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Countdown to Kickoff: Jaguars at Eagles

Doug Pederson's return has overshadowed the fact that Jacksonville looks like it has turned its fortunes around, sitting at 2-1 and in first place in the AFC South

5...PLAYERS TO WATCH

Jaguars Edge Rusher Josh Allen - The other Josh Allen has been the Jags’ best player early in the season and the No. 7 overall pick in the 2019 draft is teaming with the No. 1 overall pick this year, Travon Walker, to give Doug Pederson and defensive coordinator Mike Caldwell, a pair of athletic freaks on the edges for what has been a very good defense, which is ranked seventh overall and No. 1 in run defense.

Allen is graded No. 6 of 102 edge defenders by ProFootballFocus and has been extremely well-rounded (No. 3 of 91 vs. the run, No. 11 of 93 as a pass rusher, and No. 7 of 37 dropping into coverage).

Jaguars RB James Robinson - A north-south runner who quickly puts his foot in the ground Robinson had a team-high 989 scrimmage yards and eight TDs in 2021 prior to suffering a torn Achilles. Through three games this season, he’s back and performing at a high level again, amassing 263 scrimmage yards (230 rushing) and has two of the three longest TD runs by any player in the NFL this season, a 50-yarder last week vs. the LA Chargers and a 37-yarder in Week 2 vs. Indianapolis.

Jaguars LB Devin Lloyd - Lloyd, the No. 27 overall pick in April, leads all rookies with 24 total tackles and is the only freshman in the NFL with at least 15 tackles and two INTs. He is also the NFL leader among rookies and among the league leaders with six passes defended. He was the Defensive Rookie of the Month for September.

Eagles WR A.J. Brown - The star receiver missed practice Wednesday and Thursday for the birth of his son, A.J. Brown, Jr., who came calling about 8 p.m. on Thursday. Brown was back at practice Friday morning with the hospital band still on his wrist and it will be interesting to see if the lack of practice time this week hampers the difference-maker.

Eagles RB Kenny Gainwell - WIth Boston Scott dealing with a rib injury and Trey Sermon still a work in progress after joining the team late via waivers, Gainwell may get more playing time than usual, especially with lead back Miles Sanders dealing with a hip problem.

4...KEY MATCHUPS

Eagles DT Fletcher Cox vs Jaguars rookie OC Luke Fortner - The Eagles are coming off a nine-sack, 17-pressure game and the Jax O-Line has allowed just two sacks. Something has to give. Of particular note should be Jacksonville rookie C Luke Fortner against Fletcher Cox, who is playing at a high level.

Eagles secondary vs. Jaguars WR Christian Kirk - Many in Jacksonville seem to think that Darius Slay will travel with the talented Kirk but Slay didn’t even follow Justin Jefferson into the slot so Pederson should be able to create matchups he likes with Kirk, a player the Eagles were very interested in during free agency before getting priced out by a monster offer from Jacksonville.

Avonte Maddox is out with an ankle injury so Chauncey Gardner-Johnson may be forced into more of a slot role this week.

Jalen Hurts as the plus-one in the running game vs. Jaguars run defense - Jacksonville is No. 1 in the NFL through three games, allowing just 55.0 yards per game on the ground. The Eagles, meanwhile, are coming off a rare poor game when it comes to rushing yards with Hurts limited to 20 yards on 9 carries at Washington and the Eagles as a whole only piling up 72 yards.

Philadelphia, of course, led the NFL in rushing during the 2021 season and is still seventh this season at 150.3 despite the subpar performance vs. the Commanders.

Eagles second quarters vs. Jaguars third quarters - The Eagles have been dominant in second quarters while the Jags have made their living in the third quarter. Perhaps the fourth quarter might matter for the first time since Week 1 for Philadelphia.

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3...THINGS TO KNOW

-Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham are the only teammates in the league so far with at least three sacks and one forced fumble each.

-Jacksonville has posted six interceptions through the first three games, marking the most INTs the team has recorded through their first three games in team history.

-Trevor Lawrence is one of seven NFL quarterbacks with a passer rating above 100. Lawrence and Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes are the only QBs in the NFL with at least five TD passes and one or fewer interceptions.

2... X-FACTORS

For the Jaguars: Defensive coordinator Mike Caldwell - An ex-Eagles linebacker (1998-2001) and assistant coach (2008-2012) Caldwell was Tampa Bay's linebackers coach last season when Todd Bowles came up with the game plan that had Jalen Hurts out of sorts in the playoffs.

For the Eagles: Defensive back Chauncey Gardner-Johnson - Gardner-Johnson has played 100 percent of the defensive smaps the past two weeks and he may be needed to help deal with Kirk in the slot this week, which is his more natural position.

1... PREDICTIONS

John McMullen (3-0, 1-2 vs. the spread) - Pederson returning to Lincoln Financial Field is the overriding narrative but if you look beneath the surface, you'll quickly realize it's Pederson's impact on Lawrence and the culture of what had been a lost franchise that will make Jacksonville the toughest test of the first month of the season for the Eagles.

The Jags will arrive in Philadelphia having outscored their last two opponents 62-10 and with the sixth-ranked offense in the NFL and the seventh-ranked defense. Arguably, only the Eagles (No. 1 on offense and fifth on defense) have been more well-rounded than Jacksonville.

The Jags are probably not quite talented enough to upset the powerful Eagles in Philly just yet but this should be the toughest test to date for Sirianni and Co and Jacksonville is a legit threat in the AFC South.

EAGLES 23, JAGUARS 20

Ed Kracz (2-1, 1-2 vs. the spread) - This figures to be a difficult environment to step into for a young Jaguars team. Philly isn't Los Angeles, where the Jags went last week and beat the Chargers by 24. Perhaps Pederson has them prepared for what awaits, but this feels like too big of a step for a young team at this point in their development.

EAGLES 24, JAGUARS 17

-John McMullen contributes Eagles coverage for SI.com's Eagles Today and is the NFL Insider for JAKIB Media. You can listen to John, alongside legendary sports-talk host Jody every morning from 8-10 on ‘Birds 365,” streaming live on YouTube. John is also the host of his own show "Extending the Play" on AM1490 in South Jersey. You can reach him at jmcmullen44@gmail.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen