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).

 

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