Eagles v. Dallas II: Pre-game notes

We’re all familiar with the Cowboys, so I’m not really doing notes for today.  The Cowboys offense is good, but its defense is bad.  The Eagles can absolutely win a shootout, provided Sanchez doesn’t give the game away.  Special teams is again a big advantage, especially in the return game.  I see a lot of points coming, so field position isn’t as important, but I also see a much closer game than last time.   You can see the odds breakdown below, but I’ve got the Eagles (-3.5) and the over.

Something to remember: this game is important, but a loss doesn’t kill the Eagles’ playoff hopes.  The wild card would be a possibility, but the division would still be in reach as well.  Dallas plays the Colts next week.  The Colts have just 4 losses this year, to the Eagles, Broncos, Patriots, and Steelers.  If Dallas beat the Eagles today but lost to the Colts, the Eagles would retake the division with wins over Washington and the Giants.  Not the best scenario, but very possible.

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My picks record to date:

Line: 6 – 7

O/U: 7 – 6

Reader record:

Line: 7 – 6

O/U: 10 – 3

This week’s lines:

Eagles -3.5 (-105)

Cowboys +3.5 (-115)

Over 55 (-110)

Under 55 (-110)

Reviewing last week:

That didn’t go quite as planned.  The Seahawks offense/Eagles Defense matchup went as projected, but the reverse did not.   The Eagles struggled to produce points and obviously dropped the game.  That gives us a loss on the line, but a win on the O/U.  Mistake was likely due to underrating the Seahawks’ defense rather than overrating the Eagles’ offense.  Fortunately, now we’re back into divisional games, which means we should have a LOT of information to work with.

This week’s game:

Huge for the Eagles.  A win essentially clinched the division title and keeps the team in the race for a playoff bye.  A loss isn’t catastrophic, but the Eagles would then need the Cowboys to lose to the Colts next week to be able to reclaim the top spot in the division.  Of course, the most interesting aspect to this game is that these teams played just two weeks ago. As everyone here knows, the Eagles won the game cleanly, by 23 points on the road.

This week, the line favors the Eagles by just 3.5 points.  Thus, we’re left with an interesting exercise in new information integration.  First, let’s review the Thanksgiving game breakdown:

The Cowboys were favored by 3.

However, our breakdown suggested a final score of 29-31 points for each team, so I had it as a toss-up.  The Eagles scored 31, hitting the range nicely.  The Cowboys, though, scored just 10 points.  Tony Romo struggled mightily, and the big question for this week is whether that performance was due to his back and whether it will reappear this Sunday.

In any case, though, we’re left with the following building blocks:

- We thought the Eagles-Cowboys in Dallas should be a toss-up.

- The Eagles then beat the Cowboys by 23.

- Since then, the Eagles lost to the Seahawks at home by 10.  The Cowboys won in Chicago by 13.

Before I get to the breakdown, I’m going to say that with these pieces alone, we’re looking at Eagles -6 or so.  We’ll check that against the breakdown, but the fact is two weeks ago we though these teams were close to even (Eagles slightly better).  Since then, we’ve moved even farther towards the Eagles.  Note that the Cowboys actually beat the Seahawks in Seattle, so that result favors them by a fair amount.  However, it’s outweighed by the head-to-head result.  Lastly, a win against Chicago doesn’t mean very much at this point, no matter where it takes place.  Chicago ranks 25th by DVOA, and at this point in the season we pretty much know both Dallas and Philly are better than Chicago, so the informational value of a win is quite low.

DVOA: 

Eagles Overall DVOA: 13.7% (7th)

Cowboys Overall: 3.6% (13th)

Eagles Offense: -2.6% (16th)

Cowboys Defense: 10.2% (28th)

Eagles Defense: -7.2% (7th)

Cowboys Offense: 13.3% (6th)

The Eagles are #1 in STs, the Cowboys are 13th, with a DVOA just above zero (0.6%).

The DVOA breakdown has moved in the Eagles favor since Thanksgiving, and it now suggests a fairly significant gap in team strength.  The biggest highlight above is the Dallas defense:  They’re not good…at all.   The Eagles looked terrible against Seattle, but the Seahawks rank 4th by DVOA (and improving fast).  The Cowboys are on the other end of the spectrum, and the defense is the only unit from either team that’s actually BAD.

Opponents in Common

This is very similar to the section from two weeks ago.  We just have to add the head-to-head and the Seahawks.

Jacksonville – Eagles won at home by 17.  Cowboys won on the road by 14. (Tie)

Washington – Eagles won at home by 3.  Cowboys lost at home by 3. (Advantage Eagles)

49ers – Eagles lost on the road by 5.  Cowboys lost at home by 11. (Eagles)

Rams – Eagles won at home by 6.  Cowboys won on the road by 3. (Tie)

Giants – Eagles won at home by 27.  Cowboys won at home by 10.  (Eagles).  The Cowboys also beat the Giants on the road by 3.

Arizona – Eagles lost on the road by 4.  Cowboys lost at home by 11. (Eagles).

Houston – Eagles won on the road by 10.  Cowboys won at home by 3 in OT.  (Eagles).

Titans – Eagles won at home by 19.  Cowboys won on the road by 16. (Tie).

Seahawks – Eagles lost by 10 at home.  Cowboys won on the road by 7.  (Cowboys).

Head-to-Head – Eagles won by 23 on the road.  (Eagles).

As you can see, the opponents in common points strongly towards the Eagles.  The Cowboys have just one advantageous result, the Seahawks game.  While that’s the most recent result for the Eagles, the Cowboys comp took place back in October (Week 6).

Score Projection

The Cowboys rank 28th by DVOA on defense.  The Eagles, of course, played them and scored 33 points on the road.  The Eagles also played the Titans, who rank just below the Cowboys on defense.  Against Tennessee, the Eagles scored 43 points (at home).

The Eagles offense now ranks 16th by DVOA, just ahead of Houston and a few spots beneath Chicago.  Against those teams, the Cowboys allowed 20 (Houston at home) and 28 (Chicago on the road).

For the season, the Eagles are averaging 29.9 ppg.  The Cowboys are allowing 23.2 ppg, a rate that doesn’t look terrible but is skewed by the easy schedule Dallas has played (though you can say the same about the Eagles).  I’m going to try not to overthink this one too much.  The Cowboys defense is bad, the Eagles are at home, and we have a very recent direct comp.  All together, I’m setting the Eagles projection at 33-35 points. 

On the other side, the Cowboys’ offense ranks 6th by DVOA.  That’s just one spot behind Seattle.  Against these teams, the Eagles allowed 10 points (Dallas on the road), and 24 (Seattle at home).

The Eagles rank 7th by DVOA, behind Arizona, SF, and Seattle but a little ahead of St. Louis.  Against those teams, the Cowboys scored 17 (ARI home), 17 (SEA home), and 30 (SEA road).  Against St. Louis, the Cowboys scored 34 on the road.

