Eagles – Giants Pregame Thoughts

I went a little overboard with the odds breakdown this week, so I’ll mostly let that speak for itself.  However, I’m going to do a higher level check-in post later this week in an effort to get back into broader strategic analysis.  Not that you care, but I decided to take the bulk of the Wharton core through accelerated classes (I’ve got four finals this week).  That hasn’t left much time for anything else, but it should pay off (i.e. much more time) starting next week.  Until then, though, we’re stuck with previews.

For today’s game, here are some additional thoughts, some of which are elaborated on in the breakdown below:

- Very big game for the Eagles, but not because of the opponent.  I still haven’t seen anything from the Giants to change my ex-ante belief that they’re not a playoff-caliber team.  Given their schedule, it’s still possible they’re just the best team of the bottom third of the league.  Instead, the game is important because the Eagles schedule after the bye week is very difficult.  It looks like it’ll take at least 10 wins to win the NFC East.  So a win tonight and the Eagles only need to go 5-5 the rest of the way to hit the target.  In other words, things are going to get a bit ugly starting in two weeks and the team will likely need all the margin for error it can get.

- Much is being made about the Eagles potential for regression on D/STs, specifically regarding TDs.  That’s absolutely correct.  The Eagles will not keep scoring TDs on D/STs at such a high rate.  However, the Eagles offense is also primed for POSITIVE regression.  Hopefully it starts tonight.

A lot more below.  As I say at the end, I’m actually much more bullish about tonight’s game than my breakdown suggests.  I think the Giants’ statistics are very skewed by an easy schedule (moreso than the Eagles).  Still, I’d be lying if I said I was confident in the Eagles offense right now.  Just because they “should” improve doesn’t mean they will.

My picks record to date:

Line: 2 – 3

O/U: 2 – 3

Reader record:

Line: 2 – 3

O/U: 4 – 1

This week’s lines:

Eagles -3 (-105)

Giants +3 (-115)

Over 51 (-105)

Under 51 (-115)

Reviewing last week:

The Over hit comfortably, so that’s a win for everyone.  Unfortunately, Billy Davis and the DBs decided they didn’t like the idea of a dominating win.  Not only did they let the Ramstake the backdoor cover, they also gave them a chance to win outright.  I said I was very confident in the Eagles -7, but they only won by 6.  Of course, as soon as the lead was 13 I knew how it was going to end.  So it’s a loss for me on the line, but things aren’t all bad.  While I said I liked the Eagles, I also advised you to wait until close to kickoff before making any wagers (confirm Lane Johnson’s condition).  If you did that, you should’ve got the line at just -4.5, giving you a 2-0 week.  I still have no idea why the line dropped so much in just 24 hours (no major injuries), but I hope you took full advantage.

This week:

Huge game for the Eagles.  I’m actually not too worried about the Giants being a true division title contender, so that’s less of a factor for me than for most others.  Instead, I’m looking at the schedule after the bye week:

@Cardinals, @TexansPanthers, @Green Bay

A win this week puts the Eagles at 5-1 heading into that stretch, meaning they could lose 3 out of those 4 and still be 6-4.  After that stretch above, the Eagles play the Titans at home before getting a Dallas, Seattle, Dallas sandwich.  In other words, the Eagles are probably going to lose a bunch of games over the next 8-9 weeks, so they need as many wins now as they can get.

The Breakdown:

First, the DVOA comparison:

Eagles Overall – 5.6% (13th)

Giants Overall – 9.8% (8th)

Eagles Offense – -5.5% (22nd)

Giants Defense – -8.8% (7th)

Eagles Defense – -1.0% (16th)

Giants Offense – 3.2% (14th)

On Special Teams, the Eagles have a very big advantage.  The Birds rank 1st in the league, and along with Atlanta and Buffalo are well ahead of everyone else.  Meanwhile, the Giants are 23rd.

Well that doesn’t look very good, does it?  The Giants have the better offense and the better defense. Naturally, they rank better overall, though not by a huge margin.  Regardless, the DVOA breakdown points towards the Giants, especially because they’re getting 3 points.

Now let’s look at actual results to make our score projection:

Of the teams the Eagles have played this year, the 49ers (8th) rank closest to the Giants (9th) on defense by DVOA.  The Eagles scored 21 points against San Francisco. However, all 3 touchdowns came from Defense and Special Teams.  That makes this a tough benchmark to use, since we really don’t want to be projecting D/ST scoring.  Of course, certain media members (cough…Bill Barnwell…cough) are writing off this factor too easily.  Start Tangent – Yes, the Eagles are unlikely to keep scoring on D/STs.  BUT, in games like this one, where there appears to be a huge STs advantage, the field position effects alone can have a significant effect on the offense.  Additionally, you can’t just write off one area as due for regression without looking for others.  I’m talking specifically about the Eagles offense.

Putting on my Bayesian hat for a moment, we have to remember our ex-ante expectations for the team.  It’s fairly unlikely that the Eagles went from one of the league’s best offenses to one of the league’s worst offenses in one offseason.  There are a few roster changes to account for (D-Jax and the injuries), but that’s it.  The Eagles weren’t particularly lucky last year, so that’s not a factor.  Put simply, the Eagles offense is more likely to improve a bit than it is to get worse or stay the same.  We diminish the weight we place on last season’s results, but we can’t forget them entirely; not without a very compelling and logical reason.  Even with the Mathis/Kelce injuries, the Eagles almost certainly are not as helpless on offense as the have seemed the past couple of games.  End tangent.

So the Eagles are averaging 31.2 ppg, but against the most comparable competition they scored just 21 points (none on offense).  Of course, that was a road game, so there’s some clawback factor there as well.  If we call that 3 points, we get to an expected output of 24.

