Eagles are not far off from competing for the playoffs

 Patrick Causey, on Twitter @pcausey3

There is a belief among some that the Eagles are a bad team in need of a complete overhaul this offseason. Even though the Eagles are 5-9, I’m not buying it. For starters, if Carson Wentz is as good as I think he is, he will be able to mask some of the holes on this roster — much like any other high level quarterback can. But I also don’t buy it because the available data doesn’t back it up.

Point Differential

Let’s start with point differential. The Eagles are 5-9, but have a +17 point differential. That is better than the following teams at or above .500:

  • Houston 8-6 (-44)
  • Tampa Bay 8-6 (-9)
  • Miami 9-5 (+1)
  • Washington 7-6-1 (+2)
  • Minnesota 7-7 (+5)
  • New Orleans 6-8 (+14)
  • Detroit 9-5 (+16)

In fact, since 2006, only six teams out of 320 finished with a losing record but positive point differential. That’s 1.8%. The Eagles are currently on track to be the 7th.

So why does this matter? Because point differential is proven to be a more reliable predictor of a team’s future win-loss record than its actual win-loss record. As Bill Barnwell explained:

We can produce an “expected” win total for each NFL team, given its point differential, by running the Pythagorean Expectation formula — Points For x 2.37 / (Points For x2.37 + Points Against x 2.37) — and multiplying it by 16, for the number of games in a season. Ever since Bill James created this for baseball and Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey modified it for football, the results have shown that winning more games than your Pythagorean Expectation tends to mean a team will decline the following season, while falling short of expectations tends to mean a team will improve.

Apply that formula to the Eagles (but divide by 14 games since the season isn’t over), and we get an expected win total of 7.22 games this season, which is a net positive of 2.22 wins. If that number holds, it will likely be one of the highest in the league, meaning the Eagles have likely fallen victim to bad luck this year.

For the Doubting Thomas’ of the group, let’s put this theory to the test with concrete examples. Consider those six teams I mentioned before that finished the year with a losing record but positive point differential. Look at how they fared the following season:

Year Team Record Point Diff Record the Following Year
2008 Green Bay Packers 6-10 +39 11-5*
2010 Tennessee Titans 6-10 +17 9-7
2011 Seattle Seahawks 7-9 +6 11-5**
2011 Miami Dolphins 6-10 +16 7-9
2012 New Orleans Saints 7-9 +7 11-5**
2013 Detroit Lions 7-9 +19 11-5*

* = made the playoffs          ** = won a playoff game

Every team improved on their win total the following year, winning an average of 10 games. Four of six teams won 11 games and made the playoffs. Two of those four teams won at least one playoff game. Only one team (2012 Dolphins) had a losing record, yet they still improved on their win total from the prior year.

In other words, point differential is the more reliable metric we should be using to evaluate the Eagles, and based on that metric, the Eagles should be around 7-7. 

Look over the Eagles schedule, and it’s not that hard to see how, with a few breaks here and there, they could have easily have reached that mark. Maybe Doug Pederson doesn’t blow it against Dallas, or Wentz connects with Jordan Matthews on the final play against the Giants, or Ryan Mathews hangs onto the d*mn football against the Lions.

This isn’t cherry picking selective games. It has been a consistent theme all season. The Eagles have lost six games by seven points or less. Two of those games were decided by only one point. Conversely, the Eagles lost only one game (to the Bengals) by more than 14 points. In other words, they have been in almost every single game they lost this year. That puts them in good company league wide, as only eight teams in the NFL have fewer losses by that margin: the Falcons, Ravens, Cowboys, Broncos, Lions, Giants, Chargers and Redskins. Other teams with an equal number of 14+ point losses include the Patriots, Raiders, Seahawks and Chiefs. While the Eagles have less losses by 14+ points  than the Steelers, Packers, Dolphins or Texans, each of which are currently slated to make the playoffs.

