Projecting the Eagles’ 2015 Record

Just a few days until the Eagles kick off the 2015 season for real.  As is tradition, I will attempt to project the Eagles record.  Before I get to this year, let’s take a quick review of the previous projections.  Remember, the object of the game is to score points and to prevent them.  Wins and losses are derived from how well the team does those two things.  So rather than just throw a win total out there, I try to project the final Point Differential, then I use that number to back into an estimated win total.  Here are my 2013 and 2014 projections:

Screen Shot 2015-09-10 at 1.21.15 PM

I’m really happy with both results.  Missing by 15 points over the course of a 16 game season is about as close as I could ever expect to get.  Also of note: while I was generally on the mark, I slightly underestimated the team each time.  It’s hardly a trend (just 2 seasons of data), but it’s something I’ll be watching for this year.  If it happens again, perhaps I can start to adjust for a naturally pessimistic bias.

This Season

Let’s start on the points production side of the equation.  First up, here are some stats from last year:

  • The Eagles finished 13th in offensive DVOA from Football Outsiders.  In 2013, they finished 3rd.
  • The team scored 1.98 points per drive last year, 13th in the league.
  • The Eagles scored 3.1 special teams points per game last season (  The second place team, Buffalo, scored just 1.3.
  • The Eagles scored 1.8 defensive points per game.

As you can tell, the offense took big step back last year, but it was masked by excellent, and likely unrepeatable, performance by STs and the defense.  Why was it so bad?

Two main reasons:

(1) Nick Foles only started 8 games, and when he did start he didn’t play nearly as well has he had in 2013.

(2) Turnovers.  The Eagles had .174 turnovers per offensive drive last year, which was worst in the league.  So on more than 1 out of every 6 offensive drives, the Eagles turned the ball over.  It’s really hard to score when you forfeit that many possessions.

The good news is: there’s a new quarterback, and he has a long history of very low turnover rates.  Moreover, turnovers themselves have little-to-no persistence from year to year.

Stay with me here for a few paragraphs, we need to get in the weeds a bit.

Last season, the league average for turnovers was 23.  The Eagles had 36.  So…if the Eagles revert to league average, that’s 13 extra possessions.  If we also adjust on the takeaways side, we get to 9 extra possessions.  Last year that would have resulted in 17.82 extra points for the team (using the average pts per drive), or 1.11 per game.  If we assume a more efficient offense (better QB play almost certainly gets you there), it has an even bigger effect.

I detailed those numbers because we also have to go against the team.  They simply will not score as often on D and STs as they did last year.  A lot of writers have mentioned this, but not everyone has counterbalanced it with the TO reversion.  If we assume the Eagles return to the middle of the pack for defensive scoring, that costs them .5 pts per game.  On STs, doing the same costs the team a lot more, something around 2.5 points per game. In total, that’s 3 points per game that the team likely can’t count on this year.  Note though, that the 3 point estimate is high.  If the Defense and STs hadn’t scored the 11 touchdowns they did, the Eagles offense would have gained another 11 possessions.  At last year’s average, that would have been worth 1.36 points per game.  If we adjust for that, we get to 1.64 points per game from D and STs that the team can’t rely on.

Of course, we know from above that the expected giveaway reversion is worth an added 1.11 points per game!

That was a very long way of saying that the mean reversion on the TO side and the D/STs scoring side come close to balancing out, leaving a deficit of just 0.5 points per game.

We can certainly argue around the margins for the right way to correct for some of those things.  My method is very back-of-the-envelope.  But given the uncertainty and margin of error for any assumptions we make, I don’t think the result will change.  So don’t worry so much about the D and STs not scoring this year.  It means that, IF the Eagles turn the ball over at a more normal rate, then last year’s scoring rate wasn’t actually inflated by the D and STs.

That’s really important, because last year the team produced points at a rate of 29.6 per game.  If we take out the 0.5 points per game from above, we get to 29.1 ppg.  That was 28.8% better than the league average of 22.  For reference, in 2013, the Eagles scored 27.6 per game, which was 18% better than league average.

Can you see where this is headed?  If the Eagles natural scoring rate from last year was 28.8% better than average, than any improvement could lead to an extremely powerful offensive team.

Let’s take a look at the positions to see how things will shake out:


This is the big one, for obvious reasons.  If Sam Bradford is healthy, he has a chance to duplicate Foles’ efficiency from 2013.  Bradford has a very strong arm and, for his career, an interception rate of just 2.2%.  But…we can’t overlook the fact that he’s played 49 games in the league, a big sample, and has been firmly mediocre.  In particular, his career adjusted net yards per attempt, at 5.17, is really weak.  I know a lot of people blame that on his lack of support, which is reasonable, but we shouldn’t just ignore it.

