Philadelphia Eagles preseason football is just one day away! Can you believe it?
With the Eagles and Green Bay Packers scheduled to face off on Thursday evening, I reached out to our friends over at Acme Packing Company. The great Jason B. Hirschhorn (@by_JBH) kindly took the time to answer my questions about the upcoming preseason game. Let's take a look at the answers. Also don't forget to check out my Q&A exchange over at APC.
1 - How long should we expect to see the Packers’ starters play, if at all? Who are the key players in/out?
I don't expect to see most of the veteran starters at all on offense. Certainly, Aaron Rodgers will spend the entire game on the sideline, and it seems a near lock that Jordy Nelson will join him. The No. 1 offensive line could get some time given the presence of new starting right guard Jahri Evans, but that should only last a few series at most.
Defensively, the starters could play a tad longer. Coordinator Dom Capers wants to break in his new "Nitro" defense -- essentially a nickel package with safeties Morgan Burnett or Josh Jones playing as an off-ball linebacker -- so that should necessitate a little extra run for the top of the depth chart.
2 - What’s the outlook for the Packers this year? How many wins are you expecting?
The Packers rank among the small number of teams that enter the year with legitimate title aspirations. Rodgers remains at the top of his powers and has additional weaponry with which to work. The defense needs to show significant improvement over last season, but the additions made in the secondary -- namely Davon House and Kevin King -- as well as renewed health for some of last year's corners should boost the unit. The Packers have won at least 10 games in every season since 2009 save for the one Rodgers missed half the year with a broken collarbone. Unless Rodgers misses another extended stretch, the team looks like a lock for hit double-digit wins again. 11-5 and a bye in the playoffs seems about right for this team.
3 - What is the strongest position on the team? What about the weakest?
Quarterback remains the strongest part of the roster until Rodgers proves otherwise. The peak of his play exceeds all others in the league, and he enters the 2017 season as an MVP frontrunner. As strong as the Packers look at offensive tackle and receiver, no position in Green Bay has more going for it than QB.
As for weakest, the guard position doesn't offer much upside and could develop into a problem as the season progresses. The Pro Bowl tandem of Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang have departed, replaced with Lane Taylor and the aforementioned Evans. While Taylor held down Sitton's vacated spot last year with minimal issues, the Packers now have to account for two guards rather than one who cannot reliably handle one-on-one situations in pass protection. That puts extra stress on center Corey Linsley and tackles David Bakhtiari and Bryan Bulaga. Rodgers can mitigate some of the drop-off with his legs, but it still could cost Green Bay games.
4 - Can you give us an outsider’s take on the Eagles’ outlook this year?
For all the talk surrounding Carson Wentz's rookie campaign, I came away rather unimpressed. He doesn't look out of place, but he also has yet to show more than the occasional flash to validate all the Eagles gave up to acquire him. Perhaps a second offseason as well as a considerably improved receiving corps will allow Wentz to elevate his game, but until that happens I have concerns.I have far fewer concerns about Philadelphia's defense. Jim Schwartz transformed the unit into one of the league's best during his first year as defensive coordinator, and now he has even more tools at his disposal. Timmy Jernigan makes so much sense as the heir to Bennie Logan's spot along the interior. Chris Long and Derek Barnett can alleviate the pressure on Brandon Graham along the edges, which can make up for what remains an uninspiring secondary. The Eagles should dominate most of their opponents on defense this year.
5 - Can you name an under-the-radar player on offense and on defense we should watch out for on Thursday?
Most NFL observers know Ty Montgomery from his meteoric rise following last year's switch to running back, but fourth-round pick Jamaal Williams should receive plenty of opportunities to carve out a significant role or even steal away the starting job. Performing well against Philly's excellent defensive line could significantly influence his standing.
On defense, second-year outside linebacker Kyler Fackrell has a chance to cement himself as Green Bay's third edge rusher. With Clay Matthews and Nick Perry unlikely to play much or at all, Fackrell should receive an extended look rushing the passer.
Bonus: Score prediction?
I hate predicting scores of regular-season games, so I have even less interest in doing so for an exhibition. I just hope it doesn't end up in overtime.
[Ed. note: I think we can all agree with Jason here.]