Eagles – Packers: Pre-game notes

Odds breakdown is below.  Shot version: 80% of the public is betting the Packers, the line is up to 6 on Bovada.  I think that’s too high, and there’s potentially a huge recency bias here.  The Packers look great (though the Eagles played very well against the Panthers), but their best win was against the Dolphins.  Meanwhile, they’ve lost games against the Lions, Seahawks, and Saints.  Note that all of those games were on the road, but they also lost them by large margins (details below).  Overall, Rodgers/Nelson against this secondary scares me, but their far from a “great” team, at least thus far.

More notes:

– The key to beating Aaron Rodgers is pressure.  That sounds like a really obvious statement, and it is.  However, Rodgers is the best QB EVER at avoiding interceptions.  He’s got an INT rate of just 1.1% this year, and a career rate of just 1.7%.  That’s amazing, as are most of his stats.  However, when it comes to sacks, Rodgers is much more ordinary.  He’s taking them this season at a rate of 6.7%, and his career rate is 7.2%.

He uses his legs and athleticism to keep plays alive, but he’s also prone to holding the ball to long and taking sacks.  Even more enticing is his propensity to fumble.  He’s done so 4 times this year, and 46 times in his career.

The Packers are going to score today, but the Eagles can mitigate the damage if they can grab a Rodgers fumble, or get a couple of timely sacks to force short drives.

– Mark Sanchez will be a point of focus for everyone, but I’ve got a slightly different take.  Whereas last week (and pretty much every game for the past month) I said the key was avoiding turnovers against an inferior team, this week we have a different situation.  The Eagles will likely need to score 3-4 offensive TDs to win this game.  That means taking a few chances.  So…the key for Sanchez is NOT avoiding INTs (though that would be awesome).  The key is the ratio of big plays to INTs.  I’ll gladly accept an interception if it means he’s hit on a few high-reward balls downfield.

This just doesn’t seem like the type of game you can win by kicking a bunch of FGs.

– Speaking of FGs, Cody Parkey has been amazing.  He’s 16 of 17 overall, and has hit all 3 FGs from 50+ yards.  Just as important, he’s kicking touchbacks at a rate of 62.50%.  For comparison, last year the Eagles (Alex Henery) had a rate of just 40%.

I bring this up because today will be the toughest conditions Parkey has faced.  It probably won’t crack 30 degrees today, and there’s a 20% chance of precipitation (i.e. snow).  That definitely takes some distance off of his kicks, the question is how much.  What we see today will go a long way towards informing what we can expect from him in the playoffs, especially if the Eagles get a home game(s).

– Mychael Kendricks and Fletcher Cox look really good.  Today they’ll be challenged more than they have been in a long time.  I’m optimistic, but there’s certainly a risk that these guys, and the defense as a whole, have benefited from playing a lot of very weak offenses.  While it’s a great evaluation of everyone on defense, I’ve made it clear that these are the most important players.  As long as they’re playing well, the Eagles long-term future looks good.

More below, but today’s game is a pretty good one from a fan’s perspective.  The Eagles are 6 point underdogs, which means they’ve only got about a 35% chance of winning.  The Packers are covered in hype and the Eagles are starting Mark Sanchez on the road.  In other words, this is a “mostly upside” game.  A win is huge, and a loss isn’t (Wild Card odds would take a big hit, but division still looks very good).  Additionally, I think the public has pushed this line too far.  Expect a close game, hopefully this time the Eagles come away with the win.

My picks record to date:

Line: 4 – 5

O/U: 5 – 4

Reader record:

Line: 5 – 4

O/U: 7 – 2

This week’s lines:

Eagles +6 (-105)

Packers -6 (-115)

Over 55 (-110)

Under 55 (-110)

Note:  This line opened at Packers -4.5.  1.5 points is a big shift, especially with the Eagles coming off a really impressive win.  It looks like the Packers hype-train is just about full, which means we should look very closely for signs the team might be overrated.

Reviewing last week:

That’s more like it. 4-0 over the last two weeks, though my projection for this game wasn’t nearly as close as last week’s.  Of course, it was pretty clear going into the game that the Eagles were a much better team, the only question was how large the win would be.  Sanchez played a much better game than I expected, and the Eagles ST scored another TD.  All in all a great win.  As a reminder, winning by very large margins over bad teams is a really good indicator of team quality.  With big wins over the JaguarsGiants, and Panthers, the Eagles are looking really good on that front.

