The Eagles QB Situation

It’s time.  I’ll save my comments about yesterday for later, because I just can’t wait any longer to address the QB situation.  The general narrative seems to be: Sanchez sucks, but Foles is also bad, so the team isn’t going anywhere until it gets a QB.  If you take the next step and assume the Eagles won’t be drafting in the top 10 anytime soon, you start to see a relatively depressing future taking shape.

Before we go that far though, let’s take an in-depth look at the Eagles QB performance this year.

Ill start with Mark Sanchez, because I think he’s less controversial.  However, it’s important that we properly evaluate just how bad he has been, because we’re inevitably going to compare him to Foles from early this season.

So, here are Sanchez’s headline stats:

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You might notice that his numbers aren’t bad. 64.1% completions and a rating of 87.3 are nothing to complain about.  The Sack Rate and Interception Rates are the serious weaknesses here, they’re both far too high.  But even more important to highlight is the level of competition.  Let’s take a look at defense-adjusted performance.  How do you think Sanchez does?

Note that these stats are from before this week’s game.  They haven’t been updated yet, but they won’t change significantly enough to alter the overall takeaways.  From Football Outsiders: Mark Sanchez has a DYAR of -40.  That’s defense-adjusted yards above replacement, and it puts him 28th in the league, just behind Colt McCoy and just ahead of EJ Manuel.  Sanchez has a DVOA of -13.7%.  That places him 31st in the league.  You can check out the source stats here: http://www.footballoutsiders.com/stats/qb

I’m guessing most readers expected bad numbers, but not THAT bad.  What gives?  Well let’s take a look at the schedule Sanchez played against.  Here are the teams he played against, along with their Pass Defense ranking from DVOA (also from before this week’s games).

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Starting to get it now?  I haven’t checked (and won’t), but there’s a very good chance that Sanchez has played against the easiest defensive schedule in the league.  In particular, half of his games have come against teams with pass defenses ranked 22nd or worse.  He also faced just one defense ranked in the top third of the league.  Let’s take a look at how Sanchez performed against these teams.  I’m using QB Rating because its relatively comprehensive and easy to find, but it’s obviously not a perfect stat.

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Also note that while Sanchez’s total QB Rating is weighted, the opposing numbers are not.  As you can see, Sanchez’s headline numbers are obscuring the fact that he actually performed worse than average against nearly every opponent.  I’ve seen a number of comments about yesterday especially.  Sanchez recorded a very strong 99.9 Rating.  However, on the season, Washington is allowing opponents a Rating of 108.9.  Sanchez dramatically underperformed.

We could go a bit deeper here, but I don’t see the need.  The takeaway is that, overall, Sanchez was pretty bad, and much worse than his surface-level stats make it seem.

Now let’s look at Nick Foles.  The big question here isn’t “is Foles the answer?”, there’s no way to answer that right now.  The question is “is he definitely/probably NOT the answer?”  That’s the question that many are jumping too quickly to answer.  As you’ll hopefully see, there’s no reason to jump off the Foles bandwagon yet.  

Here is his headline stat chart, next to Mark Sanchez’s.

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Pretty similar, overall.  Sanchez has the better Rating, Comp %, and Y/A, but the differences aren’t that big (aside from Comp %, which I’ll get to).  However, Sanchez’s turnover rate is higher, and his sack rate is MUCH higher.  Of course, we also have to adjust for defensive strength.  This is the part many fans are missing.

First, the FO numbers.  Foles has a DYAR of 300.  That places him 16th overall, ahead of Russell Wilson and Carson Palmer.  His DVOA is 3.6%, good for 17th overall.  Of course, those aren’t great numbers.  We certainly want our QB to be well above the middle of the pack.  However, it’s not as bad as I’m guessing a lot of readers/fans believed.  Let’s take a look at the opposing defenses Foles faced:

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Hold off on the bottom-line numbers for a minute.  Just look at the rankings.  Foles played in 8 games (Houston was partial).  In that time, he faced 3 of the top ten defenses in the league, and just one defense ranked worse than 20th overall.  Remember that Sanchez faced 4 such teams.  Foles’ headline numbers look similar to Sanchez’s, but that hides the fact that he played a MUCH tougher schedule.  Not only that, but we haven’t even mentioned the offensive line yet.  Foles played in 8 games.  He had just one game with Evan Mathis.  He had just 4 games with Jason Kelce.  4 games with Lane Johnson.  In other words, the offensive line was a mess when Foles was healthy.  Of course, that’s going to happen every once in a while, and you’d love your QB to play well regardless.  However, if you’re going to compare Foles and Sanchez, you’d be foolish not to account for the dramatic difference on the offensive line.