We see a pretty big home/road split for the Cowboys, so we’ll need to adjust our expectations upwards a bit.  All told, those games point to a scoring range in the mid-high 20s.  For the season, Dallas is averaging 26.4 ppg.  The Eagles are allowing 23.8 ppg.  Given the matchup, we should expect both teams to perform worse than average (Eagles have a good defense, Cowboys a good offense).  That gives us a projection of 24-26 for the Cowboys.  With the big home/road split, I’m inclined to raise the Cowboys high end a couple of points.  It’s tough to quantify this tip of thing accurately (is it real or coincidence?), but we should at least add a buffer just in case.  That gives us a Cowboys range of 24-28 points.

Together, we get a projection of Eagles 33-35, Cowboys 24-28.  Using the midpoints, we’ve got a spread of Eagles -8.  That seems aggressive.  Note, though, that the spread is just 3.5, so we have a fairly large buffer.  Moreover, I didn’t shift the projection at all to account for the Eagles big advantage on Special Teams.  Checking that against our back-of-the-envelope spread up top, we’ve actually come out more bullish on the Eagles (thought Eagles -6 initially).  That’s a potential flag for confirmation bias, but that’s why I use things like DVOA and comps.  On the flip side, it’s a good sign that the numbers back up what we thought initially.

In total, take the Eagles -3.5. We haven’t seen a difference this big in a while, but I think there is a lot of opportunity here.  The real question is:  Why is our spread so much different?  First, recency bias.  The Eagles are coming off a loss, the Cowboys a win, so there might be some recency at work here.  Two, narrative.  This is a big one.  The Eagles JUST BEAT THE COWBOYS cleanly, in Dallas.  However, the reaction to that has been to point to the home/road splits for the Cowboys, talk about the short week hurting Dallas’ prep (nevermind that the Eagles had the same short week), and to talk about Romo not taking a shot before the game.  Those are all possible explanations for why we shouldn’t put too much stock into the head-to-head result.

We need to think probabilistically, though, and in my opinion, odds are those explanations are bullshit.  Maybe I’m wrong (always a significant chance of that), but it looks like the narrative is obscuring a pretty clear Eagles advantage here.

For the O/U, the line is 55.  Or projection midpoints get us to an O/U of 60, so take the over again. However, keep an eye on the conditions.  It’s a night game, so the temperature will likely be close to freezing at game time.  Right now there’s a 10% chance of precipitation.  Wait to play here until we’re closer.  If there’s rain, stay off.  If it’s snow, go for it.

Lastly, for what it’s worth, some other sources:

FiveThirtyEight’s Elo system has the Eagles -4 (64% chance to win).

ESPN’s PickCenter says take Dallas.  (Eagles by 1-3 points).

Eagles vs. Seahawks: Pre-game notes

Today’s the day we find out whether the Eagles are legitimate contenders or not.  A win puts them in the driver’s seat for a top 2 seed in the playoffs and the bye that comes with it (hugely important).  Also, a bye likely means avoiding the Packers until the NFC title game.  On the other hand, if the Eagles get overwhelmed by the Seahawks, we’ll have a pretty good sign that the team isn’t quite ready to join the upper echelon of the conference (they’d have losses against GB, SEA, and SF).

With that, let’s take a look at a few key factors:

- The Eagles match up much better against the Seahawks than they did against the Packers.  The Seahawks are not a strong passing team.  They’re averaging just 192 passing yards per game, and while Russell Wilson has played very efficiently (94.7 rating, 15 TDs, 5 ints), the team is really powered by its defense and run game.

In other words, the Seahawks don’t seem equipped to exploit the Eagles’ biggest weakness, the Corners and Safeties.  Play-action will probably still be a problem, but there aren’t any premier WRs to worry about.

- On defense, this game comes down to whether or not the D-Line can get off their blocks and put some hands on Marshawn Lynch.  Lynch is one of the most difficult RBs in the league to tackle.  He’s second in the league in Yards After Contact (Murray is first) and leads the league in Misses Tackles (both from PFF).

That means the LBs need some help.  If the D-Line can’t do anything to hold Lynch up, he’ll likely make the rest of the defense look bad.  So Bennie Logan and Fletcher Cox, in particular, need to be at peak performance.

- On offense, Mark Sanchez needs to play very intelligently.  I’m worried.  On the outside, the match-ups clearly favor the Seahawks.  That’s not a huge problem for the Eagles though.  Sanchez has preferred Jordan Matthews in the slot as a target, as well as his TEs.  As I mentioned, I think the Eagles match up relatively well against Seattle.  If Sanchez can keep the ball in the middle of the field, and doesn’t get aggressive on the outside or downfield, the Eagles can score.

However, that game plan has a fairly predictable consequence.  The Seahawks will compress their defense, meaning gains will be short.  That leads to a lot of 3rd down plays, and the conversion rate of those plays might determine today’s outcome.  For the season, the Eagles are converting 43.72% on third down.  That ranks 10th in the league. However, that number has improved over the last 3 games (46+%), potentially due to the healthiest O-Line.

That, plus Darren Sproles’ obvious hatred of 4th downs, leads me to believe the Eagles will be somewhat successful.

- The Seahawks defense is drawing a lot of attention, allowing 6 points combined over two games will do that.  For the season, Seattle is allowing just 18.4 points per game.  However, the team has performed much better at home than on the road.  On the road, Seattle has allowed 30 (SD), 17 (WAS), 28 (STL), 9 (CAR), 24 (KC), and 3 (SF).  That’s good, but not spectacular, especially when you factor in the strength of those offenses.

More encouraging, Seattle is scoring just 21 points per game on the road.  The Eagles, meanwhile, haven’t scored fewer than 27 points in a home game this year and are averaging 36.7 ppg.  That’s a huge differential, but it holds the key to my optimism for today.

Home/Road splits are really hard to properly account for, but if they hold any informational value, things look good for the Eagles.

Full odds breakdown is below, I’ve got the Eagles winning a very close game.  Note that the line has shifted since I did the write-up and the Eagles are now 1 point underdogs.

——–

My picks record to date:

Line: 6 – 6

O/U: 6 – 6

Reader record:

Line: 7 – 5

O/U: 9 – 3

This week’s lines:

Eagles Even (-115)

Seahawks Even (-105)

Over 48.5 (-110)

Under 48.5 (-110)

Note: The line opened at Eagles -1.5.

Reviewing last week:

Won the line, lost the O/U.  I had the Eagles performance pegged fairly well, though I have to admit Mark Sanchez exceeded my expectations.  The Cowboys, though, were much worse than I had projected.  That’s really good for the Eagles, but makes hitting the over tough.  Anyway, I’m now sitting right on .500 for the season, meaning I’m within range of my target >.550, but need to finish strong to hit it.  The readers, meanwhile, are having a great season, riding the market’s underestimation of the Eagles for the first half of the season.

This week’s game:

Last week’s game was huge for the division.  This week’s game is huge for the conference.  Below is a screen grab from FiveThirtyEight.com’s interactive playoff odds graphic.