That said, I think Bradford is an excellent fit, and Chip’s offensive system has proven it’s ability to elevate QBs beyond their previous performance levels (see Mark Sanchez, or even better, buy the Eagles Almanac for an in depth look at the issue.)  However, given Bradford’s career statistics, it seems foolish to expect 2013 Foles’-level performance.  If healthy, though, I think he gets reasonably close.

Now a note about health.  I have no idea if Bradford will stay healthy.  I’ve heard the 12% re-injury rate number, so let’s go with that.  But, we have to assume that there is a LARGE margin of error in that number.  To be conservative, let’s just assume for a moment that the real ACL re-injury rate for Bradford is 20%.  That’s really high, but it also means he’s got an 80% chance of NOT re-injuring the ACL.  So in terms of expectations, it’s still pretty clear that he’s much more likely to make it through the season than to go down.

There are plenty of other injuries that could happen, but the season-ender is the one we need to worry about.  Why?  Because the Eagles aren’t winning a divisional playoff game with Sanchez at QB.  Of course it COULD happen, but it’s really unlikely.  So I’ll wrap up my comments on Bradford’s health like this:

  • The Eagles need a healthy Bradford to have any hope in the playoffs.
  • Stepping out of this analysis, my gut says the team wins 3 out of every 4 games Bradford plays and goes .500 in the rest.  That means 8 starts gets you to 10-6 and a good chance at the playoffs.

Verdict: Big Improvement

The OL

I’m more worried about the OL than most people seem to be.  Barbre and Gardner are both huge question marks at G.  Fortunately, Guard is, relatively speaking, an inconsequential position.  If the team has to have a weakness, I’m happy it’s at Guard.  But…there’s a chance at least one of these two guys is terrible.  I hope that’s not the case, and neither seemed like a massive problem in the preseason, but the risk is there for now.

Kelce is what he is, one of the most athletic Centers in the game and a rock in the middle.

Beyond that, depth is an issue and the unit is still heavily reliant on Jason Peters as it’s star.  Lane Johnson seems primed for a big step forward, and that would go a long way to assuaging my concerns, but behind these guys there isn’t much to feel confident about.  When you factor in the reliance on the running game, you can see why one or two injuries to this line could cause the whole season to unravel.  As it stands, I’m optimistic, but if you’re looking for an underrated risk to the team, this is it.

The good news, in a strange way, is that last year the offensive line wasn’t great. From Football Outsiders, it ranked 29th in run blocking and 9th in pass protection.  Since we’re just trying to adjust our performance expectations from last year, that means the line doesn’t need to be amazing to take a step forward.  At the very least, repeating last year’s performance seems like a reasonable expectation.

Verdict: Even

The RBs

Very little to say here.  From a pure “on-the-field” basis, I really like essentially trading McCoy for Murray and Mathews.  I’m ignoring the cap allocation aspects for now, because this analysis is only concerned with this season.  At the very least, the M&M combo is more resilient to injury risk than McCoy, even with the injury history of both players.

I think the N/S running style from both guys is a great match for the team, and I expect big things from them (and Sproles, though I’m curious to see if Sproles’ usage pattern changes at all.)

Verdict: Improvement

The WRs

I’m excited. Jordan Matthews looks like a potential star, and I’m excited that Chip Kelly liked Agholor enough to take him in the first round.  I know that’s a strange way of thinking about it, and whether it was a smart pick is a different question.  Losing Maclin hurts, but I think Matthews’ development can pick up of the slack.  Expected overall performance probably declines a bit, if only because rookie WRs should always have low expectations, but I don’t see a major drop-off from last year.

Last note: depth is an issue here as well.  If Matthews goes down, the WR corps suddenly looks pretty weak, barring a crazy debut from Agholor.  Riley Cooper is a non-factor to me.  I think he’s a pretty bad player that capitalized on one high-usage season, but he shouldn’t be expected to perform any worse than he did last year.

Verdict: Slight decline.

Summing up the offense:

Pulling it all together, and ignoring scenarios involving major injuries, I see a big improvement at QB coupled with a smaller improvement at RB and a slight decline at WR. Together that would seem to lead to a better offense than last year.  Since last year’s rate was +28.8%, we’re left with a pretty aggressive base-case expectation.  I’m setting it at +34%.  I’m only pushing the upside case to +40%, because to go any higher would push us into serious outlier territory, which is a hard place to be for a prediction.

On the downside, I’m setting our expectation at +15%, which would be the worst points production rate thus far for Chip.


Now to point prevention.  Here are some stats from last season:

  • Last season, the Eagles’ defense ranked 10th by DVOA.  The pass defense ranked 18th, the rush defense ranked 7th.
  • The Eagles allowed 23.9 points per game, 17th in the league and 2% worse than average.
  • The team allowed 1.85 points per drive, 15th in the league.
  • The team allowed 29.34 yards per drive, 7th in the league.

