Eagles vs. Cowboys: Breaking down this week’s betting lines.

Split the action again last week, so let’s try to finish strong.  I will do a breakdown for any playoff games, but of course, that’s not guaranteed.

I get the sense that a lot of fans are nervous about Sunday night’s game.  Things are going a bit TOO well and everyone’s scared of getting the rug pulled out from under them.  That’s fair, but really, Eagles fans should be nothing but ecstatic and excited heading into this week.

Before I start breaking things down, I want everyone to ask themselves one question:

What were your preseason hopes and expectations for this team?

My guess is, if you’ve answered honestly, then the team has already surpassed them.  My personal projection was for a 9-7 record, with a playoff spot depending on whether one of those nine wins came from the last game of the season.  That was spot on, but I’ve still been surprised by the level of play.  The fact is that we’re now playing with house money. A loss on Sunday sucks, but it doesn’t change the fact that the season has been successful in every sense.

The goals for this season were:

– Prove Chip Kelly can be successful.

– Make the transition to the 3-4 and find a couple of young players who fit the scheme.

– Identify one or two “cornerstones”.

– Give Nick Foles a chance and see what he can do (not a popular one, but a big one for me).

In every aspect, the team has met those goals.  Chip Kelly’s “college” offense is tearing up the league, even after teams have seen it once and supposedly had the chance to make adjustments.  So far, the only thing that has really defeated it is having a 3rd string rookie QB at the helm or a Nick Foles body-snatcher.  The 3-4 is installed and functioning much better than I expected.  To be fair, I wasn’t a fan of the switch.  However, it’s been decent and, more importantly, Mychal Kendricks and Fletcher Cox have made successful transitions.  In that vein, while it’s too early to call Kendricks a “cornerstone”, the team clearly has a few guys with the potential to be impact players (Cox, Kendricks, Boykin).  Moreover, there have been several big surprises that bode extremely well for the future (Logan, Thornton, Wolff in particular).

Lastly, Nick Foles is having one of the greatest seasons ever for a QB. Read that sentence again, this time emphasizing NICK FOLES.  He leads Peyton Manning, having perhaps HIS greatest year ever, by 5.7 points in the Passer Rating title race.  Safe to say Nick Foles has done better than anyone thought possible.  Ok, one more thing:

Nick Foles’ current Rating is 118.7.  Only TWO QBs in history have had higher single-season Ratings (Aaron Rodgersand Peyton Manning).  Remember Tom Brady’s 2007 season?  The only with Randy Moss and the undefeated record?  Well Foles’ rating is currently 1.5 points higher than Brady’s was that year.

So, relax.  Win or lose, this season has been an unqualified success, and the Eagles look like they’ll be the class of the NFC East (again) for the foreseeable future.

Now, this week’s game:

The Breakdown

The Eagles are 7 point favorites.  The Over/Under is 52.5.

The comparison:

– The Eagles are ranked 8th overall by DVOA.  The Cowboys are ranked 18th.

– The Eagles are ranked 3rd overall by Weighted DVOA, which is just regular DVOA weighted more heavily to recent games.  The Cowboys rank 22nd.

– The Eagles offense ranks 2nd overall by DVOA.  The Cowboys defense ranks 30th.

(If you didn’t just tee-pee your hands and say “Excellent….”, go relive the 90s)

– The Eagles defense ranks 23rd by DVOA.  The Cowboys offense ranks 11th.  Note that’s with Tony Romo at QB.  We can safely assume that its AVERAGE performance level would be lower with Kyle Orton at QB.

– The Eagles STs rank 26th overall, Dallas’ rank 6th.  This is the only matchup where Dallas has a significant advantage.

– The Eagles have a point differential of +58.  The Cowboys’ is +9.

– The Cowboys last five games:

Beat the Giants (27th DVOA) by 3 points.

Beat Oakland (31st)  by 7 points.

Lost to Chicago (12th) by 17 points.

Lost to GB (21st) by 1 point.

Beat Washington (29th) by 1 point.

Notice anything?  Dallas’s resume isn’t exactly great.  In fact, it’s not even good.  Looking at the whole season, the Cowboys’ only win over a top 10 team by DVOA (currently) is when they beat the Eagles.  Outside of that game, here are the DVOA ranks of the teams the Cowboys beat:

14th, 26th, 27th (twice), 29th (twice), 31st.    The Eagles, of course, rank 8th.

Meanwhile, the Eagles’ wins have come over teams ranked:

10th, 12th, 16th, 17th, 27th, 29th (twice), and 31st.

It’s also worth noting that Dallas’ only “good” wins came in weeks 3 and 7.  More recently, the Cowboys have lost to both Chicago and Green Bay.  Conversely, the Eagles’ “good” wins have come in the past few weeks, against Chicago, Arizona, and Detroit.