As you can see, a win puts the Eagles at close to 75% for a 1st round bye in the playoffs, while a loss drops them to below 20%.  With so much at stake, and some extra time to prepare, I think we’ll see peak Chip Kelly.  The question, of course, is whether or not that’s good enough to beat the Seahawks.

The Seahawks’ bandwagon is growing quickly, for obvious reasons.  The defending Champs have won 5 of their last 6 games and have held two division opponents and playoff contenders to a combined 6 points over the past two weeks.

Before we get to the breakdown, I do want to point out that wins over Arizona and San Francisco aren’t quite as impressive as they sound.  Arizona, a team many were skeptical about during its 9-1 start to the season, is falling apart and might actually miss the playoffs (tough schedule coming up).  San Francisco is a good team, but Colin Kaepernick has struggled.  The team’s offense is averaging just 19.2 ppg and its offense ranks 18th in the league by DVOA.  That’s a long way of saying the Seahawks’ defensive performance in these games has been impressive, but far from the otherworldly level you might have guessed based on what national writers are saying this week.

DVOA Breakdown:

Eagles Overall DVOA: 16% (7th)

Seattle Overall: 21.4% (5th)

Eagles Offense: -1.4% (15th)

Seattle Defense: -9.7% (6th)

Eagles Defense: -8.6% (8th)

Seattle Offense: 12.6% (7th)

The Eagles STs ranks 1st overall (8.8%), while the Seahawks rank 18th (0.9%).

By DVOA, this is a very close matchup.  More importantly, the numbers clearly indicate the Seattle is a good team, not a great one.  By weighted DVOA, which overweights recent performance to try to gauge a team’s current strength, the Eagles (5th) are actually better than the Seahawks (7th).  The only unit that really sticks out above is the Eagles’ offense. Really surprising given what we believed heading into the season, but its the offense that’s holding this team back right now.

Opponents in Common:

These teams have 8 opponents in common thus far.  Here’s how they performed:

Washington: Eagles won by 3 at home, Seahawks won by 10 on the road.  (Advantage Hawks)

Arizona: Eagles lost by 4 on the road.  Seahawks won at home by 16.  (Seahawks by 17).

Giants: Eagles won by 27 at home.  Seahawks won at home by 21.  (Eagles by 6).

49ers: Eagles lost by 5 on the road.  Seahawks won by 16 on the road.  (Hawks by 11).

Dallas: Eagles won by 23 on the road.  Seahawks lost by 3 at home.  (Eagles by 29).

Carolina: Eagles won by 24 at home.  Seahawks won by 4 on the road.  (Eagles by 17).

St. Louis: Eagles won by 6 at home.  Seahawks lost on the road by 2.  (Eagles by 5).

Green Bay: Eagles lost on the road by 33.  Seahawks won at home by 20.  (Hawks by 50…ouch).

That’s a 4-4 split if we just go by the advantages, but if we adjust for home field and add up the advantages, we get a Seattle advantage of 21 points.  Across 8 games that’s not that bad, especially when you consider the Seahawks entire advantage is driven by the GB comp.  Seattle played GB in week 1 while the Eagles got them in week 11.  That’s not an excuse for the Eagles, but it means the comp is less valuable informationally than if the games had been played close together.

Overall the advantage points to the Seahawks, but it’s narrow.

Score Projection:

Of the Eagles defensive opponents this year, the Cardinals are most comparable (one spot better than SEA by DVOA).  Against them, on the road, the Eagles scored 20 points.  Against the second best defense by DVOA, San Francisco, the Eagles scored 21, also on the road.

Of Seattle’s opponents, the Eagles offense ranks most similarly to to San Francisco (Eagles are better by 3 spots).  Against the 49ers, on the road at home, the Seahawks allowed just 3 points.  On the road, however, the Seahawks allowed 24 points against KC (4 spots better than Eagles by DVOA).

For the season, the Eagles are averaging 31.2 ppg, while the Seahawks are allowing 18.4 ppg.  The Eagles have yet to score fewer than 20 points this season, and at home they’ve scored at least 27 in every game.  Combining the factors above, I’m setting the Eagles projection at 24-25 points.

Of the Seahawks defensive opponents this year, the Eagles rank closest to Arizona (Cardinals are better by 3 spots).  Against them, at home, the Seahawks scored 19 points.  The Eagles defense ranks 2 spots ahead of St. Louis (though the DVOA gap is large).  Against, the Rams on the road, the Seahawks scored 26 points.

The Seahawks’ offense ranks 7th by DVOA.  That’s one spot above Dallas.  Against the Cowboys, on the road, the Eagles allowed 10 points.  Against Indianapolis, which ranks 13th (next closest), the Eagles allowed 27 points on the road.

Together, that all points to a range of 20-24 points.  Overall, the Eagles are allowing an average of 23.8 ppg, while the Seahawks are scoring 24.8 ppg.  Once you factor in the home/road splits, that’s right in line with our range.  That gives us 20-24 points for the Seahawks.

On Special Teams, the Eagles have a big advantage, especially in the punt return vs. punt team matchup.  Since we expect Seattle to punt a lot, that could end up meaning a lot.  Given that, and the general disparity in STs DVOA, I’m giving the Eagles another 1 point to move the top of their range to 26 points.

That gives us a final score projection of Eagles 24-26, Seattle 20-24.  If we take the midpoints, it gives us a base-case of Eagles 25-Seattle 22. That’s a very unlikely final score, but we’re just looking for a direction signal.

Since the line is even, we get a narrow signal to take the Eagles. Not much room here, but that’s the pick.  On the O/U, we’ve got a range of 44-50 points.  The line is set at 48.5, so this is a tough call.  Eagles games have averaged 55 ppg this year, but Seattle’s have averaged just 43.4 ppg.  I like the way the Eagles defense matches up against Seattle, so I’m going against our Over rule and taking the under 48.5.

More generally, the Seahawks don’t seem positioned to take advantage of the Eagles’ weakness (defensive backfield).  With the D-Line playing so well, I like our chances to force punts and hold Seattle to FGs.  Seattle’s defensive strength on the outside is bad for Maclin/Cooper/Huff, but since Sanchez targets Matthews a lot anyway, that strength is mitigated.  If Sanchez can keep his focus on low-risk throws to the middle of the field, leveraging Matthews, Celek, and Ertz, I like the Eagles to win a close game.

If he tries to push the ball downfield or to the sidelines, though, we could see a number of turnovers…  Lastly, if the Eagles do that, expect Seattle to load the box, which will lead to a number of 3rd and 1-5 yard situations.  If that happens, Darren Sproles once again becomes the key to the game.

Time Out for a Good Cause

It’s that time of year again.  For those of you who’ve been here long enough, you’ll remember that last year I went on a service trip to Iraq.  While there I, along with several other IRAP volunteers, conducted interviews with refugees, made connections with NGOs, and helped people whose lives are in imminent danger apply for asylum in the U.S.

