Eagles-Broncos predictions by our (cough) experts

Eagles-Broncos predictions by our (cough) experts

The Eagles are looking for their seventh straight win.

The Broncos are looking for their first since Oct. 1.

Two teams with great defenses meet at Lincoln Financial Field as the Eagles (7-1) welcome the Broncos (3-4) on Sunday (1 p.m./CBS).

Can Denver do enough on both sides of the ball to slow down the NFL's hottest team?

Here are our expert predictions for the Week 9 matchup:

Reuben Frank (8-0)
This one scares me. This is the first time since the Chiefs game that I really considered picking the Eagles to lose. I think it's a very tough matchup, since the Broncos are virtually impossible to run against, and the Eagles — at least since Week 2 — have been successful by setting up the pass with the run. I feel like points for both teams will be very hard to come by Sunday, and this one will be played in the high teens or low 20s. But the Broncos are finishing three straight on the road, including a Monday nighter in K.C. and that's a rough schedule. Factor in a quarterback change on a short week and the Broncos are in a difficult position. The Eagles have found ways to win the last six weeks, and I think they'll find a way to win Sunday, whether it's by picking off Brock Osweiler a couple times, a big punt return, a fumble recovery touchdown or a couple 68-yard Jake Elliott field goals. Imagine going into the bye week 8-1? I think it happens. I'm going Eagles, and see you in Dallas in two weeks.

Eagles 23, Broncos 17

Dave Zangaro (6-2)
The Eagles would have probably preferred if the Broncos kept Trevor Siemian as their quarterback for this game. At least the Eagles would know what to expect. 

If nothing else, Brock Osweiler is more of an unknown this season in their offense this year. 

But it's hard to expect him to somehow become the savior for that offense, which has been absolutely horrible over the first half of the season. I mean, did you see them Monday night? 

Oh yeah, that's right. Monday night. The Broncos are playing on a short week and this is their third consecutive road game. That's tough. 

So as good as Denver's defense is — and it is really good (see key matchups) — the Eagles should win this game and head into their bye week with an 8-1 record. 

Eagles 20, Broncos 13

Derrick Gunn (7-1)
The Eagles' last test before their bye week is a big one. Carson Wentz and his offense must solve the rugged Broncos' defense. And this is no ordinary defense. The Broncos come riding into town with the No. 1 overall D, allowing 261.0 yards per game. They are sixth against the pass (188.1 yards per game) and No. 2 against the run (72.9). Von Miller is one of the best in the business at harassing quarterbacks and his sidekick is finally back. Linebacker Shane Ray, who was on IR with a wrist injury, returned this past Monday night against Kansas City. 

As good as Denver's defense has played, the offense has been the opposite, mainly because of Siemian’s play. Siemian started the season by tossing six touchdowns and just two interceptions in Denver's first two games, as the Broncos won both. Over the last three outings, he's served up six interceptions and two touchdowns, and the Broncos have lost all three. Head coach Vance Joseph announced Wednesday he's switching to Osweiler, hoping to jump-start his lethargic offense. The six-year veteran has thrown just four passes this season. 

The Eagles' defensive rotation up front needs to get after Osweiler to make him as uncomfortable as possible. Wentz cannot afford to hold the ball too long in passing situations or Denver will make him pay. If the Birds can establish their ground game, it will open things up in play action. 

After playing Monday night, getting home early Tuesday morning, traveling this weekend to the East Coast and making a QB change, Denver has a lot to deal with in a short amount of time. That's why I’ll go with the home team in a backyard, knockdown, drag-out brawl.

Eagles 24, Broncos 23

Ray Didinger (7-1)
The Broncos season, which started with high hopes, is unraveling after three consecutive losses. They have the league's top-ranked defense yet they are a touchdown underdog for this game against the Eagles. That will give you some idea how bad their offense has been. They are changing quarterbacks — bye, bye, Siemian, hello Osweiler — hoping it will provide a spark. 

The Broncos will have slot receiver Emmanuel Sanders back this week, which will help, but the real problem is the line, which has allowed four or more sacks in three of the last four games. Osweiler is even less mobile than Siemian so it looks like another fun day for the Eagles pass rushers. The Broncos will try to run the ball but the Eagles have the No. 1 rush defense in the league, allowing just 70.4 yards per game.

Denver's defense will keep the game close for awhile — Wentz will probably see a lot of Von Miller — but it is a tough assignment for a team playing its third straight road game and coming off a Monday night loss in Kansas City. It doesn't hurt the Eagles have been home for three weeks either.

Eagles 24, Broncos 16

Andrew Kulp (7-1)
The Eagles are going to be tested in three ways.

First, the NFL's No. 1 run defense will face a quality ground attack for the first time since Week 2 against the Chiefs. Denver's stable of running backs (C.J. Anderson, Jamaal Charles, Devonate Booker) is deep and talented and should see plenty of work given the quarterback situation there.

Second, offensive tackles Lane Johnson and especially Halapoulivaati Vaitai are going to have their hands full with Miller. The five-time Pro Bowl selection is capable of taking over a game by himself, which the Eagles cannot allow to happen (see position breakdowns).

Third and finally, this is the best secondary and defense Wentz has faced so far this season. Everybody knows Wentz is the real deal, but so are Chris Harris and Aqib Talib. Wentz must be able to find his second, third or fourth options and check the ball down when nothing is there — and most of all, avoid turnovers.

That's a long checklist, but this team can do it. Unless Osweiler is completely inept under center for the Broncos (which is plausible), it's going to be a tight game. But the Eagles can do this.

