Sunday Night Football

Sunday Night Football

What bettors need to know: Eagles at Patriots
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Feeley to start?

It looks like Philadelphia will start backup quarterback A.J. Feeley against the Patriots because of an injury to Donovan McNabb. Feeley ran the first-team offense in every practice this week, while McNabb was unable to take the field. The Eagles are expected to hold off on an official announcement until just before kickoff.

"We'll see how it goes over the next couple of days," Eagles coach Andy Reid told ESPN.com on Friday. “You'd like to have him in practice if he's going to play. I'm not going to put him out there with swollen ankles and swollen thumbs."

McNabb picked up both the ankle and thumb injuries in the first half of the Eagles’ 17-7 victory over Miami. Feeley came on in relief to throw for 116 yards and a touchdown, his only appearance of the season.

He managed a 4-1 record when he replaced the injured McNabb towards the end of the 2002 season, helping the Eagles to reach the playoffs. Feeley has made one start against New England in his career, leading the Miami Dolphins to a shocking 29-28 win over the reigning Super Bowl champions in 2004.

Reid has been impressed with his backup in practice this week.

“He's done a nice job of absorbing the offensive plan,” said Reid. “He's been able to function out there and he's got good control of the huddle. We did the little crowd noise today and he looked like he did a nice job with that. He's got a good feel for things.”

New England’s defense ranks fifth in the league in passing yards per game (181.3), while recording 29 sacks.

Pats not cooling off

New England plays four of its last six games at home, raising concerns that the cold weather could impact its current form. But a look back at the records puts that theory to bed because the Patriots actually seem to play better in wintry conditions.

The Pats are 21-3 in games where the temperature is at freezing or below and 40-8 overall following Thanksgiving. Forecasts are calling for temperatures to dip below freezing during Sunday’s game against the Eagles.

"It's not going to affect us a bit," linebacker Junior Seau told the Boston Globe. "It comes down to tackling and doing what we've been doing the last nine weeks and really staying focused. The weather will probably be cold and rainy, but the fact is that it's still football. You still have a helmet. You can come in and dry off afterwards."

The Patriots have run up 411 points in their first 10 games, winning all but one by at least 17 points. They have the top-ranked pass offense in the league, but the balance could change to the running game when the weather worsens.

"If we get into some conditions that don't enable us to throw the ball as much, then the running game will have to become more of a focal point,” offensive coordinator Josh McDaniel told the Canadian Press.

“Unless there are some significant wind issues or other precipitation that determines we can't do it, we'll try to keep our balance the way that we have through the first 10 games."

New England’s rush offense, which ranks fifth in the league in yards per game (131.8), is led by running backs Laurence Maroney and Kevin Faulk. That duo has combined for 889 yards and two touchdowns this season.

Eagles look to Kearse

The Eagles will turn to defensive end Jevon Kearse in an effort to get at the seemingly untouchable Tom Brady. Though Kearse was benched last week, he is expected to be featured prominently on third downs and obvious passing situations.

“Jevon is going to play a little more this week,” defensive coordinator Jim Johnson told ESPN.com. “And we'll see if we can get some better pressure.”

The Eagles were among the NFL sack leaders early in the season, but have since struggled to pressure opposing quarterbacks. Johnson knows that if the Philadelphia secondary allows Brady too much time, it will have a difficult time containing the Pats’ passing game.

"I want sacks,” Johnson stated. “We need to get them in second-and-long or third-and-long.”

On paper, Kearse looks like the man for the job. He posted 14 ½ sacks as a rookie and went on to total 36 in his first three seasons. But his career has since been hampered by a series of injuries. He has managed just 3 ½ sacks in nine games this season.

“I'm just looking forward to getting back on the field and helping my team,” Kearse said after practice on Thursday. “It was tough sitting out last week. I'm a competitor and playing every Sunday is what I want to be doing. This is a chance to show I can produce and hopefully I'll be able to do that.”