There are no huge red flags for mean reversion on the defensive side from last year.  The team had 16 fumble takeaways last year, against a league average of 9.5.  Overall, the team had 28 takeaways versus a league average of 23.6.  The fumble number is high, but the overall TO count was reasonable.  We can adjust for the 4 extra turnovers (though there are reasons to believe the Eagles will force more turnovers than the average team) the same way we did for the offense.  That gets us to an extra 7.4 points or .46 points per game.  That pushes the defensive performance to 4.2% worse than average.

The DL

This might be the strongest unit on the team.  Cox is at the beginning of what should be a long stretch of dominant play.  Bennie Logan has developed into a better player than I (or anyone else) expected at NT, and Cedric Thornton is a very solid 3-4 D-E, especially against the run.  The players haven’t changed, so our only question is whether we think the group will get better organically or get worse.  I don’t see any reason they’d get worse.  There’s a chance for continued development, though, so a small improvement is possible. A stronger LB corps. behind them should help as well.

Verdict: Even.

The LBs

This is a wildcard for me.  Barwin has been tremendous and should continue at the same level.  Graham has grown into his role, and seems ready to take another step forwards.  Regardless, I think trading Cole out for Graham is a likely improvement just based on last year.  In the middle is where things get tricky.  Demeco Ryans’ role is unclear.  I don’t expect much from him this year, and given his age (31) and the fact that he’s already played 126 games in the NFL (regular season), it’s fair to wonder if he’ll decline much more quickly than one might expect.

The good news is the team added Kiko Alonso, who has the potential to be a very good LB.  As a rookie, he showed star potential.  Therefore, the upside of a Kendricks/Alonso combo is huge.  They’re both very fast, athletic LBs who could, if used correctly, form the most disruptive ILB duo in the league.  Unfortunately, Alonso has some serious durability questions, and even if he’s healthy, it’s unclear if he’ll be able to regain the form he had his rookie year.

If healthy, there’s potential here for a big improvement, but the uncertainty gives me pause.  Instead, I think a small step forward is a better expectation for this year.  If Alonso stays healthy and works himself back into shape, though, next season could be dominant.

Depth is an issue, especially on the outside, but Barwin has been very durable, playing in every game over the past 4 seasons.  Graham, similarly, has played in all 16 games for 3 seasons straight.  I still have no idea how Vinny Curry will be used, but he’s a great piece to have, even if he just comes in pass-rushing situations.

Verdict: Slight improvement.

The DBs

The Eagles’ biggest offseason move, to me, was signing Maxwell.  And I have no idea how good he is.  If he play’s like a true #1 CB, then it’s going to be hard for this unit not to improve from last year.  If he turns out to be a guy who benefited from a great scheme and talent around him, though, things could get ugly.  I’m guessing he’ll be solid, not great, which would still be an improvement over Cary Williams.

On the other side, it looks like Nolan Carroll is going to be the starter, and might move inside to the Nickel when the defense shifts to that formation.  I’m not excited by Carroll, he’s just a guy.  BUT, similar to several positions above, he doesn’t need to be great.  Bradley Fletcher was not good last year.  So just mediocre play from Carroll should help prevent a decline in performance from this unit.  I think Carroll can be mediocre.

In the nickel package, Eric Rowe will have to play.  That might be a problem.  In any case, there’s no objective way to expect anything other than a step down from what Brandon Boykin provided last year.  (I know I just said Carroll would rotate in, but I’m really talking about the 3 CB tandem here).

Depending on how often the team moves to that package, the improvement from Maxwell could be quickly drowned out if the rookie isn’t ready to contribute.

At Safety, Jenkins is solid.  Thurmond has never played Safety before, but filling in for Nate Allen really should be that hard.  He looked solid in preseason.  I think it’s likely he turns out to be at least a small improvement over Nate Allen.  Once again, depth is a big issue, but last year’s corps was such a mess that a big step down seems unlikely.

Verdict: Slight Improvement (Based almost entirely on Maxwell, so there’s a lot of risk in this particular assessment.)

Where does that get us?

It looks like the defense is likely to improve slightly.  There is, without a doubt, more high level talent on defense this year than last (Alonso and Maxwell additions).  How they’ll fit is anyone’s guess, and depth outside of the DL is an issue.  I’m betting on the talent though.

Last year’s points allowance rate 4.2% worse than average (adjusted).

I’m setting our base case at league average.  Note that by DVOA, I think the Eagles will finish in the top 10 on D again.  Due to the pace of the game, though, that doesn’t map directly to points.  On the upside, if Alonso is full-speed soon and Maxwell plays as well as his contract suggests he’s worth, 7.5% better than average is eminently reachable.

