I’ll be honest — I do not feel good about this prediction.
The Eagles’ injuries. Washington’s defensive line. The Eagles’ offensive line. Mile Sanders being listed as questionable. None of it seems to add up to an Eagles’ win.
So why am I picking the Eagles?
Here is why:
Carson Wentz: Simply put — Wentz owns Washington.
In seven career games against Washington, Wentz is 5-2 with 15 touchdowns, just four interceptions, a 68% completion percentage and a quarterback rating of 103.7. That is the highest average rating Wentz has against any team he has played more than two times in his career.
Take away the two losses to Washington as a rookie, and Wentz is a perfect 5-0 against Washington since the 2017 season started, and really only one of those games — the thrilling Week 15 victory last season — was close.
While Washington quarterback Dwayne Haskins will present some problems for the Eagles’ defense, a healthy Wentz gives the Eagles the advantage at the quarterback position, and you aren’t going to lose many games in the NFL when you have the better quarterback.
Eagles Defensive Line: The pass rush was viewed as one of the biggest concerns on the team heading into training camp. One month later, there seems to be little reason for concern.
One of the top takeaways from the last month of Eagles’ practices was just how good both Fletcher Cox and Malik Jackson look. They looked healthy, something neither of them were last season, and they looked dominant. As a result, the Eagles’ edge rushers looked better than expected as well, starting with defensive end Josh Sweat.
The Eagles’ defensive line gets a good first matchup against Washington. Washington’s offensive line is nothing special, and is especially weak along the left side, where they have two new starters who were backups last year. Both Brandon Graham and Sweat should be able to get pressure on Haskins, especially if Cox and Jackson collapse the middle of the pocket like they should be able to against an average interior Washington line.
Doug Pederson in openers: Pederson knows how to win big games, and so far in his career, that has certainly extended into season openers. Pederson is a perfect 4-0 in his career in Week 1, making him one of only four coaches to win their Week 1 game each of the last four seasons.
Eagles Offensive Line: Washington’s defensive line is without question the strength of their roster. The Eagles’ offensive line? They might be the biggest concern about the team heading into the regular season.
Over the length of the season, the Eagles’ offensive line projects to be a problem. They don’t have a single backup offensive tackle that has real NFL experience. If Lane Johnson doesn’t play, the Eagles will go into the game with one tackle on the roster who has taken an NFL snap in a game. That is borderline malpractice when it comes to roster building.
For one week, however, they might be able to survive.
Over the last five games against Washington, which has had a talented defensive line for each matchup, the Eagles’ offensive line has given up seven sacks. The addition of Chase Young is certainly a big one, but is Young really going to cause the Eagles’ offensive line to completely collapse? That feels unlikely.
It might not be pretty. Actually, it almost certainly won’t be. But for one week, I think Jeff Stoutland and the the Eagles’ offensive line will be able to get the job done.
Darius Slay vs. Terry McLaurin: The Eagles fell behind in Week 1 last season to Washington, and nearly lost to them in Week 15 basically because of one reason — Terry McLaurin.
McLaurin was unstoppable against the Eagles last season, totaling 255 yards and 2 touchdowns in two games. McLaurin is fast, he is a strong route runner and is explosive after the catch. He will present problems for any secondary he faces this season. He doesn’t have a household name yet, but he is right up there with the toughest matchups in the NFL.
The Eagles feel they have a solution for McLaurin this time around in cornerback Darius Slay. Slay struggled a bit in his matchup with McLaurin last season, but he certainly didn’t get lit up like the Eagles’ cornerbacks did last year in their attempt to cover the rookie.
Even if Slay doesn’t shut down McLaurin, chances are he will do a much better job than the Eagles’ cornerbacks did last year, which should go a long way in helping the Eagles’ defense shut down Washington’s offense.
Continuity over Uncertainty: What matters more — continuity or having the element of surprise?
That is a key question heading into this game, as the Eagles enter the 2020 season with all of their key pieces from last season still in place. They have the same head coach, the same quarterback, the same defensive coordinator and are running (basically) the same offensive system. Washington? Not so much, as they have a new head coach, a new quarterback from Week 1 last year, a new defensive coordinator and a new playbook on offense.
Speaking this week, Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said preparing for Washington will be tough considering the lack of tape — exactly none — that they have on what Ron Rivera plans to do with his new Washington roster. On the flip side, Washington has four years of tape on how Schwartz likes to run his Eagles’ defense.
So who has the advantage?
I believe it is the Eagles. Yes, it is possible Washington has some trick up their sleeve that the Eagles aren’t expecting. But Rivera has been a coach in the NFL for a long time, so it is hard to imagine he will be completely re-inventing his playbook with a set of offensive and defensive players that aren’t exactly a Pro Bowl roster.
Washington might surprise the Eagles at points, but overall, give me the continuity of the Eagles’ coaching staff over the uncertainty of a new team.
Prediction: Eagles 27, Washington 24
You can reach Eliot Shorr-Parks on Twitter at @EliotShorrParks or email him at email@example.com!