NFL power rankings roundup: Eagles keep creeping toward top spot

NFL power rankings roundup: Eagles keep creeping toward top spot

After defeating a winless Los Angeles Chargers team in Week 4 by using a strong rushing attack to run out the clock in a “home” game in Carson, California, the Eagles traveled back to Lincoln Financial Field for a matchup with the Arizona Cardinals. The Birds used a brilliant performance from Carson Wentz to blow out the Cardinals, 34-7.

Wentz finished with 304 passing yards and four touchdowns — his best performance of the season so far.

A victory over the Cardinals puts the Birds' record at 4-1. They hold the top spot in the division with a 1.5-game lead over the Redskins, who are coming off of a bye at 2-2.

Now the Eagles shift their attention to another 4-1 team in the Panthers, who are coming off of a 27-24 victory over the Lions.

Before the Eagles travel to Carolina on Thursday night, here's a roundup of where they landed in this week's national power rankings:

ProFootballTalk's Mike Florio: Up four spots to No. 5
Florio wrote, “Get used to the Eagles getting off to great starts to the season.”

It’s true — the Birds are a combined 7-3 in their first five games in 2016 and 2017. Last year’s 3-0 start didn’t turn out well as the Eagles lost nine of their last 13. The Eagles must continue to trust the run game and let Wentz be Wentz to continue their success thus far.

NFL.com's Elliot HarrisonUp one spot to No. 2
Harrison wrote, “About the only thing that didn't come to fruition in the Eagles' most impressive win of the season was the huge outing predicted for Corey Clement, who was mostly a non-factor.”

Clement was supposed to see an uptick in production with Wendell Smallwood out because of a knee injury. All in all, he registered only seven carries for 17 yards. This week may also be tough for Clement with a Panthers team ranked ninth in the NFL in rushing defense.

The No. 2 ranking may be a little ambitious considering what happened last season. I just don’t see them being better than the Packers and Panthers at this point. Aaron Rodgers is playing his best football and Cam Newton, aside from all of his attention in the media for the wrong reasons, has beaten the Patriots in Foxborough and found his rhythm after a slow start. Thursday night is a big game in that aspect.

USA TODAYUp three spots to No. 5
USA TODAY wrote, “Carson Wentz deserves accolades coming his way. But credit offense that holds ball nearly 36 minutes per game, 2 minutes more than any other team.”

Last week, USA TODAY dropped the Eagles down three spots after a victory over the Giants. This week, they have realized that error and made the proper correction. Now the Eagles are ranked among the top five teams in the league.

One game at a time should be Doug Pederson’s motto moving forward. If this team gets ahead of itself, the Eagles could find themselves in the same position as last year when the playoffs start.

Yahoo! Sports' Frank Schwab: Up two spots to No. 4
Schwab was very impressed with the Eagles and wrote, “They’re even getting big contributions from players like Nelson Agholor, who looked like a sure bust before this season. This is the best team in the NFC East.”

Agholor has proved to Eagles fans that he belongs in the league after a horrid year of drops in 2016. This shows the confidence Howie Roseman and staff had in him to trade Jordan Matthews in the offseason for Ronald Darby.

CBS Sports' Pete PriscoStayed at No. 3
Prisco wrote, “They've won three straight heading to a big NFC battle with the hot Panthers in Carolina Thursday night. They still need more consistency from Carson Wentz, despite his good start.”

Thursday night will be the biggest test of the season for the Birds. Yes, playing Kansas City in Arrowhead was a huge challenge but I don’t think many Eagles fans thought they would win that game. Thursday night, the offensive line will be tested with the possibility of Lane Johnson being out because of a concussion. Julius Peppers looks to have been reborn in his second stint with the Panthers and poses a threat on the edge.

The Washington Post's Mark MaskeUp two spots to No. 3
Maske wrote that the Eagles’ schedule will get tougher but, “Win or lose against the Panthers, the Eagles have shown enough to prove they should have staying power. Carson Wentz is legitimate, making the Eagles a factor in the division chase all season.”

Look at the next five games for the Eagles — at Carolina, vs. Washington, vs. San Francisco, vs. Denver and at Dallas. Four of those games on paper will be tough. Washington walloped Oakland and should have beaten the Chiefs in Arrowhead. The 49ers should be no problem. Denver’s defense is scary regardless of whether it's on the road or at home, and Dallas could have Ezekiel Elliott or not depending on an official ruling on his suspension. We will know who the Birds really are after this key stretch. 