This week’s game:

Well…it had to happen sometime.  The Eagles defense gets its toughest test, by far, since week 2 against the Colts.  Aaron Rodgers is arguably the best QB in the league (and on his way to one of the greatest careers ever, as I’ve discussed before), and the Eagles are still starting Nate Allen on defense.  Before we get to the DVOA numbers and breakdowns, let’s take a quick look at what the Packers have done so far.

The Packers are 6-3 on the year, averaging 30.8 ppg and allowing 22.8 ppg.  The team’s wins have come against the JetsBearsVikingsDolphins, Panthers, and Bears (again).  On the other hand, the Packers have lost games against the SeahawksLions, and Saints.

The only win that looks somewhat impressive is against Miami (6-4), a road game the Packers won by a field goal.  When we take a look at the losses, though, things look even better for the Eagles.  Although all three losses were on the road, the margins of 20, 12, and 21 points should dispel any notion that the Packers are a great team.

As everyone here knows, the Eagles largest lost was just 5 points, on the road against the 49ers.

The DVOA Breakdown

Eagles Overall: 19.9% (5th)

Packers Overall: 21.3% (3rd)

Eagles Offense: -1.2% (17th)

Packers Defense: -0.7% (11th)

Packers Offense: 20.6% (2nd)

Eagles Defense: -10.6% (6th)

On STs, the Eagles, obviously, are in first overall.  The Packers have a STs DVOA of 0, placing them 15th in the league.

As I mentioned, this will likely be the best offense the Eagles face all year.  Much will depend upon the defense’s ability to prevent big plays.

Comparable Games

The only opponent in common is the Panthers.  The Eagles beat them last week, at home, by a score of 45-21.  The Packers also beat the Panthers at home, by a score of 38-17.

Those results are really close, so while that doesn’t help us in picking a winner overall, it does suggest these two teams are similarly skilled, which certainly calls into question the size of the spread.

Score Projection

The Eagles have not played an offense as good as the Packers.  Green Bay ranks second in the league, just behind Denver.  The closest the Eagles have seen was in week 2 against the Colts.  In that game, the Eagles allowed 27 points.  On the season, the Eagles are allowing an average of 22 ppg.  Obviously, we should expect the Packers to exceed that by a fair amount.

Among Packers opponents, the Eagles defense ranks most similarly to Seattle (just better) and a bit worse than Miami.  Against those teams, the Packers scored 16 and 27 points.  Both of those games were on the road.  Combining it all, I’m setting the Packers scoring expectation at 27-30 points. That Seattle data point is a tough one to incorporate, but given the agreement among the others, I’m assigning it very little weight.  The Packers are averaging 30.8 points per game, but have played a number of good defenses.  Therefore, expecting them to score just below their average seems reasonable.

The Packers defense ranks most similarly (a little bit better) to Jacksonville and Houston. Against those teams, the Eagles scored 34 and 31 points, though Jacksonville was a home game.

On the flip side, among Packers opponents, the Eagles offense ranks most similarly to Chicago (a little worse) and Miami (just better than Chicago).  Against the Bears, the Packers allowed just 17 (road) and 14 (home) points.  Against the Dolphins, the Packers allowed 24 points (road).  That’s bad for the Eagles.  In fact, the Packers have played 4 games at home this season and in those games have only allowed 20+ points once (Jets scored 24).  However, the Eagles haven’t scored less than 20 points all season.

Putting it all together, that puts us in the 21-25 point range.  However, we haven’t accounted for STs.  While normally not a big factor, the Eagles unit has been so good, especially in the return game, that its foolish not to adjust.  Given that the Packers are mediocre in Punting DVOA and relatively bad in Kicking DVOA, I’m bumping the Eagles offense a full 2 points.  That moves us to 23-27 points for the Eagles.

If we combine our projections, we get a range of Pick’em to Packers +7.  With the line at Packers -6, it’s pretty clear we should take the Eagles with the points.

On the over/under side, or combined projections give us a range of 50 – 57 points.  The line is 55.  Three of my four losses on the over/under this season came from taking the under.  In fact, I made a point of saying if it’s anywhere close we should take the over.  However, 55 points is a really high line, and our range says there’s more value in the under. So that’s the play.

Wrapping up, this looks like a tough game for the Eagles, but 6 points is too large a line.  The Packers aren’t as good as they seemed against the Bears, and might not have beaten a good team yet (depending on your evaluation of Miami).  Given the movement in the line towards the Packers, I think there’s a really good chance the team is being overrated at the moment.  Look for a close game, in which case a single play might determine the final outcome.

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