Brady has been sacked once in the past three games and just 10 times overall this season.

Rare praise

Randy Moss leads the league in receiving yards (1,052), touchdowns (16) and points (96) this season. His form has earned the respect of a coach who is famously reluctant to single out players for praise.

"I'm glad we have Randy Moss, let's put it that way," Belichick told the media in New England this week.

"I'm glad we got him, and certainly as a head coach, I've never had a better receiver than Randy Moss. I've been on teams that had a lot of good receivers, but he's very good and he's very good for this football team."

Combine Moss and quarterback Tom Brady and you have the makings of one of the best offenses in NFL history. The Patriots are on course to surpass the league record of 38.8 points per game in a season, as well the record for the most points over the course of a campaign (556).

Still, a depleted Eagles’ secondary, which will be without safeties Quintin Mikell and Sean Considine through injury, is confident it can contain New England’s pass offense. With a little luck, that is.

"I think everybody's beatable," Eagles cornerback Sheldon Brown said. "Say Tom Brady takes a blow to the head in the first quarter and gets a concussion. Are they beatable? Say Randy Moss runs a go-route and pulls a hamstring. Are they beatable? It always takes a total team effort. Everybody seems to forget that.”

Head to head

New England has beaten Philadelphia in five straight games, covering the spread in three of the last four contests. The Eagles have covered in three of their last four overall, while the Pats are 9-1 ATS this season.

Six of the last seven meetings between these teams have gone under the total.

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Philadelphia (5-5 SU and ATS) at New England (10-0, 9-1 ATS)

The Eagles line up as the next punching bag for the Patriots when they travel to Gillette Stadium in a rematch of Super Bowl XXXIX.

Philadelphia reached .500 for the first time this season by holding off winless Miami 17-7, narrowly covering as a 9½-point home chalk. QB Donovan McNabb had two INTs in 11 attempts before leaving with an ankle sprain, and A.J. Feeley (13 of 19, 116 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT) finished up. RB Brian Westbrook went wild for the second straight week, with 32 carries for 148 yards, and the defense allowed just 186 total yards, helping to give the Eagles their first two-game SU and ATS winning streak.

New England battered Buffalo 56-10 as a 16-point road favorite, going to 5-0 ATS this season when laying double digits. QB Tom Brady continued to stake his claim as the league’s MVP by going 31 of 39 for 373 yards and five TDs, four to Randy Moss. Brady now has 38 TD passes against just four interceptions.

The Eagles are on positive ATS runs of 5-0 as a road underdog, 6-2 on the highway overall and 6-2 against winning teams.

Philadelphia played the Pats tough in the Super Bowl following the 2004 season, falling 24-21 but covering as a seven-point underdog.

The underdog had been on a 7-1 ATS run on Sunday Night Football prior to New England’s rout of Buffalo last week.

The straight-up winner is 10-0 ATS in Philly’s game’s this season and 9-1 in New England’s 10 contests. Going back to 2004, the winner has covered the spread in 26 of the Patriots’ last 29 games, with Bill Belichick’s team going 24-5 SU (21-8 ATS) during that span.

The Patriots are 4-0 ATS at home this season, with all four wins coming by 17 points or more. Going back to last season (playoffs included), New England is on a 14-1 run (13-2 ATS).

The over is 8-2 for New England this year and 3-1 in Philly’s last four games.

ATS ADVANTAGE:  NEW ENGLAND

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Patriots face aggressive pass rush in Eagles

- Should the Eagles go with AJ Feeley at QB and blitz Brady on every down on defense? That might be the only way for Philly to hang close to the juggernaut Patriots as they pursue their perfect season at Foxboro. These teams have not played since the Pats win in Super Bowl 39.

Oddsmakers currently have the Patriots listed as 24½-point favorites versus the Eagles, while the game's total is sitting at 51½.

The Eagles defeated Miami 17-7 as a 9.5-point favorite in Week 11. The combined score fell UNDER the posted over/under total (40.5).