For obvious reasons, I will not be returning to Iraq this year.  I will, however, be going to Lebanon.  The country has seen an incredible influx of Syrian refugees, who are caught in the fight between an oppressive ruling regime on one side and radical islamic fundamentalists on the other.  The organization I volunteer for, the Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project, helps these people navigate the bureaucratic nightmare that is the U.S. asylum and immigration procedure.  I want to emphasize that we target out limited resources towards the clients judged to be in immediate, life-threatening danger.  We help them apply for asylum in the U.S., prepare them for their interviews, push the immigration services for case resolutions, and file appeals on client’s behalf when they have been wrongly rejected.

For those of you who donated last year, I’m pleased to tell you that one of the clients a met with, a young LGBT Iraqi man, has already been resettled safely in the U.S.  So don’t worry about results, because we get them!

Unfortunately, the trip is expensive.  To help defray the costs, we’ve set up a fundraising page here.  Any help is greatly appreciated (and tax deductible).

Even if you can’t donate, you can watch the video below.  It’s just a few minutes long, and it will give you a feel for the type of clients we deal with and the issues they face.

For those of you with some additional time (17 mins), here’s a clip from Last Week Tonight with John Oliver that gives a really good overview of the issue.

Thanks again.  If you’re reading this blog, you probably have a relatively stable life.  Not everyone is as lucky, so if you can afford it, please do help us.

 

Eagles – Cowboys: Thanksgiving Day Notes

The Eagles need a win against Dallas.  BUT, it doesn’t HAVE to be today.  What today’s game is really about is whether the Eagles are good enough to make a real run at a bye.  I’m confident they’ll take the division.  To do so, the Eagles just need to win one against Dallas, beat WAS and NYG and have the Cowboys drop a game (they play the Bears and Colts, both very lose-able games).  However, keeping up with the Packers is a taller order, and probably requires the team to go 2-1 over the next three (and win the final two).

Now, to the matchup-

- Dez Bryant scares me.  He’s really good, and Tony Romo is really good as well.  The only QB/WR combo the Eagles have played with as good a combination are the Packers (Rodgers/Nelson).  That didn’t go so well.

But,

In Dallas’ three losses this year, Bryant has recorded a TOTAL of 100 yards receiving.  He can absolutely be contained.  The key is to avoid situations where he gets one-on-one deep.  Normal 50/50 balls turn into 60/40 or 70/30 balls when Dez is involved.  He’s probably not going to beat you deep, but he doesn’t have to.  If the Eagles can jam him at the line and get reasonably responsible Safety play over top, they an hold Dez to a less-than-catastrophic game.

- Dallas’ O-Line is overhyped.  The run-blocking has been great (#1 according to Football Outsiders), but the pass-blocking has not (20th by FO, with an adjusted sack rate of 6.9%).  That’s the key to the game, and something people are overlooking.  The Eagles can absolutely get pressure on Romo, and whether they DO or not will go a long way to determining the outcome.

- Against the run, the Eagles LBs are going to have to play really well.  I’m mostly looking at Barwin and Kendricks here, because its foolish to rely on the other guys.  Also from Football Outsiders, Dallas is #1 in Second-Level blocking.  If the LBs can’t get off their blocks or work around the Dallas O-Linemen when they get downfield, Murray is going to gash this defense.

- Turnovers.  Stating the obvious here, but they’re key.  Mark Sanchez will likely turn the ball over at least once, and I’m betting on twice.  That’s not the important part.  The important part is getting them back on the other side.  Demarco Murray has 5 fumbles this year, and the Cowboys overall have 19 turnovers on offense.  That’s almost 2 per game, and that’s what I think the Eagles need to get to win this game.

- As has been the case in nearly every game this year, the Eagles have a big advantage on Special Teams.  That’s they’re leverage point, and without it I don’t see much of an edge.  Practically speaking, if the Eagles don’t get a couple of big returns or pin the Cowboys back with good coverage consistently, it’s going to be hard for the Eagles offense to keep up.

The Cowboys defense isn’t good (25th by DVOA), but the Eagles’ inconsistency worries me.  A couple of short fields would be a big help, even if it just results in Parkey FGs.

That’s all for today.  Odds breakdown is below, and as you’ll see, I don’t see a strong edge either way.  The opponents in common breakdown strongly favors the Eagles, but their 3 point underdogs, meaning Vegas sees them as roughly 42% to win.  I think the line is off (I’d have it at pick-em or Dallas by 1 point), but the takeaway is the same: this is a very close matchup.  In that case, natural variance will likely decide the winner.  Hopefully you’re feeling lucky.

—————–

My picks record to date:

Line: 5 – 6

O/U: 6 – 5

Reader record:

Line: 6 – 5

O/U: 9 – 2

This week’s lines:

Eagles +3 (+105)

Cowboys -3 (-125)

Over 56 (-110)

Under 56 (-110)

Reviewing last week:

The Eagles took care of business, as did we.  2-0 for the third time in three weeks, putting me in position to make a run at >55%. for the year.  Not much to take away from the game itself, the Eagles are a much better team and the result reflects that.

This week’s game:

This is a big game, no way around it.  BUT, I want to remind everyone that the Eagles don’t “need” this win by any stretch of the imagination.  Looking at the rest of the schedule, as long as the Eagles win against Washington and the Giants to close out the season, going 1-2 over the DAL-SEA-DAL set gets the team to 11-5.  Here’s the key: as long as that win comes against Dallas, the Eagles are in really good shape to win the division.  The Cowboys still have games against Chicago and Indianapolis, and I don’t think they’ll win both.  By virtue of the Cowboys’ loss to Washington, the above results would give the Eagles a tiebreaker over Dallas for the division (better division record).

So…a win tomorrow takes a lot of pressure off the team and keeps them in the race for a bye, but a loss really isn’t THAT damaging.  It would just mean the Eagles need to win at home against Dallas in two weeks.

Now for the breakdown:

DVOA:

Eagles Overall DVOA: 12.4% (8th)

Cowboys Overall: 8.5% (10th)

Eagles Offense: -2.2% (16th)

Cowboys Defense: 6.1% (25th)

Eagles Defense: -5.3% (8th)

Cowboys Offense: 14.5% (5th)

The Eagles STs reclaimed the #1 ranking, with a DVOA of 9.4%.  The Cowboys STs rank 13th at 0.1%.

As you can see, the DVOA suggests a really close game.  The Eagles offense has struggled to find consistency, but the Cowboys defense is in the bottom third of the league.  On the other side, the Cowboys offense looks really good, but the Eagles defense is playing well also (notwithstanding the Packers game).  As has been the case several time this year, it really could come down to special teams, where the Eagles have a large advantage.

In general, though, the numbers point to a tossup, which squares with the spread (2-3 points for home field).

