Running way behind schedule (only 45 minutes to game time), so I’ll keep this brief. Odds breakdown is below, but short version is: the line looks dead-on. That makes betting difficult, but it means the Eagles really should win this game.
– This is basic stuff by now, but as a big favorite, the Eagles should look for a low-variance strategy. That means relatively conservative play-calling, a special focus on turnover avoidance, and backing off the blitzes a bit. All of that is relative, of course, 4th and 1 is still a go for it situation in most situations.
– The turnover avoidance point from above is the one that worries me. The Panthers are averaging less than 20 points per game. If they score more than that, it will likely be because the Eagles gave them great field position (or points) with turnovers. Unfortunately, Mark Sanchez is extremely turnover-prone. It’s certainly possible (perhaps probable), that Chip Kelly’s system will help Sanchez with easier reads/throws. However, we can’t ignore Sanchez’s history (3.8% int rate, and 43 fumbles in 63 games).
This is a game that calls for pure “caretaker” play from the QB, and I’m not that confident in Sanchez’s ability to play that role.
– Evan Mathis is back, which means the Eagles are as close to being 100% healthy on the O-Line as they have been all year. Herremans, of course, is gone, but I’m not sure there’s much of a drop-off in play from him to Tobin. The upshot, of course, is that we can finally see if the Eagles rushing problems (and play-calling change from last year) were due to the line play, an actual Shady injury, or something else. With Sanchez in the game, we should get plenty of opportunities to watch and evaluate the run game. Kelce looked rusty last week, particularly with his snaps, but he also looked to have all of his athleticism back.
With the Kelce/Mathis combo back, look for a lot more action in the screen game. There’s just no way to replicate the ability of those guys to get downfield quickly enough to stay in front of the RB at close to full speed.
– Also keep an eye out for Zack Ertz. This is completely speculative, but my guess is that Celek’s blocking was particularly valuable while the OL was banged up. With those guys healthy again, Chip might be more willing to trade Celek’s blocking ability for Ertz’s offensive ability.
– Mychael Kendricks’ looked great last week. For the long-term, he’s the most important player to watch tonight. If he can consistently play as well as he did against the Texans, the Eagles have found themselves a major defensive piece for the foreseeable future. Combined with Cox, that would form a really strong foundation on the defensive side of the ball. Let’s see if he covers Greg Olsen at all tonight. Olsen’s not great, but he’s a major part of the Panthers’ passing attack (along with Kelvin Benjamin). It’ll be a good test for whoever ends up covering him, but I’m most curious to see if Kendricks’ coverage skills have evolved.
On the other hand, the Panthers’ rush dominant offense should give him plenty of opportunities to make plays. Last season he was over-aggressive at times, leading to some missed tackles and poor angles. Cleaning that up is perhaps his biggest “to do” if he’s to fulfill his potential.
That’s all for now, see the breakdown below for more.
My picks record to date:
Line: 3 – 5
O/U: 4 – 4
Line: 4 – 4
O/U: 6 – 2
This week’s lines:
Eagles -7 (-105)
Panthers +7 (-115)
Over 48 (-110)
Under 48 (-110)
Reviewing last week:
Nailed the score range for the second week in a row (I also pegged the Eagles for 27 points the game before that). I had the Eagles at 30-32 points and the Texans at 20-23. Final score was 31-21. Fortunately this time the line was off by enough to give us an easy win. Let’s see if we can put a streak together here.
This week’s game:
This is a BIG line. Especially given that the Eagles are starting a backup QB and just lost their starting MLB and defensive play-caller. So what gives?
The Panthers are 3-5-1, and have a point differential of -59 points. That’s bad (it ranks 26th in the league). Since starting the season 2-0, and picking up a lot of hype in the process, Carolina has managed just 1 win, against the Bears at home. Some attention has to be paid to the fact that the Panthers have had a very tough schedule. Here are their losses:
Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Green Bay, Seattle, New Orleans
Those teams are a combined 25-17. Of course, Carolina has lost those games by margins of 18, 28, 21, 4, and 18. Basically, they’ve shown no indication they belong among the top half of the league.
Let’s see what DVOA has to say.
Eagles Overall DVOA: 14% (6th)
Panthers Overall DVOA: -11.8% (26th)
Eagles Offense DVOA: -2.6% (18th)
Panthers Defense DVOA: 6.4% (24th)
Eagles Defense DVOA: -7.1% (8th)
Panthers Offense DVOA: -5.0% (20th)
The Eagles are still 1st in STs DVOA, the Panthers rank 18th.
As is clear from the numbers above, the Eagles are the MUCH better team by DVOA. I’m not that excited to see Mark Sanchez start, but since he has to, this is a pretty good time to do it. Opponent QBs have a rating of 97.4 against the Panthers this season.
Opponents in common- Unfortunately, the Eagles have not played any of the same teams as the Panthers. That means we’re missing a valuable piece of information regarding relative strength.
Score Projection –
Out of the teams the Eagles have played, the Panthers defense ranks a little below Washington and the Giants, and a little above St. Louis. Against those teams, the Eagles scored 37, 27, and 34 points. That puts us around 32 points. The Eagles are averaging 29.1 ppg thus far, so scoring a FG more than that against a bad defense isn’t exactly a stretch. Mark Sanchez worries me a bit, and not necessarily because I don’t think he can play well. Regardless of your feelings about him, there’s no question he presents a major risk factor. So 32 points seems reasonable, but with a backup QB, it’s really hard to have a lot of confidence in the projection.
Of the Panthers’ opponents, the Eagles rank a bit below the Bengals. Against them, the Panthers allowed 37 points. In fact, the Panthers have managed to hold their opponents below 24 points just 3 times this year: against the Bucs and Lions in the first two weeks, and against the Seahawks two weeks ago. Overall, the Panthers are allowing an average of 26.2 ppg. In other words, the Eagles should be able to score a fair amount. However, I don’t trust them to put up close to a full TD more than the Panthers are allowing on average (to a lot of really good teams). Given that, I’m dialing the Eagles expectation back to 28 points.
From the other side, the Panthers offense ranks most similarly to the Giants, against whom the Eagles allowed 0 points. The next closest opponents by DVOA are Washington (Carolina is a bit worse) and San Francisco and Arizona (Carolina is a bit better). Against those teams, the Eagles allowed 34, 26, and 24 points. That puts us at 27-28 points. However, the Panthers are averaging just 19.7 points per game overall. The Eagles have a good defense. Basically, I think DVOA is overrating the Panthers offense here.
If we view it from the other perspective, the Eagles defense ranks most similarly to Baltimore (a bit better), and is also close to Seattle (a little worse). Against Baltimore, the panthers scored just 10 points. Against Seattle, they scored just 9. Now we have a problem. Our two estimates are completely different. On average, the Eagles are allowing 22.1 ppg, so I’m inclined to skew closer to that amount. All told, I’m setting the Panthers expected output at 20-21 points.
That gives us a final projection of Eagles 28, Panthers 20-21. The line is 7, so we’re very close. On balance, the Eagles look like the slightly better pick, but remember what I said about Sanchez. Him playing puts a lot of additional expected variance in the game. In other words, be careful with this one.
Even more bad news: the Over/Under is 48, meaning we’re right on target there as well.
The Eagles are hitting the over pretty consistently, so if I have to pick a side that’s what I’m going with. Just know there’s not nearly as much opportunity in this game as there was last week.
I think you need to adjust your methods. Despite pages of wonky, boring, number driven analysis, you end up slightly less likely to predict the correct outcome against the spread than someone who picks based on flipping a coin.