A.J. Feeley threw for 116 yards with a touchdown and an interception after replacing an injured Donovan McNabb for Philadelphia, while Brian Westbrook rushed for 148 yards on 32 carries.

The Patriots defeated Buffalo 56-10 as a 16-point favorite in Week 11. The combined score went OVER the posted over/under total (46.5).

Tom Brady threw for 373 yards with five touchdowns for New England, while Randy Moss caught 10 passes for 128 yards with four touchdowns in the win.

Current streak:
Philadelphia has won 2 straight games.
New England has won 10 straight games.

Team records:
Philadelphia: 5-5 SU, 5-5 ATS
New England: 10-0 SU, 9-1 ATS

Philadelphia most recently:
When playing in November are 4-6
When playing on turf are 5-5
After outgaining opponent are 5-5
When playing outside the division are 6-4

New England most recently:
When playing in November are 6-4
When playing on turf are 9-1
After outgaining opponent are 10-0
When playing outside the division are 9-1

A few trends to consider:
Philadelphia is 5-1 ATS in its last 6 games when playing New England
Philadelphia is 6-2 ATS in its last 8 games on the road
Philadelphia is 5-2 SU in its last 7 games when playing New England
Philadelphia is 6-3 SU in its last 9 games on the road
The total has gone OVER in 5 of New England's last 5 games at home
New England is 5-0 SU in its last 5 games at home
New England is 5-0 ATS in its last 5 games at home
New England is 5-0 SU in its last 5 games

Next up:
Philadelphia home to Seattle, Sunday, December 2
New England at Baltimore, Monday, December 3

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Eagles' Kearse will see spot duty Sunday vs. Patriots
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With just one sack in the past three games, and facing a New England Patriots protection scheme on Sunday night that seems to wrap quarterback Tom Brady in a cocoon every week, the Philadelphia Eagles will turn to the demoted Jevon Kearse in an attempt to improve their pressure on the pocket.

The three-time Pro Bowl performer was benched last week, losing his left end job to Juqua Thomas, and wasn't even active for the Eagles' victory over the Miami Dolphins. He won't start on Sunday, but Kearse will be active and play on third down and in obvious passing situations, defensive coordinator Jim Johnson said.

"Javon is going to play a little more this week, and we'll see if we can get some better pressure," Johnson told the Philadelphia-area media.

The demotion of Kearse last Sunday came after his playing time was dramatically reduced in recent weeks. Two weeks ago, he played mostly in goal-line situations, and was not part of the Eagles' nickel pass-rush package.

But the Eagles, who were among the NFL sack leaders early in the season, have struggled to create pressure. And Johnson knows that if he allows Brady too much time in the pocket, the Philadelphia secondary will have a difficult time containing the New England receivers. And so he will give Kearse a chance to do what he has done best for most of his career.

Once regarded as one of the NFL's premier pass rushers, but a defender whose production has waned some in recent years because of injuries, Kearse has 12 tackles and 3½ sacks in nine games this season.

Kearse, 31, had only one tackle total in his past two appearances, and the nine-year veteran has had his problematic left knee drained twice in 2007. The knee condition is the latest in a string of physical setbacks that have plagued Kearse the past several years. The injuries have robbed him of some of his explosiveness off the edge, and now have made him a role player who probably won't be back with the Eagles in 2008.

But he'll be back Sunday and the fact Johnson has included him in the game plan reflects how critical it is for Philadelphia to exert some pressure on the pocket against Brady, who has been sacked only 10 times 10 games.

"Do I want sacks? Do we need to get them in second-and-long or third-and-long? Yes, we have to," Johnson said.

In one of the franchise's biggest free agent acquisitions ever, the Eagles signed Kearse to an eight-year, $66 million contract in 2004 after he had spent the first five seasons of his career with the Tennessee Titans, who selected the former University of Florida star in the first round of the 1999 draft.

