The Eagles open their season today in Cleveland against a Browns team that is expected to be one of the league’s worst teams. An explosive offense against a thin defense. A potent pass rush against a rookie quarterback. A team with sky-high expectations to win (and win now) against a team that many think won’t be able to do much more than simply show up. But as we all know, it’s never quite that simple. So let’s take a look at how the Week 1 matchup between the Eagles and Browns will shake out.
The Eagles offense: Michael Vick didn’t establish any type of rhythm in the preseason, struggling with his accuracy and ability to stay on the field. The 12 snaps he took in August didn’t show us much, so there’s some obvious concern that those problems will carry over into today’s game. My guess? It won’t. The Browns are the perfect Week 1 opponent for Vick and the rest of the offense to get themselves on track. The Eagles have a wide array of weapons and figure to lineup well against a defense that was the second worst in the league against the pass a year ago. Speaking of distractions, talented corner Joe Haden will play Sunday, but does so with a likely four-game suspension looming. Don’t think that it won’t be a distraction. The Browns simply don’t have the personnel to stop the Eagles if Philadelphia can establish any type of consistency through the air.
Meanwhile, LeSean McCoy is an All-Pro running back who will be facing a defense without defensive tackle Phil Taylor and linebacker Chris Gocong. The Browns gave up 150 yards per game a year ago. That’s a decided advantage for the Eagles.
The Eagles Defense: When Brandon Weeden takes the first snap under center Sunday afternoon he will become the Browns’ fifth different starter at quarterback in the last five years. Obviously, the 28-year-old isn’t your average rookie quarterback, but come Sunday afternoon it should become apparently pretty early on that he’s not quite ready for what he sees on the other side of the line of scrimmage.
The Eagles defensive front recorded 46 sacks a year ago and will have an opportunity to get a fast start against an average Cleveland offensive line. Trent Cole will have his work cut out for him against Pro Bowler Joe Thomas, but there will be plenty of opportunities for the Eagles to get to the quarterback. Expect first-round pick Trent Richardson to debut on Sunday, but the rookie is a bit banged up, so Cleveland will likely limit his workload.
Frankly, it’s more about what the Eagles do when the Browns have the ball. Will Juan Castillo make the proper calls? Will DeMeco Ryans show the veteran presence and playmaking ability he was brought here for? Will Nnamdi Asomugha finally have an impact game in an Eagles uniform? We’ll see. Even if none of those things occur, the Eagles should at the very least still slip by Cleveland.
Prediction: Pressure. Pressure can cause mental mistakes. It can cause a lapse in physical execution. It can crumble a team. And the pressure will be great for the Eagles today against the Browns. But this is a team rooted in stability with a group of talented players that have been around the block. It’s impossible to call a Week 1 game a must-win, but this is about as close as it gets. The Eagles need this game. And it’s almost impossible to imagine they won’t. I’ll go with the Eagles, 34-16.