7:15 PM EST, ABC – Line: Eagles -5.0, Over/Under: 46.0
A pair of unbeaten teams conclude Week Three with a bang, though if we’re being entirely honest, only one of these sides was expected to be undefeated at this point, as the (reigning NFC Champion) Philadelphia Eagles travel to the Gulf Coast to battle the surprising Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Monday Night Football. More so than any other team in the NFL this fall, the theme for the Eagles (2-0, T-1st in NFC East) is that of Unfinished Business, as they look to bounce back after their narrow defeat in Super Bowl LVII. By and large, this was the most dominant team throughout the 2022 campaign, though they nonetheless fell victim to Patrick Mahomes & Co despite holding a 10-point lead in the second half of that fateful affair. However, the challenge in getting back to that stage is knowing that you must do so without the same personnel that got you there in the first place, which is the case in Philadelphia where they have been hit hard by attrition. Simply put, (Head Coach) Nick Sirianni and (General Manager) Howie Roseman had their hands full in the offseason in replacing not only players but coaches as well; these birds lost both (Offensive Coordinator) Shane Steichen and (Defensive Coordinator) Jonathan Gannon, along with a number of starters, including (Defensive Backs) C.J. Gardner-Johnson and Marcus Epps, (Linebackers) T.J. Edwards and Kyzir White, (Defensive Tackle) Javon Hargrave, (Tailback) Miles Sanders, and (Guard) Isaac Seumalo to name but a few. As a result, there has been a visible learning curve for Philly, who have yet to resemble anything close to the juggernaut that they were last season. Offensively, (Quarterbacks Coach) Brian Johnson is calling the plays now, with continuity being the key word given his relationship with (Pro-Bowl Quarterback) Jalen Hurts. With that being said, the 25-year-old hasn’t looked very impressive thus far, leading a disjointed aerial attack that ranks twenty-ninth in passing yards (181.5) and twenty-fourth in net yards per attempt (5.16), while converting a mediocre 37.0% of their third downs (19th Overall). If not for a defense that has been VERY opportunistic in forcing SIX turnovers in the first two games, this slow start could have proven to be more damaging. This was apparent in their 34-28 victory over the Vikings last Thursday night, in which the boobirds were out at Lincoln Financial Field, as the faithful let Johnson have it in the first half as the home side struggled on their first four drives of the game, netting a field goal before a punt, an interception, and a missed field goal ended their next three possessions. At that point, the Eagles had amassed ninety-two yards on twenty-two plays, prompting Sirianni to implore his lieutenant to run the football, which turned out to be remedy to their woes. To say that Philadelphia trampled Minnesota would be a gross understatement, as the birds spent the rest of the night running the ball down the Northmen’s throats; the hosts churned out a staggering 259 yards on FORTY-EIGHT carries, outrushing the visitors by 231 yards en route to possessing the football for nearly 40:00 of game time! In his starting debut with the team after being acquired via trade during the NFL Draft, (young Tailback) D’Andre Swift erupted for a career-high 175 yards and a touchdown on twenty-eight caries, feasting behind a mammoth Offensive Line that dominated the line of scrimmage throughout the night. As for Hurts (pictured below), it was a mixed bag for a second consecutive week, as he completed 18-of-23 passes for 193 yards and a touchdown, while rushing for thirty-five yards and another pair of scores, though was intercepted once and was sacked on four occasions. The yardage was misleading, for if not for two bombs to (young Receiver) DeVonta Smith traveling 117 yards, he would have amassed just seventy-six yards on sixteen attempts, which equates to a dismal 4.75 yards per attempt, folks. Again, it is evident that this unit still has plenty to figure out for themselves in the passing game, though it does speak to the talent at their disposal that they can still overcome said issues by running the ball and playing great defense. Speaking of defense, (new DC) Sean Desai has hit the ground running in the City of Brotherly Love, as they have dominated the line of scrimmage throughout the first two games, yielding the fewest rushing yards in the league (52.0) with six takeaways, four sacks, and SEVENTEEN QB hits. In the win over Minnesota, this unit got after Kirk Cousins with regularity, sacking the Quarterback twice, hitting him and pressuring him ten times apiece, with FOUR forced fumbles, all of which were recovered by the defense.