Number of 14+ point losses Teams
0 Falcons, Ravens, Cowboys, Broncos, Lions, Giants, Chargers and Redskins
1 Eagles, Patriots, Raiders, Seahawks, Bills, Bengals, Chiefs, Vikings,  Saints, Titans
2 Steelers, Packers, Cardinals, Panthers, Colts, Jags, Dolphins
3 Bucs, Texans, Bears
4 Rams
5 Jets, 49ers
6 Browns

Football Outsiders

Other metrics rank the Eagles highly as well. According to Football Outsiders, the Eagles are 6th overall in DVOA, 10th in weighted DVOA, 22nd in offense, and (somewhat remarkably) 5th in defense.

Even Scott Kacsmar, who has drawn the ire of Eagles fans with his anti-Carson Wentz takes (AIR YARDS!!!!!!!!), concedes that the Eagles are better than their record suggests:


Finally, we reach a similar conclusion if use Pro Football Focus’ player grades to compare how the Eagles roster stacks up with the rest of the league. (And I know, I know– PFF’s rankings deserve a giant grain of salt).

Below is a chart which counts the number of players on each team that fall into certain categories of PFF’s ranking system — i.e., elite, high quality, poor, etc., etc. First, compare the difference between the Eagles and obviously terrible teams like the 49ers and Browns. The talent disparity is stark.

Team Elite High Quality Above Average Average Below Average Poor
Eagles 1 6 1 7 3 4
49ers 0 0 1 7 2 11
Browns 0 1 1 9 1 9
Packers 1 5 3 8 1 4
Seahawks 2 5 4 5 1 6
Patriots 1 6 1 5 6 2
Raiders 1 4 6 5 0 6
Chiefs 1 2 6 9 2 2
Cowboys 0 7 5 7 1 2
Steelers 0 4 6 7 1 4
Redskins 1 2 8 5 3 3
Giants 1 5 3 3 1 9
Lions 0 2 5 6 2 8
Falcons 2 3 4 11 1 2
Texans 0 4 3 5 2 8
Ravens 2 1 5 10 0 4

Next, compare the Eagles to the remaining teams on this list, which consist of the other NFC East teams and most of the teams in playoff contention. Of the 22 starters, the Eagles have 8 that rank as above average or better. That’s 36.36% of their current starters. That rank is on par with several playoff teams, including the New England Patriots, and isn’t far behind others:

Teams Above Average Starters %
Texans, Lions 7/22 31.8%
Eagles, Ravens, Patriots 8/22 36.36%
Falcons, Packers, Giants, Chiefs 9/22 40.9%
Steelers 10/22 45%
Seahawks, Raiders 11/22 50%
Cowboys 12/22 54.5%

Bottom line: all of this is not to say that the Eagles are an elite team ready to contend for the Super Bowl. They undoubtedly need to add at least 2-3 more above average players to their roster before they can even think of that happening.

But this is to say that the Eagles aren’t as bad as we think. With some smart roster improvements and internal player improvement, we should expect the Eagles to be able to do so next year. In fact, even if neither of those things happened, the Eagles point differential suggests they can still compete for the playoffs.


6 thoughts on “Eagles are not far off from competing for the playoffs

  1. PC –

    Huge fan of your articles. Especially appreciate how meticulously you present your arguments.

    Out of curiosity, I went back in Eagles history to find a (post-1955) season when the team had a losing record but a positive point differential.

    The only year that qualified?

    1977 . . . Birds finished 5-9 in Dick Vermeil’s second season as HC.

    1977 was, interestingly enough, the first with the great Marion Campbell as DC and Jaws at QB.

    What happened next?

    From ’78 through ’81, the Eagles were a playoff team (w/ 1 SB appearance).

    Again, fantastic work.

  2. Excellent article, as usual! I know it sounds like whining but it sure does seem like the Eagles have had the most brutal schedule this season, in terms of crazy coincidences like their continually playing opponents coming off of a bye week, etc. I think that was a significant factor.

  3. As always, good analysis. I must dissent, however. First, neither the Cowboys nor Giants is losing a key player next year and we will have to play them 4 times. And the rest of our schedule is itself difficult. Second, we’re not going to change much starting personnel. Third, our weak links are really weak.

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