Racing to get this one in under the wire (about 2 hours until gametime), so bare with me on any typos. This is a somewhat abbreviated review, but I’ll try to hit the important points and come back to whatever I miss.
The Eagles have now played 8 games. They’ve gone 4-4. It’s been a strange season from a narrative standpoint. The team opened 3-0, and looked like the 2n best team in the league. Since then, they’ve gone 1-4, and now sit in 4th place in the NFC East. At the halfway point, it’s a natural time to review our preseason expectations/predictions. That allows us to keep some perspective and not be whipsawed by the week-to-week developments.
For context: Football Outsides still has them as the #1 team by DVOA. They also have the 3rd best point differential in the league.
So what gives?
High level – The Eagles are a good team, and almost every statistical measure has their “true” record at better than 4-4. They’ve lost 4 close games, three of those on the road, and one of those in OT. Football Outsides has the Eagles playoff odds at 51.9%. 538 has the playoff odds at just 26%. Either way, playoffs are a legitimate possibility, and frankly, there’s not a single team in the NFC that I don’t think the Eagles could beat in a playoff game. If the Eagles can get there, they can certainly win a game or two or more.
Here’s my preseason prediction post.
I projected the team to go 6-10, with a point differential of -63 points. I predicted they’d score 20 points per game, and allow 23.9 points per game.
In reality, they’ve scored 25.25 points per game and allowed 18 points per game. That’s a very big difference, and MUCH better than I had predicted (+5 points on both sides). However, there’s a bit more to the story.
Since the bye week, the Eagles have scored 22 points per game. They’ve allowed 23.6 points per game. Basically, the Eagles tore through the first 3 games, blowing away pretty much everyone’s expectations. Since then, though, they’ve looked very much like the team I expected, and a bit better once you consider the schedule and context.
Now let’s dig into the specifics a bit:
- The schedule has been/is brutal. The Eagles have played 4 of the past 5 games on the road. They’ve lost all of those road games. Additionally, all of the team’s divisional road games were group together. They’re 0-3 in the division and haven’t had a home game yet. They won’t until December 11. Each of their last 3 opponents (Vikings, Cowboys, Giants) have been coming off a bye week. Atlanta is coming off a Thursday Night Football game, so they’ve had 10 days rest. The data on team performance after a bye week suggest it’s not a big advantage. However, I haven’t seen any data or studies on a stretch like this, where for 4 weeks straight the team plays a better rested/prepared team.
- Carson Wentz has been better than expected. To project Wentz, I pulled all of the high-drafted (top 5 and all 1st-2nd rounders) QBs from the past 10 years that started 10+ games during their rookie year. The average stat line for QBs taken in the top 5:
I’ve taken some heat on twitter for being too forgiving to Wentz. This is why. He’s already significantly ahead of what I expected or what was far to expect. Blaming him for not being better is just greedy. Obviously I wish he wouldn’t make some of the dumb mistakes he has made recently, but it’s just not realistic to expect him to avoid those. He’s doing his job as well as he can be expected to at this stage of his career. Especially with such a dreadful lack of talent at WR.
- On the OL, this is what I said: “Overall, I expect worse OL play this year. Hoping for better, obviously, but betting on a resurgent season from Peters at nearly 35 years old seems overly optimistic. The long-term neglect of the unit will really show itself this year.” I think that holds up pretty well. Peters has been OK, but depth is a huge problem. Kelce is a shell of his former self, whether due to physical decline or scheme change. Lane Johnson’s absence exposed just how shallow this group was. The is the top priority for the offseason.
- On the WRs: “Could they get any worse? Yes, but that’s unlikely.” Hmmm…I think this is fair too. The WRs have been terrible. But they were terrible last year too. I hoped for more from Jordan Matthews, but it’s clear he’s not going to be the #1 guy we hoped he could be when drafted. I still think he can be a very good WR, but he doesn’t create space for himself/Wentz, and he also doesn’t attack the ball or fully leverage his size. Meanwhile, Agholor has already contributed more than he did last year, but he’s also been infuriatingly ineffective. He doesn’t run routes correctly or at full speed, and the drops are maddening. I don’t think he’s on the team past this year.
- The defense:“The scheme change is as big a factor as any of the personnel changes. The 4-3 alignment fits the DL extremely well, and if Hicks can put together a healthy season, the Cox/Logan/Hicks pyramid can anchor the defense and let everyone else play downhill. Better pressure from the DEs (I expect Graham to have a big season) will make the DBs jobs a lot easier.
However, given the lack of depth and the injury concerns, there is a LOT of uncertainty here. The unit could be among the best in the league. Or it could suffer 1-2 key injuries and the entire house of cards could collapse. Imagine if Cox and Hicks missed significant time. In other words, there is an extremely wide range of potential performances for the defense this year.”
The defense currently ranks #1 by DVOA, and Hicks has stayed healthy. He hasn’t been the star I had hoped for, but him, Logan, and Cox have formed a very strong core that has made everyone else’s job easier. Happy to brag about predicting big things for Graham, but I’m hardly the only one who made that call. Sometimes it’s nice to see things work out the way you hope/expect. Graham might be an All-Pro this year.
- On STs: “Without significant reason to believe STs will be either great or terrible, there isn’t much reason to adjust the overall projection.” Way off on this one, but there’s a reason I don’t put much time into projecting STs. The unit has been amazing (#1 by DVOA and 2 return TDs), and has been a huge boost to the overall team performance.
So where do we go fro here? The team is very much what we thought it was. Playoffs are still in the picture, though the margin for error is small. The final record will almost certainly be better than the 6-10 I projected, as will the point differential (from which I derive the record).
There are big flaws/holes on the roster, particularly at OL, WR, and CB, but we expected all of that coming into the year. On the plus side, Wentz looks like a star, Marcus Smith might actually be turning into a contributing player (most shocking development in the entire NFL), and Pederson is definitely competent, though perhaps strategically inept.
The long-term future is very bright. The team has legitimate blue chippers in Wentz, Cox, and Graham, and the Vikings might just be having the complete collapse that I hoped for/expected, even if it is happening a bit later than we wanted. That’s a very important draft pick, so keep an eye on how the rest of the year plays out in Minnesota.
That’s all for now. For today, the public is heavy on the Falcons. It’s a home game, where the Eagles have played extremely well. Julio Jones might go for 200 yards, but I think the Eagles have a very good shot at winning this game. Eagles 31 – Falcons 28.