ESPN: Up four spots to No. 4
ESPN wrote the Eagles have the best odds to make the playoffs in the NFC with an 86 percent chance and, “What has the Eagles soaring? Ball control. They've converted a league-best 53 percent of third downs, and they've averaged a league-best 35 minutes, 32 seconds of possession this season.”

It is no secret — the Eagles are at their best when they are running the football effectively. LeGarrette Blount has found his footing in Philadelphia and the best way to keep pressure off of Wentz is a solid rushing attack.

Villanova basketball notes, quotes and tidbits: Donte DiVincenzo poised for bigger role

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USA Today Images

Villanova basketball notes, quotes and tidbits: Donte DiVincenzo poised for bigger role

VILLANOVA, Pa. — For the first time since its 65-62 loss to No. 8 seed Wisconsin in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, Villanova’s men’s basketball team took the court in front of a live audience.

The Wildcats and head coach Jay Wright held their annual Blue and White Scrimmage Saturday at Jake Nevin Field House in front of a crowd of about 1,000.

With the Pavilion undergoing a $60 million renovation project, Villanova will play a majority of its home games at the Wells Fargo Center this season.

During the course of the scrimmage, Wright held some intrasquad games and mixed in some drills, essentially an amplified version of a normal practice.

Wright, entering his 17th season on the Main Line, was mic'd up for the scrimmage and ultimately was pleased with the event. 

“(Saturday's) scrimmage was good for us and it was a really valuable experience,” Wright said. “We got to play some game situations in front of a crowd, which was our very first time this season with this group. Getting the game speed with the referees was good.”

DiVincenzo poised for huge season
If the 2017 NCAA Tournament was any indication of Donte DiVincenzo’s basketball future at Villanova, Wildcats fans have a lot to look forward to.

The then-redshirt freshman averaged a team-high 18 points against Mount St. Mary’s and Wisconsin. DiVincenzo showed a lot of composure and promise on the big stage. 

DiVincenzo said the end of the 2017 season was huge for his confidence and pushed him to be even better.

“Playing with three good seniors in Josh [Hart], Kris [Jenkins] and Darryl [Reynolds] last year was important,” DiVincenzo said. "They were pumping me up all year and when it came down to it, things started flowing for me. Losing early in the NCAA Tournament gave me so much more drive to work harder in the offseason especially after losing three great players.”

It was no different at the Blue and White scrimmage on Saturday. DiVincenzo showed great vision and great bounce off of the dribble in a strong showing.

While there were pauses in the scrimmage and drills filtered in between, DiVincenzo put together a solid performance. He hit four three-pointers and made three layups.

He also showed his strength in the paint on an and-one where he collided with redshirt sophomore forward Tim Delaney and was able to convert the floater.

DiVincenzo’s court vision stood out immediately. He was able to penetrate into the lane and kick the ball out to the perimeter for open looks from behind the arc on multiple occasions.

“A lot stands out to me about Donte,” junior guard Jalen Brunson said. “His work ethic has grown and he has become a tremendously better player. You guys saw his ability today and it is only going to get better. His playmaking ability stands out. He is not always looking to score and likes to get his teammates involved.”

After seeing success on the court that resulted in Big East All-Freshman team honors as well as the Big 5 Rookie of the Year, DiVincenzo didn’t get complacent in the offseason.

He focused on improving his shooting and ball handling. The guard from Wilmington, Delaware, spent a majority of his time in the weight room getting stronger.

“It is exciting to see Donte grow and continue to want to improve,” Wright said. “He finished strong last year and he did not relax in the offseason. He went to work and wanted to get better and you can see the improvement in everything he does — his ball handling, his shooting and his confidence level.”

'Nova’s versatility
Villanova showed its versatility Saturday, featuring a small-ball lineup and the ability to play big as well.

The Wildcats' guards are athletic and long, which can pose problems for opposing offenses. Brunson, freshman Collin Gillespie and redshirt junior Phil Booth are all 6-foot-3 and DiVincenzo is the tallest at 6-5.

“We are very versatile this year,” Brunson said. “We have guys that can drive and we have guys that can spot up. Everyone has a strength but we are working on all aspects of our game. All the hard work we have been putting in this summer will pay off when the season comes.”

The guards can spread the floor and are knock-down shooters as well. Gillespie, who connected on a couple of three-point attempts Saturday, looks to be a key contributor for Wright’s squad this season.

“I think our versatility is one of our strengths,” Wright said. “We have a number of guys that can play a number of different positions and are willing to do it. Mikal [Bridges], Eric [Paschall], Donte [DiVincenzo] and Jermaine [Samuels] are capable and willing to play one through four.”