Now let’s talk about the bottom-line numbers above.  Foles did not play well relative to QB-Rating average.  However, there are a couple of big points to note.  First, it doesn’t account for sacks, which Foles did a particularly good job of avoiding this season (maybe TOO good actually).  Second, the San Francisco game was absolutely dreadful.  That single game had a dramatic negative effect on Foles headline numbers.  We need to be very careful about picking and choosing result; every player looks good if you take away his worst games.  But it’s also important to recognize negative outliers when they occur.

Outside of that game, Foles’ completion percentage was 61.5%.  Not great, but OK, and not terribly far from last year’s 64% (2.5 compilations per 100 throws).  Without the San Francisco game, Foles’ YPA jumps to 7.34, more than a full yard above his season average.  Here’s a table showing Foles #s with and without the SF game (at least the ones I could calculate):

Screen Shot 2014-12-21 at 1.38.04 PM

Not bad, huh?  Again, we can’t just absolve Foles of a terrible game, but I want to highlight just how big of an impact that game had on his overall stats.  Now remember that was a road game, against the 4th best passing defense and 4th best overall defense in the league.

Do you know what the offensive line was that game?  Peters – Tobin – Molk – Kelly – Herremans.  Tobin, Molk, Kelly… LeSean McCoy had 10 rushes for 17 yards.  That’s another way of saying Foles should have played better, but it’s about as bad a position to put a QB in as is possible.

Third, we need to talk about the STs effect as well.  This is a bit tougher to parse.  Basically, the story against Foles is that he was helped a lot by the defense and STs TDs.  No doubt that’s a big part of the story.  However, it’s not as simple as that.  You have to factor in the opportunity cost of the lost drives.  At the extreme, think of the San Francisco game, but now imagine that both Malcolm Jenkins and Darren Sproles are tackled at the 5 yard line rather than scoring.  If Foles takes the ball there and throws TDs, suddenly his numbers look much better and the story looks a lot different.  Of course, that would be inflating his value, just as writing off the opportunity cost completely deflates his value.

Fourth, we need to discuss his “weapons”.  Remember, Foles top options at WR this year were Maclin, Cooper, Matthews, Celek, and Ertz.  Maclin has been great.  The other guys…not so much.  Matthews has had a fantastic year for a rookie WR, but rookie WR’s are graded on a big curve.  Moreover, Matthews has emerged since Foles went down, and we have no idea how much of that was Matthews actually getting better and how much of it was Sanchez just looking for him more often.

The point is, Foles lost his best WR from last year, and that player was no even close to replaced.  It shouldn’t surprise anyone that his YPA and TD % dropped significantly; losing the best deep threat in the game will do that.  Instead, we have to realize that Chip Kelly consciously took a step back on offense this year, at least in terms of talent.  It’s probably safe to say he didn’t realize how bad Cooper actually was, but we do need to assume he realized Matthews and Huff would not be huge contributors this year.  Morevoer, the reluctance to play Ertz also suggests Kelly isn’t just trying to put his best receiving talent on the field as much as he can.  There are long-term strategic arguments to be made in favor of that decision, but it has an unmistakeable negative effect on the passing game (for both QBs).  This is a really long way of saying that the Eagles talent on offense is more likely to improve next year rather than regress, and we should see the QB’s numbers (whoever he is), rebound to reflect that difference.

Wrapping Up

Let me close with a few quick points that hopefully tie things together a bit.

– Mark Sanchez was worse than he seemed this year.  He should not be anything more than a backup QB, and asking him to start more than 1-2 games is too much if you actually want to win.  He faced an easy schedule with a healthy supporting cast, and put up pedestrian numbers despite those advantages.  Not only that, but his failure to lead TD drives last night, in a must-win game against a terrible defense, was inexcusable.  There were open WRs all game, he had time to throw, and he still couldn’t get it done.  Just remember that Sanchez was, in fact, the backup QB, and that it’s VERY hard to win consistently if you have to play the backup for a long period of time.

– Foles was not as bad this year as he seemed.  He played a very hard schedule, his stats were significantly hurt by one very bad game, and he was dealing with a decimated OL and a nonexistent running game for much of his playing time.  Adjusting for strength of schedule, Foles was firmly in the middle of the pack.  That’s not good enough, but it’s also not bad enough to warrant throwing him away, especially after last season.

– I still don’t know what to do with QBR, but Foles’ is 62.21.  That’s the 12th best in the league, and puts him one spot above Russell Wilson and one spot behind Andrew Luck.  Note that QBR does not adjust for strength of schedule, which would likely give Foles a boost.  I’m definitely NOT saying Foles is better than Wilson or as good as Luck, that’s ridiculous.  However, it’s important context that should remind everyone that Foles wasn’t anywhere close to BAD this year.

