Lombardi: Why NFC East is Eagles’ to lose, other Week 3 thoughts

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NFL games have a unique way of jogging our memories. When a great former player walks onto the field before a big game, it’s heightening our senses to another time and place, and a smile appears on our faces, even if we are not a fan of the team the player represented. Those instant flashbacks are like the smell of foods from our kitchens bringing us back to our childhood.

Seeing the great — and I mean great — Lawrence Taylor greet the adoring Giants fans before their Monday night with the Cowboys reminded me of all the great games the NFC East teams played during my childhood. Unfortunately, today’s football fans didn’t see the vaunted NFC East from the 1980s, they saw a watered-down version of the East from long ago.Like most things in life, the East isn’t the same.

Monday night, NFL fans and the bettors watched two teams playing with backup quarterbacks. I know Giants quarterback Daniel Jones isn’t a backup on the depth chart, but he is a backup in terms of playing level and performance. After the game, which team had the better quarterback? If you hesitated with your answer, you proved my point. I’m taking Rush and not because I am a Jones hater. Rather with Jones, the Giants must be careful, conservative and never work the ball down the field.

During his four-plus year career, Jones has never averaged more than 7 yards per attempt for a season, indicating his inability to make explosive plays. Don’t believe me? Watch how Giants coach Brian Daboll managed the end of the first half. He was scared to be aggressive and simply wanted to get to halftime down 6-3. He had zero interest in being aggressive, and it’s clear he isn’t going to let Jones beat him.

Both teams were competing for the second-place finish in the once-proud NFC East. Yes, I also realize it was only Week 3 and there are many more games to play before declaring a champion. Yet neither of those teams is close to the Eagles in terms of talent or execution. The East is the Eagles’ to win and it’s not close.

First off, the Cowboys must be commended for winning two games with their backup quarterback, Cooper Rush, and their defense playing well.They controlled the game Monday night with constant pressure on Jones and, despite penalties that affected their scoring, they managed the game well. Rush has been outstanding, throwing the ball with excellent accuracy and timing, all while not playing outside of his comfort zone. He isn’t forcing plays or trying to be a hero. By managing the game, being quick-minded and relying on their two best players, Zeke Elliott and Tony Pollard, the Cowboys beat the Giants at their own game — which is to avoid losing before winning. They protected the ball, didn’t make mistakes and won the fourth quarter by scoring 10 points. While Dak Prescott rehabs his thumb, the Boys must rely on their defense and playing mistake-free offense to win.

The Giants have followed the “avoid losing first” model in their first three games. They understand their limitations managing the game and hope to enter the fourth quarter in a one-score game. And so far, in those three games, the plan has been successful, until Monday night when they failed to win the fourth. Let’s be honest, the Giants have only one way to play — and if another team is able to match that style, not give them extra possessions by turning the ball over, every game, will be a struggle. There are no easy wins for the Giants. Even though their out-of-division schedule appears weak, every game, including the Bears on Sunday will be a back-and-forth affair. Which makes the Giants a dangerous betting team.

The danger in betting the Giants lies in the belief that they can keep the game close, which they have against bad offenses. Playing a bad offense like the Bears this week and laying three in some shops looks like an easy bet and most everyone will be on the Giants. However, never fall for what looks so easy because the Giants’ margin for error is so small. The public is all over the Giants, who are garnering 83% of the handle, whereas the Bears have significant money causing that line to move up and down. If you like the Giants grab them now, as anyone with power ratings will grab the Bears at 3 or above.

Who can beat Philadelphia?

In only three games, the Eagles have scored more points in the second quarter than the Giants have all season. It’s 65 for the Birds in the second quarter alone and 56 total for the G-men. The Eagles are too fast and explosive in both run and pass for the Giants or any other NFC East team to control the pace of the game. And when we reach the moment of asking the simple question “Is there a team that can defend the Eagles?” that team has become a legitimate Super Bowl contender.

The Eagles are only going to have trouble when they play against an explosive defensive front, like the 49ers, Bucs or the Jaguars, whom they play this week. The Cowboys can create problems, but their lack of talent in the back end will allow Philadelphia to eventually get control of the game. Because of their ground attack and the movement of quarterback Jalen Hurts, teams without a fast defensive front seven will struggle to create negative plays and force the Birds to punt. The Eagles will have an inflated line tax on them moving forward, and unless their opponent is fast and well-coached on defense, keep laying the points.

Two important points. The Eagles have a soft schedule, so winning the East is easily attainable as is hitting their Over win total for the season. They should be able to claim the No. 1 seed in the NFC with all roads to Glendale leading from Broad Street, which makes them a good Super Bowl bet right now.

Buffalo gamebook

After every NFL game, I review the gamebooks, making notes for each team assessing why they won or lost. I review the critical categories that often determine wins and losses. For example, red zone production, yards per play, middle eight scoring, missed field goals, penalties in the kicking game, total rushes and completions, fourth-down conversions, turnovers, halftime scores, the drive chart, plus a review of the fourth quarter. Then I grade the quarterback based on the level of play, not the stats. Most often teams that lose fail to play well in the red zone, fail to convert third downs, turn the ball over and their quarterback didn’t play as well as his rating. Losing is never complicated to understand unless you were in Miami on Sunday. How the Bills lost that game is beyond my wildest imagination. I might never see another gamebook like this for a losing team in the next 30 years. Let’s admit, something strange happens to this Buffalo team when they enter the Sunshine State. Last season they had an inexcusable loss in Jacksonville and this year another unexplainable one in Miami.

Buffalo ran 90 plays to Miami’s 39. They had 65 rushes and completions to Miami’s 30. They punted only once, turned the ball over just once, which led to seven Miami points, and were 11-for-18 on third down. They lost because they messed up the end of each half. In the first half, quarterback Josh Allen failed to spike the ball for a field-goal attempt and the clock ran out. At the end of the game, he threw the ball in the middle of the field with no timeouts and receiver Isaiah McKenzie failed to get out of bounds before time expired.

The Bills missed a field goal in the fourth quarter, allowed the Dolphins to convert a third-and-22 situation for a touchdown because their two fill-in safeties didn’t make a play on the middle read and Miami quarterback Tua Tagovailoa threw a 45-yard completion to Jaylen Waddle. The Fins even messed up the end of the game, throwing the ball from their end zone for an incompletion, giving the Bills another timeout, then they took a safety on the Butt Punt. Miami tried to give the game away, but the Bills didn’t take it.

The Bills are still a great team and will grow from this game, as they were the better team, even with all their pregame injuries. And Miami has been living right the last two weeks, coming from behind in Baltimore and making the most of its 39 plays on Sunday. Winning becomes a habit, much like losing, so even though the Dolphins didn’t play their best, they keep finding ways to win. This will not last in terms of being the best team in the AFC East, but it can last for a wild-card spot.

Make sure to listen to GM Shuffle for a review of all the games.

 

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