From a betting perspective, the Eagles may be unbeaten against the spread through two games, but they did manage to fall victim to a backdoor cover courtesy of the Vikings (+6) last week, whose late touchdown inside of two minutes again trimmed the hosts’ lead, which could have (and for all intents and purposes SHOULD have) been far greater. With that being said, this is a team that is just 4-5-1 versus the spread over the past ten games dating back to last season (including playoffs), though they have covered all but one of their last five outings during that stretch. 5-4-1 when favored by the oddsmakers over their last ten contests, Philadelphia has been less impressive within that sample size when they’ve left their comfortable nest at Lincoln Financial Field, covering just three of their last ten road games despite winning eight of them straight-up. September has been kind to these birds of late, with Sirianni’s troops riding an unbeaten run (3-0-1) against the spread in this particular month of the season. Looking at tonight’s matchup, the Eagles haven’t beaten the Buccaneers outright since 2013, though have split those encounters from a spread POV. Coincidentally, they were underdogs in each of those affairs, including their 2021 two-step which served as the only two games in which Hurts started at Quarterback. The first, a 22-28 loss in Philly on a Thursday night, saw the QB rush for a pair of late touchdowns (including a two-point conversion) to snatch a late cover against the reigning Super Bowl Champions (+7), while their meeting three months later in the Wild Card Round, ended in an ugly 15-31 drubbing at Raymond-James Stadium. Make no mistake, Hurts struggled mightily in those matchups, completing just 50.7% of his passes for an average of 186.5 yards on a mere 5.20 net yards per attempt, with more interceptions (3) than touchdowns (2) and four sacks, while rushing for another 41.5 yards and those two aforementioned scores. On the injury front, Philadelphia has had the maximum amount of time to rest this time of year, enjoying a full ten days off prior to this contest, which should be a boost to their health. Seven different starters are currently listed as questionable with various maladies, with the only true absences being (Sophomore Linebacker) Nakobe Dean (foot) and (veteran Cornerback) Avonte Maddox (pectoral), who have both been placed on injured reserve. (Starting Cornerback) James Bradberry, who missed the win over Minnesota with a concussion is expected to participate in tonight’s trip to the Gulf Coast. Looking ahead, this soft start to campaign continues for Sirianni & Co, who return home to host the surprising Commanders, before racking up the flyer mileage in back-to-back road ventures to face the Rams and Jets.
Meanwhile, raise your hand if you envisioned the Buccaneers (2-0, T-1st in NFC South) opening the campaign with back-to-back victories. Anyone? That’s what we thought, folks, for this is a team that entered this season flying well below the radar of even the most faithful of their fan base. Admittedly, very little was, and still is, expected from Tampa Bay, who are very much a franchise mired in transition; after parting ways with many members of the successful Tom Brady era, the Bucs are turning over their roster, with a veritable youth movement serving as the mandate for these denizens of the Gulf Coast. Simply put, this team looked old and slow last year, particularly on the offensive side of the ball, where a toothless Offensive Line led to one of the most one-dimensional attacks in recent memory. Even with Brady pulling the trigger, this was a unit that could muster just 18.4 points per game (25th Overall), while ranking dead-last in rushing attempts (22.7), yards (76.9), touchdowns (5), and yards per carry (3.4), leading to mediocre third down and red zone percentages of 37.4% (21st Overall) and 52.0% (22nd Overall) respectively. Bowles knew there was work to be done here, and as such, has infused the roster with TWENTY new players, FOURTEEN of which are rookies, the second-most of any team in the league. However, the biggest newcomer has clearly been (veteran Quarterback) Baker Mayfield, who is looking to cement his place as their franchise QB following an ugly campaign which saw him change jerseys three times in a calendar year. Indeed, it has been quite the rollercoaster for the 28-year-old, who after winning the 2017 Heisman was drafted number one overall by the Browns, going on to win Offensive Rookie of the Year before eventually leading the team to their first playoff appearance in eighteen years. However, injuries and repeated spats with his coaching staff, teammates, and the media caused him to fall out of