Taking a break from vacation for this post, so I’ll be MIA again until at least Monday.
I previously mentioned that I believed the 2013 Eagles have perhaps the widest potential performance distribution in the entire NFL. Between the roster turnover, the new coaching regime/scheme, and last year’s injuries and craziness, there are A LOT of uncertainties surrounding this team. Today, let’s compare my prediction with that of the guys at Football Outsiders. For those of you who don’t know, the 2013 Football Outsiders Almanac has been released, and is well worth the $12.50 price (you can buy it at that link).
In other Almanac news, the 2013 Eagles Almanac has been distributed to all Kickstarter backers and will be available for everyone else within the next day or two. I haven’t gotten through the whole thing yet (91 pages), but it’s fantastic and is a must-read for any real Eagles fan.
Follow @EaglesAlmanac for more information. You can get the PDF now for $10 at EaglesAlmanac.com.
Within the Football Outsiders Almanac, there are projected performance odds for every team in the league. The group assigns odds of achieving a number of wins within 4 categories; 0-4, 5-7, 8-10, 11+. So how do the Eagles look?
It certainly looks like the Football Outsiders team/formula (I don’t know the methodology they use to determine those odds) agrees with the very wide expectation distribution. According to FO, the Eagles have a 13% chance of winning 11 or more games, a very significant chance given the 4-win performance last season.
However, the team also has a 10% chance of winning 4 or fewer games.
Overall, the FO projection for the Eagles has a mean of 7.8 wins. You’ll recall that my current projection is 8-9 wins (more likely 8 than 9, so lets call it 8.3); again, I’m more bullish on this team than most.
I think the odds above are underselling the actual potential for this team to have a “true” value of both 10-11 wins and 4-5 wins. Remember that luck plays a very significant role in NFL teams’ final records. So a “true 5-win” team will have a significant chance for finishing with 0-4 wins on account of the potential for bad luck. Similarly, a true 10 win team will have strong odds for winning 11+ games by virtue of good luck.
I have no idea what the Eagles “true” value is right now, my guess is 8-9 wins. However, it seems eminently possible for the true value to be both very high (if Chip’s system works as well) and very low (if the defense sucks again, Foles/Vick doesn’t work out, or Chip’s system fails). If FO agreed with that, then I’d expect to see higher odds for both 0-4 wins and 11+ wins.
How do the Eagles compare?
In a vacuum, those odds don’t mean much. We need to compare the Eagles with other teams to get a true sense of what FO expects. Here is a chart showing the projections for the NFC East.
Overall, the Redskins are the heavy favorites. The Giants and Eagles have remarkably similar projections, while the Cowboys lag. There’s not a lot to disagree with here, but I do not have as high an opinion of the Giants as FO does. That looks like a 6-7 win team to me, but FO probably knows exponentially more about the Giants than I do, so there’s that.
The Redskins definitely stand as the biggest threat in the division, but I’m skeptical RG3 can repeat his (outrageous) performance from last season. Still, even if he takes a step back, he’s likely to be among the top QBs in the league, if healthy. So there’s the target for the Eagles, making Game 1 about as important as any season opener can be.
What about the rest of the league?
In other words, do the Eagles actually have the widest distribution?
One way of looking at it (I’m going to avoid higher level statistical measures here) is to find the teams with the lowest “peak”. For example, the Eagles “peak” is 42 (% chance for 8-10 wins). Since all categories must add to 100%, a lower peak means a more even (probably wider) distribution. Here are the teams with the lowest peak:
The difference between Detroit and Philadelphia (by this measure) is relatively small, just 4% difference in “peak” projection.
Another way to do this is to look for teams with the greatest odds of finishing in EITHER extreme (0-4 wins or 11+ wins). These are the true “boom-or-bust” teams. Here are the teams that, according to FO, have a 10%+ chance of finishing with both 0-4 wins and 11+ wins:
So there they are. As should be expected, each of these teams is included in the previous table above. Basically, these are the teams for which FO is MOST uncertain. The Eagles are here, but do not feature as the MOST uncertain. However, I do have to disagree with a few of the projections above:
– The Colts were very “lucky” last year, so it’s possible the team regresses greatly. However, Andrew Luck is very good, and I believe he’ll be much better this year than he was last year. Overall, I think the odds of the Colts finishing with 4 or fewer wins are basically the same as the odds of Andrew Luck getting injured and playing less than half the season. I do not think the odds of an injury like that are anywhere near 12%.
– The NY Jets winning 11+ games seems laughable to me. I know the team won 11 games as recently as 2010, but 11% odds seem very high to me. That % is likely due to the potential for “good luck” to push the team several wins beyond its true ability, but that would require the Jets “true” win potential to be in the 8-9 range, which also seems at least a full win high to me.
– Atlanta receiving a 12% chance of 0-4 wins also seems strange. This is almost the mirror image of the Jets above. The Falcons have won 13, 10, 13, 9, and 11 wins over the past 5 seasons. The team still has Matt Ryan and Mike Smith. Barring a big injury to Matt Ryan (very unlikely), how does this team win fewer than 6 games? Just like with the Jets, we have to account for the potential for luck (bad luck this time). However, even very bad luck will only account for a few wins, meaning the Falcons would have to be a “true” 7 win team for very bad luck to push them into the 0-4 win category. FO has them at 7.6 wins, so that’s not far off, but I’d have them in the 8-9 win range.
That leaves the Eagles, San Diego, and Detroit as my “Most Uncertain” teams. Detroit is a crazy team to follow statistically, and nothing that team does will surprise me (outside of a 16-0 season). San Diego also seems permanently schizophrenic, so a wide distribution can be expected.
I think one of those teams will finish the season with a very good record (11+ wins)…