From the opposite viewpoint, among the Giants opponents thus far, the Eagles rank closest on offense to Arizona (24th) and Detroit (20th).  Against the Lions on the road, the Giants allowed 35 points.  Against the Cardinals at home, the Giants allowed 25 points.  Together, that’s an average of 30 points allowed, which is fairly surprising given the Giants strong overall rank on defense.  Using that number with our Eagles-centric projection, we get a range of 24-30 points.  Taking the midpoints gives us 27 points for the Eagles.  That’s about 4 points beneath the Eagles season average

Quick aside, you’ll notice I’m doing a lot more manipulation of the DVOA numbers than in previous weeks.  As the year goes on, I tend to put more and more weight on these (as the sample increases).

Now, from the opposite side:

Of the Giants opponents to date, the Eagles defense (16th) ranks closest to Houston (15th) and Washington (18th).  Against Houston at home, the Giants scored 30 points.  Against Washington on the road, the Giants scored 45 points.  That’s pretty strong output.  Averaged, that comes to 37.5 points, which is ridiculous.  On the season, the Giants are averaging 26.6 ppg, which is still a very good rate, but a far cry from 37.  So what do we do?  Well we can’t ignore the comparison stats, but I also don’t feel comfortable projecting the Giants to score 10+ points above their season average.  Keeping it simple, let’s split the difference and call it 32 points. Also recall that Demeco Ryans might not play, so 30+ is very reasonable.

Together, that gives us a projection of Giants 32 – Eagles 27.  As is customary by now, we’re taking the over 51. Sticking with out projections, we also get a fairly strong signal towards Giants +3. I hate given that as a recommendation, but it is what it is.

I do want to mention something important though.  As much as the Eagles have benefited from an easy strength of schedule, the Giants have benefited more.  Let’s play a little transitive property game.  We’re going to look at what I will call transitive wins.  Basically, you get credit for the wins of all the opponents you’ve beaten.  It will give us a good look at just how impressive each resume is.

The Giants have wins against 3 teams this year, Houston, Washington, and Atlanta.  Here are the transitive wins, along with each team’s overall DVOA:

Washington – 23rd, (beaten by Houston)

Oakland – 30th, (beaten by Houston)

Buffalo – 15th, (beaten by Houston)

Jacksonville – 32nd, (beaten by Washington)

New Orleans – 25th, (beaten by Atlanta)

Tampa Bay – 31st , (beaten by Atlanta)

15th, 23rd, 25th, 30th, 31st, 32nd.

The Eagles have beaten four teams this year, Jacksonville, Indy, Washington, and St. Louis. Here are the Eagles’ transitive wins:

Jacksonville – 32nd, (beaten by both Indy and Was)

Tennessee – 26th, (Indy)

Baltimore – 4th, (Indy)

Houston – 24th, (Indy)

Tampa Bay – 31st, (St. Louis)

4th, 24th, 26th, 31st, 32nd, 32nd.

Basically, the only thing the Eagles and Giants have proven thus far is that neither of them are among the worst 6-7 teams in the league.  Depending on your preseason NYG outlook, that might be new information.  For the Eagles, though, it doesn’t really tell us anything we didn’t already know.  The upshot is that, while I have to make picks for this column, I wouldn’t actually touch the line on this game.  We don’t actually KNOW that much about either team by virtue of how the schedule has shaped up so far.

I always like to end with a hopeful note, so here it is:

The Eagles might be the best team the Giants have faced thus far this season.  I don’t think you can say the same in reverse (both Indy and San Fran are better in my opinion).  Given the Eagles relatively strong performance against those teams, I’m actually more hopeful heading into this game than my breakdown above suggests.

Eagles – Rams: Pregame Thoughts

Breakdown is below, but here are some brief thoughts for today:

- Remember how I said last week didn’t really matter?  Well today’s game is the opposite. It doesn’t feel like an early season game against a non-divisional, mediocre-bad team should be meaningful, but it is.  Home games against teams clearly worse than you need to be converted to wins.  Doing so gives you the margin for error you need heading down the stretch.  Andy Reid’s team often dropped these games, which is why the late-season runs were so stressful.  Take care of business today (and for all of these games) and the end of season divisional stretch becomes much easier.

- I hate to be obvious, but today really is about Nick Foles, Shady, and Lane Johnson.  The Rams have just 1 sack in three games, so the stage is set for an Eagles offensive rebound.   I’ll be paying close attention to Johnson and the interior of the o-line.  If that part of the team performs, Foles will be fine.

- Look for the deep ball.  That was a big part of Foles’ success last season, and he’s struggling with it this year.  Not a surprise given the Eagles lost the best deep threat in the game, but there have still be opportunities for big plays.  Foles has overthrown Maclin and Cooper on a number of occasions.  If he can’t dial it in and adjust to their speed, the Eagles become a much less dangerous team to play against.

- Austin Davis is an unknown.  I screwed up earlier this year by underestimating Kirk Cousins, and this feels like a similar situation….but it’s not.  Where Cousins had Alfred Morries, Pierre Garcon, and D-Jax…Davis has Zach Stacy, Jared Cook, Brian Quick, Kenny Britt, etc… This should be a much easier matchup for the Eagles’ defense.

- The Rams have been lucky so far recovering fumbles.  They’ve put the ball on the ground 7 times in 3 games this year, and they’ve recovered 6 of them.  That doesn’t tell us anything about what will happen today, but it does suggest that the Rams are even worse than their record/point differential suggests.  This is just not a good team.

That’s all for now but see the breakdown below for a bit more.   I’m very confident about this game, but even a 7 point favorite loses about 20% of the time.

My picks record to date:

Line: 2 – 2

O/U: 1 – 3

Reader record:

Line: 2 – 2

O/U: 3 – 1

This week’s lines:

Eagles -7 (-110)

Rams +7 (-110)

Over 47.5 (-110)

Under 47.5 (-110)

Reviewing last week:

That was a tough one.  The Eagles were 2 yards from a probable win, and readers here probably realized they were also 2 yards from covering the spread AND hitting the over.  Close doesn’t count, though, so rather than my first perfect week, I had my first winless one.  The injuries on the O-Line finally affected the offense in a big way.  Lest anyone forget, the Eagles’ offense is heavily dependent on the run game.  They get a lot of big plays through the air, but that’s mostly via play-action and doesn’t work without the rushing threat.  When Chip Kelly won’t even try running the ball from 2 yards out, you can be damn sure the offensive line is having an awful game.  Still, aside from the hit to my record, the loss really doesn’t hurt the Eagles that much.

