AFC North: Philadelphia Eagles

Before Saturday's playoff game in Denver, I told an old colleague at The Baltimore Sun that Brian Billick would probably never get another shot at coaching if he didn't get hired this year. A day later, news broke that the Eagles interviewed Billick for their head-coaching vacancy.

I've always been shocked that Billick has never gotten a second chance to be an NFL head coach. The knock on the former Ravens coach is that he's arrogant and he failed to develop an offense (and quarterback) in Baltimore. It also hasn't looked good for Billick's résumé that the Ravens have been to the playoffs every year since they fired him in 2007.

But Billick deserves another shot to be a head coach. He won a Super Bowl in 2000 by understanding how to handle veteran players and strong personalities. He turned a losing franchise into a perennial winner. In nine seasons, he had more playoff seasons (four) than losing ones (three).

For some reason, teams have never been interested in Billick. There have been 36 head-coaching jobs filled since Billick got fired, and he's never been a reported finalist for any of them. Don't feel too bad for Billick since he was getting paid by the Ravens up until 2010 and he's got a good gig as a television analyst.

Still, you get a sense that Billick is eager to show he can still coach. That was made clear in 2010, when he chided the Bills for not calling him (Buffalo settled on Chan Gailey).

"Why [Bills general manager Buddy Nix] had not called a coach with a Super Bowl ring, 10 wins a year for nine years, having orchestrated the highest-scoring offense and defense in the history of the league, is a question worth asking," Billick said at the time.

Billick is right. Whether you like him or not, there's no reasonable explanation why Billick hasn't received a second chance while the likes of Gailey, Mike Mularkey and Dick Jauron have.

In other news involving former AFC North coaches, Bill Cowher said he has no plans to coach in the NFL. This comes a few days after the former Steelers coach told Newsday that he probably would come back at some point. Call me crazy, but something tells me Cowher hasn't made up his mind about his future.
On Friday night, it sounded like it was a done deal the Cleveland Browns were going to get Oregon's Chip Kelly. Nearly 24 hours later, there are increasing doubts whether Cleveland will get its top choice.

The Browns were set to meet with Kelly for dinner after his interviews with the Bills and Eagles. The problem is, Kelly's lunch meeting with the Eagles has stretched into dinner and the Browns have yet to sit down with him, a source told The Plain Dealer.

The NFL Network, which reported Kelly was close to a deal with the Browns, is now reporting that the Browns had a second interview with Syracuse coach Doug Marrone. He is probably the fall-back option now if the Browns are unable to get Kelly.
There has been a growing concern throughout the season that the Bengals would lose one of their coordinators to a head coaching job this offseason. It appears that offensive coordinator Jay Gruden will get the first crack at one.

The Eagles are expected to request permission on Monday to speak to Gruden about their head coach opening, a league source told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter. Gruden is the latest of a growing interview list for the Eagles, who will meet with Oregon coach Chip Kelly, Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy, Colts offensive coordinator Bruce Arians and Seahawks defensive coordinator Gus Bradley in Arizona. It's safe to say the Eagles are casting a wide net.

Even if the Bengals grant permission, there is a chance Gruden won't meet with the Eagles. It was only last January that Gruden declined an interview request with the Rams for their head coaching position and signed a three-year, $3.6 million extension to remain with the Bengals.

On Tuesday, Gruden said he hadn't been contacted by any teams looking for a new head coach, and that isn't his focus heading into Saturday's wild-card game at Houston.

“I'm trying to get a first down right now,” Gruden said. “I'm trying to get these guys ready to go. That's the furthest thing from my mind. I would be surprised. I haven't heard from anybody. It's not an issue.”

ESPN's Ed Werder discusses the teams interested in signing Chip Kelly and what it would take to convince him to leave Oregon.

Kelly's interview with the Browns' braintrust of owner Jimmy Haslam and chief executive officer Joe Banner has just begun in Arizona. He is presumed to be the Browns' top candidate for their head coach opening.

The Eagles and Bills are also interested in Kelly.