Extra notes
• Freshman Omari Spellman, who missed last season because of an academic redshirt mandated by the NCAA, and Booth, who missed all but three games because of left knee inflammation, didn’t participate in the scrimmage. Wright said Spellman is dealing with a bone bruise and Booth is dealing with “annoying tendinitis” in his left knee.

• Wright was asked about the difference between entering this season and the 2016-2017 campaign when Villanova was fresh off a national championship.

 “I think we have been given a lot more freedom in terms of expectations and attention, which is kind of nice,” Wright said. “It was alright the other way, too. We are a lot more relaxed around here but I wouldn’t trade it for coming off a championship. I also think this team is different. It is a lot less experienced than we have had and I think we have a chance to be good by the end but we may not look as good early.”

• Freshman Jermaine Samuels hit the game-winning three-pointer in the final intrasquad scrimmage.

• DiVincenzo showed his defensive capabilities on a strip of Brunson, resulting in a layup on the fast break. He also blocked Brunson at the rim.

• Villanova opens its season Nov. 10 at the Wells Fargo Center against Columbia.

St. Joe's eyes collective step forward after injury-plagued 2016-17

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AP Images/USA Today Images

St. Joe's eyes collective step forward after injury-plagued 2016-17

Just 18 months ago, Saint Joseph’s was only a possession away from pulling even with No. 1 seed Oregon in the second round of the 2016 NCAA Tournament.

The following season, the Hawks won only 11 games, 17 less than the season prior that resulted in an Atlantic 10 championship and an NCAA Tournament berth.

The difference in success has a lot to do with the fact that St. Joe’s simply didn’t have the bodies to compete on a nightly basis.

Five Hawks missed at least seven games because of injury in 2016-17. That includes key cogs such as senior guard Shavar Newkirk (19 games, torn left ACL), senior forward James Demery (10 games, stress fracture in left foot) and junior guard Lamarr “Fresh” Kimble (seven games, left foot fracture).

In addition, forward Lorenzo Edwards missed all but one game because of shoulder surgery, while forward Pierfrancesco “Checco” Oliva missed the entire season after having knee surgery.

The Hawks have healed and now return their top-six scorers from a season ago, plus four guys that played at least 14 minutes in that tournament loss to Oregon. However, while a full roster is certainly a benefit, head coach Phil Martelli assured that merely having healthy players won’t turn around the team’s fortunes.

“We are returning starters from an 11-win season, so it isn’t that important,” Martelli said. “The way I have described this — when you have the year we had, you can get stripes. You can have a guy that gets a 20-point game, but it’s just a stripe. You only get a tattoo when your team wins. We have guys that understand that.

“I like the pieces that we have, but the pieces have to fit to where there is role acceptance. Who plays well with whom and when you are told what you get, will you maximize your 12 or 16 minutes on the floor?”

The roles for the backcourt tandem of Kimble and Newkirk are pretty clear.

While Newkirk continues to work his way back from ACL surgery by doing agility and stamina drills with the training staff, Kimble has returned in what he hopes is an even better version of himself.

“I definitely learned that I needed to improve my game,” said Kimble, who finished second on the team behind Newkirk with 15.5 points per game. “This summer, I got in the gym and slimmed down about 10 pounds and I feel like I am a step quicker and a step stronger.

“Last season was very humbling for us. Hopefully, we will be able to change things around and everyone will come in with a new mindset this year. You always need that balance between veterans and the young guys to keep everyone on a straight path.”

Martelli has been impressed with Kimble’s improvement as a basketball player and a leader.

“Lamarr has matured in the way he is going about his practice but making sure his team is organized and set,” Martelli said. “He is attentive to detail and I am a big fan of him as a leader, human being and as a player.”

Much like Kimble and Newkirk, Demery saw a big jump in scoring in 2016-17 before being sidelined. He posted 14.5 points per game and was the Hawks’ leading rebounder with 6.5 a night.

Despite the personal numbers, Demery is ready to move on from what he called a “down year.”

“We are not trying to repeat 2016-17 this season,” Demery said. “We have strong team chemistry and the young guys look up to myself and 'Fresh' because we have been in the ring and know what it takes to win an A-10 title.”

When prompted about what it will take for St. Joe’s to return to form, Martelli was direct that everything must be about the group and not individuals.

"We need to rebound and grasp the idea of role acceptance,” Martelli said. “We need to grow in the idea that we have to respect the 'we' and forget about the 'me.'"