The Eagles are ailing. Darren Sproles is done for the season and Fletcher Cox is unlikely to play Sunday because of a calf strain. There should be reinforcements. Rodney McLeod is on target to return after missing last week, and Jordan Hicks is expected to suit up even though an ankle injury sidelined him during the Giants game. Losing Sproles will hurt. None of the other running backs catch or block as well on passing downs. And no Cox means the other defensive linemen won't see as many one-on-ones. The Giants clearly took advantage with deeper pass attempts as the game progressed. The Chargers are winless, but two of their losses came against the Broncos and Chiefs – top-tier AFC West teams. Their offense has struggled on the ground, and Philip Rivers has been placed in far too many third and longs. But I think defensive ends Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram will disrupt Carson Wentz enough to be the difference makers.
Prediction: Chargers 23, Eagles 19.
I had this game as an Eagles win on the road to 10-6 in my game-by-game predictions before the season.
But all of the injuries on defense, particularly the latest one to defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, who probably won't play Sunday, plus the fact that the Chargers are better than their 0-3 record indicates, have me leaning toward a letdown by the Eagles and a convincing win by the Chargers.
Cox is the straw that stirs the drink for the Eagles' pass rush. Without him, well, you saw what happened in the second half last week when he wasn't in there. Give Philip Rivers time, and he could light up the scoreboard.
Prediction: Chargers 31, Eagles 20
I think in the long run, the Eagles are a better team than the Chargers, but that's assuming Fletcher Cox returns to good health within the next few weeks, and Ronald Darby returns and plays well, also.
Right now, I don't much like this game. I think the Eagles' defense will have to come up really huge for them to win it. Lots of folks are discounting the "desperate 0-3 team" angle because the Giants were also desperate, but did the Giants really play like a winless team? Didn't the Eagles very nearly lose?
If the Birds have another 193-yard rushing day, quite possible against the league's 31st-ranked rushing defense, then I'll be wrong. But I see Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram getting pressure on Carson Wentz; not sure I see the Eagles getting enough pressure on Philip Rivers.
Prediction: Chargers 23, Eagles 20.
As much as I agree with the Parcells-ism that a team is what its record says it is, the Chargers are more dangerous than a typical 0-3 team. They missed a field goal to tie and/or win at the end of their first two games, and there's talent across the roster. Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram provide a devastating pass-rush duo, and Philip Rivers can keep his team in any game. I'll play close attention to turnover differential. The Eagles are plus-1; the Chargers are minus-2. That offers a strong reason for the different records. The Eagles have done a formidable job overcoming injuries so far this season, but Fletcher Cox is the centerpiece of the defense and Darren Sproles is a key matchup problem on offense. That changes the Eagles on Sunday. The Chargers have the NFL's 31st-ranked rushing defense, so the Eagles need Wendell Smallwood and LeGarrette Blount to have big games again. I predicted the Eagles to enter this game 2-1 and lose it before the season, and I'm not yet convinced otherwise. The Eagles will take a long flight home Sunday night with a .500 record.