Rapid Reaction: Bengals 34, Eagles 13

December, 13, 2012

PHILADELPHIA -- My thoughts on the Cincinnati Bengals' 34-13 victory at the Philadelphia Eagles:

What it means: Capitalizing on five Eagles turnovers, the Bengals improved to 8-6 and moved a half-game ahead of the Steelers (7-6) for the sixth and final playoff spot in the AFC. This also ended a nine-game losing streak in prime time for the Bengals. Cincinnati is now 5-2 on the road and secured back-to-back winning road records for the first time since 1975-76. The Bengals won for the fifth time in six games.

Defense turns around game with turnovers: The Eagles gave this one to the Bengals with their sloppy play. Four turnovers in a five-minute stretch in the second half turned a three-point deficit (13-10) into a 21-point lead (34-13). Trailing 13-10, cornerback Leon Hall made his first interception in 17 games and returned it 44 yards, which set up a touchdown run by Andy Dalton. Two plays later, Pat Sims forced a fumble and Wallace Gilberry returned it 25 yards for the Bengals' first defensive touchdown of the season. The Bengals scored 24 points in a span of 3 minutes, 23 seconds.

Offensive drought: Before the turnover party by the Eagles, the Bengals' offense was stuck in neutral. In a seven-drive stretch, Cincinnati had four three-and-outs, two fumbles (both by Dalton) and one kneel-down. In the second quarter, the Bengals had as many first downs (two) as turnovers.

Keep on running: Running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis went over 100 yards for the fourth time in five games. Green-Ellis had a quick start to the game, gaining 46 yards in the first quarter on eight carries.

Usual strong start: A forced fumble by Carlos Dunlap and a blocked punt by Dan Herron led to 10 points in the first 7 minutes, 9 seconds. In the first quarter of the past six games, Cincinnati has outscored opponents 62-9.

There's the boom: Herron, a rookie sixth-round pick, lived up to his nickname, Boom. On the first punt of the game, Herron showed his power by pushing wide receiver Marvin McNutt into punter Mat McBriar to block the kick. That led to a field goal and increased the lead to 10-0. It was the Bengals' first blocked punt in the regular season since DeDe Dorsey in 2007.

What's next: The Bengals have 10 days before they play at the Steelers (7-6) in what could decide the final playoff spot in the AFC. Pittsburgh plays at Dallas on Sunday.

Countdown Live: Bengals-Eagles

December, 13, 2012
Join our NFL experts for Thursday night football between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Philadelphia Eagles.

Contribute your thoughts and questions beginning at 8:30 p.m. ET. See you there.

Prediction for Bengals-Eagles

December, 13, 2012
PHILADELPHIA -- Good afternoon from the City of Brotherly Love, or the Land of Cheesesteaks. I get confused which one is the official nickname for this place.

I will look to redeem myself after taking a shot to the chin in Week 14, when I missed on three of my four picks. I will reveal my picks for the rest of the AFC North in the Friday Forecast, but here's my prediction for the Thursday night game ...

Cincinnati Bengals 31, Philadelphia Eagles 20: This comes down to which team needs this win the most. After losing to the Dallas Cowboys in the final seconds, the Bengals know they can't afford to let another one slip away from them if they want to get that final playoff spot in the AFC. The Eagles are in shambles defensively. Philadelphia has given up 30 pass plays of 20 yards or more since Week 5. This screams out that A.J. Green will have a big game. After his worst game in the NFL, Green will be determined to redeem himself. Unlike last Sunday, this game against an NFC East team won't be close.

Week 14 record: 1-3. Season record: 25-15 (.625).

Chargers 34, Steelers 24 (my prediction: Steelers 30, Chargers 13)

Redskins 31, Ravens 28, OT (my prediction: Ravens 20, Redskins 16)

Browns 30, Chiefs 7 (my prediction: Browns 21, Chiefs 17)

Cowboys 20, Bengals 19 (my prediction: Bengals 34, Cowboys 28)
A team in the playoff hunt gets a rookie quarterback starting his fifth career game. Sounds like a gimme, right? Not when it comes to the Bengals.

In a statistic that will likely surprise you, the Cincinnati defense has performed better against veteran quarterbacks than rookie ones this season. Rookie quarterbacks have a passer rating of 98.5 in four starts against the Bengals while veteran quarterbacks have produced a 79.5 rating in nine starts.

