Kansas City Chiefs at Philadelphia Eagles
8:30 pm ET on NFL Network
Brad Nessler (announcer), Mike Mayock (analysis) & Alex Flanagan (sideline eye candy)
Eagles (-3½); over/under 50½

The over hyped story line to this game is of course Andy Reid’s return to the sideline at Lincoln Financial Field. Reid coached the Eagles for 14 years, winning 130 regular season games and ten more post-season contests, racking up eight division championships during his tenure there – but that was not enough for Philadelphia fans, who focused on four losses in the conference championship game, a Super Bowl loss the one time the team did win the NFCCG, and four other playoff losses.

Right now these two teams are the most improved clubs in the NFL. A year ago the Eagles were a dismal 4-12, ranking 29th in points scored, 29th in points allowed, and tied with the Chiefs for dead last in turnovers after coughing the ball up an unacceptable 37 times.

As bad as the Eagles were, the Chiefs were even worse. Aside from sharing the bottom rankings in turnovers and turnover differential (-24), the Chiefs ranked last in points scored, last in passing yards, and somehow manged to throw for the fewest touchdowns while at the same time throwing the most interceptions. This year Kansas City has already matched their win total from a year ago (2), ranks second in fewest point allowed (9.0 per game), third in yards allowed, and has four takeaways while not turning the ball over a single time. The Eagles have made similar improvements: they have a +3 turnover differential, rank third in points scored (31.5 ppg) and second in yardage (477 yards per game). Chip Kelly’s up-tempo offense is rushing for 176 yards per game and 5.1 yards per carry, leaving opposing defenses gassed and bewildered.

While I assume that Kelly has learned from last week’s clock mis-management gaffe, if I was an Eagles fan I would be more concerned with their defense. Last week the Chargers moved the ball at will, scoring 33 points and racking up 539 yards of offense. San Diego converted 10 of their 15 third-down opportunities and the Chargers stopped themselves more often (two turnovers) than the Philly defense did – the Chargers punted just once the entire game.

The Eagles blitzed on 28 of the 49 times that Philip Rivers dropped back to pass, but they got to Rivers for just one sack. On the 27 other blitzes Rivers completed passes 20 times, rendering the aggressive defense moot. In week one Philadelphia was much more successful when they blitzed Robert Griffin; the Chargers are not known for having an elite pass protection, so you have to wonder if something was picked up on the game film versus Washington that tips their hand when they bring an extra pass rusher. If this is the case then you can count on Andy Reid catching it as well, and having Alex Smith prepared to counter.

While Philadelphia does get some good news with the return of CB Bradley Fletcher (concussion), their defense is still a work in progress. Without adequate pressure on the quarterback the secondary is up the creek without a paddle. Nate Allen remains the starter for now, much to the dismay of Eagle fans; Patrick Chung missed two tackles, had a key penalty called against him, and was torched by Eddy Royal; Cary Williams had eight passes completed in his direction and was called for three pass interference penalties; the secondary is in such disarray that Philly fans are actually clamoring for the team to sign Kerry Rhodes(!) in the misguided belief that he would actually be an improvement.

For the Eagles to win this game, an improvement may actually have to come from the offense, not the defense. The Eagles simply do not have the personnel to suddenly turn things around on defense, so they need to be more efficient on offense. Last week they punted three times and settled for four field goal attempts. They need to continue to not turn the ball over, but they’re going to need to get more touchdowns once they cross midfield.

Andy Reid has been doing a good job of putting QB Alex Smith in a position to make successful plays, in particular to Dwayne Bowe. He has occasionally lined Bowe up in the slot and even as an in-line tight end a few times to create mismatches, and that helps with a QB like Smith that is known for his accuracy but not his arm strength. Bowe is not just being asked to run a 9 route; he’s also being utilized on higher percentage routes like short comebacks, shallow crosses and quick curls and slants. Bowe has a favorable matchup against either Fletcher or Williams in coverage on Thursday.

Defensively the Chiefs would be wise to game plan for DeSean Jackson. In the first two weeks Michael Vick targeted him 24 times; that’s more than twice as many pass attempts than any other Eagle (Jason Avant 10; 10, Riley Cooper 9, LeSean McCoy 7, Zach Ertz 5, Brent Celek 4). LeSean McCoy leads the NFL with 237 yards rushing, but the Chiefs, led by NT Dontari Poe, have a much better run defense than the Redskins or Chargers. For the Eagles to succeed they will need to use McCoy in space and exploit his quickness against slower defenders, like he did last week when he caught a short pass on a crossing route and he ran past San Diego safety Eric Weddle en route to a 70-yard gain.

Prediction: While Chip Kelly has quickly made an impact on the Eagles and the NFL with his up-tempo offense, the Philly defense is at least a year away from being playoff caliber. On the other hand defense has not been an issue for Andy Reid and the Chiefs, and though the Eagles may have some success moving the ball, the Chief’s offense will be able to keep that Philly offense off the field. Jamaal Charles should have a big game, and Alex Smith should be able to make just enough plays to keep the score very close. To me this is a tossup; I’ll go with the home team to win and atone for last week’s mistakes while the 2-0 Chiefs fall back to earth just a little bit.

Pick • Eagles 26, Chiefs 24
Chiefs +3½; under 50½

 

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