This week’s game:

The Eagles are big favorites, as they should be.  The Rams rank 29th overall by DVOA, compared to 9th for the Eagles.  Most importantly, the Rams defense ranks 30th.  They’ve only played 3 games (bye last week), but gave up 34 points in two of them (Vikings andCowboys, both at home).  With Lane Johnson back in the lineup, I expect big things from the Eagles offense this week.  I know the Eagles’ offense looked terrible last week, so forecasting a big day might seem foolish.  However, it’s really hard to exaggerate just how bad the O-Line struggled.  The fact that Herremans can slide back to G means the team has potentially made two BIG upgrades.  Along with a bad defense, that’s a recipe for a strong rebound.

The Eagles are averaging 30.5 points per game this season, and given what I said above I see no reason to expect them to perform below average.  30-31 points for is our floor.

On the other side, the Eagles defense is allowing 26 points per game.  However, the team ranks 11th overall in defensive DVOA.  3 of the four offenses the Eagles have faced can be considered mediocre (by DVOA).  The fourth, Jacksonville, is just bad (last in the league).  The Rams currently rank much closer to Jacksonville than they do to WAS, SF, or IND.  If we assume the Rams will be better than Jacksonville, but worse than the Eagles average opposition thus far, we get a range of 17-26 points against. On the season, the Rams are averaging just 18.7 points per game, and have played all three games against defenses currently ranked in the bottom third by DVOA.  Accounting for the competition, we’ve got a much narrower range of 17-19 points against for the Eagles.

There is, of course, one last complication.  The Rams are coming off a bye week, which has to count for something.  At most, I’m willing to credit them 1-2 points.  However, we can give them a full FG for the bye, bring the high end of their range to 22, and still have the Eagles winning by 8.

Thus, take the Eagles -7. Note that this is the first game I’m willing to assign high confidence to.  That’ll probably come back to bite me in the ass, but since I’m picking every Eagles game, regardless of confidence level, I think it’s important to note when I think there’s actually an attractive wagering option.  Maybe I’ll think of some catchy name for it, but for now it’s just “High Confidence Pick”.

On the O/U side, we can add the low ends of the expected output ranges to get 47 points.  If we add the high ends we get 50 points.  Unfortunately, the line is set at 47.5, within our range.  Remember, though, that I said 30-31 points is really the low end of our projection.  So while I can’t assign as high a level of confidence to this pick, we still have a clear signal to take the over 47.5.

I’d probably wait to make sure Lane Johnson is definitely suiting up, but if he is, take a shot.

Eagles – 49ers

A few thoughts for today’s game:

- At some point, you figure the Eagles injuries and inconsistent offense have to cost them. Today looks like a prime opportunity to drop a game.  Here’s the good news: the Eagles took care of business over an easy start to the season, and have some room for error now.  So my overview today focuses on one point:  this is a relatively unimportant game for the Eagles.  It might come into play for the wild card, but it’s pretty clear that the Eagles best opportunity for a playoff spot will come from winning the division.  The worst they can do after today is a tie with Dallas.  Meanwhile, the Cowboys are underdogs against New Orleans and the Giants (bye week) already have 2 losses.

So today is all about upside. A win puts the Eagles in a strong position to make a run at a top conference seed, but a loss doesn’t cost them much.

- Colin Kaepernick scares me today.  The Eagles are down their most athletic LB (Kendricks), and I don’t know who is going to chase down the 49ers QB.  Billy Davis likes sending A-gap pressure, but if the Eagles have nobody to contain a roll-out it will be a huge day for Kaepernick on the ground.  The good news is that the 49ers passing attack isn’t that potent, so we should see Fletcher and Allen get a slight reprieve from last week, at least in coverage.  They might still be called on to take down a runner…

- The 49ers have a mediocre STs unit, at least thus far.  While there aren’t as many glaring holes as we saw against the Redskins, there should be some opportunity in the kick return game.  In a close matchup, a field position advantage could easily swing the game.

- The 49ers, despite my misgivings, are not as good right now as they have been over the past few seasons.  Particularly important for the Eagles is the 49ers pass-rush struggles.  Last year, the 49ers had a sack rate of 7.16%.  This year, they’ve recorded sacks on just 3.67% of drop-backs.  Hopefully this is significant, and not just a short-term blip.  If it is, then things won’t be quite as dire for the Eagles’ O-Line as many expect.

More thoughts below in my BGN piece, but today is a good day to not think too much.  A win is very meaningful, a loss is not.  We’re essentially playing out a free option, so enjoy it.

——–

My picks record to date:

Line: 2 – 1

O/U: 1 – 2

Reader record:

Line: 2 – 1

O/U: 3 – 0

This week’s lines:

Eagles +4.5 (-115)

49ers -4.5 (-105)

Over 51 (-105)

Under 51 (-115)

Reviewing last week:

Enough is enough, I’ve learned my lesson.  With Chip Kelly’s offense and Billy Davis’ defense, it looks as though you really can’t make the O/U high enough.  The Eagles have hit the over in 6 of the last 8 games, and 8 of the last 10 road games.  Regarding my analysis, I made one very big mistake.  I significantly underrated Kirk Cousins.  That didn’t hurt me on the line breakdown, but it definitely played into the Under pick.

This week’s matchup:

I’m thinking of this game as a pure bonus.  The Eagles face a very tough matchup on the road against a 49ers team that is pretty desperate for a win (at least as desperate as a team can be 3 games in).  Moreover, Colin Kaepernick is particularly troublesome given Mychael Kendricks’ absence.  Throw in the offensive line injuries, and you can see why the Eagles are 4.5 point underdogs against a team with 1 win and a negative point differential.  So, while you’re watching, try to keep that in perspective.  The Eagles took care of business over an easy first 3 games and the team doesn’t really “need” this game.  Now, to the FO rankings:

Eagles overall DVOA: 20.9% (8th)

49ers Overall DVOA: -1.9% (18th)

Eagles Offense DVOA: 5.1% (12st)

49ers Defense DVOA: 4.8% (21st)

Eagles Defense DVOA: -7.0% (7th)

49ers Offense DVOA: 5.4% (10th)

It’s also worth noting that the Eagles rank 3rd overall in STs DVOA, while the 49ers rank 22nd.  Lastly, FiveThirtyEight.com has started putting out weekly ELO ratings and using them to create “true” point spreads.  This week, the site has the same line as Bovada (49ers -4.5).