The Bengals will try to reverse that trend Thursday night, when they play the Eagles and rookie quarterback Nick Foles. Cincinnati is 2-2 against rookie quarterbacks this season, losing the last two games against them. The Bengals have beaten Brandon Weeden and Robert Griffin III but have lost to Ryan Tannehill and Weeden (the second meeting with the Browns).

Rookie quarterbacks have completed 64.2 percent of their throws against Cincinnati this season for an average of 249.2 yards per game. They have thrown five touchdowns and one interception.

Veteran quarterbacks have connected on 63.5 percent of their passes against the Bengals with nine touchdowns and nine interceptions. They average 242.3 yards passing per game.

Now the Bengals get Foles, who won his first NFL game in dramatic fashion. He threw two touchdowns in the final four minutes of a 23-21 win over Tampa Bay, including the winning, one-yard touchdown pass as time expired. Foles finished 32-of-51 for 381 yards.

"Nick Foles has come in and been productive with what they’re doing," coach Marvin Lewis said. "The thing that he’s doing is giving them the opportunity to move the ball consistently."
Congratulations, Philadelphia Eagles. You've actually done something that doesn't happen around here often -- you got AFC North rivals to come together on an issue.

The Steelers joined the Ravens in saying that the Eagles cross the line too often during games. After one play in Sunday's 16-14 win over Philadelphia, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger ended up in the face of Eagles defensive end Brandon Graham.

"Yeah, Ben was mad. He thought they were going after his head," left guard Willie Colon told The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "They were cheap-shot artists all day. They were hitting us in the back. I know I lost my cool once or twice. It is what it is. You have to play through it."

It was last month when the Ravens were voicing the same sentiments. "They play dirty," Ravens fullback Vonta Leach said after the game in Philadelphia. "They take shots after the play, a lot of dirty stuff after plays. We weren't going to back down. We weren't going to take that. Anytime someone thinks they're a bully, you got to step up or they'll keep doing it."

The last AFC North to play the Eagles this season is the Cincinnati Bengals, who will play the "dirty" birds on Dec. 13. Consider yourselves warned.

In the video, Mark Schlereth and Jerry Rice make their predictions for the Eagles at the Steelers.

Here's what the other ESPN experts predict:

Eric Allen: Eagles
Mike Golic: Eagles
Merril Hoge: Steelers
Ron Jaworski: Steelers
Chris Mortensen: Steelers
Adam Schefter: Steelers
Mark Schlereth: Steelers
Seth Wickersham: Steelers
Tom Jackson: Steelers
Keyshawn Johnson: Eagles
Mike Ditka: Eagles
Cris Carter: Steelers
Michael Vick and Troy PolamaluIcon SMI, AP PhotoMichael Vick, left, needs another turnover-free game against Troy Polamalu and the Steelers.
AFC North blogger Jamison Hensley and NFC East blogger Dan Graziano discuss the issues surrounding Sunday's game between the Philadelphia Eagles (3-1) and the Pittsburgh Steelers (1-2):

Jamison Hensley: While there will be plenty of talk this week about Peyton Manning going against Tom Brady, the biggest game of the week is the Philadelphia Eagles at the Pittsburgh Steelers. That's where myself and NFC East blogger extraordinaire Dan Graziano come in. To get you prepared, we decided to provide some "Double Coverage" for this game. A major storyline will be turnovers. The Steelers don't force any, and the Eagles seem to give the ball away like Christmas gifts. Pittsburgh has only three takeaways this season and had a league-low 15 last season. Dan, what's the over-under on Eagles turnovers for this one?

Dan Graziano: Wow, what an introduction, "blogger extraordinaire." I'll take it, even if I do remember being a little punchy myself in that sleep-deprived, new-dad phase way back when. As for turnovers, yeah, the Eagles turned it over 12 times in their first three games, which always looks like a misprint but isn't. They did not turn it over once against the Giants on Sunday night, and it's a good thing, too, since they only won by two points and a few field-goal inches. My sense is that it's easy for these NFC East teams to get and stay focused when they're playing the Giants (as I think the Cowboys showed in Week 1, as well), and that maintaining the newfound responsibility for ball security will be a greater challenge for Michael Vick this week in Pittsburgh. It's encouraging for the Eagles that this year's Steelers haven't been too opportunistic, because I think if the Eagles don't turn the ball over they can beat just about anybody. But I'll set the over/under at 2, and I think if they're under they'll win. What's the latest on linebacker James Harrison and the injury situations on defense in Pittsburgh? That could have a lot to say about this, as Vick is more turnover-prone when pressured.

