With the Hall of Fame game and festivities in the rear-view mirror, it is time to get into the meat of the NFL preseason schedule. On Friday, the up-and-coming New York Jets and 2nd-year head coach Robert Saleh travel to Philadelphia to take on the Eagles and their second-year coach Nick Sirianni. The opening kick is scheduled for 7:30pm EST.
Can the Jets Take Off?Expectations are running high in New York as the Jets prepare for year two of the Robert Saleh regime. The former defensive coordinator of the 49ers is now in his second camp with the team and the hopes are that his imprint will take hold this season. The Jets had a busy offseason, starting with the draft, as the team had three picks in the first 24. The Jets took defensive back Sauce Gardener with the 4th overall pick and then receiver Garrett Wilson (10th) and pass-rusher Jermaine Johnson II (26th). Gardener and Johnson II will be on display this preseason particularly as the defensive-minded Saleh tries to improve a defense that ranked last in the NFL in total defense in 2021. Other key signings on the defensive side of the ball include defensive back DJ Reed from Seattle, strong safety Jordan Whitehead and defensive lineman Jacob Martin and Solomon Thomas. The Jets have brought in young veterans that will bring physicality to a defense that lacked it last year, much to the chagrin of Saleh.
Offensively, the Jets made a number of moves to help support 2nd-year QB Zach Wilson. First off, the Jets re-signed veteran signal-caller Joe Flacco, who should help out the youngster in the QB room. In addition to adding wideout Wilson in the first round, the Jets signed two veteran tight ends that should immediately provide an upgrade in the Jets' passing game and also in the locker room: C.J. Uzomah from the AFC champion Bengals and Tyle Conklin from the Vikings. Both players give the Jets size and legitimate pass-catching options for Wilson, who struggled with his decision-making in 2021. He will now have two legitimate check-down options in Uzomah and Conklin. The Jets were also able to snag Lagen Tomlinson who Saleh is very familiar with as Tomlinson spent the past five seasons in San Francisco, including a Pro Bowl season last year. Finally, Saleh and the Jets front office made a key move for the Jets' special teams by signing veteran kicker Greg Zuerlein. This will be his 11th NFL season and he is coming off two solid seasons in Dallas in which he made 82.9% of his field goal attempts and nearly 90% of his extra-point tries. More importantly, Zuerlein gives the Jets more than a puncher's chance from long range as he has made the most 55+ yard field goals of any kicker in NFL history with 18.
what a moment for AJ 💚 pic.twitter.com/Pgo6pjTt1e— New York Jets (@nyjets) August 7, 2022
All of these signings will take time to gel and the changes will take time to develop over the course of training camp and the preseason games. Trying to decipher the time given to key players in the opener is also a challenge. In 2021, Saleh and the Jets were 2-0-1 in the preseason. In the opener, Wilson played a full quarter of action as he was put to the test in his first training camp. The Jets enter camp with four quarterbacks on the roster: Zach Wilson, Joe Flacco, Mike White, Chris Streveler. Wilson, still just 23 years of age, will likely at least play a series in the opener and the veteran Flacco could play a couple of series as well. The bulk of the playing time will likely go to Mike White, who saw a good chunk of action last season due to Wilson's injuries, and Chris Streveler, who saw limited time with Arizona last season and is a CFL veteran. Expect to see mostly basic offense for the Jets in the opener while Saleh may open up the playbook on the defensive end a bit more with all his new pieces.
Eagles Ready to SoarThe Philadelphia Eagles appeared to be a bit ahead of schedule in 2021, working their way into a wildcard spot playing behind 2nd-year quarterback Jalen Hurts. After some debate in the offseason, the Eagles are committed to having Hurts as their quarterback and will travel as far as his arm, and sometimes legs, will take them. In the 2021 NFL Draft, the Eagles started by strengthening an already deep defensive line by adding defensive tackle Jordan Davis from Georgia. Davis will get to work under a quality learning tree behind veterans Fletcher Cox and Javon Hargrave. After long-time center Jason Kelce retired and then un-retired, the Eagles realized that they needed to address that position. In the second round, the Eagles nabbed Cam Jurgens, a center out of Nebraska. He will get this year to learn behind the former Pro-Bowl center. In the third round, the Eagles might have got the steal of the draft by picking up Nakobe Dean, linebacker out of Georgia. There are questions surrounding his health, but if Dean stays clean, the Eagles have a starter for many years to come.