So, what the hell is going on?  On paper, the Eagles have been a much better team. As you can see above, the Eagles rank better in each phase of the game, yet they’re still 4.5 point underdogs.  Even if we assume 3 points for home field advantage (unless it’s Seattle I usually use 2), that still leaves the 49ers as the favored team on a neutral field.  As I mentioned above, the 49ers have a negative point differential (-6), while the Eagles rank 3rd overall with a +23 PD.

We know the Eagles resume.  Here’s what the 49ers have done thus far:

Beat the Cowboys in 28 – 17 (Road)

Lost to the Bears 20 – 28 (Home)

Lost to the Cardinals 14  – 23 (Road)

And there it is.  The Bears are 5th in DVOA, the Cardinals are 12th.  Clearly, the 49ers have played a much tougher schedule than the Eagles have.  The Bears and Cardinals both rank in the top ten on defense, which might explain why the 49ers scoring output has been so poor (just 20.7 ppg).  Despite a 7th defensive DVOA ranking, I’m not willing to put the Eagles defense on that level.  That means we can expect the 49ers to outperform their average output so far.  If we factor in home field and use the Cowboys as a comp (a little worse than the Eagles), we’re in a scoring range of 25 – 31 points.  With the Kendricks’ injury, I think they’ll be at the high end of that range, so lets say 28-31 points for the 49ers.

For the Eagles, we have a much tougher analysis.  The injuries to the O-Line are ridiculous.  If it were any other team, I’d project a severe diminution in scoring.  Of course, this is Chip Kelly’s team, and he’s currently on an extremely prolific scoring streak as an offensive coach.  The Eagles are averaging 33.7 ppg this season and have gone over 30 each time.  Going back to last season, the Eagles have scored 30 or more in 7 of the past 11 regular season games (starting after the Matt Barkley Giants game).  Over that same stretch, the lowest number of points the Eagles have scored is 24.  So we’ve really got to give Chip the benefit of the doubt here.  I do think the Eagles will struggle to move the ball on Sunday, but one way or another the team always finds way to put points on the board (even if it comes on STs or D).

Still, the road game against what I believe to be a decent defense (certainly better than JAX and IND, probably better than WAS despite what DVOA says) coupled with the injuries on offense means I’m projecting output BELOW the average thus far (33.7).   I’m going to go even further than that and say the Eagles expected point production will be towards the bottom of the range we’ve seen over the past 11 games.  That puts us in the 24-27 range.

Let’s do this in matrix form:

Screen_shot_2014-09-26_at_3.49.13_pm_medium

Green means the Eagles cover, Yellow means the 49ers cover.  As you can see, there’s more green than yellow.  So, if we’re using this matrix, we should take the Eagles +4.5.  It’s also pretty obvious from the chart that we’re looking at an Over 51 pick.  Also note that there are no negative numbers up there.  The ranges don’t overlap, so even though I’m taking the Eagles, I still see this as a loss.

Eagles – Washington Pregame Thoughts

As promised, below is my odds breakdown from BGN.  Not much opportunity in this line (6.5), I think Vegas is dead-on.  Beyond that, here are a few more pre-game thoughts:

- This is a big game.  That’s pretty obvious.  A win puts the Eagles at 3 – 0 and gives a divisional opponent a loss.  Moreover, it sets the team up for a good chance at 5-1 as the next three games are home against the Rams and Giants and away against the 49ers.  Also, don’t forget that Lane Johnson returns soon, and being 4-0 or 3-1 when he comes back would be a very good result over what could have been a tough stretch given the O-Line injuries/suspensions.

Marcus Smith might play.  That’s a big deal, at least for me.  As I’ve said numerous times: the Eagles need high-impact players if they’re going to contend, and those players come disproportionately from the 1st round of the draft.  I know Smith is a “project” and thus expectations are lower than usual, but I’d still like to see him get on the field.  With Kendricks’ injury, the table is set for Smith to make a contribution.  I actually think he fits well in that role, even though most have him pegged as an OLB.  He’s athletic and should be able to rush the passer from the ILB position.  Let’s hope he gets a chance.

Darren Sproles is a very important piece today.  Washington was terrible last year on STs and hasn’t played well this year either.  Specifically, WAS ranks as the 2nd worst punting team this year by Football Outsiders.  Last season, WAS was dead last in punting by a VERY large margin.  That means Sproles has an opportunity to have a big impact in this game, without even considering offensive touches.  Foles has struggled thus far, but great field position goes a long way towards making an offense look good.  The Eagles should have that today, assuming the defense can force punts.

There are other points of emphasis, but those have all been covered well by others.  It would be really nice to see Foles get in a groove.  The O-Line has a tough test against Ryan Kerrigan.  The D-Line needs to play well to take pressure of whoever the ILB ends up being.  We’re all waiting for a “click” game, where the offense hits a lot of the big plays it has left on the field the last two weeks.  Today would be a great time to see it.

——–

My picks record to date:

Line: 1 – 1

O/U: 1 – 1

Poll Record:

Line: 2 – 0

O/U: 2 – 0

This week’s lines:

Eagles -6.5 (-110)

Redskins +6.5 (-110)

Over 50 (-110)

Under 50 (-110)

Note: A few sportsbooks have this line at 7 points, but Bovada is 6.5.  That’s a very important half point.