JH: Injuries have really taken a toll on the Steelers. It's gotten so bad that I have ESPN injury expert Stephania Bell as one of my favorites in my iPhone contact list. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said Tuesday that he’s optimistic that safety Troy Polamalu and Harrison will both play against the Eagles. I see Polamalu starting, but my guess is Harrison will be limited. The Steelers are always smart with their injured players, and they will look to ease Harrison back. He had a setback with his knee last week. That’s why Harrison could be more of a pass-rush specialist Sunday. The return of Polamalu helps the Steelers, because he brings unpredictability. Quarterbacks don't know where he's going to line up, even though it's hard to miss him with that helmet of hair. If Harrison does play, the Steelers have a much better shot at getting to Vick. Without Harrison, Pittsburgh has just five sacks this season. The Steelers also expect to get back running back Rashard Mendenhall, who hasn't played since tearing his ACL in last year's season finale. Pittsburgh ranks 31st in the NFL in running the ball, and the hope is Mendenhall can provide a boost in that area. Is there any chance the Steelers will have success running the ball against the Eagles?

DG: Chance, sure, but this isn't your older brother's Eagles defense. All the tackling and gap-control problems they had last season that led to allowing big plays in the run game seem to have been shored up with the addition of DeMeco Ryans at middle linebacker and Mychal Kendricks on the strong side. The Eagles have turned the ball over 12 times in four games, scored just 66 points, and are 3-1. Their defense isn't playing well, it's playing great. And I imagine it will have to continue to do so. Polamalu is a bad matchup for a quarterback like Vick, who doesn't read blitzes or defenses well and doesn't always see all of his available options down the field. I'm thinking this could be a low-scoring game. One thing I'm interested to see is how the Eagles set up their coverages against the Steelers' receivers. Nnamdi Asomugha seems to be having trouble staying with the speedier guys, so Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie has been taking most of those assignments and handling them very well. Which of the Steelers' great receivers is the burner? Mike Wallace still?

JH: Wallace is still the best deep threat on the team. He didn't attend offseason workouts in the spring or training camp to protest the lack of a new contract, but he kept himself in great shape. Antonio Brown is quick as well, and he finds a way to get open on the crossing routes. Generating big plays, though, has been a problem for the Steelers this season. Ben Roethlisberger is averaging 7.5 yards per attempt (12th in the league) and is one of four starting quarterbacks who have yet to complete a pass beyond 40 yards. New offensive coordinator Todd Haley has been stressing a short passing game. I expect the Steelers to take more shots against the Eagles if Roethlisberger has enough time to throw it. And that's a big "if." This is essentially the same offensive line that failed to protect Roethlisberger last season. Should the Steelers be worried about the amount of pressure the Eagles will bring?

DG: They should. The Eagles didn't get a sack Sunday night, and I believe they're annoyed about that. The Giants helped out their tackles by chipping the defensive ends, and most of the pressure the Eagles produced against Eli Manning was from the interior, where Cullen Jenkins and Fletcher Cox had great games. The Eagles believe they're eight deep with quality defensive linemen. They believe in pressuring the quarterback with the front four, so they don't blitz much. I'm interested to see whether they can contain and wrap up Roethlisberger if and when they get to him, since his reputation is that of a guy who keeps plays alive longer than most, where someone like Manning gets rid of the ball quickly. Different challenge for the Eagles' front this week, but they believe they're deep and talented enough to keep the pressure up for all 60 minutes. This time last season, the Eagles were 1-3 having blown three fourth-quarter leads. This year, the fourth quarter is where they've been at their best. Do you think coming off the bye helps the Steelers against a team built on the idea of outlasting people?