Opponents in Common

Here’s where things look interesting for Eagles fans.  These teams have EIGHT opponents in common.  Being in the same division will do that for you.  Anyway, here are the results:

Jacksonville – Eagles won at home by 17.  Cowboys won on the road by 14. (Tie)

Washington – Eagles won at home by 3.  Cowboys lost at home by 3. (Advantage Eagles)

49ers – Eagles lost on the road by 5.  Cowboys lost at home by 11. (Eagles)

Rams – Eagles won at home by 6.  Cowboys won on the road by 3. (Tie)

Giants – Eagles won at home by 27.  Cowboys won at home by 10.  (Eagles).  The Cowboys also beat the Giants on the road by 3.

Arizona – Eagles lost on the road by 4.  Cowboys lost at home by 11. (Eagles).

Houston – Eagles won on the road by 10.  Cowboys won at home by 3 in OT.  (Eagles).

Titans – Eagles won at home by 19.  Cowboys won on the road by 16. (Tie).

Now you see why I thought they were interesting for Eagles fans.  Of the 8 comps, the Eagles clearly performed better in 5 of them, with the other 3 a coming out as ties (with each exactly accounting for a 3 point home field advantage).

Basically, this says to me that the Eagles, in a vacuum, are probably a slightly better team than the Cowboys.  Of course, that doesn’t mean a head-to-head matchup would play out that way.

Score Projection

The Cowboys defense ranks 25th by DVOA, just behind Washington and just ahead of Carolina.  Against those teams, the Eagles scored 37 and 45 points, both at home.  The only other worse defenses the Eagles have played are the Giants and Titans, against whom the Eagles scored 27 and 43.  That’s a pretty bullish signal for the Eagles offense.

Meanwhile, the Eagles offense ranks 16th, slightly better than San Francisco and Houston.  Against those teams, Dallas allowed 28 and 17 points, both at home.

Those are tough results to reconcile.  On the season, the Eagles are averaging 31.1 ppg, while Dallas is allowing 21.8 ppg.  Facing a poor defense, it seems unfair to expect the Eagles to perform below average, but you could say the same thing from the other perspective.  Overall, I think an expectation between those averages is reasonable, but the results point strongly to the high end of the range.  With that, I’m setting the Eagles projection at 28-30 points.

The Cowboys offense ranks 5th by DVOA, a few spots below GB but with a large value gap (10% DVOA).  Unfortunately, the next highest ranking offense that the Eagles have faced is Indianapolis, now ranked 13th with a DVOA of 3.1%.  Against them, on the road, the Eagles allowed 27 points.  Against GB, the Eagles allowed 53.  For obvious reasons, I think the Colts is a better comp, but neither of them is a really strong match.

From the other side, the Eagles defense ranks 8th, just behind Seattle and a few spots ahead of Jacksonville.  Against those teams, the Cowboys scored 30 and 31 points, both on the road.  Knock those up a couple of points for home/road and combined it with the Indy comp and we’re left with a range of 29-31 points.

On the season, the Cowboys are averaging 26.5 ppg, so a range starting at 29 against a good defense seems generous.  The Eagles are allowing an average of 25 ppg, but have only played one offense better than Dallas, against whom they were destroyed.  Factor in home field and I don’t see any good reason to adjust the range.  I’m setting Dallas at 29-31.

That gives us a score projection of Dallas 29-31, Eagles 28-30.  In other words, a razor thin margin, and well within our relatively wide margin of error.  We also haven’t adjusted for the STs advantage, which I think is worth 1-2 points.  That puts us dead on a 50/50 game. In that case, take the points.

I’m terrified of Dez Bryant against the Eagles’ secondary, and Tony Romo is a much better QB than most Philly fans like to admit.  HOWEVER, the Dallas O-Line hype-train is a little out of control right now.  The run-blocking has been great, but that plays into the Eagles strength (relatively).  The pass-blocking, on the other hand, has not been good.  Romo is taking sacks at a rate of 6.3%.  Demarco Murray has 7 TDs…but 5 fumbles.

I’d feel a lot better if Nick Foles was the QB, since I think 2 interceptions is inevitable for Sanchez, but the Cowboys could very easily give those TOs right back.  In all, buckle your seat belts, because this should be a wild game.

The O/U is 56 at Bovada, but you can get it at 55.5 other places.  Regardless, my projection points to a range of 58-62, depending on how you factor the Eagles STs.  That means take the over, which the Eagles have now hit in 8 of 11 games this season.

 

 

 

Eagles – Titans Pregame Notes

Last week sucked, but the Eagles couldn’t have asked for a better game with which to get back on track.  The Titans are 2-8, and have lost 8 of their last 9 games.  Their only win came by two points, at home, against Jacksonville.  As you’ll see below, the spread reflects this as the Eagles are 11 point favorites.  Here are a few notes:

- The defense was embarrassed last week, but now they play an offense averaging just 16.8 points per game.  In fact, the Titans have scored 17 or fewer points in 7 of their 10 games this season.  Basically, the defense has absolutely no excuse for not shutting this team down.  Bishop Sankey isn’t exactly a world-beater at RB, and the Titans don’t have anything close to the deep passing game of the Packers.  Nate Washington could certainly beat Bradley Fletcher in a footrace, but he still needs Zach Mettenberger to get him the ball.

In all, if the defense plays well, we should see a huge blowout.

- The Titans defense isn’t quite as bad as their offense, but it’s still not a unit the Eagles should struggle too much with.  I’m not a big Mark Sanchez fan, but he’s certainly capable of putting scoring drives together with regularity against a mediocre defense.

- Tennessee ranks first in the league with a Fumble Recovery % of 66.67%.  That’s pretty high.  The team overall has recovered 11 fumbles while losing just 4.  That doesn’t really effect today’s game, but it suggests the Titans’ “true” level as a team might be even worse then their record.

- The Titans are allowing 4.4 yards per carry to opposing teams and are 2nd to last in the league in rush yards allowed per game (143.5).  Shady hasn’t looked 100% this year, but today is a chance for him to have a strong performance.  Leveon Bell ran for 204 yards and a TD last week against TEN, and Justin Forsett rushed for 112 and 2 TDs the week before.

That’s all for now.  I could keep throwing out stats, but the message isn’t changing.  There are no excuses for not coming away from today’s game with a comfortable win.  The Eagles are playing at home, against a 2-8 team coming off a short week (they played Monday night).  With the Eagles playing on Thanksgiving, it’s even more important for the team to take care of business early.  Although Chip Kelly has shown a puzzling tendency to leave starters in the game too long, pulling Shady/Maclin/Sproles/Cox/etc… early might go a long way to keeping them in good condition for Thursday.

Full odds breakdown from BGN is below, but the summary is I see some recency bias in the line here and think the Eagles win by close to 2 TDs.  I’m taking the over because its the Eagles (they’ve hit the over 7 out of 10 this season, despite very high lines).