Reviewing last week:

Another strange game, but the results were very similar to my projections here.  From last week: “I think this game shakes out in the 27-24 range, one way or the other.”  Both teams exceeded expectations by 3 points.  Unfortunately, Parkey’s winning FG pushed the point total above the O/U line, leaving me with another split game.  Meanwhile, you readers are perfect so far.  Of course, I doubt picking the Eagles and the Over in every game will keep working.  However, given how difficult I believe early season betting to be, I’m happy with an even split so far.

This week:

Big game for the Eagles overall. A win puts them at 3 – 0, with home games against theGiants and Rams over the next three games.  So…how do things look?

We know what the Eagles have done over the past two weeks.  Over the same timeframe, Washington has lost to Houston (in Houston) 17 – 6 and destroyed Jacksonville at home, 41 – 10.  Neither resume is very impressive.  Yes, the Eagles are 2 – 0 and scoring a lot of points, but the Colts and Jags are also both 0 – 2.

We’re now in a bit of a no man’s land as far as Football Outsiders’ ratings go.  Last year’s performances mean less and less but we still have a very small sample from this year to work with.  Properly weighting the two sources is the key to making a good projection.  Before putting that together, let’s look at the overall numbers:

Eagles 2014 Overall DVOA: 16.7% (10th)

Eagles 2013 Overall DVOA: 15.2% (8th)

Redkins 2014 Overall DVOA: 40.4% (2nd)

Redskins 2013 Overall DVOA: -26.2% (29th)

As you can see, the Redskins’ performance this year has been a lot more surprising than the Eagles’.  More important, though, is the magnitude of Washington’s performance swing.  It’s extremely unlikely that Washington has gone from one of the worst teams in the league to one of the best teams in one season.  Rather, Washington is benefiting from last week’s annihilation of Jacksonville, as well as it’s strong defensive performance thus far.  By FO’s metrics, Washington has had the best defensive performance in the league so far, by a very big margin.

Maybe the team really is that good, but I’m very skeptical.  Instead, I think Washington just hasn’t faced a decent offense yet.  Obviously, that’s about to change.

Despite the small sample of games, we do actually have one that would seem to have decent informational value.  Both the Eagles and Redskins have played the Jaguars.  The Redskins performed much better against them than the Eagles did.  That’s the biggest note of caution heading into this game.   From a handicapping perspective, we also have to deal with two major sources of uncertainty: Kirk Cousins and Mychal Kendricks.

Cousins will start, Kendricks has been ruled out.  Of the two, I’m much more worried about Kendricks’ absence.  With an Eagles hole at ILB, Washington has a clear invitation to put the game in Alfred Morris‘ hands.  That could make things very difficult for the Eagles.  Not only could Morris gash the middle of the defense, but a strong running performance would also keep the Eagles offense off the field.  In the first two games, the Eagles started slowly but figured things out.  Unfortunately, that method requires a lot of possessions.  I’m not that confident they’ll get them tomorrow.

That brings us to what I believe is the biggest question for tomorrow’s game:

Can the Eagles offense click early?

If it can, then I don’t think Jay Gruden will have the discipline to stick with the running game.  Despite what Washington fans want to believe, Kirk Cousins is probably not a great QB, and putting the game in his hands versus Morris’ would be great for the Eagles.

From a personnel perspective, Ryan Kerrigan is the only player that stands out as a potential headache for the Eagles on offense.  He’s had 8.5 sacks in each of the past two seasons and already has 4 this season.  At 26 years old, Kerrigan might be starting a “breakthrough” season, and the Eagles patchwork O-Line probably isn’t going to stand-up too well against him.  This is really up to Chip Kelly.  So far, I don’t think Kelly has done a good job of playing to his personnel.  Many of his play calls appear to be straight from the gameplan as it looked when the O-Line was completely healthy. He’s gotten away with it because neither the Colts nor the Jaguars have any real pass rushers.

So, second question: Do you think Chip will adjust his game plan this week?

Call me an optimist, by I think the answer is yes.  Chip has hopefully been scared straight by the back to back close games and inconsistent offense.  Moreover, it’s a divisional game, meaning “win at all costs” really is the mindset.

Given that assumption, I think the Eagles put up 25-30 points.  For a specific prediction, that gives us 27.5.  I’ll round down to 27 to make things simpler.  I’m counting a lot on the Redskins from last year reappearing on defense and for Kerrigan to be somewhat contained.  If Foles can remember how to complete open passes, mid-high twenties seems like the most likely outcome.  Additionally, Washington’s special teams has not been good this year, ranking 28th by FO.  While I would normally caution against relying on a 2 game sample, we can be more confident here because Washington ranked 32nd in the league last year.  With Sproles’ strong performance as a punt returner so far, the Eagles should be looking at good field position most of th day, meaning it won’t take much to get in scoring range, even if it’s for FGs instead of TDs.

On the other side, it really comes down to whether or not the Eagles LBs can stand up without Kendricks’ athleticism.  In general, though, I’d much rather lose him against a power rushing team than against a passing offense or one with a strong TE threat.  While I’m worried about Morris, I really don’t believe in Cousins. He’s only thrown 236 passes in the NFL, so we can’t be sure of anything with him.  However, a 57.6% completion rate is worrisome.  So is a 10 – 10 TD/INT ratio and a 74.3 Rating.  Those aren’t terrible numbers for a rookie as far as future projection goes, but for a one week projection, they don’t scream “offensive explosion”.

With the Eagles D-Line looking strong, I’m projecting Washington for 21 points.

Putting it together, that means I’ve got a projection of Eagles 27, Redkins 21.  BUT, remember my projection before rounding off was for the Eagles to score 27.5.  Unfortunately, that puts us right on the 6.5 line.  In other words, I think Vegas has this one right.  So my official stance is Redskins +6, but that’s a low confidence bet.  For the over/under, I’m taking the Under 50.  Not too much wiggle-room in this one either, and a backdoor over is clearly in play, but that’s where we’re at.

Lastly, post-merger, teams favored by 6.5 at home have won the game 65% of the time (n=291).

 

Eagles – Colts Odds

As some of you know, I write a weekly odds column for Bleeding Green Nation.  I’ll be posting it here as well from here on in.  It’s a fairly rough analysis, so keep in mind that its intended for a slightly different audience.

