Week 8: I fired my defensive prognosticator over the bye week. He worked hard, but didn’t quite get the late-week adjustments Vegas made to its betting lines. I put him in a bad position, but, heck, I wasn’t going to fire myself. I still have ten games to right this ship, though.
Picking the Eagles may sound like I’ve just dropped the anchor through the floor of the ship, but Andy Reid is 13-0 after the bye, he’s in desperation mode, and I think he’ll have his players ready to perform. The Falcons are undefeated, of course, and they’re solid across the board, but they’re ripe for the picking. Atlanta’s six opponents are a combined 13-24, giving the Falcons the easiest schedule in the NFL through seven weeks.
The Eagles aren’t exactly an elite team at this stage, but they have the edge in a few matchups that I think will prove pivotal on Sunday. LeSean McCoy could have a field day against a Falcons run defense that is more than suspect. Atlanta is 27th when opposing offenses right off the right end and 31st when they run off the left. The Falcons have allowed 5.1 yards a carry. The Eagles’ stretch play didn’t work very well against the Lions, but it should provide McCoy with enough room to get yards upfield. Yes, the offensive line is in disarray, but there are ways to work within the confines of their (li)abilities.
Establishing McCoy early (Do it, Marty!) should open up things deep for DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin. And if Falcons defensive coordinator Mike Nolan plans on playing his safeties 20 yards deep, there should be ample space underneath. Falcons cornerbacks Asante Samuel and Dunta Robinson can be picked on. Maclin has had the two best games of his career against Atlanta. I think he adds a third.
There are a number of matchups that don’t favor the Eagles, of course. Finding someone to slow tight end Tony Gonzalez will be a task. Despite his previous success against defensive end John Abraham, what are the odds left tackle King Dunlap keeps him in check again? But I think the Eagles’ 2012 roller coaster will hit a high point this Sunday. If I’m wrong again I may have to fire the boat captain. Eagles 23, Falcons 17.
What goes right: Todd Bowles matches wits with Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter and ruins another homecoming for Matt Ryan.
What goes wrong: Dallas Reynolds once again can’t handle the A-gap blitz and nearly gets Michael Vick decapitated a few times.
Week 7: This is a difficult game to predict because there are so many unknown variables. Reid's record after the bye week is more than a coincidence and the type of statistical trend that should make an Eagles fan confident. Then again, he’s never had a bye week under these kind conditions, when he has a new defensive coordinator and a change at left tackle. There’s also an unknown in what type of effect, if any, Bowles has on the defense. The scheme is the same and the personnel is the same, so the only potential difference is what he calls in different situations. Without a basis of comparison, it’s tough to know exactly what he’s going to do.
I expect this to be a shootout, unless the weather intensifies and creates a sloppy game. Both teams can get down the field quickly. I know the Eagles struggle to score, but their yardage per game is an indication that they can accumulate yards and move the ball effectively. Eliminating turnovers will produce points.
The key will be how frequently and effectively McCoy runs the ball. The Falcons allow 5.2 yards per carry, and McCoy can exploit the Falcons’ defense by running to the outside and generating big gains. This could draw a safety closer to the line and allow the Eagles to better use their play-action.
It will still be difficult for the Eagles to stop Ryan and the Falcons’ passing offense, although the Eagles have the type of cornerbacks to match up with Julio Jones and Roddy White. With big, physical cornerbacks, the Eagles are better able to play those wide receivers than smaller, slippery ones. I actually think Gonzalez is the wild card to watch, because he can hurt the Eagles in the middle of the field. Another player to pay attention to is Jacquizz Rodgers, a diminutive running back who could hurt Philadelphia in the screen game.
This game could go either way, but the 13-0 record after the bye week is more impressive than the Falcons’ 6-0 record. One of the undefeated marks has to give. The Eagles will continue their streak in an important game.
I also don’t think the Eagles are in particularly bad shape at this point of the season. When I predicted their season record in September, I had them 4-4 after eight games. The Eagles cannot afford to lose their next two games, but a split of the Atlanta and New Orleans games would be reasonable and still leave them in position to take advantage of a soft portion of the schedule beginning in late November. However, next week’s game in New Orleans will be difficult -- the Superdome is a a tough venue on Monday Night -- so the Eagles will be best suited by securing their home field and topping the Falcons. Eagles 30, Falcons 24.
What goes right: McCoy has his best game of the season, Nnamdi Asomugha plays perhaps his finest game as an Eagle.
What goes wrong: Gonzalez hurts the Eagles, and fans will be e-mailing wondering when Matt Tennant takes over as the starting center.