On the downside, I’m putting a floor at 10% worse than league average.

A note on Special Teams

STs performance has no persistence from year to year.  That’s why I’ve adjusted the Eagles to league average.  Of course, the unit was amazing last year, and it’s possible the extra attention or coaching the team devotes to STs has produced a sustainable advantage.  I haven’t seen enough to assume that though, and since STs is generally a small part of the game with no persistence and a lot of variability, I just zero it out.  Think of it as an error factor thrown onto the end of the final equation.  If the Eagles come anywhere close to matching their STs performance from last year, the team could challenge for home-field advantage.

Pulling it All Together

So let’s combine our scenarios just as I did last year.  Scoring was actually down overall last year, at 22.6 points per game per team (23.4 the year before).  That went against the previous trend of 0.6 points per game annual inflation from before.  For this year, I’m going to use 23 points per game as a projected average, and guess that last year’s decline did not represent a fundamental change in the game.  Also note that I’m not trying to adjust for effects of the new extra point rules.  I don’t think they’ll make a big difference this year (but hope I’m wrong about that).

Here they are:

Screen Shot 2015-09-10 at 4.16.17 PM

Our base case gets us to an expected point differential of 125, which results in a win projection of 11 (10.98 to be exact), using Pythagorean wins and a 2.67 exponent.

Here’s a full scenario chart:

Screen Shot 2015-09-10 at 4.21.27 PM

The average and median value is 10.5 wins.

So there you have it. Barring any major injuries to Bradford, Peters, Cox, and Maxwell, I project the Eagles to win 11 games.  That SHOULD be good enough for the division crown, and it’s almost definitely good enough for a playoff spot.

How long can we expect Jason Peters to play?

In my previous post, I mentioned that one of my biggest concerns about the roster is that staging of the “rebuild” might be disjointed.  In other words, the Eagles have a lot of good players, but I’m worried there aren’t enough of them that will be in peak form (or close to it) at the same time, lowering the potential ceiling of the group.

While I still have a lot of work to do to explore this issue, it seemed natural to begin with a look at Jason Peters.  He is one of the best players on the team (arguably THE best), a potential future HOFer, and a keystone of Chip’s dominant running attack.  He’s also going to be 33 years old this year.  How much longer can he be expected to play at a high level?

There are a few ways to dig into this, but I began with the simplest.  I used’s Approximate Value measure as a proxy for impact/skill.  I searched for all OTs, post-merger, who registered a combined Approximate Value of at least 20 in their age 31-32 seasons.  Basically, I was looking to get a sample of Tackles who played as well as Peters has this late in his career.  There were 15 such players.  I then looked at how those players progressed.  The results, unfortunately, were not encouraging.  I rebased the annual AV of each player to their age 32 season value.  I then took an average of those to get an aggregate aging curve.

Below is a chart illustrating the analysis.  The blue line illustrates the performance progression.  The red bars show how many players remained in the analysis each year.  Studies like this are highly sensitive to survivorship bias, so I wanted to make it very clear how few of these players remained in the league as they got older.  In general, this effect serves to OVER-estimate the contributions of players as they age (unless you make adjustments for it, which I have not done here).

Screen Shot 2015-05-28 at 11.01.09 AM


Jason Peters is entering his Age 33 season.  The 15 tackles I looked at, on average, recorded an Approximate Value in that season of just 73% of their age 32 season.  Also note that by age 36, just 4 of the 15 players were still playing, and beyond that, only Lomas Brown continued.

This is obviously a very rough analysis.  OL contributions are very difficult to quantify and Approximate Value isn’t a perfect statistic.  Also note that Jason Peters’ AV last season was 12.  Just 60% of that would still result in an AV of 7.2.  By comparison, Lane Johnson’s average AV over the past two years is 7.  The takeaway is that even if Jason Peters follows the above progression exactly, he can still be a decent contributor for another year or two.  Expecting much beyond that, however, seems irrational.

Now let’s take a less systematic look at things.  I also searched the PFR database for all post-merger OTs that recorded an AV of at least 7 in the seasons corresponding to the following ages, which are shown with the number of players meeting that threshold:

34 yrs – 36 players

35 yrs – 23 players

36 yrs – 6 players

37 yrs – 4 players

38 yrs – 3 players

As you can see, it’s extremely rare for OTs to have a great season beyond the age of 33, and it almost never occurs after age 35.  The conclusion is that we shouldn’t expect Peters to play at a high level for more than another 1-2 yrs, and if he plays longer than that, it might be due as much to a failure of finding a decent replacement as to his ability.

A few other notes (all post-1970):

– Willie Roaf recorded an Av of 17 when he was 34 yrs old.