——

My Picks Record to Date:

Line: 0 – 1

Over/Under: 1 – 0

Poll Record (whichever choices got the most votes):

Line: 1 – 0

Over/Under: 1 – 0

This week’s lines:

Eagles +3 (-105)

Colts -3 (-115)

Over 54 (-115)

Under 54 (-105)

Notes:  The line opened at Colts -2.5.  Market is probably reacting to the Eagles injuries and first-half performance against the Jags.  Probably some recency effect here but, given the injury complications, not enough to give a strong signal one way or the other.

Reviewing last week:

The game didn’t play out exactly as we though it would, but it’s hard to be too disappointed with the results.  Yes, the Eagles delivered one of the most ridiculous back-door covers I’ve ever seen, but at least the good guys won.  Above all else, the game did a good job of underlining the main point I made last week: The first couple of weeks are very difficult to analyze.  There is a lot of uncertainty, and until you see a team play a few times against a variety of competition, it’s impossible to get a really good read on its true strength.

Moving forward, note that the Eagles almost hit the over as well, despite scoring 0 points in the first half.  This team can score VERY quickly, so expect to see a lit of high lines this season.  That might provide some opportunities, but it will also lead to some late-game nail-biting for those of you who do wager.

This week:

As shown above, the Eagles face their first test as an underdog this season.  The Colts are favored by 3 points, meaning Vegas sees the teams as relative equals (2-3 points are given for home field).  We already know what the Eagles did last week.  Meanwhile, the Colts lost by a touchdown (31-24) to the Broncos in Denver.  Note, the game wasn’t as close as the final score suggests.  Denver led 24-0 at one point.

Lets look at some data.  One week isn’t a very good sample, so we’re still reaching back to last season for indications of each team’s strengths/weaknesses.

From last season:

Eagles Overall DVOA:  15.2% (8th overall).

Colts Overall DVOA: 3.2% (13th overall).

Eagles Offense: 22.9% (3rd)

Colts Defense: 0.9% (16th)

Eagles Defense: 4.9% (23rd)

Colts Offense: 4.3% (13th)

Special teams were not significantly different.

The numbers above give the Eagles the advantage.  However, these are obviously a bit out of date.  After last week, my concerns about the offense remain.  Yes, the team scored 34 points, but is anyone out there confident?  The good news is that the Colts defense isn’t great.  In fact, the one player that would really worry me, Robert Mathis, won’t play (suspension + Injury).  How big of a loss is that?  Well last season the Colts had 42 sacks.  Mathis had 19.5 of them (46%).  Also, the Colts had a sack rate of 7.04% last season, good for 9th overall.  In their first game, against a very immobile QB (Manning), the team recored just one sack and registered a rate of 2.7%.  For reference, the Jaguars had a sack rate of 10% against the Eagles this past week.  In other words, with the Eagles injury problems on the O-Line, the team is pretty fortunate to be going against the Colts.  Overall, the matchup looks pretty good for the offense.

On the flip side, the Eagles defense and the Colts offense look like a fairly even matchup.  I’m a very big fan of Andrew Luck, and if the Eagles have DB breakdowns like they did last week, he’ll take advantage of them.  However, the cast around him isn’t great.  The Colts’ RB corps shouldn’t scare anyone (Ahmad Bradshaw and Trent Richardson).  At WR, Reggie Wayne is still playing at a relatively high level, at least when he’s on the field (he missed 9 games last season).  We’re all familiar with Hakeem Nicks.  The one player that really does scare me is T.Y. Hilton.  In his second year in the league (last season), Hilton had 1000+ receiving yards and 5 touchdowns. He also ran a 4.34 40 when he entered the league, and at 24 years old probably hasn’t lost a step.  As I said last season, with the Eagles issues at Safety, speed scares me a lot more than size.  If Fletcher Cox and Mychael Kendricks play as well as they did last week, though, the Eagles should be able to focus heavily on stopping the passing game.

Lastly, since 2004 there have been 21 home teams that were favored by 3 points in a Monday Night game.  8 of them covered.  That’s not statistically significant, but if we expand the data set, the trend persists.

Post-merger, just 22 of 57 teams that were favored by 3 points at home in a Monday Night game covered the spread. Meanwhile, over the past 10 years, road teams favored on Monday Night by 3 points have covered the spread 14 out of 19 times.

To reiterate: that doesn’t lead us to any conclusions, and if we play with the data enough we can make it say whatever we want.  However, it suggests that MAYBE home field advantage doesn’t mean as much in Monday Night games as it does in Sunday games, at least not when teams are evenly matched.

Coming into this breakdown, I expected to end up picking the Colts.  However, after looking at the data, injuries, recent results, etc., I’m going the other way.  This is a tough game for the Eagles, and I’m not very confident in a win (it’s a tossup), but since it looks like a close matchup and a lot of uncertainty remains, take the points.  With the 3 point line, we also have some protection against a late FG to win for the Colts.

I’m taking the Eagles +3.  The fact that it’s against the crowd makes me feel even better about it.

The over/under is set at 54 points.  That’s really high.  The only other line above 50 this week is Denver-KC (51).  To cover, each team would need to score 27 points.  Last season, the Eagles scored 27 or more points 9 times.  The Colts also hit the mark 9 times.

However, last week the Colts “held” Denver to 31 points in Denver.  The Eagles offense is not as good as the Broncos’ offense.  The Eagles put up 34 points, but did so against a Jaguars defense that will probably finish in the bottom third of the league (maybe worse).

Data-wise, over the past 10 years Monday Night Dome games have hit the over just 22 times in 64 games.  Small sample of course, but suggestive.  We don’t know if the roof will be open or closed, but right now the forecast calls for a chance of rain.

What this really comes down to is:  Do you have faith in either team to score 30+ points?  If not, take the under.  After last week’s performance, I’m not banking on the Eagles.  If the Eagles defense really has improved from last season, it should also be tough for the Colts to hit that mark.  In all, I think this game shakes out in the 27-24 range one way or the other.

Hence, take the under.

