Early Birds: Eagles-Giants predictions
1. How will the Eagles offense do?
Jeff McLane: There's a common mistake made in which teams, whether it be on offense or defense, are judged upon their total yards and rankings. Total yards per game isn't as reflective of success or failure as yards per play, though.
While the Giants are ranked last in the NFL in total passing defense, they're really not that bad because they're 18th in passing yards per play. But in terms of rushing defense, they're first in the league in yards per carry allowed. So in summation: Giants are great against the run, not as bad as you would think against the pass.
Nevertheless, the Eagles should do their best to attack a pass defense that hasn't gotten enough pressure on the quarterback and that has struggled on the back end. Making matters worse for the Giants was the loss of No. 1 cornerback Prince Amukamara. But Chip Kelly shouldn't concentrate his efforts on attacking the outside because No. 1, the Eagles' passing strengths lie over the middle, and No. 2, the Giants are vulnerable in that area of the field. If Zach Ertz can get lined up against either Uani' Unga or Jonathan Casillas he should have an advantage over either linebacker.
The same goes for Darren Sproles. The Eagles need some semblance of a run game, and they were able to kick start the engine last week vs. the Saints. DeMarco Murray had his best game of the season, but Ryan Mathews continues to look like a more viable option. Kerry Wynn and Johnathan Hankins have been aggressive defensive linemen in defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo's one-gap run scheme.
Zach Berman: I'm going to judge the Giants' pass defense. I agree the numbers are skewed, but they still allow quarterbacks to average 314.2 yards and complete 67.7 percent of their passes. Then consider the Giants are missing Amukamara and Trumaine McBride is questionable. This is a vulnerable pass defense, and there will be yards for the taking for Eagles quarterback Sam Bradford.
I like the two matchups you mentioned with Matthews and Ertz. The Giants' depth problems at cornerback means Matthews could have an advantegous matchup inside. And tight ends have totaled 36 catches for 395 yards and four touchdowns in five games against the Giants this season. I'm curious to see how Josh Huff does replacing Nelson Agholor on the outside. Agholor is out, and Huff is coming off the best game of his career. If he can put up another good performance, it would be encouraging sign for the Eagles' wide receiver corps moving forward.
With Mathews questionable because of a groin injury, Murray could take on a bigger workload. The Giants' run defense is a strong unit, as you mentioned, but the Eagles' offense is best when it's balanced. Murray needs to find yards, but Allen Barbre could have a hard time blocking Hankins, who is an impressive young defensive tackle.
2. How will the defense do?
McLane: If Odell Beckham, Jr. plays - and Kelly seemed certain on Friday that he was - the Giants are a significantly better offense. He requires that much attention. He's dangerous on underneath routes because he has after-catch-speed and elusiveness, and he's dangerous deep because he's quick and an acrobat in the air and with his hands. Bill Davis will have to shade extra coverage to Beckham the entire game.
Eli Manning has been sacked only four times this season. The Giants offensive line is improved, but Manning is very effective at getting rid of the ball when there's pressure. He'll check down to an open receiver, throw the ball away or even risk taking grounding penalties. He got away with a blatant throw away in last week's game-winning drive over the 49ers.
The Eagles will certainly make Monday night's officials aware of Manning's tendencies. They may have trouble taking Manning down, but they can certainly move him off his spot. Fletcher Cox will likely be double teamed as a pass rusher. That should open up opportunities on the edges for Brandon Graham, Connor Barwin and Vinny Curry. Those three have only three sacks between them this season.
Berman: Ninety minutes before kickoff, inactives are due. That's when it will be clear whether Beckham plays. If he's in the lineup, this is a different game. The Giants' passing game has been so effective this season, but it's different without their top wide receiver. So that is a key story line to watch. But don't sleep on Rueben Randle, who had six catches for 158 yards in Week 17 against the Eagles last season. Byron Maxwell and Nolan Carroll can't have an off night if both are on the field and healthy. There's not much depth at the position, though, so injuries will be a big factor.
For all the attention the receivers get, the passing game starts with Manning. This might be as hot as he's played in his entire career, and he has such a good grasp of Ben McAdoo's offense. But it was a similar challenge against Drew Brees last week, and the Eagles had five sacks. So pressure helps, but coverage is most important. What really helped the Eagles' pass defense last week was the way they covered the running backs out of the backfield. That will be an area to watch on Monday night - Shane Vereen has two eight-catch games this season. Jordan Hicks will need to know where he is on the check downs.
3. Who's a player to watch?
McLane: Jordan Matthews leads the Eagles in both receptions and receiving yards - and it's not even close - but drops have plagued him this season. He has four and would have had five had his drop in the end zone last week not been offset by an Agholor penalty. But Matthews has the ability to beat almost any slot corner in the league on a consistent basis. He'll have an edge over either Trevin Wade or McBride - depending upon who will play outside for Amukamara - and should remain Bradford's No. 1 target in this matchup.
Zach Berman: I'll with Maxwell closely on Monday. He's coming off the best of his season, and defensive coordinator Bill Davis is encouraged by the way Maxwell improved since the season opener. They have honed in on his role and not asked him to do so much. The Eagles made him a top-five paid cornerback for these tough assignments. Remember when Beckham was targeted 21 times in Week 17 last year? Manning is not afraid to challenge cornerbacks, so Maxwell will be busy. The question is whether Beckham will be on the field for Maxwell to cover, and if so, how healthy will he be?
4. What's your prediction?
McLane: Bradford should have plenty of chances to throw downfield against a Giants defense that has holes. Rookie safety Landon Collins would be the guy in the secondary that I would test. So I think the Eagles can advance the football. But I foresee problems inside the red zone and when they need tough yards on the ground. That could spell for a number of field goal tries and Caleb Sturgis can't yet be relied on. Manning has gotten off to the one of the better starts in his career. He looks very comfortable in Ben McAdoo's ball possession offense. If he has Beckham and Rueben Randle - and signs point to both receivers being available - then it should be enough to squeak by and move ahead in the NFC East.Giants 27, Eagles 26
Berman: Bradford is coming off his two best games in an Eagles uniform, and he has a favorable matchup against the Giants' banged-up pass defense. I think that matchup will be the difference in the game. Then on the other side, the health of the Giants' wide receivers is another issue. This is a good time for the Eagles to catch the Giants. I see a high-scoring game, and the Eagles are tied atop the NFC East by the end of the night going into a big game on Sunday against the 5-0 Panthers. Give me Eagles 31, Giants 23.