– Just 4 tackles made the All-Pro 1st team after age 33: Walter Jones (33), Mike Kenn (35), Willie Roaf (34), and Gary Zimmerman (35).  Each of them was also drafted in the 1st round (not saying that means anything, just thought it was interesting).

– 25 OTs made the pro bowl after turning 33 (includes multiple appearances by the same player).

– OTs older than 35 have started at least 12 games 49 times (36 different players).



The State of the Eagles

Been a long time since I posted, and a lot has happened in the interim.  Instead of parceling out my thoughts over several days, I decided to just throw them into a single long post.  Apologies for some rambling, I hope to return soon with more detail on the more important issues highlighted below.

Chip Kelly the Coach vs. Chip Kelly the GM

Chip has taken over as GM of the Eagles (functionally).  Thus, in order to adequately evaluate the team’s decisions, we need to get one thing very clear:  It is entirely possible that Chip is a great coach but a terrible GM.  I’m not saying that’s the case; we don’t have nearly enough data to make that judgment.  However, everyone needs to understand that those are two separate positions, requiring completely different skill-sets.  Additionally, you can absolutely be a huge fan of Chip Kelly the coach, but hate Chip Kelly the GM.  That might be too much nuance for some fans, but it’s the way it is.

I happen to think Chip Kelly is a great coach.  Time will tell whether he can also be a good GM…but we do have a few decisions to start looking at.

The QB Situation

I’m intrigued by Sam Bradford, but there’s no question the Eagles paid too much.  I was always among the bigger Nick Foles fans, but recognize that he was never going to be one of the best QBs in the game.  There’s really no argument regarding Foles’ performance last season: it was bad.  Not Blake Bortles bad, but certainly appreciably worse than what you’d like from your QB, and a far cry from his 2013 season.

Foles ranked 20th in Adjusted Net Yards/Attempt (5.93).  He ranked 14th in QBR (62.21).  27th in Rating (81.4).

Of course, he did that behind a really bad offensive line and against a erasable difficult schedule.  But qualification aside, he was comfortably in the bottom third of the league in terms of performance.

So why do I think the Eagles paid too much for Bradford?


Bradford’s career Adjusted Net Yards/Attempt is 5.17.  His career Rating is 79.3.  I haven’t calculated his weighted-average career QBR (and can’t calculate it because nobody knows the formula), but his BEST single season QBR was 50.28 in 2012.

See what I’m getting at?

Bradford, by nearly any measure, has been a bad QB in the NFL.  He gets a bit of a pass because he plays in a small market, was a former #1 pick (retains the pedigree associated with that), and has had a dreadful supporting cast for his entire career.  Objectively speaking, however, he’s never proven himself to be even a league-average QB.

Basically, there’s a very good chance Bradford doesn’t provide even marginally better expected performance than Foles.  If you want to make the argument that Bradford has been held back by his cast, and that Foles, conversely, was inflated by his, then you might convince yourself that Bradford can, at best, be expected to be slightly better than Foles.  Of course, slightly better is not enough for a 2nd round pick.

I am confident that Bradford, if healthy, will outperform his career averages to date.  Kelly’s offense has proven its ability to juice the QB’s stats.  Still, if you think you’re going to be much more confident in Bradford than you were in Foles, I think you’re going to be disappointed.

To summarize: I think Bradford can absolutely be a “good-enough” QB in Kelly’s system.  However, I also think Foles and a 2nd round pick was far too much to pay.  For those keeping track, that would seem to amount to support for Kelly the coach, but skepticism of Kelly the GM.

The RBs

I liked the McCoy trade.  Culture issues aside, McCoy just wasn’t going to be worth what he was getting paid, and Alonso, if healthy, is a very good player at a position of greater need.

Of course, we also have to deal with the signings of Murray and Matthews.  These signings bothered the “analytics” crowd because it’s become widely accepted that you shouldn’t pay a lot for RBs.  Giving big deals to both players clearly goes against this notion, and the signings undercut one of the main benefits of trading McCoy (better cap allocation).  However, when you look at the figures, the Eagles actually have made progress:

In 2014, the Eagles allocated 8.22% of the salary cap to RBs, more than any other team. In 2015, the Eagles are allocating 6.94% of the cap to RBs, 5th in the league.

(Update: The above allocation doesn’t include McCoy’s dead cap money for 2015, which is significant at $3.4 mil.  That obviously should be accounted for and pushes the cap allocation for 2015 above 9%.  I’ll have more to say on cap allocation later, so for now the take-away is: Eagles haven’t made “progress” like I initially thought, but it’s also not that big of a deal for reasons explained below.)