So, we’re still in rather uncertain territory, but I’m taking the Eagles +3 and the Under.

Eagles – Jaguars: Review

That’s why it’s important to focus on areas for potential regression….

As I said in yesterday’s season projection, two major areas of concern this season are Nick Foles turnover regression and health, particularly along the O-Line.  My guess is, after yesterday, those issues are no longer under any fan’s radar.  To reiterate, my theme for this season is: similar results as last season (at least record-wise), but very mixed feelings.  Yesterday fit that perfectly.  Fortunately, the Eagles were able to pull through, largely on the strength of excellent Special Teams (fairly big surprise) and a strong defensive performance outside of a few early breakdowns.

Now for a few individual factors I’m looking at/thinking about.  As usual, I’m going to try to avoid the “obvious” story lines, you can get that elsewhere, unless they’re really important and I think I have something to add to the discussion.

Blue Chips – Pulling from yesterday, this is the most important aspect of this season.  The Eagles will not become a consistent SB contender without developing a few high-impact players.  Fortunately, things were fairly positive on this front for the team.  Mychal Kendricks looked like one of the best players on the field.  He had 6 tackles, a sack, and a pass defensed.  Fletcher Cox also looked very good (despite having his best play erased by a bogus penalty.)  He also had 6 tackles, plus the spread-beating fumble recovery and TD run.  On the flip side, Foles obviously struggled. More on him in a second.  Boykin looked good when he was on the field…but only played 23 defensive snaps.  That’s less than 1/3 of all defensive plays.  Hopefully one of the beat writers will ferret out the reasoning for Boykin’s lack of PT, but until then we’re left watching to see if it becomes a trend.  Zach Ertz has 3 catches on 5 targets, hitting a couple of big plays on seam routes.  I’d be very surprised if his role in the passing game doesn’t get bigger soon.  Jordan Matthews also had strong debut with 2 catches (4 targets) for 37 yards.  That doesn’t sound like a lot, but remember that rookie WRs very rarely make significant contributions.  If Matthews can grab 2-3 balls each game, he’ll have done really well.

Overall, the game itself was ugly, but the long-term factors I’m paying attention to were mostly good.  I say “mostly” because…

Nick Foles – I’m not going to dwell too much on Foles since every other writer will cover him.  I did, however, want to toss a theory out there.  Foles was pretty clearly gun-shy yesterday.  Lots of double-clutching and hesitation.  There are a lot of potential explanations, but I think it’s likely the whole “turnover avoidance” storyline got to him.  If you had spent all offseason hearing about how great you were at not throwing interceptions, it’s probably natural for you to start trying to avoid them more consciously.  Hopefully this is just a one-week issue.  If he gets too far into his own head, though, things are going to get ugly.

Cody Parkey – That was an excellent performance, far beyond anything I expected.  The 51 yard FG was perfect, even moreso because it was the first real NFL kick of his career.  Just as important, though, were the touchbacks.  Parkey kicked off 7 times.  5 of them were touchbacks (or 72%).  For reference, Alex Henery recorded a touchback on 41.5% of his kicks last season.  It must be noted that conditions yesterday were very good, so we shouldn’t expect Parkey to maintain that touchback rate through the fall/winter.  Still, it’s an area I highlighted for potential improvement for the Eagles, and so far that’s what we’ve seen.

Marcus Smith – Not much to say here, the guy didn’t play.  It’s too early to be concerned, but I’m keeping a close eye on this one.  I realize he’s a “project”, but he dressed for the game and couldn’t get a single snap?  That’s worrisome, especially because the Jaguars, despite the first half, are one of the more benign offenses the Eagles will face all year.   If there was a time to get Smith a few live reps with relatively little risk, yesterday was it.  Maybe the big deficit changed the plans.  Even so, it’s hard to stomach having a healthy first round pick on the sidelines and not being able to find him a single live rep.

Special Teams – I mentioned Parkey, but it’s important to note that the entire unit was fantastic yesterday.  Sproles provided a big spark as a punt returner, averaging 15.5 yards per attempt.  Donnie Jones’ net average was just 33.7 yards, but that’s because he put 5 punts inside the 20 yard line.  There just wasn’t room to kick it farther, and he did a great job of keeping the ball out of the end zone (with some help from the coverage team).  I’ve said before that Special Teams plays a relatively small role when compared to Offense and Defense.  That, however, assumes somewhat normal play from the unit.  A great STs performance can have a much larger impact, as it did yesterday for the Eagles.

Finally, it’s pretty amazing that the Eagles could look so bad for so long and still win a game by 17 points.  The competition probably wasn’t good, but having a 34 point swing during a game almost never happens.  It could be a sign that the Eagles just weren’t ready to play or overlooked the Jaguars.  Hopefully that’s the case.  Even if it’s not, though, watching the Cowboys and Washington play should have reminded everyone that the Eagles don’t need to be anywhere near “great” to win the division.

Projecting the Eagles’ 2014 Record

Just minutes to game time, so I’m coming in just under the wire with my full season projection.  For reference, here is last year’s projection.  Let’s first revisit that, then I’ll get to this year.

If you remember, I did a fairly basic expectations matrix using Points Scored and Points Against.  With those values, I used the Pythagorean Win Expectation for each, then took the average of all scenarios, eventually arriving at a projection of 9.1 wins.  Here is the chart from last season:

My base case projection was 421 points scored, 385 points against.  In reality, the Eagles finished with 442 points scored and 382 points against.  That’s an incredibly close result.  I, of course, will almost certainly not be that accurate again this season (regression flag!).  Still, it provides at least some evidence that I know what I’m talking about, so I like highlighting it.

Now, about this year:

First, we need to know the league average.  Remember that we’re using that as a benchmark and using relative performance around that measure to arrive at our Points projections.  Well, in 2013, there was an average of 23.29 points per game scored by each team.  Over 16 games, that equates to 372.65 points per game.  However, we need to adjust for inflation.  Over the past decade, scoring has increased at a fairly steady rate of .2 points per game. Last season actually saw a much larger increase (.6 ppg jump), but without more data we need to stick with the longer term trend.  Adjusting for inflation gets us to 23.49 points per game for each team.  That gets us to an average of 375.84 ppg per team.