JH: If the Eagles are annoyed about not getting a sack, you can imagine what the Steelers are feeling after failing to hold a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter at Oakland. The Steelers had an extra week to think about how they allowed Carson Palmer and the Raiders to score on all three of their fourth-quarter possessions to pull off the upset. This has been a bad trend for the Steelers this season. In their two losses (at Denver and at Oakland), the Steelers have been outscored 30-6 in the fourth quarter. That being said, Pittsburgh is a different team when playing at Heinz Field. The Steelers have won nine of their past 10 at home. In its win against the Jets, Pittsburgh shut out New York for the final 39 1/2 minutes, which doesn't seem much of an accomplishment after this past weekend. You know their recent fourth-quarter collapses have to be in the back of the Steelers' mind when they're watching film of Vick's late-game heroics. Do you think this game comes down to the final couple of minutes?

DG: It probably should. The Eagles' offense hasn't played well enough to think they could run away with a game in a place like Pittsburgh, and the defense has played too well to forecast a blowout in the other direction. What's amazing is what a difference a year makes, and the idea that after what happened last year you might pick Vick and the Eagles to win a game in the final minutes against Roethlisberger and the Steelers. But they did it Sunday against Manning and the Giants, so anything is possible. This season's Eagles are definitely tougher than last season's were. I think it should be a good game, and I look forward to seeing you there Sunday.

Wrap up: Eagles 24, Ravens 23

September, 16, 2012

Thoughts on the Baltimore Ravens' 24-23 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field.

What it means: For the third straight season, the Ravens fell to 1-1 after failing to follow up a strong performance in the season opener. Baltimore, which had never trailed in the second half, couldn't stop Michael Vick on a third-and-goal, 1-yard sneak that put the Eagles ahead with 1:55 remaining. On their final drive, the Ravens never crossed midfield as Joe Flacco went 2-of-6, including an incompletion to Ray Rice on fourth down. It closed out a game filled with fights, turnovers and Eagles injuries.

Flacco falters: Flacco had a strong six quarters to begin the season, but he struggled mightily in the second half. He was 8-of-25 for 140 yards after halftime. It started with his first drive in the third quarter, when he was intercepted throwing into triple coverage. Flacco's best throw, a touchdown pass to Jacoby Jones, was negated by a questionable offensive pass-interference penalty.

Tucker's strong leg: Justin Tucker delivered three long kicks: 56, 51 and 48 yards. His 56-yarder before halftime was four yards longer than his career best in college. Last season, then-Ravens kicker Billy Cundiff was 1-of-6 on kicks of more than 50 yards.

Slipping at goal line: The Ravens came up with three turnovers in the red zone, including an interception by Bernard Pollard (who was later injured and didn't return) in the end zone and a forced fumble by Lardarius Webb. But Baltimore couldn't make critical stops at the goal line. Two of the Eagles' touchdowns came from 1 yard out, including Vick's game winner.

What's next: The Ravens play their second prime-time game when they play host to the New England Patriots on Sunday night. It's a rematch of last season's AFC Championship Game. But wide receiver Lee Evans and Cundiff are no longer on the Ravens. The Patriots were upset at home by the Arizona Cardinals 20-18 on Sunday.

Halftime: Ravens 17, Eagles 7

September, 16, 2012
Here are some observations from the first half of the Ravens-Eagles game:
  • The Ravens were helped by three turnovers in the red zone by the Eagles. Safety Bernard Pollard intercepted Michael Vick in the end zone, and cornerback Lardarius Webb forced a fumble. Baltimore, though, only got seven points from those turnovers.
  • Baltimore's first two touchdowns came from unlikely candidates: fullback Vonta Leach and wide receiver Jacoby Jones. It was Jones' first touchdown as a Raven and it was Leach's first rushing touchdown since 2008.
  • Joe Flacco looked just as sharp as he did in his Week 1 performance. He was 14-of-17 for 92 yards. Ray Rice, who had 10 carries in the season opener, gained 78 yards on seven carries.
  • Rookie kicker Justin Tucker hit a 56-yard field goal in the final seconds of the first half. It tied a record for the longest field goal in team history and was 4 yards longer than any field goal that Tucker hit in college.

AccuScore: Predicting Ravens-Eagles

September, 15, 2012

Prim Siripipat goes inside the numbers for the Ravens-Eagles game.