That’s not a complete picture, because the Eagles could have achieved the same result by just getting a new deal done with McCoy (as the Bills have).  The overall point, though, is that the Eagles’ cap allocation to RB isn’t really that concerning.  In a vacuum, it’s not ideal. However, Chip’s offense is the most run-dominant in the league and he’s proven his ability as an offensive coach.  Of all the areas in which Chip has control, the run game deserves our highest level of deference to his decisions.  However, there are reasons to be concerned about Murray/Matthews:

Murray will be 27 next season.  Matthews will be 28.

For reference, here’s an illustration of the RB aging curve (usage via attempts) pulled from something else I’m working on:

Screen Shot 2015-05-26 at 1.19.19 PM

As you can see, on average, RBs peak (in terms of usage) at age 26.  This is far from a hard-and-fast rule, but it highlights the fact that we shouldn’t expect “peak” performance from either player.  The bigger concern is that we’re looking at a 1-2 year window where we can reasonably expect decent productivity from both players.

Unfortunately, the Eagles signed Murray for 5 years and Matthews for 3.  That means we’re likely looking at some dead money towards the end of those deals.  That’s not a huge problem if Murray produces for 2-3 years.  If he only has 1 good year, though, the Eagles are in a very tough spot.  Matthews isn’t as significant, as I don’t expect him to get to the third year of his contract (when he’ll have a $5 mil cap hit).

The Draft

I liked the draft. Given where the Eagles chose and the price to trade up, I think the team did quite well.  I certainly would have liked to grab several OL late, and would have tried to move down more in the later rounds, but those are very minor aspects.  Whether a draft is “good” or not is almost entirely determined by the first two rounds.  If Agholor and Rowe turn into impact starters, it doesn’t matter what the rest of the players do.  If they don’t, the rest of the picks similarly won’t do enough to make up for those busts.  Remember, it’s extremely rare for a late-round pick to turn into an impact player.  So we can quibble over the later round selections, but they just aren’t that meaningful in the grand scheme.

In other words, if you like both Agholor and Rowe, you should like the draft.  If you don’t like them, you don’t like the draft.

Also note that the draft has to be evaluated on its own basis.  For example, one might say that the Agholor pick was a bad one, because the Eagles shouldn’t have needed a WR (they could’ve resigned Maclin or not cut DeSean).  If that’s your critique, you’re still arguing past moves rather than this one.  On the day of the draft, the Eagles could have used a top WR prospect, and it looks like they got one.

The O-Line

I’m not satisfied with the offensive line, and can’t believe the Eagles didn’t make any other moves to address the positions.  Allen Barbre is starting at RG.  It’s possible he’s terrible.  Over the course of a 7 year career, he has an Approximate Value of 7.  Over his past 4 seasons, he’s appeared in just 23 games with an AV of 0.  This isn’t some young player who is getting his first chance.  Barbre has played for 3 different teams and will be 31 this season.  He might be fine; Guard is a low-impact position.  He might also be a big problem.

Behind the starters are Gardner, Tobin, Kelly, and Molk.  Not a confidence-inspiring group.

This wouldn’t be quite as bad if the Eagles weren’t so heavily dependent on the OL.  The offense is run-dominant, and the QBs aren’t good.  Any weaknesses on the OL will be magnified.

My concerns about the age of Peters and Mathis have more to do with finding their eventual replacements than they do with their expected performance this year.  If healthy, I expect both to be good (Peters can be great again).  But at some point, the Eagles will need to replace them, and as I’ve said before, having to replace 2+ starters on the OL in one offseason is not a good position to be in.

As I mentioned in the RB section, Peters/Mathis look like they’re able to provide another 2-3 years of high-quality play (though I expect less from Mathis).

When you take a step back and look at the roster, it really looks like the Eagles are a team whose “window” to contend is actually now.  The problem?  Sam Bradford is the QB and there’s still a gaping hole at Safety.

I need to dig much deeper into this problem, but I think it’s perhaps the biggest question facing the team:  Did the Eagles screw up the staging of their rebuild?  I’ve discussed this before, but depth chart breakdowns are woefully incomplete if they don’t project over 3-5 years.  You need to plan ahead, and have each unit of the team in close-to-peak form at the same time.  Otherwise, you’re just a mediocre team perennially treading water and patching holes.  I worry that’s where the Eagles are headed, but will come back with more detailed thoughts on the matter once I’ve had more time to think about it.

Byron Maxwell

Byron Maxwell is the most important acquisition the Eagles made this offseason.  It was overshadowed by the moves on offense, but make no mistake: this is THE big one.  Maxwell is 27 years old, and if he is truly a #1 CB, could have a huge impact on the defense for 5-7 years.  They certainly paid Maxwell like a #1, which is why it’s so important  he play up to that standard.  Note that his contract is front-loaded, so the dead money isn’t too bad after the first 2 years of the deal.

