close game, but Baltimore will head down I-95 with a victory. Ravens 23, Eagles 17
What goes right: Vick plays better, McCoy is more involved and the Eagles' pass rushers disrupt Baltimore's passing game.
What goes wrong: Rice breaks two big plays, and without Maclin either in the game or at 100 percent, the Eagles lack offensive firepower.