Dubbed "The Freak," because of his rare combination of size, speed and push rush ability, Kearse posted 14½ sacks as a rookie. In his first three seasons, he totaled 36 sacks. But Kearse suffered two major foot injuries late in his tenure with the Titans, and when he became an unrestricted free agent in 2004, the team did not attempt to keep him.

Since 2001, Kearse has not recorded double digit sacks in a season.

Kearse got off to a strong start last season, with 3½ sacks in his first two games, but then suffered sprains to multiple ligaments in his left knee, underwent surgery to repair the damage, and finished the season on injured reserve.

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Pats beating up on bookies, too

The longest note.

Those Taj Mahal casinos in Las Vegas? Don't blame the Boys of Belichick for them. The Patriots are doing their best to take down the house.

"They're killing us," said Jay Kornegay, executive director of the Las Vegas Hilton Race & Sports Book. "It's almost like a mini-Super Bowl every week. People can't get to the windows fast enough."

No wonder. Several NFL teams have won their first 10 games, but not in the same fashion as the Patriots. It's almost December and they have yet to take their first prisoner, winning by an average of almost 26 points a game.

It's getting so the Vegas sports books can't make the lines high enough. To wit: Kornegay opened today's New England-Philly game at minus-17, whereupon the wise guys wagered truckloads on the Pats, helping drive the line to 24.

To put that number in perspective, only once in history has an NFL team been plus-24. The 1976 Steelers were 24-point favorites over the hapless Buccaneers, and Pittsburgh won the game 42-0.

Now that the Pats have eclipsed the 20-point mark, look for their point spreads to settle in at 20-plus for most of their remaining games. And to think, before this season, there were only five 20-plus-point spreads ever for NFL games.

"We've never adjusted teams dramatically week in and week out, but, with the Pats, we're tired of getting our brains beat in," said Kornegay, a Denver native and CSU graduate. "We've always had a common practice of not making knee-jerk reactions to teams, but we've made more adjustments on these guys than any other team since I've been here.

"You look at these huge spreads and the wise guys' initial reaction is, 'Well, I've got to take that.' And then they go, 'Well, maybe not. The Pats are probably covering that by halftime.' "

The Pats are 9-1 against the spread, with their lone loss coming at Indianapolis. So what does the future hold? A 30-point spread, among other anomalies.

The Dec. 16 Patriots-Jets game will be the teams' first encounter since Spygate, when Jets coach Eric Mangini, a former Bill Belichick assistant, turned in the Pats for illegally taping the Jets' hand signals. If the Patriots are beating teams by 30 and 40 points with no revenge factor, how badly are they going to rough up the Jets?

Kornegay is leaning toward opening the game at New England minus-30.

Randy Moss has scored 16 touchdowns, more than the Rams (13), 49ers (10), Falcons (14), Ravens (15), Bills (15) and Chiefs (14).

How improved are the Browns? Consider this: Charlie Frye, traded after one game, was sacked five times and attempted 10 passes in Cleveland's opener. His successor, Derek Anderson, has had 330 attempts and been sacked 10 times.

Not that Brett Favre is having your basic monster year, but he has thrown 22 touchdown passes, four more than last season. And December hasn't yet arrived.

Who knew Steelers coach Mike Tomlin would find a positive spin after his team's embarrassing loss to the dog-bottom Jets? Said Tomlin, "We win together and we stink it up together." And Monday night, they're going to hammer Miami together.

Jerry Sullivan, Buffalo News, after the Pats' 56-10 annihilation of the Bills, who had won four straight: "The Bills lost by 46 at home and I can't even rip them. What the heck's going on here?"

www.denverpost.com

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Game Preview for Eagles vs Patriots

(Sports Network) - Forget stopping the New England Patriots, can anyone even slow them down at this stage?

On Sunday night, The Philadelphia Eagles will become the latest lightly- regarded contender to try to stand in and trade punches with the heavyweight champion that is the 10-0 Pats, when Andy Reid's team takes the field at Gillette Stadium.

