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I know I struggle to make fantasy football decisions when it comes time to set my lineup. This way, you and I can struggle together. Each week, we’ll take a look at ESPN’s predictions for the Eagles’ key playmakers, and decide who to sit and who to start.
START: Carson Wentz
ESPN Predictions: 59.2% COMP, 238.4 YDS, 1.4 TD, 0.8 INT, 4.5 RUSH, 25.3 YDS, 0.2 TD
I think this looks about right for Wentz. ESPN has him throwing 33 passes, which is probably a bit high for his regular season debut, but I could see Wentz going 15-of-26. 238 yards puts him just above the Bovada over/under mark when we guessed his average yards per game a couple days ago.
The Browns’ defense isn’t terribly strong; I would be surprised Wentz didn’t throw at least one touchdown on Sunday, but I would also be surprised if he didn't throw at least one interception. He has a penchant for looking for home runs, and his accuracy still needs work. My guess is two touchdowns and one interception.
And four rushes for 25 yards seems about right. Wentz is very mobile, and at his size (6-5, 237) he’ll be a Ben Roethlisberger-like red zone and goal line threat. A rushing touchdown is entirely possible; he had 12 in his two years as North Dakota State’s starter.
START: Ryan Mathews
ESPN Predictions: 14.6 carries, 71 yards, 0.5 TD, 1.4 receptions, 11.4 yards
Eagles fans would probably like to see a little bit more from Mathews, but the fact is the team’s running game would do best to be split about 70-30 between Mathews and Kenjon Barner. This means fewer carries for Mathews, but it also means he’ll be healthier longer. You win some and you lose some!
Even still, Mathews looked strong in the preseason. He also looked strong when he was healthy last season; despite being in his sixth year in the league, the injuries he’s suffered mean his tires have fairly light tread. He churns when he gets the ball and runs defenders over.
If the Eagles get into the red zone and roll out more of those three-tight end sets, Mathews should be good for at least a touchdown on Sunday. I’d gladly put him in as a RB2 or Flex against Cleveland.
SIT: Darren Sproles
ESPN Predictions: 5.0 carries, 24.6 yards, 0.2 TD, 2.8 receptions, 26.2 yards
I had Darren Sproles on my fantasy team last season. Unless he returns a punt for a touchdown — which, admittedly, he does quite often — he’s almost never a valuable-enough fantasy player to warrant a start.
Sproles keeps defenses on their toes, but his impact is more functional than flashy. Maybe Doug Pederson will prove me wrong, but Sproles’ role in the Eagles offense last year was marginal at best, and I think it will remain that way this year.
He’s not a very valuable runner out of the backfield, and Pederson seems more enamored with jet sweeps than screen plays this year. Sproles isn’t much of a jet sweep guy. It’s possible the spritely halfback’s fantasy value peaked in Week 2 of 2014.
START: Jordan Matthews
ESPN Predictions: 4.6 receptions, 60.1 yards, 0.4 TD
Remember when I was talking about the Browns’ suspect defense? Yeah, Jordan Matthews can put that to use. Carson Wentz is going to need someone to catch his passes, and Matthews presents a huge target with solid yards-after-catch potential. I still think Matthews’ role as a slot receiver limits his potential, but that’s his job for now.
Matthews’ fantasy potential, more than most receivers, will hinge on his ability to catch touchdowns. He has eight in each of his first two seasons in the league, which means he catches a touchdown every other game. If you’re picking which game that will be based on the defenses he’s facing, the week when the Eagles face Cleveland certainly wouldn’t be a bad choice.
SIT: Dorial Green-Beckham
ESPN Predictions: 1.6 receptions, 25.6 yards, 0.2 TD
I was on the fence about this one for a long time. I think Green-Beckham is going to have solid fantasy value by the end of the year, as he and Wentz develop a comfortable rapport and the skyscraper of a receiver bends defenses to his will in the red zone and on the outside in one-on-one coverage.
But for Sunday, I don’t think the Eagles are going to be pressing for Wentz to sling the ball around, and I’ve already deigned one touchdown to Jordan Matthews. I also have a feeling the Eagles will have a lead midway through the game, and they’ll focus on the ground game to protect that lead.
Also, opposing defenses know Green-Beckham’s knowledge of the Eagles’ offense is still limited, and that one of the few things he knows very well at this point is how to catch a fade route in the end zone. They’ll game plan to stop just that.
START: Zach Etz
ESPN Predictions: 3.9 receptions, 50.4 yards, 0.3 TD
If Green-Beckham struggles in his first regular season game with the Eagles, I think Ertz excels. I’m already high on Ertz’s potential in 2016; I think a healthy offseason is going to make all the difference as he tries to build on a good second half of 2015.
Against a Paul Kruger-less Browns defense, Ertz should be able to take advantage of match ups against less-than-stellar defenders in coverage. He still needs to work on his after-the-catch