Thursday Night Football Preview (FOX, 8:00 p.m. ET)
Philadelphia Eagles vs Cleveland Browns
Week 3 of the preseason gets going with the defending champs visiting the lone winless team from a year ago as this will likely be the last time fans get to see many of their team’s starters until the games start to count for real. That’s probably a good thing for Philadelphia fans as they’ve had plenty of injury scares this entire preseason, and a lot of their projected starters will be held out for this contest too.
How that affects what we see from the Eagles on TNF remains to be seen, but I doubt we see the Eagles coaching staff push things too much for fear of another key body going down.
After making a run to the top overall seed in the NFC and parlaying that into a Super Bowl victory a year ago, the Philadelphia Eagles aren’t about to rush things in the preseason just for the sake of getting better. The Eagles coaching staff has a great idea of what they’ve got in their roster and all the injuries they’ve suffered this summer are at least not long term in most cases and said players should be ready for September.
However, that same Eagles coaching staff would like to see a bit more effort and progress from the guys that are out there in the preseason as Philly has been blown out in both preseason games so far (albeit by some very good teams in Pittsburgh and New England) as they allowed 30+ points in both defeats. That’s a bit of an indictment on this Eagles defensive unit, one that has suffered the fewest injuries on the team and one that came into the year with plenty of question marks as well. So with HC Doug Pederson already stating that he’d like to see his (healthy) starters play at least a half, I do believe we see the Eagles defense look much better than they have all preseason. Yet, the question is whether or not improved play by the Eagles defense will be enough for them to cover this spread.
Personally, I don’t believe it will be as the Eagles offense is about as banged up as a unit can be. They are sending backup Nick Foles out there as a “starter” for the majority of the first half – a week after he narrowly missed a scary upper body injury himself – and they are only going to come into the game with two healthy RB’s on the roster (Wendell Smallwood and Matt Jones). Neither of those guys are expected to get significant playing time once the games count for real, but they both could end up being the workhorses here.
The Eagles WR depth is still quite thin at this moment and after Foles nearly was lost for awhile last week, I expect plenty of hand offs and running plays from this Eagles team that’s just looking to get through this 60 minutes as healthy as can be. Compare all that with a Cleveland team that’s basically got ongoing competitions for starting roles at nearly every position and you’ve got to lay the -3 with the Browns or pass all together on the side.
The total is the wager I’m more interested in making though as with starters on both defensive units likely on the field for at least 30 minutes, points may turn out to be at a premium here. I’ve already touched on Philly’s need to see some significant improvement on the defensive side of the ball which should show up here, but Cleveland’s defense has been solid through two weeks as well and I don’t see that changing either – especially with Philly’s run-heavy, vanilla attack.
Cleveland is already 0-2 O/U in the preseason this year, yet, because of Philly allowing 30+ in both games, the majority of early action on this total (75%) has come in on the high side of this number. But this total has actually dropped a full point since opening at 42.5 despite all that action, and that’s a reverse line move I simply can’t ignore.
After last week’s 19-17 loss at home to Buffalo cashed another ‘under’ ticket for the Browns, Cleveland is now on a 0-7 O/U run in home games during the preseason the past few years, and regardless of venue the last seven years during “dress rehearsal” Week 3 preseason games, the Browns as an organization are on a 1-4-2 O/U run with final scores averaging 36.8 points.
Seeing this game finish with about 37 points is where I’ve got this one pegged finishing, and all things considered (situation, trends, reverse line move) it’s the best way to attack this game.