My picks record to date:

Line: 4 – 6

O/U: 5 – 5

Reader record:

Line: 5 – 5

O/U: 8 – 2

This week’s lines:

Eagles -11 (-110)

Packers +11 (-110)

Over 49 (-105)

Under 49 (-115)

Reviewing last week:

Well that sucked.  I didn’t think the Eagles would win, but certainly expected it to be a close game.  That’s what happens when you get outplayed AND have nearly every bounce go against you.  Took an 0-2 here, and the 55 point O/U that seemed really high ahead of time was nearly covered by just GB.

This week’s game:

This is a really interesting line.  11 points is big, especially when it favors a team that just lost by 33 points.  Meanwhile, the Titans are just 2-8.  After an opening week win against Kansas City, Tennessee has lost 8 of its last 9 games.  It’s only win was at home against Jacksonville, by just 2 points.   Last week, the Titans nearly beat the Steelers (lost by 3), but that’s about it for positives.

Needless to say, the Eagles will almost certainly win this game.  The question, of course, is by how much.

DVOA Breakdown:

Eagles Overall DVOA: 9.6% (8th)

Titans Overall: -16% (27th)

Eagles Offense: -3.4% (18th)

Titans Defense: 9% (29th)

Eagles Defense: -5.6% (8th)

Titans Offense: -6.0% (20th)

On Special Teams, the big news is that the Eagles have fallen out of the top ranking for the first time since week 2.  They now trail Baltimore, but Tennessee ranks just 19th.

Opponents in Common:

Washington – Eagles won by 3 points at home.  Titans lost by 2 points on the road.

Jacksonville – Eagles won by 17 at home.  Titans won by 2 at home.

Houston – Eagles won by 10 on the road.  Titans lost by 14 at home.

Indianapolis – Eagles won by 3 on the road.  Titans lost by 24 on the road.

Every result is in the Eagles’ favor, and to a significant degree.  Now, we already knew the Eagles would be the the pick to win, but these results point to a lot of potential for a blowout.

Score Projection:

The Titans are bad on defense.  The team is allowing an average of 25 points per game and ranks 29th by DVOA.  The Eagles haven’t played anyone quite as bad on defense, with the Colts coming closest (26th).  Against them, on the road, the Eagles scored 27.

The Eagles offense ranks 18th by DVOA, just better than Houston.  Against the Texans, at home, the Titans allowed 30.

Those results point towards a 30-33 point game for the Eagles.  Given that the team is averaging 29.9 on the season, that seems reasonable. For a projection, I’m setting the Eagles line at 31.5 points.

The Titans, on the other hand, are averaging just 16.8 ppg.  By DVOA, they rank 20th, right above Washington, and just below Houston.  Agains those teams, the Eagles allowed 34 and 21 points.

Among Titans’ opponents, the Eagles rank most similarly to Baltimore, coming in just be behind them.  Against them (on the road) the Titans scored just 7 points.

Now we see the tricky part.  Pegging the Eagles defense is tough, especially after the team gave up 55 (Yes, I know that wasn’t all the defense).  If we think the Eagles will score 31-32 points, that means we need to project the Titans to score 20 or less, so let’s see how likely that is.

The team is allowing an average of 25.1 ppg this season.  They’ve allowed 20 or less just twice, against Jacksonville and New York.    They’ve also allowed 21 points twice, to Houston and Carolina.  So expecting them to hold the Titans below to 20 or less doesn’t seem like a high probability bet, BUT, we have to look at the other side of the equation.

The Titans have scored 20 or less SEVEN TIMES.  In 10 games.  Overall, the team averages just 16.8 points per game.   If we just peg the Titans at their average, we get a spread of 13-14 points.

So why is the spread just 11?  Everything above points to a 2 TD game.

My answer:  I think there’s a strong recency bias here.

The Eagles are coming off of a terrible game, and the Titans have just played their most impressive game since week one.  Add in the fact that Tennessee is coming off a short week (played Monday Night) and playing on the road, and it looks like we might be seeing a dislocation here.

I’m taking the Eagles, and I think the Titans score just 15-17 points. 

Adding my projections together, I get 46-48.5 points.  The over/under is set at 49, so that says take the Under.  However, that goes against my general rule for this year (bet the over unless there’s a VERY strong signal.)  The Eagles have hit the over in 7 of 10 games this year, and I’m confident in Billy Davis and the defense allowing 1-2 late garbage TDs.

So Over is the pick.

Eagles – Packers: Pre-game notes

Odds breakdown is below.  Shot version: 80% of the public is betting the Packers, the line is up to 6 on Bovada.  I think that’s too high, and there’s potentially a huge recency bias here.  The Packers look great (though the Eagles played very well against the Panthers), but their best win was against the Dolphins.  Meanwhile, they’ve lost games against the Lions, Seahawks, and Saints.  Note that all of those games were on the road, but they also lost them by large margins (details below).  Overall, Rodgers/Nelson against this secondary scares me, but their far from a “great” team, at least thus far.

More notes:

- The key to beating Aaron Rodgers is pressure.  That sounds like a really obvious statement, and it is.  However, Rodgers is the best QB EVER at avoiding interceptions.  He’s got an INT rate of just 1.1% this year, and a career rate of just 1.7%.  That’s amazing, as are most of his stats.  However, when it comes to sacks, Rodgers is much more ordinary.  He’s taking them this season at a rate of 6.7%, and his career rate is 7.2%.

He uses his legs and athleticism to keep plays alive, but he’s also prone to holding the ball to long and taking sacks.  Even more enticing is his propensity to fumble.  He’s done so 4 times this year, and 46 times in his career.

The Packers are going to score today, but the Eagles can mitigate the damage if they can grab a Rodgers fumble, or get a couple of timely sacks to force short drives.

- Mark Sanchez will be a point of focus for everyone, but I’ve got a slightly different take.  Whereas last week (and pretty much every game for the past month) I said the key was avoiding turnovers against an inferior team, this week we have a different situation.  The Eagles will likely need to score 3-4 offensive TDs to win this game.  That means taking a few chances.  So…the key for Sanchez is NOT avoiding INTs (though that would be awesome).  The key is the ratio of big plays to INTs.  I’ll gladly accept an interception if it means he’s hit on a few high-reward balls downfield.

This just doesn’t seem like the type of game you can win by kicking a bunch of FGs.

- Speaking of FGs, Cody Parkey has been amazing.  He’s 16 of 17 overall, and has hit all 3 FGs from 50+ yards.  Just as important, he’s kicking touchbacks at a rate of 62.50%.  For comparison, last year the Eagles (Alex Henery) had a rate of just 40%.

I bring this up because today will be the toughest conditions Parkey has faced.  It probably won’t crack 30 degrees today, and there’s a 20% chance of precipitation (i.e. snow).  That definitely takes some distance off of his kicks, the question is how much.  What we see today will go a long way towards informing what we can expect from him in the playoffs, especially if the Eagles get a home game(s).

