EA­GLES VS. RED­SKINS

SUN­DAY, 1 P.M. ET, FEDEXFIELD, LANDOVER, MD. uTV: FOX, DIRECTV 710

USA TODAY Sports Weekly - - NL WEST - Mal­colm Jenk­ins, Tor­rey Smith. Car­son Wentz About the Red­skins: Kirk Cousins Fletcher Cox Trent Wil­liams Ter­relle Pryor Josh Nor­man Ryan Ker­ri­gan Matchup to watch: Ea­gles MLB Jor­dan Hicks vs. Red­skins TE Jor­dan Reed. Player to watch: Red­skins OLB Ju­nio

An­nounc­ers: Kenny Al­bert, Ronde Barber, Kristina Pink

About the Ea­gles: Af­ter a dis­ap­point­ing last-place fin­ish in the NFC East last sea­son, the Ea­gles open 2017 with high hopes of push­ing their way into the post­sea­son. That’s based on two things: a po­ten­tially cham­pi­onship­cal­iber de­fense, led by DT and S

and two big-time ad­di­tions to the of­fense, WRs and Jef­fery and Smith give QB the kinds of tar­gets he didn’t have last sea­son — tall, re­li­able and able to fight for tough catches in traf­fic (Jef­fery), and a speedy long-ball hit­ter (Smith).

Here we go again — QB play­ing for a con­tract, the run­ning game a mess, ques­tions about the de­fense. It’s the Red­skins’ usual tur­moil. And yet Cousins is com­ing off a franchise-record 4,917-yard pass­ing sea­son, LT leads a strong and sta­ble of­fen­sive line, is a big play wait­ing to

is a top-of-the-line WR hap­pen, CB de­fen­sive play­maker, OLB has put up 34 sacks over the last three sea­sons … and Wash­ing­ton is a le­git­i­mate play­off con­tender.

Th­ese two have more in com­mon than just a first name. Both are spec­tac­u­larly ath­letic play­mak­ers who are among the elite at their po­si­tions. Hicks’ five in­ter­cep­tions and 11 pass breakups last sea­son led the NFL for his po­si­tion. That makes for a juicy duel over the mid­dle with Reed, whose speed and skills make him a mis­match for most de­fend­ers. Ea­gles QB Car­son Wentz will try to avoid the sopho­more slump in 2017.

He hasn’t played a game that counts since ring­ing up his sec­ond con­sec­u­tive sea­son of dou­ble-fig­ure sacks for New Or­leans in 2014, hav­ing missed the last two sea­sons be­cause of sep­a­rate Achilles ten­don in­juries since sign­ing with Wash­ing­ton. In his only pre­sea­son ap­pear­ance, Galette was able to get pres­sure and a quar­ter­back hit, giv­ing a hint that there is a lot more to come.

WHO WILL WIN AND WHY

Wentz, com­ing off an up-and-down rookie sea­son, showed signs in the pre­sea­son that he has taken sev­eral steps in the right di­rec­tion. In three ap­pear­ances, Wentz com­pleted 69.6% of his passes and av­er­aged a hefty 10.5 yards per at­tempt in ring­ing up a 125.2 rat­ing. It’s a small sam­ple size, but it’s a far bet­ter than his 2016 num­bers — 62.4%, 6.2 yards per at­tempt and a 79.3 rat­ing.

KEYS TO THE GAME

1. Cool Cousins: Wash­ing­ton’s for­tunes are di­rectly tied to those of Cousins, whose con­stant bat­tle for recog­ni­tion and nev­erend­ing con­tract is­sues have made him a light­ning rod. When he keeps his poise, the Red­skins are dan­ger­ous.

Red­skins C sta­tus is un­cer­tain as he re­cov­ers from arthro­scopic knee surgery, which could shove rookie into the lineup right away. That’s a scary thought with Cox and DT Tim Jerni­gan rush­ing the passer.

3. Cor­nered mar­ket: The Ea­gles ad­dressed a ma­jor deficiency by ac­quir­ing CB

from Buf­falo to be their No. 1 cover cor­ner. He had stun­ning suc­cess as a rookie in 2015, but last sea­son not so much.

4. Some­thing spe­cial: Philly has fin­ished atop the NFL spe­cial-teams rank­ings two of the last three sea­sons — in­clud­ing 2016. Spe­cial-teams play gives the Ea­gles a sig­nif­i­cant ad­van­tage in field po­si­tion, and they’ve been known to take the ball to the house, too, scor­ing eight re­turn TDs in the last three years.

Andy Fried­lan­der

ERIC HARTLINE, USA TO­DAY SPORTS

Al­shon Jef­fery

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