The Eagles stayed defensive with their free-agent signings as well this offseason. The team signed veteran linebacker Haason Reddick, who has racked up 23.5 sacks over the last two seasons playing for Carolina. They also signed another linebacker Kyzir White, who started all 17 games for the Chargers last season, racking up 144 tackles (seven for loss), four QB hits, two interceptions and a sack. The majority of the other Eagles signings in the offseason were re-signings as the team kept the core of its defense intact along with these two key additions. The Eagles defense finished 10th overall in 2021 in total yards allowed, a number they could improve upon thanks to a solid draft and free agency period.
The Eagles and now second-year head coach Nick Sirianni took a different approach to the preseason in 2021. The Eagles went 0-2-1 in the preseason including a 35-0 thumping against New England in their second preseason game. Last season, the opening preseason trio was Hurts, Joe Flacco--now with the Jets, and Nick Mullins. When the Eagles take the field Friday night, their QB depth chart will read: Jalen Hurts, Gardner Minshew, Carson Strong, Reid Sinnett. The only two roster locks on the depth chart are Hurts and Minshew. Minshew is a younger, more mobile upgrade over Flacco and showed last year that he is more than capable of running this Philadelphia offense. Hurts may be limited to one series, if any at all, and Minshew should see the majority of the first half snaps. The second half snaps will be split between Strong, an undrafted rookie out of Nevada, and Sinnett, who has had an excellent camp thus far. Expect the Eagles to rest most of their veterans in the opener, particularly on the defensive side of the ball.
Best Bets for this Game
Full-Game Side Bet
This line has swung considerably from the opening line of Philadelphia -1 to now being a three-point underdog. The number is justified for a number of reasons. I expect Wilson to see more action than Hurts in this matchup. Saleh will likely want to see his young quarterback in live action with his new crop of receivers and tight ends. He will certainly play at least a series and, if it's a quick series, likely come out for at least one more. On the other side of the ball, I expect Sirianni to be far more conservative with his veteran-laden roster. The Eagles have a veteran defense that has been through their share of battles and is more apt to be utilized during the protected grind of daily practices than they will be used in meaningless preseason games. I don't even expect rookie linebacker Dean, who could have a huge impact on this team this season, to play significant minutes in the preseason opener. Saleh is more likely to play his younger, hungrier players significant minutes and take a similar approach he took last preseason, trying to instill toughness and aggressiveness into his team and building unity through wins.
If you break this game down to its simplest form, the quarterback position, I am going to give the Jets a slight edge with my expectation that both Wilson and Flacco see considerable time and, the team's third quarterback in White, has also seen considerable regular season action. For Philadelphia, Hurts will likely sit out and I'm not sure how much time Sirianni will give Minshew to understand his importance to the team should Hurts ever go down. The Eagles might see a boost late in the game in offensive production as both Sinnett and Strong will be battling for that third quarterback spot on the roster. It won't be enough, however, and the Jets will keep their youthful enthusiasm on the rise and roll to an opening preseason win in Philly.
Lay the points and take the Jets.
Full-Game Total Pick
In last season's preseason games, the Eagles played over this number in each of their three games. The Jets, meanwhile, missed the mark in just one of their three games. While neither roster boasts an elite quarterback and certainly the best of the bunch, Jalen Hurts, won't see any significant action, there is enough veteran experience here to lead to a number of scoring drives against what should be mostly inexperienced defenses. The Jets, in particular, will play three game-ready quarterbacks in this game that will result in over 21 points for the men in green. I also am factoring in Zuerlein's presence in this game as he will likely be given more than a few opportunities to test his leg to put additional points on the board. Saleh certainly doesn't portray a style that lends itself to conservative play so look for the Jets to push the pedal throughout the game. A late Jets touchdown will certainly push this game past the total.
Take the over, 33 points.