Maxwell has started just 17 games, with 6 interceptions and 27 passes defensed during that time.  From PFF, QBs had a rating of 81.1 when throwing against Maxwell last season, WRs had a catch rate of 63.4%.   (Note there are some minor discrepancies in the PFF data. I pulled from the leaderboard pages, not the individual player pages).

Those are good numbers, but not great ones.  Boykin, for example, allowed a rating of 77.2, on just 5 fewer targets.  They were playing different coverage positions, of course, but it gives you some context to work with.  Bradley Fletcher allowed a Rating of 107.6.

Maxwell also played alongside Richard Sherman, the best CB in the game, and in front of Earl Thomas, the best S in the game.  I don’t know what effect that had on Maxwell’s performance, but it’s worth noting.  In theory, he should have been OVER-targeted last year, by virtue of being the “easier” CB to throw against, but he was targeted just 6 more times than Sherman.

Regardless, Maxwell MUST be REALLY GOOD if the Eagles are to truly contend.  He’s far from a sure thing.  That’s what makes him the most important player for the Eagles this season.

Back to Chip

The above issues all point to one unavoidable conclusion: Chip has a LONG way to go to prove he can be a good GM, and if he can’t, it won’t matter how great a coach he is.  To date, none of the moves he’s made are definitively “wrong”, but they’re not “right” either, and several of them seem more likely than not to prove unwise.

That’s enough for now.  I really just wanted to throw a lot out there, and drill down in more detail later.

Are NFL Teams Faking Injuries?

Sorry for the recent absence, I returned from Beirut and went right into recruiting season.  Once I’ve accepted an offer I’ll start posting again. In the meantime, I’ve got a guest post (unedited) from Jared Cohen (previous posts include the 4th down chart and the kick return strategy post).  You can find the original here. and follow the author on Twitter @jaredscohen.


Given all the animated discussion over the Patriots tactics against the Ravens in their divisional round playoff game, I thought it would be as good a time as any to post some gamesmanship research.

If you read about the game – you know the Ravens were a bit upset with the Patriots usage of receiver eligibility to disguise their offense. The response from the Patriots was, well, Patriots-like. If it’s not against the letter of the law, it’s all good (unless it’s videotaping other teams, in which case even the law doesn’t matter).

Clearly, the NFL is a league where teams will look for any edge, even if it means pushing the bounds of fair competition.

So it’s with that issue in mind that I started digging into the possibility that players are faking injuries.

As a Philadelphia sports fan, I’m generally inclined to assume that my teams will ultimately lose, and so once the Eagles started running Chip Kelly’s offense, I was quick to accuse every injured defender a liar and a cheat (not to their faces of course).

The Eagles run a very high-tempo offense, one that doesn’t allow opposing defenses to leisurely make substitutions or get a full play clock to catch their breath. It’s a major feature of their strategy, and one that opposing teams would love to minimize, particularly if they aren’t well prepared for it.

One way to slow down the pace of the Eagles offense would be for an opponent to use their timeouts while the Eagles offense is in full-swing. But since a team only has three timeouts per half, they’re a little too valuable to burn. An injury however, is an official’s timeout – these are unlimited – and there’s no cost to the injured team outside of the last two minutes of a half, except that the injured player must sit out for the next play.

So in the current NFL world where fake injuries don’t have a cost (apart from having the ‘injured’ defender miss a play) and can help defenses maintain an easier pace – you could see why an Eagles fan might look at an opposing defender’s injury with suspicion.

Could the Eagles opponents be faking injuries to slow them down? The idea is one that makes the rounds in Eagles bars, but one that’s hard to actually evaluate. So this is my attempt to try.

Others have analyzed NFL injuries via metrics like games lost (i.e., players who aren’t active on game day because they’re injured), but to my knowledge, this is the first attempt to use play-by-play data to look at in-game injuries for trends and whether teams might be faking against the Eagles or other high-tempo teams.

The analysis is a bit long, so below are some quick takeaways:

– The Eagles suffered (or inflicted depending on your point of view) the most defensive injuries against the in league in 2014, and are 2nd in the league when adjusted for a per-play basis
– Across the league, there is a significant positive correlation between running more offensive plays and a higher per-play rate of defensive injury
– Such a correlation could be attributed to fatigue, but this correlation does not hold for the three other possible game situations (own offense, own defense, offense against) – these show no strong relationship between running more plays and a higher per-play rate of injury
– Taken together, these last two points support my hypothesis that players fake injuries against higher tempo offenses

Data Collection and Methodology:

I gathered play-by-play data from all the regular season games this year, and identified all the in-game injuries noted in the descriptions. In case you haven’t read play-by-play before, each play has its own line and explanation, and any play that resulted in an injury timeout is noted. Below is an example:

2-10-DET 40 (14:05) (Shotgun) 10-E.Manning pass incomplete deep middle to 80-V.Cruz (27-G.Quin). DET-27-G.Quin was injured during the play.

