Bill Barnwell posted an article today at Grantland discussing which losing teams from last year are most likely to rebound next year. He has the Eagles ranked 2nd, behind the Lions, in terms of which teams (6-10 or worse last year) are most likely to make the playoffs.
The case he makes is very similar to the case I’ve been making on this site for a long time, however, it’s interesting nonetheless. Here is the Eagles section, I’ve bolded the most important points. Afterwards, I’ll highlight something that isn’t getting enough discussion.
2. Philadelphia Eagles
Arguments in favor: Coaching voice change, massive turnover differential, fumble recovery rate, hidden special teams bounce back
Arguments against: Uncertainty related to coaching change, quarterback play
Although it seems difficult to remember, the Eagles were actually a passable team during the first half of last season. It was after firing defensive coordinator Juan Castillo during the team’s bye week that the Eagles quit on Andy Reid and collapsed, finishing 1-9. There’s still a good amount of the core that made the playoffs from 2008 to 2010 here, and they chose the high-risk, high-reward coaching option this offseason when they added Chip Kelly. Of all the teams on this list, it seems like the Eagles have the highest upside.
The statistical case backing them up is built upon an impossible turnover rate. Philadelphia was the other team with a minus-24 turnover margin, and by recovering 35 percent of the fumbles in their games, they finished just ahead of Kansas City, at 29th. Of course, Kelly has already become the first coach to teach Michael Vick how to avoid fumbling, so that should solve a good chunk of the problems there.
In all seriousness, Kelly’s insistence on getting the ball out quickly should reduce the likelihood of fumbles, and some simple variance should help push the Philadelphia offense back toward the middle of the pack. The defense should also deliver more than the eight interceptions it produced last year, so it’s not difficult to imagine the Eagles actually winning the turnover battle in 2013.
As for the “hidden” special teams numbers, that’s a Football Outsiders statistic that encapsulates how teams were impacted by special teams performance out of their control, including such obvious ones as how reliable field goal kickers and kickoff artists were against them. The Eagles were the fourth-most impacted team in football last year by those figures, with kickers notably going 27-for-29 on field goals against them in 2012.
Beating a dead horse: The Eagles were VERY unlucky last year. You’ll recognize the points above from previous articles here as well as from the dashboard prototype I threw up a couple of weeks ago.
I wanted to also highlight the coaching risk. As Bill says towards the top, the Eagles selected the high-RISK/high-reward option. Eagles fans should not overlook the first part of that trade-off. Kelly is a very exciting coach, and I’m encouraged by the fact that he’s willing to tear down conventional football wisdom in search of advantages. The flip-side, though, is that he carries a higher risk of failure.
Make no mistake, if Kelly goes down, odds are he’s going down BIG-TIME. This is not an approach that seems to lend itself to a series of mediocre seasons. The problem with challenging convention is that if things start slowly, the external noise will be excruciatingly loud. Old-school beat writers, ESPN talking-heads, and Joe Banner will attack Kelly and the Eagles like sharks around a bait-ball (Discovery channel reference!).
That risk and uncertainty poses the biggest potential hurdle for the team this year. All things considered, the Eagles now look like an 8 or 9 win team (Vegas has the O/U at 7.5, so I’m bullish by one win). Unfortunately, the Eagles also have perhaps the WIDEST expected range of outcomes. It is completely conceivable for this team to win anywhere from 3 to 13 games next year.
I’m certainly betting on success; Kelly seems to know what he’s doing and is willing to adapt (rather than just trying to impose “his” way on the game, a la Steve Spurrier). Just know that the natural payment for Kelly’s potential upside is a corresponding risk of spectacular failure…