The Patriots enter Sunday's battle with an astounding 411 points scored through 10 games, including at least 24 points in each contest thus far. New England, which routed Buffalo by a 56-10 count last Sunday night, has now scored 48 or more points in four of its last five outings.

Bill Belichick's squad must average a modest 24.3 points per game over its final six contests to break the NFL single-season mark for scoring, set by the Minnesota Vikings with 556 points during the 1998 season.

While the Patriots offense has run up and down the field, the defense has dominated. New England's 157 points allowed represents the third-best figure in the league, and its 25.4 point average margin per victory is the best in NFL history through 10 games.

Walking into this buzzsaw are the Eagles, who have not experienced nearly as easy a time in 2007, but still have much to play for as Week 12 begins.

Philadelphia has scratched and clawed its way from a 2-4 start back to the .500 mark, with last week's 17-7 win over Miami getting the Eagles back to even for the first time this year.

The win was not without a price, however, as quarterback Donovan McNabb was knocked from the contest with injuries to his ankle and thumb. McNabb is regarded as questionable for Sunday's game, and if he can't go, backup A.J. Feeley would get his first NFL start since he was a member of the Dolphins in 2004.

The Eagles entered Week 12 a game out of the final Wild Card position in the NFC.

SERIES HISTORY

The Eagles hold a 6-3 advantage in their all-time regular season series with the Patriots, but were 31-10 losers when the teams last met, in 2003 at Lincoln Financial Field. Prior to the 2003 loss, Philadelphia had won five straight over New England between 1981 and 1999, with one of those victories, a 34-31 overtime triumph in 1987, coming in Foxborough. The Patriots are 2-1 in home games against the Eagles all-time, and their most recent home victory in the series occurred during the 1978 campaign.

The most famous, and most recent, matchup between the clubs was Super Bowl XXXIX in Jacksonville, won by New England, 24-21.

Reid is 1-2 all-time against New England, with the win coming against the Bill Parcells-coached Patriots in 1999. The Patriots' Belichick is 2-0 against both the Eagles and Reid as a head coach.

WHEN THE EAGLES HAVE THE BALL

Though McNabb (2339 passing yards, 13 TD, 6 INT) is viewed by most as the Eagles' preferred quarterback option for Sunday night, it is actually the backup Feeley who can claim something the starter can't - a win over the Patriots. While still with the Dolphins in Week 15 of the 2004 season, Feeley completed 22-of-35 passes for 198 yards with a touchdown in Miami's stunning 29-28 win of a New England team that would win the Super Bowl just weeks later. In last Sunday's win over his former team, Feeley was 13-of-19 for 116 yards with a touchdown and a pick. Wideout Kevin Curtis (45 receptions, 4 TD) had a game-high five catches for 69 yards in the win, and fellow receiver Jason Avant (15 receptions) scored his second touchdown of the year off a throw from Feeley. But the offensive story for Philadelphia, as usual, was the work of likely Pro Bowl honoree Brian Westbrook (849 rushing yards, 55 receptions, 9 TD). The Villanova product rushed for a career-high 148 yards on 32 carries in the game, marking the eighth time in nine appearances this year Westbrook has gone over 100 yards from scrimmage. The Eagles are ninth in NFL rushing offense (124.7 yards per game) and 11th in league passing (228.1 yards per game) as Week 12 begins.

Due to the eye-popping efforts of the New England offense, few are talking about a Patriots defense that ranks third overall (270.6 yards per game) and has given up few meaningful yards or points this season. The Patriots limited Buffalo to just 229 total yards a week ago, 47 of those coming on a touchdown pass from J.P. Losman to Roscoe Parrish in the first quarter. Cornerbacks Randall Gay (26 tackles, 3 INT) and Ellis Hobbs (40 tackles, 1 sack) both came up with turnovers in the game, with Hobbs' fourth-quarter fumble return going 35 yards for a touchdown the other way. Outside linebacker Mike Vrabel (50 tackles, 9.5 sacks) recorded one sack of Losman in the win, and is now tied for the NFL lead in sacks along with the Chiefs' Jared Allen. Fellow LB Adalius Thomas (43 tackles, 3 sacks, 1 INT) was credited with 2.5 sacks in the triumph. Inside linebacker Tedy Bruschi (56 tackles, 2.5 sacks) and end Ty Warren (31 tackles, 2 sacks) have been among the team's top tacklers in 2007.