– Foles started 8 games this season.  The Eagles were 6-2 over that span.  Those losses were both on the road, in close games, to good teams (and very good defenses).  Over the past two season, Foles is 14-4 as a starter.  Are you really in a rush to move past someone with that record?  Remember that he’s also been throwing the ball downfield more than any other QB in the league over that time period (so he’s not just been going along for the ride).

– The Eagles offense will get better.  Matthews, Ertz, and Huff all have very high upside, and play positions that take several years to develop.  Matthews and Ertz, specifically, look very good if you compare their statistics to other young players at those positions.  Huff clearly has high-impact potential, but again, he plays a position that typically requires 3-4 years of development before really seeing peak ability.  If the Eagles can find some way to maintain a decent offensive line, there’s a lot of upside to this group of players (hopefully Cooper just quietly fades away).  Maclin is a big question, because of the contract he’ll require, but I don’t see how the Eagles could let him go.  Losing DeSean and Maclin in consecutive years would be too much to overcome IMO.  It would set the rebuilding plan back at least another year, which seems unlikely given the men in charge (I don’t get the sense that Chip or Lurie are THAT patient).

– Finally, there are a lot of other aspects to the QB position that warrant a deep-dive, but I like to keep these posts somewhat contained.  The overall message for now is: It is far too early to give up on Foles.

My odds breakdown is below, but it’s relatively inconsequential if you’re not betting the game.  Washington is TERRIBLE.  According to Weighted DVOA, they’ve been the wort team in the league over the past few games.  In other words, this game shouldn’t be close.

I know a lot of people are down on the team after the previous two weeks, but the pessimism is a bit overdone.  We knew coming into the season that the Eagles were a good, but flawed, team.  Nothing that has happened since then changes that assessment.

That said, the Eagles still have a good chance at the playoffs.  I’m guessing everyone is familiar with the pathways, and clearly the most realistic one involves Dallas losing tomorrow.  Given the spread, Dallas has about a 55% chance of winning the game.  Not too different from a coin-flip, so no reason to be hopeless just yet.

Also, using 538’s ELO ratings, I’ve calculated that there is just a 29% chance of Dallas, GB, and Detroit all winning this weekend.  Conversely, that means the Eagles have a 71%+ chance of staying alive (not including the odds of Dallas winning this weekend but losing next).

Now, a few points about today’s game:

- Mark Sanchez is not a good QB.  We knew that.  However, by DVOA, Washington has the worst pass defense in the league.  If Sanchez just plays a mediocre game, he should still end up with a very nice stat-line.

- Washington has the worst Special Teams unit in the league.  The Eagles have the best.  That means field position should benefit the Eagles greatly today, giving the offense a head start.  In particular, Washington’s kickoff and punt coverage teams are awful.  They kick touchbacks just 37.1% of the time.  So they’re bad at covering returns and allow a lot of them.  Eagles returners might have a very big day.

- RG3 is playing for Washington, and his headline stats have been OK.  He’s completing nearly 70% of his passes, and has a rating of 89.8.  If we dig a little deeper, though, we see some serious weaknesses.  He’s taking sacks at a rate of 15.7%.  The Eagles are sacking opponents at a rate of 8.4%, second best in the league.  Put those together and we get a recipe for a dominant day by the defense.  RG3 has also thrown just 3 TDs in 150 pass attempts (2.0%).  That’s VERY low impact.

- Let’s not belabor this game too much.  The Eagles will almost certainly win. They have a close to 80% chance according to the spread, which I think understates thing a bit.  Washington is a train-wreck and the Eagles are still a good team, despite consecutive losses.  Moreover, the Eagles should be pissed about their recent performance and anxious to prove they can still beat up bad teams.  Remember, outside of the first Washington game, the Eagles have performed very well against bad teams.  Here are the win margins against teams at the bottom of the league:

Jacksonville (17), Giants (27), Tennessee (21), Carolina (24).  We can also throw St. Louis in there, which was a 6 point win due to a couple of prevent-aided TDs.

Basically, don’t let the Eagles middling performance against good teams obscure their relatively consistent strong performance against bad teams.  Win big today, put the pressure on Dallas, and hopefully watch them crumble tomorrow.

———-

My picks record to date:

Line: 6 – 8

O/U: 8 – 6

Reader record:

Line: 7 – 7

O/U: 11 – 3

This week’s lines:

Eagles -8 (-110)

Washington +8 (-110)

Over 50.5 (-110)

Under 50.5 (-110)

Reviewing last week:

Uggh.  If we go back to the first matchup, the only worry was Dez Bryant.  He’s an elite receiver, and clearly a terrible matchup for any of the CBs.  However, in that matchup Bryant was well-contained.  This past week…not so much.  That, combined with one of the flukiest plays I’ve ever seen (the opening kickoff debacle), was too much for the team to overcome.  Fortunately, we hit the Over, splitting the action yet again.