So…taking the above as a whole, the Eagles are the MUCH better team.  The ONLY significant factor weighing in Dallas’ favor is the fact that it beat the Eagles head-to-head.  However, that was in week 7, so that win’s informational value has seriously depreciated since then.  Also, Kyle Orton.

That’s why the Eagles are a 7 point road-favorite in a winner-takes-all division title game.  (That and the Romo injury).

The Projection

Since the bye week (4 games ago), the Eagles have averaged 35.5 points per game.  The Cowboys defense, as I showed above, is bad.  It ranks 3 spots below Minnesota’s, and the Eagles put up 30 points against them.  There are no significant injuries and weather will not be a factor unless something completely unexpected happens.  As a result, I’ve got the Eagles base-case projection at 31-35 points.  To make things easier, we’ll take the mid point and say 33.

Meanwhile, the Cowboys have averaged 28.6 points per game since their bye week (5 games ago).  The Eagles defense is also not very good, and ranks just 1 spot above Oakland, against which the Cowboys scored 31 points (4 weeks ago).  Additionally, the Eagles defense ranks just one spot BEHIND Washington, against which the Cowboys scored 24 points just last week.  So there’s our range, 24-31 points.  Taking the midpoints, we’ll say 27.5.

HOWEVER, we have yet to account for the Tony Romo injury.

I know a lot of people rip Romo, but the fact is he’s one of the best QBs in the game.  In my opinion, not nearly enough blame gets put on everyone else in that organization.  Stepping down from Romo, who has a career rating of 95.8, to Kyle Orton, who has a career rating of 79.7 (and just 15 pass attempts over the past two seasons), is a MASSIVE hit.

Also, this “game-manager” stuff is bullshit.  Kyle Orton’s career Interception rate is 2.6%, just a tick below Tony Romo’srate of 2.7%.  Romo has 55 fumbles in 108 career starts, or .51 per game (that’s total fumbles, including from games not started, if there are any like that).  Orton has 32 fumbles in 69 career starts, or .46 per game.  So there’s a difference there, but it’s very small (.05 per game).  Overall, Orton is really no less likely to turn the ball over, and in fact may be MORE likely, by virtue of the fact that he’s barely played in 2 years.

To account for Orton, I’m taking EIGHT points off the Cowboys’ projection.  That sounds like a lot, right?  Especially since the line moved just 5 points after the injury was announced.  Looking at it practically, though, you’ll see it’s not that drastic.  Basically what I’m saying is that, as a result of having Kyle Orton instead of Tony Romo, the Cowboys will have 2 drives that end up in field goals instead of TDs.  Of course, that’s just one way the difference could manifest itself, but it’s instructive because of how reasonable it is.  Kicking 2 field goals instead of scoring 2 TDs gets you the 8 point difference.

Taking that from the 27.5 points projections, we’re left with 19.5 points.  However, there’s a big special teams discrepancy, so I’m going to add another 1-2 points back in, giving us 20.5-21.5.  That’s a very convenient number (I swear I didn’t work backwards) because it’s midpoint is 21, or three TDs.

Pulling it all together, I’ve got the base-case projection at Eagles 33, Cowboys 21.

That’s a difference of 12 points.  The Spread is 7, meaning our margin of error is 5 (very large).  That’s the second biggest margin I’ve seen this year.  Take the Eagles -7, and take them confidently.

The Over/Under

This bit is easy, since we’ve already got our scoring projection.

Eagles 33, Cowboys 21 adds up to 54 points overall.  The O/U is 52.5.  Also, the teams are a combined 18-12 against the O/U this year, and the line hasn’t shifted at all since opening, so we’re not joining a sucker’s move by taking the over.

54 is 1.5 points higher than 52.5, so take the over.  Note, however, that it’s a relatively small margin, so adjust the stakes accordingly.

Summing Up

I like the Eagles -7, and I like it A LOT.

I’ve got the Over 52.5 as the better side there, though it’s not as attractive as the spread.

Finally, for fans here, a win is much more important than whether the Eagles cover or not.  So, I looked up win rates for 6-8 points road favorites since the year 2000.  In those games (245 of them), the favorite has won the game almost exactly 70% of the time.

Using my projection, 12 points, I looked at the recored of teams since 2000 that were 11-13 point favorites.  Road favorites won the game 75% of the time, but the sample was just 20 games.  Looking at ALL games, home and away, the favorite won roughly 83% of the time.

So yeah, the odds are HEAVILY in the Eagles favor. (But that still leaves close to a 1 in 5 chance of a Dallas victory).

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2 thoughts on “Eagles vs. Cowboys: Breaking down this week’s betting lines.

  1. Do you put in all this work for your pick-em over at BGN? Because that would certainly explain why you’re demolishing everyone else right now. As an aside, I was 4 points out of the lead last week in my office and I’ve made the business decision to go with your picks from here on out. As a result, I’m only 2 points back from first. Cheers.

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