After a weekend of NFL games, the (1-0) Philadelphia Eagles and (0-1) Indianapolis Colts will finish out the week two schedule with a Monday night game at Lucas Oil Stadium (8:30pm EST on ESPN).
Even though it is early in the season, this is a pivotal game for both teams and one that could have implications over the course of the year. Here are the storylines to follow in advance of Monday’s showdown, followed by my betting picks for this game.
How Will the Eagles Fare with their Banged-up Offensive Line?
Before the season started, the Philadelphia Eagles possessed one of the best offensive lines in football. It was a squad that last year freed up Nick Foles (pictured) both in and outside of the pocket, allowing him to put together his successful 2013 campaign. It was a group of guys who ranked best in the NFL in protecting its runners and with LeSean McCoy as evidence, did so with great dominance.
Everything was in place for this line to continue protecting its quarterback and runningback and it was a big portion of the reason why Eagles’ fans could get excited about the 2014 prospects. But then sophomore tackle Lane Johnson was suspended for PED use and for the Birds, this was the first in a line of dominoes to fall.
While Johnson was permitted to play in the preseason, the Eagles spent most of that time auditioning for his early replacement. The job was given to Allen Barbre, who stood out due to his athleticism. Barbre played well in the opener until he didn’t. Not far into the game, Barbre suffered a bad injury, later revealed as a severe broken leg, and has since been placed on the season-ending IR.
But Barbre wasn’t the only injury to the line. Perhaps more notably was Evan Mathis, an all-pro guard, leaving the game with an MCL tear. He is on the IR as well and is expected to return no sooner than six to eight weeks.
The losses are definitely damaging to an Eagles team that will look to run and protect its young QB but things could be worse. If there is any silver lining, it is that Dennis Kelly, who found success in 2012, will return. Filling out the first team line is Andrew Gardner, a fifth year pro who played reasonably well in the preseason.
Still, this is not exactly the line Philadelphia hoped to have before the start of the season. Will it hold up against the Colts? It is hard to tell. So far, the patchworked group has shown signs of a solid line in practice but game action is a whole different thing. Fortunately enough, the Colts are without their all-pro defensive linebacker Robert Mathis, which no doubt is of good news to the banged up Eagles line.
First Half Demons: Which Team will Shed theirs First?
Before the final minutes of the first half of last week’s games, the Eagles and Colts were down a collective score of 0-41. Philly was losing at home, to the (0-1) Jacksonville Jaguars 0-17 and the Colts were trailing the (1-0) Denver Broncos 0-24. Indianapolis did score to close out the first half but overall, both teams, played putrid before halftime.
Then the lights went on. Whatever Chip Kelly and Chuck Pagano said to their squads to motivate them worked. Nick Foles came out and fired 15 of 21 complete passes and two touchdowns to save the day and Andrew Luck and the Colts D did everything they could except pull off the improbable comeback. By the end of both games however, the Colts and Eagles had collectively outscored their opponents 51-7 as Jacksonville was kept scoreless and more impressively, Peyton Manning’s Broncos were held to just one touchdown.
If these second halves are any indication, you are looking at two teams that are going to be very good this year. The only problem is, getting down that much that early is going to result in more losses than wins especially against the good teams as Luck and the Colts found out.
And both of these teams are playing good teams on Monday night. So the only question that remains is, who gets hot first? Considering how both teams closed with authority, it might just be the team that has the ball first that finds their way onto the scoreboard before the other.
Hide your Defenses, this One is Going to be a Shoot Out
The sportsbooks have the over/under for this game set at 54 which is the highest for any of the teams playing this week. This is for good reason as both teams can score and are led by two gunslingers that will throw the ball.
Last year during the regular season, Luck and Foles started a combined 27 games and 23 of those saw the Colts or the Eagles score at least 20 points. 11 of those 23 saw Philly and Indy score at least 30 points. In 15 of the 27 combined games, the QB, threw for at least two touchdowns. In 11 games, the QB had at least 250 yards.
This is a showdown between guys who have pure arms. They’ll attempt and complete over 60% of their passes on average. They’ll throw for just under two touchdowns per game with an average of close to 250 passing yards. And both don’t shy from the run either and can make plays when needed on the ground.
54 as a total assumes both teams score double digits which is very possible. It also likely assumes that this game is not a blowout and that the teams trade scores with a sense of urgency. In layman’s terms, it’s going to be a shoot out.
Eagles at Colts Betting Picks Advice
The Colts enter this game as three-point favorites at home. They are a strong team with an offense that has come together nicely behind the focal piece of Andrew Luck. Reggie Wayne will have to continue to be a playmaker and guys like TY Hilton and Coby Fleener will have to step it up as well. Luck will get his opportunities and with the still unsure situation at runningback, look for him to throw early and often. The Eagles secondary could have some trouble if this happens.
Meanwhile for Philly, this is a team that has lost OL and WR depth in the past week. They still have a healthy QB and the tandem of LeSean McCoy and Darren Sproles. Jeremy Maclin also looks fresh and ready to have a breakout season as well as Zach Ertz at TE. No doubt, this team has playmakers but does it have the line that will enable Nick Foles to make said plays? Foles is no Peyton Manning but if given the opportunities downfield that Manning had, he’s accurate enough that the Eagles are likely to see a good chunk of redzone action.
This is going to be a close one but my money is on the Eagles on the spread and the two teams combining to hit the over on 54. High scoring offenses, banged up defenses and young, cannon armed quarterbacks all point to this one being a high scoring affair.
And as for the winning squad? Chip Kelly has some new offensive plays coming and one can bet they are geared with the new offensive line in mind. He has always found ways to put his best players in a position for success and that can be assumed once again. Look for big games out of Foles and McCoy with a nice complement from Sproles in the passing and running game.