This week’s game:

Strictly a “take care of business” type of game.  Washington is an absolute train-wreck, and the Eagles need a win to hold onto playoff hope.  Washington has 11 losses this year, and 8 of them have come by 10+ points.  The Eagles should be quite motivated after a tough 2 week stretch, and there’s a lot of potential for recency bias here (against the Eagles).

DVOA Breakdown:

Eagles Overall DVOA: 12.3% (7th)

Washington Overall: -27.5% (29th)

Eagles Offense: -2.2% (16th)

Washington Defense: 9.3% (27th)

Eagles Defense: -5.4% (8th)

Washington Offense: -12.2% (27th)

The Eagles are #1 in STs, Washington is last.

Not much to parse here.  The Eagles are still a good team, they’re just clearly a step below true “contender” status.  Washington, meanwhile, is absolute garbage.  By Weighted DVOA, they’re the worst team in the league.

Opponents in Common

Turns out ESPN has this section in its Insider PickCenter.  So let’s use their chart:

One Dallas result, Jacksonville, and SF favor Washington slightly.  The rest favor the Eagles, most by a significant margin.  The Eagles obviously have a head-to-head win as well.  However, that was all the way back in week 3, and with how much each team has changed that result doesn’t offer much value to us.

Score Projection

Washington’s defense ranks just worse than Dallas and just better than Tennessee.  The Eagles scored 33 on the road against Dallas, 27 at home, and 43 against Tennessee at home.  Even with Sanchez’s struggles, the Eagles should have no trouble topping 30 points tomorrow.  For what it’s worth, in the first meeting this year, the Eagles scored 37 points.

The Eagles offense ranks 16th, which puts it slightly ahead of San Francisco and Houston, as well as the Giants (by a little bit larger margin).  Against those teams, Washington allowed 17 (road), 17 (road), 45 (home), and 24 (road) points.  Note that 3 of those games took place in the first 4 weeks of the season (Phi, NYG 45, and Houston).  The San Francisco game (17 points) is by far the most recent.

The Eagles are averaging 29.7 ppg, Washington is allowing an average of 26.4 ppg.  The Eagles have topped 30 points in 8 of 14 games this season, and I see little reason to believe they won’t hit that mark again.  Remember the big edge in Special Teams.  I expect the Eagles to have several short-field opportunities tomorrow, leading to a lot of red zone chances.  Even if Sanchez struggles, I see the Eagles getting 28-32 points.  If he’s on his game, this could easily go to 40.  For a projection, I’ll stay on the low side and call it 32 points, just above the Eagles average.

Washington’s offense is also bad.  The closest comps on the Eagles schedule are Arizona and St. Louis, both of which are slightly better than Washington.  Against those teams, the Eagles allowed 24 (road) and 28 (home) points.

The Eagles defense ranks 8th, just below St. Louis.  Against them, Washington scored 0 points.  That game took place just 2 weeks ago.  In fact, over the past 5 games (since the bye week), Washington is averaging just 12 points per game.

On the season, the Eagles are allowing 24.8 ppg, and Washington is scoring 18.4.  However, as I mentioned above, Washington’s recent performance has been dreadful.  Robert Griffin is back and playing OK, but he’s also taking sacks at a rate of 15.7%.  That makes it really hard to sustain drives.  Given the Eagles’ pass rush, I don’t see many long Washington drives.  DeSean might get free for a big play or two, but outside of that I can’t see where the offense will come from.  2 DeSean bombs and a TO-aided TD still gets you to just 21 points.

I think Washington scores less, but for the sake of the spread, I’ll stick with 21 for Washington. The spread is 8, and I’m looking at a projection of Eagles 31, Washington 21.  As bad as everyone feels after last week, I’d take the Eagles. I have stayed away from teaser recs this year, but this looks like a great option for that type of play.  The 8 point line is big for a road team, especially one starting Mark Sanchez, but Washington really is terrible.  Tease the line down to a TD or better and throw them in a teaser.

On the Over/Under, we’ve got a little difficulty.  The line is 50.5, and I think the Eagles might get close to that on their own.  However, we might see a replay of the Giants game.   No matter how good the offense is, if the other team doesn’t score it’s really hard to hit the over.  My projection says 52 points, so that points to the Over.  However, I think there’s some serious downside risk in the Washington score projection, so wager accordingly.

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.

———

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.