Eagles 25, Broncos 16

Corey Seidman (5-3)
Unlike last Sunday against the 49ers, I could see an ever-so-slight path to victory for the Broncos. Why? Because they excel in man coverage and have the defensive backs to shut down Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor. They have the run defense to create many 2nd-and-longs or 3rd-and-longs. Could Denver win this game with a TD and three field goals? 

I still think the Eagles pull it out but it’s going to be a closer and more stressful game than most think. 

Eagles 20, Broncos 16

Lane Johnson using underdog status to raise money for Philly schools


Lane Johnson using underdog status to raise money for Philly schools

How do you turn being a home underdog into a good thing? Use it as motivation to win a football game.

How do you turn being a home underdog into a great thing? Raise money for Philadelphia schools and win football games. That’s what Lane Johnson is doing.

After the nation doubted the Eagles against the Falcons, Johnson and Chris Long donned dog masks after divisional round win, embracing the role of underdogs. Now, Johnson has his own T-shirt and is raising money. A lot of it, too.

Shirts can be purchased at lj65.shop for just $18 and Johnson tweeted that more than 3,000 have already been sold.

Hopefully, the home dogs continue to eat this weekend against the Vikings.

Game-winning stand just another play for Eagles' defense

USA Today Images

Game-winning stand just another play for Eagles' defense

There were no special instructions. No extraordinary measures taken. Not much was said. Not much needed to be said.

The game was on the line. The season was on the line. For the Eagles' defense, it was just another play. The stakes were just incredibly high.

It was 4th-and-goal for the Falcons at the Eagles' 2-yard-line in the final seconds Saturday.

Give up a touchdown, and the season's over. Stop the Falcons and you're one game closer to the Super Bowl.

"Our guys, we don't do a whole lot," Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said. "Our guys know what to do, and they have downloaded that software enough that it's a little bit automatic for them.

"We also didn't change. We don't surprise the players. What we practiced in our red-zone period is what we played."

The Falcons had already driven from their own 24-yard-line down to the 2-yard-line.

Their quarterback, Matt Ryan, has the fourth-highest passer rating in NFL postseason history, behind Jeff Hostetler and Hall of Famers Kurt Warner and Bart Starr.

That's what the Eagles' defense was up against.

"At that point, you sort of have to trust the players and the players have to trust the scheme," Schwartz said. "I think you saw a combination of both of those. We didn't feel the need to blitz. Played coverage, played good technique."

The clock showed 1:05.

Ryan’s two favorite receivers, Julio Jones and Mohamad Sanu, both lined up on the right side of the formation, Jones outside with Jalen Mills on him and Sanu in the slot with Malcolm Jenkins covering him in a battle of North Jersey natives.

Ryan took the shotgun snap from center Alex Mack at the 7-yard-line and immediately rolled to his right, retreating to the 10 as he neared the sideline.

Nigel Bradham, lined up as the left linebacker, trampled blocking tight end Levine Tollolo, who had his hands full with Brandon Graham, and ran around guard Wes Schweitzer, giving him an angle on Ryan. 

Meanwhile, Vinny Curry, after getting cut blocked to the ground by Falcons running back Tevin Coleman, quickly bounced back up and began pursuing from Ryan’s left. 

Ryan pumped once toward Sanu, who was covered by Jenkins. He quickly looked left but saw only Curry closing in. Thanks to the pressure, he had to quickly backpedal back to the 14-yard-line and finally was forced to unload that lob toward Jones at the right sideline in the end zone.

At that point, it was up to Mills, who had Jones blanketed, and the rest is history.

The ball went through Jones’ hands, his feet came down out of bounds anyway, and after an agonizing moment looking for flags, the play was over.

"A lot gets made of what Jalen did, rightfully so," Schwartz said. "You're talking about a Pro Bowl, All-Pro receiver, 1-on-1. But Malcolm playing the seven route to Sanu and Rodney (McLeod’s) ability to help him leverage that, that was because he's looking for Julio Jones first.

"Julio slips, he's looking for Sanu, nowhere to go and now he has to re-rack that thing and by then, Nigel is closing down on him and everything else.

"If Malcolm doesn't get that route that he covered, if he doesn't get that covered, nobody's talking about Jalen Mills right now."

Mills was physical with Jones but not physical enough to draw a flag. Schwartz said Mills has made huge strides this year with his technique, and on the biggest play of his life, his technique was perfect.

"It's one thing to have confidence, but that's just not the sole requirement for the position," Schwartz said.

"There's a lot of technique that goes along with playing, and I think if you look at that last play, he did a great job of staying square. Meaning his shoulders were perpendicular to the line of scrimmage.

"What the receiver there is trying to do is get you turned so he can come back for the ball. He could never get Jalen turned."

Mills is 23 years old, a second-year pro, a former seventh-round pick, a first-year starter.

To think that he made one of the most historic plays in Eagles postseason history is remarkable.

"I think every player makes a big jump from year one to year two, as far as knowledge of scheme and knowledge of opponents and things like that," Schwartz said.

"(Defensive backs coach Cory) Undlin and Jalen have worked really hard. He's haunted the hallways quite a bit, even on off days this year, just trying to improve his technique. It hasn't been by chance that his technique has gotten better. It's a lot of hard work that's gone into it from a coaching standpoint and from a player's standpoint."

The bottom line is that this defense has played tremendous football all year.

And with the season on the line, everybody simply went out and did their job. Nothing more, nothing less.

"I just think a part of our success is our guys just understand what's asked of them in the schemes," Schwartz said.

"They communicate well. We don't make a lot of mistakes, mental mistakes, and I think that makes it hard to drive the ball on us.

"When you get into those situations where is it's closed quarters and you don't have to defend deep balls, our guys have a good understanding of what opponents are going to do. I was proud of them on that play."