- Mychael Kendricks and Fletcher Cox look really good.  Today they’ll be challenged more than they have been in a long time.  I’m optimistic, but there’s certainly a risk that these guys, and the defense as a whole, have benefited from playing a lot of very weak offenses.  While it’s a great evaluation of everyone on defense, I’ve made it clear that these are the most important players.  As long as they’re playing well, the Eagles long-term future looks good.

More below, but today’s game is a pretty good one from a fan’s perspective.  The Eagles are 6 point underdogs, which means they’ve only got about a 35% chance of winning.  The Packers are covered in hype and the Eagles are starting Mark Sanchez on the road.  In other words, this is a “mostly upside” game.  A win is huge, and a loss isn’t (Wild Card odds would take a big hit, but division still looks very good).  Additionally, I think the public has pushed this line too far.  Expect a close game, hopefully this time the Eagles come away with the win.

My picks record to date:

Line: 4 – 5

O/U: 5 – 4

Reader record:

Line: 5 – 4

O/U: 7 – 2

This week’s lines:

Eagles +6 (-105)

Packers -6 (-115)

Over 55 (-110)

Under 55 (-110)

Note:  This line opened at Packers -4.5.  1.5 points is a big shift, especially with the Eagles coming off a really impressive win.  It looks like the Packers hype-train is just about full, which means we should look very closely for signs the team might be overrated.

Reviewing last week:

That’s more like it. 4-0 over the last two weeks, though my projection for this game wasn’t nearly as close as last week’s.  Of course, it was pretty clear going into the game that the Eagles were a much better team, the only question was how large the win would be.  Sanchez played a much better game than I expected, and the Eagles ST scored another TD.  All in all a great win.  As a reminder, winning by very large margins over bad teams is a really good indicator of team quality.  With big wins over the JaguarsGiants, and Panthers, the Eagles are looking really good on that front.

This week’s game:

Well…it had to happen sometime.  The Eagles defense gets its toughest test, by far, since week 2 against the Colts.  Aaron Rodgers is arguably the best QB in the league (and on his way to one of the greatest careers ever, as I’ve discussed before), and the Eagles are still starting Nate Allen on defense.  Before we get to the DVOA numbers and breakdowns, let’s take a quick look at what the Packers have done so far.

The Packers are 6-3 on the year, averaging 30.8 ppg and allowing 22.8 ppg.  The team’s wins have come against the JetsBearsVikingsDolphins, Panthers, and Bears (again).  On the other hand, the Packers have lost games against the SeahawksLions, and Saints.

The only win that looks somewhat impressive is against Miami (6-4), a road game the Packers won by a field goal.  When we take a look at the losses, though, things look even better for the Eagles.  Although all three losses were on the road, the margins of 20, 12, and 21 points should dispel any notion that the Packers are a great team.

As everyone here knows, the Eagles largest lost was just 5 points, on the road against the 49ers.

The DVOA Breakdown

Eagles Overall: 19.9% (5th)

Packers Overall: 21.3% (3rd)

Eagles Offense: -1.2% (17th)

Packers Defense: -0.7% (11th)

Packers Offense: 20.6% (2nd)

Eagles Defense: -10.6% (6th)

On STs, the Eagles, obviously, are in first overall.  The Packers have a STs DVOA of 0, placing them 15th in the league.

As I mentioned, this will likely be the best offense the Eagles face all year.  Much will depend upon the defense’s ability to prevent big plays.

Comparable Games

The only opponent in common is the Panthers.  The Eagles beat them last week, at home, by a score of 45-21.  The Packers also beat the Panthers at home, by a score of 38-17.

Those results are really close, so while that doesn’t help us in picking a winner overall, it does suggest these two teams are similarly skilled, which certainly calls into question the size of the spread.

Score Projection

The Eagles have not played an offense as good as the Packers.  Green Bay ranks second in the league, just behind Denver.  The closest the Eagles have seen was in week 2 against the Colts.  In that game, the Eagles allowed 27 points.  On the season, the Eagles are allowing an average of 22 ppg.  Obviously, we should expect the Packers to exceed that by a fair amount.

Among Packers opponents, the Eagles defense ranks most similarly to Seattle (just better) and a bit worse than Miami.  Against those teams, the Packers scored 16 and 27 points.  Both of those games were on the road.  Combining it all, I’m setting the Packers scoring expectation at 27-30 points. That Seattle data point is a tough one to incorporate, but given the agreement among the others, I’m assigning it very little weight.  The Packers are averaging 30.8 points per game, but have played a number of good defenses.  Therefore, expecting them to score just below their average seems reasonable.

The Packers defense ranks most similarly (a little bit better) to Jacksonville and Houston. Against those teams, the Eagles scored 34 and 31 points, though Jacksonville was a home game.

On the flip side, among Packers opponents, the Eagles offense ranks most similarly to Chicago (a little worse) and Miami (just better than Chicago).  Against the Bears, the Packers allowed just 17 (road) and 14 (home) points.  Against the Dolphins, the Packers allowed 24 points (road).  That’s bad for the Eagles.  In fact, the Packers have played 4 games at home this season and in those games have only allowed 20+ points once (Jets scored 24).  However, the Eagles haven’t scored less than 20 points all season.

Putting it all together, that puts us in the 21-25 point range.  However, we haven’t accounted for STs.  While normally not a big factor, the Eagles unit has been so good, especially in the return game, that its foolish not to adjust.  Given that the Packers are mediocre in Punting DVOA and relatively bad in Kicking DVOA, I’m bumping the Eagles offense a full 2 points.  That moves us to 23-27 points for the Eagles.

If we combine our projections, we get a range of Pick’em to Packers +7.  With the line at Packers -6, it’s pretty clear we should take the Eagles with the points.

On the over/under side, or combined projections give us a range of 50 – 57 points.  The line is 55.  Three of my four losses on the over/under this season came from taking the under.  In fact, I made a point of saying if it’s anywhere close we should take the over.  However, 55 points is a really high line, and our range says there’s more value in the under. So that’s the play.

Wrapping up, this looks like a tough game for the Eagles, but 6 points is too large a line.  The Packers aren’t as good as they seemed against the Bears, and might not have beaten a good team yet (depending on your evaluation of Miami).  Given the movement in the line towards the Packers, I think there’s a really good chance the team is being overrated at the moment.  Look for a close game, in which case a single play might determine the final outcome.

Eagles vs. Panthers: Pre-game Notes

Running way behind schedule (only 45 minutes to game time), so I’ll keep this brief.  Odds breakdown is below, but short version is: the line looks dead-on.  That makes betting difficult, but it means the Eagles really should win this game.

- This is basic stuff by now, but as a big favorite, the Eagles should look for a low-variance strategy.  That means relatively conservative play-calling, a special focus on turnover avoidance, and backing off the blitzes a bit.  All of that is relative, of course, 4th and 1 is still a go for it situation in most situations.