WHEN THE PATRIOTS HAVE THE BALL

The numbers tell the story for the high-flying Patriots offense. New England quarterback Tom Brady leads the NFL in touchdown passes (38), passing yards (3059) and passer rating (134.0), wide receiver Randy Moss leads the league in receiving yards (1052), scoring (96 points), and touchdowns (16), and the Patriots are first in NFL total offense (436.8 yards per game), scoring offense (41.1 points per game), and passing offense (305 yards per game). The Pats also have the fewest turnovers in the league (9), and are first in turnover margin (+13). Any questions? Also, don't forget slot receiver Wes Welker (68 receptions, 7 TD), ex-Eagles wideout Donte' Stallworth (33 receptions, 3 TD), tight end Benjamin Watson (23 receptions, 6 TD), and running back Laurence Maroney (436 rushing yards, 1 TD), all of whom have had their moments this season. Maroney left the Buffalo game with an apparent foot injury but should be in the lineup on Sunday. New England's offensive "weakness" is the running game, which ranks just fifth in the league (131.8 yards per game).

Brady and company will be going up against an Eagles defense that while statistically sound, ranking eighth in the league overall (308.6 yards per game), hasn't made a wealth of plays on that side of the ball. Philadelphia's 11 takeaways and six interceptions recorded on the year are both tied for the fewest in the league, and the Birds were unable to provoke a turnover from rookie Miami QB John Beck in last week's game. Pressure will be on the secondary, particularly cornerbacks Sheldon Brown (42 tackles, 2 INT) and Lito Sheppard (22 receptions, 1 TD) along with safety Brian Dawkins (22 tackles), to contain Moss and the New England wideouts on Sunday. On the injury front, the team could be without starting strong safety Quintin Mikell (54 tackles, 1 sack) due to a knee injury, meaning usual return man J.R. Reed (10 tackles) could be pressed into rare service with the defense. Philadelphia's defensive strengths lie in its pressure, with end Trent Cole (51 tackles, 9 sacks) helping to the team to 25 sacks through 10 games, and with a run-stopping unit that ranks 12th in the league (97.8 yards per game) and has allowed just two runs of 20 yards or longer this year. Linebackers Takeo Spikes (63 tackles), Omar Gaither (58 tackles, 1 INT), and tackle Mike Patterson (47 tackles, 2.5 sacks) have been among the team's best tacklers.

FANTASY FOCUS

If you own Brady or Moss and you're not dominating your fantasy league, the rest of your roster must be a disaster. Those two players are a no-brainer to start, as are other Patriots like Welker, tight end Watson, kicker Stephen Gostkowski, and the team's unsung defense. Maroney has been something of a fantasy disappointment, but at some point, you can bet he'll explode for a 200-yard or three-touchdown game.

On the Eagles side, Westbrook is the only bona fide fantasy starter, especially against the New England defense. Take a flier on a player like Curtis, tight end L.J. Smith, or kicker David Akers only if you're desperate. And, under no circumstances should you touch the Philadelphia defense this week.

OVERALL ANALYSIS

Some are expecting the Eagles to be emboldened by their heavy underdog status, but those folks should ask themselves an important question: how emboldened were the Patriots' last nine opponents by their underdog status? Coming out with fire and intensity is one thing in the college game, but in the pros, it's not worth much. No matter which quarterback plays for Philadelphia, they simply don't have the talent to match up with the New England juggernaut, and don't have a realistic shot to stay in this game for four quarters.

Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Patriots 38, Eagles 7

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