So how will the Eagles do?

Upside Case

As I’ve done before, I’m going to focus mainly on Offense and Defense.  Special Teams does play a role, but it’s relatively small and, perhaps more importantly, very hard to predict.

On offense, things are pretty simple from where I sit.  The Eagles upside for this year is their performance from last season.  Some might argue there’s room for improvement, and there definitely is.  However, so many things went right for the Eagles on offense last season, and the team was SO good, that it’s unreasonable to expect them to exceed that level this year.  Additionally, the team lost DeSean, is likely to see a few more injuries this year, and will almost certainly suffer some INT regression.  Therefore, meeting last year’s performance is within reason, but definitely optimistic. Since it’s an upside projection, we can allow for some improvement, but I just don’t see any way to objectively expect much. Last year the team finished +18.6%.  For our upside this year, I’ll round that up to +20%.  It’s somewhat unlikely, but within reason that the Eagles will be very slightly better this year than they were last year on offense.

On defense, our assignment is much less clear.  There are a lot of young players that might grow into much better players this season.  There’s also the fact that this is now year 2 of the 4-3 defense, which should lead to more comfort.  The team added Malcolm Jenkins at Safety.  While he’s not a great player, he should still be an upgrade (potentially large one).  On the flip side, the older players can be expected to regress, but for the Eagles that’s not that big of a factor.  It’s not as if Trent Cole was a star last season.  I’m definitely worried about Demeco Ryans, but moreso regarding the injury risk he presents.  If he or Barwin goes down, the Eagles are in trouble.  For an upside case, though, we can assume they stay healthy.  In light of that, some improvement from last season (-2.5%) is in order.  For an upside assumption, I’ll set the defense at +10%.  That’s definitely bullish, but it is an upside case, and if certain players develop I can absolutely see the Eagles hitting it.

Base Case

My base case on Offense sees the Eagles suffering a little regression.  As I mentioned above, Foles really can’t be as good as he was last season, the loss of DeSean will hurt the PA game, and the offensive line won’t be as stable.  The good news is that Chip Kelly is still the coach and Shady is still the running back.  With those two on board, it really shouldn’t be difficult to field a good offense.  Meeting last year’s performance (+18.6%) , though, is unlikely.  Dialing that in a bit, I’m setting my base case offense at +13%.

On defense, last season is a good benchmark.  The roster hasn’t changed too much, at least at the top.  There’s better depth as well, though obviously still a few holes.  Last year’s team wasn’t particularly lucky, so there’s not much regression to factor in.  All together, modest improvement is our most reasonable expectation.  That puts us just above league average.  For an assumption, I’ll set the base case defense at +2.5% (a relative improvement of 5% over last season).

Downside Case

Now for the messy stuff.  What could go wrong?  Well…a lot.  While we’re not concerned with true tail risk (Foles/Shady getting hurt), we do need to look for negative events/scenarios that are reasonably likely to occur.  On offense, this means Foles regresses more than we’re hoping.  Health regresses past the mean and the team suffers worse than expected.  Jeremy Maclin doesn’t provide anywhere near the impact Jackson did and the young WRs/TEs aren’t quite ready to fill the void.  Those are all very plausible outcomes, but they’re unlikely to all occur.  One or two of them will leave the team worse off, but I still think that puts them above league average.  Worse than that is definitely possible, but that’s too negative for our projection here.  Hence, our downside case on offense will be +5%.  

On defense, things are fairly static, for reasons explained above.  Not much has changed.  There are still a lot of weaknesses though, which means our downside case can’t be too rosy.  There’s no guarantee that players like Cox, Kendricks, Logan, Boykin, etc. will get better.  If they don’t, then a single injury could leave the Eagles worse off on defense than they were last season.  Demeco Ryans is a prime candidate for decline, and depth behind him isn’t good.  If those things happen, we’re not looking at the absolute catastrophe we saw in 2012, but it will still be pretty bad.  Last year the Eagles were 2.5% worse than league average in Points Allowed.  I’m setting the downside this year is -10%.

All together, this is what our projections look like:

Screen Shot 2014-09-07 at 12.22.31 PM

For reference, this is what last year’s looked like:

The comparison is interesting, and really highlights the reasoning behind the projections. Offense is much more certain than last season.  I might be too pessimistic in our downside scenario this year, but I really do see a lot of risks.  I also think Jackson is a bigger loss than most fans realize.  Time will tell if that’s correct.  On defense, things look very similar.  We’re expecting modest improvement across the board, and that is reflected in each one of our assumptions.  Overall the range of outcomes on defense is very close to last year, but the mean expectation has improved.

Using our assumptions, we get the following potential outcomes.  Remember that we’re using Pythagorean Wins here with an exponent of 2.67:

Screen Shot 2014-09-07 at 12.32.10 PM

There it is.  Your 2014 projections.  The average outcome is 9.3 wins, which I think is still good enough for the division title.  Note that there are a lot of very reasonable scenarios where the Eagles fail to win 9 games.  As I’ve said previously, I think this season is going to  be much less fun than last season, albeit with similar results.  Expectations have shifted, and they’ve shifted too fast in my opinion.  The team is still building and there are still a lot of holes to fill.  I’d love to see a 12 win season where the Eagles run away with the division and make a deep playoff run, but that’s not an objectively reasonable expectation given what we know right now.

One last note: this is by no means a reflection of all potential outcomes (not even close).  What I am really trying to do is provide an outline for the middle of the Eagles expected performance distribution.  That way we can set our expectations and use it to guide our thinking as the season progresses.  In light of this, an 8 win season really isn’t bad, but my guess is many people would be very disappointed by that.  If Foles/Shady go down, 5-6 wins is a possibility.  If the Eagles get lucky, 12-13 wins is doable.  For a base-line expectation though, I’m sticking with what you see above.

With just minutes to spare, my season projection is:

9.3 wins, and a fan base with very mixed feelings.

Go Birds!