- The turnover avoidance point from above is the one that worries me.  The Panthers are averaging less than 20 points per game.  If they score more than that, it will likely be because the Eagles gave them great field position (or points) with turnovers.  Unfortunately, Mark Sanchez is extremely turnover-prone.  It’s certainly possible (perhaps probable), that Chip Kelly’s system will help Sanchez with easier reads/throws.  However, we can’t ignore Sanchez’s history (3.8% int rate, and 43 fumbles in 63 games).

This is a game that calls for pure “caretaker” play from the QB, and I’m not that confident in Sanchez’s ability to play that role.

- Evan Mathis is back, which means the Eagles are as close to being 100% healthy on the O-Line as they have been all year.  Herremans, of course, is gone, but I’m not sure there’s much of a drop-off in play from him to Tobin.  The upshot, of course, is that we can finally see if the Eagles rushing problems (and play-calling change from last year) were due to the line play, an actual Shady injury, or something else.  With Sanchez in the game, we should get plenty of opportunities to watch and evaluate the run game.  Kelce looked rusty last week, particularly with his snaps, but he also looked to have all of his athleticism back.

With the Kelce/Mathis combo back, look for a lot more action in the screen game.  There’s just no way to replicate the ability of those guys to get downfield quickly enough to stay in front of the RB at close to full speed.

- Also keep an eye out for Zack Ertz.  This is completely speculative, but my guess is that Celek’s blocking was particularly valuable while the OL was banged up.  With those guys healthy again, Chip might be more willing to trade Celek’s blocking ability for Ertz’s offensive ability.

- Mychael Kendricks’ looked great last week.  For the long-term, he’s the most important player to watch tonight.  If he can consistently play as well as he did against the Texans, the Eagles have found themselves a major defensive piece for the foreseeable future.  Combined with Cox, that would form a really strong foundation on the defensive side of the ball.  Let’s see if he covers Greg Olsen at all tonight.  Olsen’s not great, but he’s a major part of the Panthers’ passing attack (along with Kelvin Benjamin).  It’ll be a good test  for whoever ends up covering him, but I’m most curious to see if Kendricks’ coverage skills have evolved.

On the other hand, the Panthers’ rush dominant offense should give him plenty of opportunities to make plays.  Last season he was over-aggressive at times, leading to some missed tackles and poor angles.  Cleaning that up is perhaps his biggest “to do” if he’s to fulfill his potential.

That’s all for now, see the breakdown below for more.

———-

From BGN:

My picks record to date:

Line: 3 – 5

O/U: 4 – 4

Reader record:

Line: 4 – 4

O/U: 6 – 2

This week’s lines:

Eagles -7 (-105)

Panthers +7 (-115)

Over 48 (-110)

Under 48 (-110)

Reviewing last week:

Nailed the score range for the second week in a row (I also pegged the Eagles for 27 points the game before that).  I had the Eagles at 30-32 points and the Texans at 20-23. Final score was 31-21.  Fortunately this time the line was off by enough to give us an easy win. Let’s see if we can put a streak together here.

This week’s game:

This is a BIG line.  Especially given that the Eagles are starting a backup QB and just lost their starting MLB and defensive play-caller.  So what gives?

The Panthers are 3-5-1, and have a point differential of -59 points.  That’s bad (it ranks 26th in the league).  Since starting the season 2-0, and picking up a lot of hype in the process, Carolina has managed just 1 win, against the Bears at home.  Some attention has to be paid to the fact that the Panthers have had a very tough schedule.  Here are their losses:

Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Green Bay, Seattle, New Orleans

Those teams are a combined 25-17.    Of course, Carolina has lost those games by margins of 18, 28, 21, 4, and 18.  Basically, they’ve shown no indication they belong among the top half of the league.

Let’s see what DVOA has to say.

Eagles Overall DVOA: 14% (6th)

Panthers Overall DVOA: -11.8% (26th)

Eagles Offense DVOA: -2.6% (18th)

Panthers Defense DVOA: 6.4% (24th)

Eagles Defense DVOA: -7.1% (8th)

Panthers Offense DVOA: -5.0% (20th)

The Eagles are still 1st in STs DVOA, the Panthers rank 18th.

As is clear from the numbers above, the Eagles are the MUCH better team by DVOA.  I’m not that excited to see Mark Sanchez start, but since he has to, this is a pretty good time to do it.  Opponent QBs have a rating of 97.4 against the Panthers this season.

Opponents in common- Unfortunately, the Eagles have not played any of the same teams as the Panthers. That means we’re missing a valuable piece of information regarding relative strength.

Score Projection -

Out of the teams the Eagles have played, the Panthers defense ranks a little below Washington and the Giants, and a little above St. Louis.  Against those teams, the Eagles scored 37, 27, and 34 points.  That puts us around 32 points.  The Eagles are averaging 29.1 ppg thus far, so scoring a FG more than that against a bad defense isn’t exactly a stretch.  Mark Sanchez worries me a bit, and not necessarily because I don’t think he can play well.  Regardless of your feelings about him, there’s no question he presents a major risk factor.  So 32 points seems reasonable, but with a backup QB, it’s really hard to have a lot of confidence in the projection.

Of the Panthers’ opponents, the Eagles rank a bit below the Bengals.  Against them, the Panthers allowed 37 points.  In fact, the Panthers have managed to hold their opponents below 24 points just 3 times this year: against the Bucs and Lions in the first two weeks, and against the Seahawks two weeks ago.  Overall, the Panthers are allowing an average of 26.2 ppg.  In other words, the Eagles should be able to score a fair amount.  However, I don’t trust them to put up close to a full TD more than the Panthers are allowing on average (to a lot of really good teams).  Given that, I’m dialing the Eagles expectation back to 28 points.

From the other side, the Panthers offense ranks most similarly to the Giants, against whom the Eagles allowed 0 points.  The next closest opponents by DVOA are Washington (Carolina is a bit worse) and  San Francisco and Arizona (Carolina is a bit better).  Against those teams, the Eagles allowed 34, 26, and 24 points.  That puts us at 27-28 points.  However, the Panthers are averaging just 19.7 points per game overall.  The Eagles have a good defense.  Basically, I think DVOA is overrating the Panthers offense here.

If we view it from the other perspective, the Eagles defense ranks most similarly to Baltimore (a bit better), and is also close to Seattle (a little worse).  Against Baltimore, the panthers scored just 10 points.  Against Seattle, they scored just 9.  Now we have a problem.  Our two estimates are completely different.    On average, the Eagles are allowing 22.1 ppg, so I’m inclined to skew closer to that amount.  All told, I’m setting the Panthers expected output at 20-21 points.

That gives us a final projection of Eagles 28, Panthers 20-21.  The line is 7, so we’re very close.  On balance, the Eagles look like the slightly better pick, but remember what I said about Sanchez.  Him playing puts a lot of additional expected variance in the game.  In other words, be careful with this one.

Even more bad news:  the Over/Under is 48, meaning we’re right on target there as well.

The Eagles are hitting the over pretty consistently, so if I have to pick a side that’s what I’m going with.  Just know there’s not nearly as much opportunity in this game as there was last week.