Browns At Eagles
Doug Pederson's tenure as head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles begins against the Cleveland Browns, who have once again hit the reset button with hopes of ending a streak of 13 straight seasons without a playoff appearance.
Mike Pettine was fired after going 10-22 in two seasons as the head coach. Cleveland tapped into one of its AFC North rivals and hired former Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson to lead the Browns.
The front office was also revamped as former baseball executive Paul DePodesta was named the team's chief strategy officer. DePodesta will implement an analytics-based approach to scouting and player evaluation. The initial assessment is that there were not a lot of pieces worth keeping around. Four starters who hit the open market in free agency all signed with new teams - wide receiver Travis Benjamin, safety Tashaun Gipson, center Alex Mack and tackle Mitchell Schwartz.
Who will be the starting quarterback for the Browns when these two teams meet? The Browns did sign former No. 2 overall pick Robert Griffin III, who the Eagles know well from his time in Washington. Last year's starter, Josh McCown, posted some decent numbers, but could not stay healthy and ended the season on Injured Reserve with a broken collarbone. There have been reports that teams, such as Denver and the New York Jets, are interested in trading for McCown. And everyone knows the story with Johnny Manziel, who was released last month.
The Browns own the No. 2 overall pick in the NFL Draft. Could they select a quarterback in the first round for the third time in five years as the other two are no longer on the roster?
- Chris McPherson
Eagles At Bears
The second year under John Fox has worked out well at his previous stops.
In 2003, Fox led the Carolina Panthers to an appearance in Super Bowl XXXVIII (we don't need a reminder on who they beat to get there). Nine years later, the Denver Broncos won 13 games and earned a first-round bye in the playoffs. Both times, Fox's teams lost to the eventual Super Bowl champion.
Last year, Fox was dumped by the Broncos, despite winning 38 games in the prior three seasons, and took the helm of the Chicago Bears.
The Bears struggled out of the gate, losing their first three contests capped off by a 26-0 loss to Seattle. At the end of the year, Chicago lost four of its final five games to finish 6-10. It will be interesting to see if the Bears get off to a fast start in 2016 with a Week 2 primetime matchup set for Monday, September 19.
The defense transitioned from a 4-3 to a 3-4 unit and continued to add pieces this offseason with linebackers Danny Trevathan and Jerell Freeman.
Offensively, Jay Cutler improved greatly from 2014 when he led the league in interceptions. Under offensive coordinator Adam Gase, Cutler threw just 11 picks last year, the fewest in a year when he's played more than 10 games. Cutler also has his best receiving target back in Alshon Jeffrey, who signed a one-year franchise tender. Kevin White, last year's first-round pick, did not get on the field as a rookie, but could provide Cutler another big-framed target on the outside.
There are some changes worth noting on offense for Chicago. Gase is now running the show in Miami. At running back, Matt Forte is now a New York Jet after leading the Bears in rushing in every season since 2008.
Fox has a track record for turning around teams quickly. But in a division with Minnesota on the rise, Green Bay always in contention and Detroit a year removed from a playoff appearance, the Bears have their work cut out for them in 2016.
- Chris McPherson
Steelers At Eagles
For the first time in four years, the Eagles get to go toe-to-toe with the intrastate rival Pittsburgh Steelers in a regular season matchup. The two teams may share a state, but they don't share a conference, making regular season matchups a rarity.
In fact, the Steelers have only played one non-exhibition game at Lincoln Financial Field, when they fell to the Eagles 15-6 in September of 2008. Ben Roethlisberger was sacked a remarkable nine times that day, with Juqua Parker leading the way with 2.5 quarterback takedowns. The Eagles won the battle that day, but the Steelers had the last laugh that season, as they went on to finish with a 12-4 regular season record before defeating the Arizona Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII.
In 2015, the Steelers started the season 4-4 before winning six of their final eight games down the stretch to make the playoffs as an AFC Wild Card team. Their run eventually came to an end at the hands of the Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos, but the Steelers' high-powered offense should carry over into 2016. Le'Veon Bell has progressed into one of the best all-around backs in the NFL and Antonio Brown has tallied an unbelievable 5,031 receiving yards in the past three seasons.
It will be Eastern Pennsylvania versus Western Pennsylvania at Lincoln Financial Field in Week 3. The Eagles will look to go into their bye week on a high note.
Eagles At Lions
The Lions turned Thanksgiving 2015 into a holiday to sleep off for Eagles fans.
The Eagles traveled to the Motor City for their second Thanksgiving game in as many seasons. The Eagles entered the game with a big question at the quarterback position, but after Sam Bradford tried his best to prove during warmups that he was ready to go, the Eagles elected to have him sit one more game, giving Mark Sanchez his second straight start. The Eagles' offense stalled, and the defense had no answers for how to slow down Calvin Johnson, resulting in a 45-14 Lions win.
The biggest difference for the Lions this season is that Johnson decided to retire this offseason, leaving a sizable hole at the wide receiver position. Golden Tate is back with the team and free agent Marvin Jones signed a multi-year contract with the Lions, but it's almost impossible to replicate what Johnson, perhaps one of the most gifted wide receivers in league history, brought to the table.
The Eagles, of course, will be running an entirely new defensive scheme under coordinator Jim Schwartz, who coached the Lions from 2009 to 2013. This game could be a true barometer of how far the Eagles' defense has come since last Thanksgiving. It's also another homecoming opportunity for Connor Barwin and Brandon Graham, both of whom grew up in Detroit.
Can the Eagles turn things around against Matthew Stafford and the Lions' offense? We'll find out in Week 5, with the Eagles set to be fresh off their bye week.
- Alex Smith
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