Nationals

NFL Capsule-Bengals at Eagles

NFL Capsule-Bengals at Eagles

CINCINNATI (7-6) At PHILADELPHIA (4-9)

Thursday, 8:20 p.m., NFL Network

OPENING LINE - Bengals by 3

RECORD VS. SPREAD - Cincinnati 6-6-1; Philadelphia 3-9-1

SERIES RECORD - Bengals lead 7-3-1

AP PRO32 RANKING - Bengals No. 16, Eagles No. 27

LAST MEETING - Bengals 13, Eagles 13 (tie), Nov. 16, 2008

LAST WEEK - Bengals lost to Cowboys 20-19; Eagles beat Buccaneers 23-21

BENGALS OFFENSE - OVERALL (15), RUSH (14), PASS (14)

BENGALS DEFENSE - OVERALL (7), RUSH (11), PASS (10)

EAGLES OFFENSE - OVERALL (11), RUSH (9), PASS (15)

EAGLES DEFENSE - OVERALL (14), RUSH (17), PASS (15)

STREAKS, STATS AND NOTES: Eagles and Bengals two of seven teams ranked in top 15 in both offense and defense. ... Bengals 4-3 on Thursdays, including 1-2 under coach Marvin Lewis. ... QB Andy Dalton's 90.3 passer rating fifth in AFC. His 25 TD passes seven shy of tying Carson Palmer's single-season team record. ... RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis's streak of 100-yard games ended at three when he had 89 vs. Dallas. ... WR A.J. Green scored TD in each of first nine games, but has been kept out of end zone in last three. ... Bengals lead NFL with 42 sacks. Cincinnati has never led league in sacks. Club record for season 48. ... Defense has allowed 281 yards per game over last five, rising from 20th overall to seventh. ... QB Nick Foles set Eagles' single-game rookie passing records with 32 completions and 381 yards last week vs. Tampa Bay. Foles has 1,174 yards passing, trailing John Reaves (1,508 in 1972) and Davey O'Brien (1,324 in 1939) for team's rookie mark. His 113 completions are an Eagles rookie record. ... All four of Philadelphia's wins have come by two or fewer points this season, which is most in team history ... Rookie DT Fletcher Cox has three sacks in last five games. ... Rookie RB Bryce Brown had 6 yards rushing on 12 carries against Tampa Bay's top-ranked run defense after gaining 347 yards in first two starts. ... Eagles 39-16 in December under Andy Reid.

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Nationals start final two weeks of the regular season trying to get their act together

Nationals start final two weeks of the regular season trying to get their act together

WASHINGTON -- Davey Martinez’s Saturday night declaration has a broader application. 

“We’ve got to regroup,” Martinez said after a second consecutive loss to Atlanta.

Washington scored one run combined in the first two games of the series. Its pitching wasn’t much better. Max Scherzer didn’t look as sharp as his previous outing, the bullpen chopped up Austin Voth’s quality outing, the Nationals needed to win Sunday just to have a break-even week.

They did, beating the Braves 7-0. Atlanta starter Max Fried dominated them the last time he pitched (seven innings, one hit, no runs, nine strikeouts). Not so Sunday. He lasted just 2 ⅓ innings, allowed five runs, then was removed from the game. It turned into a day of salvage. Remaining is a two-week run against the clock.

The final road trips of the season begin Monday night in St. Louis with three games against the Cardinals. St. Louis is one of the best defensive teams in the league. Its offense is 12th in OPS. Its team ERA is second -- and includes the best bullpen ERA in the National League. The week ends with the opposite: a visit to Miami for three games. Thinking at the start of the season which argued Miami could determine postseason participants turned out correct. At least to a degree. Washington is 13-3 against the miserable Marlins. A weekend sweep would put it 13 games over .500 against a single opponent this season. That would be the Nationals’ best record against a division foe since 2012, surpassing a 15-4 run against the Mets in 2014 and the same record against Atlanta in 2016.

All the positive work against Miami, as well as through June, July and August, has taken lumps in September. The Nationals are 6-8 in the month. Two of the season’s eight shutouts have come in the first two weeks of September. Kurt Suzuki is hurt. Matt Adams is hurt. Gerardo Parra’s plate magic has run out (but been replaced by that of Asdrúbal Cabrera). The bullpen remains a logistical challenge. And part of that includes Sean Doolittle still not looking right.

Yet, the Nationals start the week with a lead and desperate to run out the clock. Fourteen games to go, two weeks, two road trips, then a weighted final week at home. Their lead is slight. Chicago is 1 ½ games back for the right to host the wild-card game. Milwaukee is a game from entering it. Those two teams are about to diverge in schedule difficulty.