favor in Cleveland, who eventually traded him to the Panthers for relative peanuts. Mayfield (pictured below) struggled mightily for a woeful Carolina side, eventually being placed on waivers and therefore claimed by the Rams, where he started the final four games of the season. Now starting for his fourth franchise in eighteen months, he’s looking to resurrect his once promising career in an improbable situation. To his credit, the polarizing QB has played well under (new Offensive Coordinator) Dave Canales, completing a career-best 69.1% of his passes for 245.0 yards per game on 7.04 net yards per attempt with three touchdowns and most importantly ZERO interceptions. Protection has been the key, for only Tua Tagovailoa has been hit in the pocket less frequently than Mayfield (twice), who has been pressured on a mere 16.4% of his drop-backs which would be by far and away the lowest such figure of his career. However, the most notable aspect of his early tenure in Tampa has been how infectious his personality has proven to be. Sure, he can be an acquired taste for many, but Mayfield seems to have lit a fire under his teammates, which was evident in their 27-17 victory over the Bears last weekend. After trading scores throughout the first half, the Buccaneers took a narrow 13-10 lead just before intermission, only to control the second half for a second consecutive week, outscoring Chicago 14-7 on the strength of a 32-yard strike to the end zone from Mayfield to (Pro-Bowl Receiver) Mike Evans followed later by a 4-yard interception return to the house by (Edge-Rusher) Shaq Barrett. In the end, the hosts piled up 437 total yards on just nineteen first downs, including 120 rushing yards and another 317 yards courtesy of Mayfield, leading to a commanding advantage in time of possession of 35:56. To put that in perspective, that output would have topped anything that this team produced in any of those categories last season. It will be interesting to see how they adjust in what figures to be their first true test of the campaign, with Philadelphia’s tenacious Defensive Line coming to Raymond-James Stadium. Will they manage to keep Mayfield clean and upright? Will they continue to control time of possession in the second half? We’ll be anxious to see what happens at the Big Sombrero, tonight.
From a betting perspective, the Buccaneers are not only unbeaten straight-up, but they are also undefeated against the spread, stunning the Vikings in the season opener as a 4-point underdog in their trip to Minneapolis, before easily disposing of the struggling Bears in that aforementioned 27-17 victory in which they were branded as 2.5-point favorites. With that being said, this current run of form is certainly counter to how they finished last season where they were one of the worst teams in recent memory from a spread POV, ending the campaign on a 1-7 slide. However, Bowles’ troops do have a reputation of building upon strong defensive performances, covering all but one of their last seven games after yielding 250 or fewer total yards of offense, which is the case tonight. As for this particular matchup, Tampa Bay has covered six of their last ten meetings with Philadelphia regardless of the venue, though have beaten them outright in four straight encounters dating back to 2015. While much of the offensive personnel that participated in those two previously cited affairs has since fled the Gulf Coast, it is a different story on the defensive side of the ball, where Bowles served as Defensive Coordinator for the then-reigning Lombardi holders. Needless to say, the veteran tactician presented Sirianni & Co with a wealth of problems; the Bucs relegated the birds to just 18.5 points on 276.5 total yards, including 178.5 via the pass and another 97.5 courtesy of the run, along with 8-of-24 on third down (33.3%) and four turnovers. Furthermore, they held Philly below 27:00 of possession in both games. As for Mayfield, he has faced them just once in his career, completing 12-of-22 passes for 204 yards, three sacks, and a pair of fumbles (one lost) in a 22-14 victory in his final campaign as a member of the Browns. On the injury front, the Buccaneers also have more than a few questionable players coming into tonight’s affair at Raymond-James, including (veteran Cornerback) Carlton Davis (toe), (Safety) Ryan Neal (ribs), (Rookie Defensive Lineman) Calijah Kancey (calf), and (Nose Tackle) Vita Vea (pectoral), while (veteran Center) Ryan Jensen’s injury woes continue on injured reserve with a lingering knee issue. Looking ahead, Tampa will need to regroup for a trip to the Big Easy to battle the Saints in what looks like a crucial division matchup, before enjoying an early bye week.