Milwaukee, which has won nine of 10, waltzes into four final series all against sub-.500 teams, including two of the worst teams in the National League. First, is four home games against San Diego. A weekend series against the checked-out Pirates follows. Then, a final week on the road: at Cincinnati and at Colorado.

Chicago is blessed with series against Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, too. However, in between is seven games with St. Louis. Which means the National League Central race will remain chaotic until the end.

The Nationals have a more difficult remaining schedule. After three in St. Louis and a weekend visit to Miami, they host Philadelphia for five in four days, then Cleveland (87-63) for three. It’s not only clogged, but the three of the four opponents are above .500 and in the playoff hunt. 

So, now is the time to regroup. The remaining schedule and situation leaves little choice.

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Brian MacLellan wants to re-sign both Holtby and Backstrom, but is that realistic?

Brian MacLellan wants to re-sign both Holtby and Backstrom, but is that realistic?

As the Capitals prepare for the upcoming season, talk of next season is already starting to take over due to the uncertainty surrounding Braden Holtby and Nicklas Backstrom’s future. Both players are in need of new contracts and, not surprisingly, general manager Brian MacLellan would like to keep both.

“We’re going to communicate with both players,” MacLellan said at media day. “Both guys have been a big part of our organization, big part of our success. We’d love to keep both. We’re going to play it out until the end here.”

But is it realistic to keep both players? The unfortunate reality is that it’s not.

First, we have to project how much Holtby and Backstrom could sign for.

Holtby has a very close comparable with Sergei Bobrovsky who just signed a seven-year, $70 million contract. Holtby and Bobrovsky’s regular season stats are almost identical while Holtby has enjoyed much more playoff success. That means the Caps would be looking at a cap hit somewhere in the $10 million range.

For Backstrom, a player of his caliber will be able to command a sizable contract from around the league even at 32 which he will be when he hits free agency. A 34-year-old Joe Pavelski just got a contract from the Dallas Stars with a $7 million cap hit. I view Backstrom’s range to be about $7 to 8.5 million, but $7 million at an absolute minimum.

Basically, to re-sign Holtby and Backstrom will cost the team about $17 million in cap space per year at a minimum.

But wait, those guys want to stay in Washington, right? So they definitely will be willing to take less!

Don’t count on it.

“There’s always that area where you can work with, but at the same time you have a responsibility to the other players in the league too,” Holtby said at media day when asked about taking less money to stay with the Caps.

As for Backstrom, he has played the last 10 years with a cap hit of $6.7 million which is an absolute steal. Why would he take less now when he has already been taking less for a decade?

Let’s ignore the discussion of whether it is worth committing that much money to two players who are over 30 on an aging roster. The question is if the Caps have room under the cap for $17 million?

Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, T.J. Oshie, Tom Wilson, Lars Eller, Jakub Vrana, Carl Hagelin, Richard Panik, Garnet Hathaway, Nic Dowd, John Carlson, Dmitry Orlov, Michal Kempny, Nick Jensen and Pheonix Copley are all under contract for the 2020-21 season. That’s just over $62 million in cap space committed to 10 forwards, four defensemen and one goalie. Add in Backstrom and Holtby and their potential $17 million hit and you have a cap hit of over $79 million for 11 forwards, four defensemen and two goalies. The team will still need to sign two more forwards and three more defensemen.

We do not know what the cap ceiling will be for next season, but it is not expected to climb significantly. Let’s say it goes up to $83 million. That means the Caps will have less than $4 million to sign another five players. The minimum NHL salary for next season will be $700,000. If the Caps add five players at the league minimum, they can just barely fit under the ceiling, but that obviously is not a realistic scenario for how to build a competitive roster. Anything above the league minimum the team will not be able to afford and there are only two players in the entire organization, including prospects, who will carry a cap hit of $700,000 in the 2020-21 season.

Now that is just a projection, we ultimately do not know if the salary cap could go up more, but this projection also does not take into account any of the team’s RFAs including Jonas Siegenthaler who by that point will be due a significant raise.

The bottom line is that there is no way for the Caps to afford both Holtby and Backstrom without a significant trade to free up salary. Even then, whatever extra cap room the team gains from such a trade, much of it will go to RFAs, prospects and other UFAs the team may pursue.

An extension for Holtby and Backstrom handcuffs the entire offseason and would not allow Washington to do pretty much anything else. Whatever other needs the team may have, MacLellan would not be able to afford to address.

That’s not a recipe for success.

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