If an injury was noted as a stoppage, it was recorded. In an ideal world, we’d eliminate injuries that are serious and clearly not fakes, but there’s no detail on the injuries in the game data, so we have to take the major with the minor.

The play-by-play injuries were then coded as to whether they occurred to the offense, defense, or on special teams (e.g., kick coverage). There were approximately 700 total observations, and while it’s possible that not all injuries were noted in the play-by-play data, this is the only comprehensive source for such information. Given that there are ~700 injury stoppages in our set, that works out to 2-3 injury timeouts per game, which sounds possible but could also be low. It’s possible that whoever officially creates the play-by-play gets lazy and misses some, my assumption here is that if any injuries are somehow missed, they aren’t biased towards one particular side of the ball.

After gathering the data, one additional adjustment is for play frequency. Simply put, the more snaps a player gets, the more likely they are to sustain an injury. Therefore, any team that runs more plays is more likely to see a higher absolute number of injuries. To account for this, I also looked up the total number of plays for each team’s offense and defense during the course of the year – to understand the rate of injury rather than the total number.


Let’s start with the absolutes. I found 692 injuries in the play by play data, 66 of which were special teams plays. I took these out, because they aren’t central to the question of are teams faking injuries to slow down offenses. Of the remaining injuries, I looked at whether they happened to an offensive player or a defensive player and which team they occurred against, below is the data from this season:

Not a shocker to see the Eagles at the very top of that list, and indeed they led the league in defensive injuries against this season.

However, as I already noted, this metric can be misleading. The Eagles offense runs more plays per game than any other team, so we would expect them to be near the top of this list. We need to adjust our data for the number of offensive plays – and we can examine the rate at which opposing defensive players get injured against the Eagles and whether they are still an outlier.

So as we see when we look at it on a rate basis (number of injuries/number of total offensive plays), the Eagles are still close to the top of the league, and roughly 50% above the league average. Houston is just above them, and while no one would consider their offense up-tempo, the fact that the Eagles are so high would be consistent with the theory that opposing teams might be faking injuries to slow them down.

Now, before we get any further down the faking rabbit hole, what if there’s a simpler explanation that doesn’t involve fake injuries? There’s another obvious possibility to explain why the Eagles are so high in defensive injuries against. What about the idea that as you run more plays, players get more physically exhausted, and therefore are naturally more susceptible to injury?

That seems possible, right? So let’s examine that idea a bit.

The first thing we can do is very simple, does injury frequency vary by quarter? If teams get physically tired during the course of the game and that leads to more fatigue and more injury, there should be more injuries as the game goes on:

Interesting. This sort of muddies our waters a bit.

In absolute terms, the number of injures rises dramatically as the game goes on. Injury stoppages in the fourth quarter occur at 2x the rate they do in the first quarter. Part of that can be explained by the fact that the clock stops more frequently in the fourth quarter than the others (and thus more plays), but that wouldn’t explain a 2x difference. I would want to check against the sheer number of plays run by quarter, but I don’t have that data without a bunch of more work.

Still – it looks like that thinking may be reasonable, injuries increase as the game goes on. But it’s also interesting to note that the increase is much more pronounced on the defensive side of the ball. We’ll come back to that later.

For the time being, let’s move on to looking for evidence of fake injuries.

As a general framework for this analysis, I’ve split the types of injury stoppages into four buckets:

1. While on defense, your own team suffers an injury (Own-Defense)
2. While on defense, your opponent suffers an injury (Opponent-Offense)
3. While on offense, your own team suffers an injury (Own-Offense)
4. While on offense, your opponent suffers an injury (Opponent-Defense)

We’ve been focused on bucket #4 thus far, and saw that on a per-play basis the Eagles are close to the top of the league in terms of defensive injuries against on a per-play basis. We also saw that overall injuries increase as the game goes on – but it seems much more prevalent on the defense, which is the side that would be interested in faking injuries.

So can we look a bit deeper to see if play frequency increases injury risk across each type of injury stoppage? The idea that running more plays increases the rate of injury should not be exclusive to offense or defense – although it appears that way at first glance – it’s hard for me to believe that defensive players are in any worse shape or take any harder hits than offensive players.

To take a look at the issue, I ran some basic correlations across each of those four injury types, looking at the number of plays run and the rate of injury. Just to clarify, I summarized the four below:

1. Your defense runs more plays and gets injured more often (this would be a bad defense)
2. Your defense runs more plays and your opponent gets injured more often
3. Your offense runs more plays and gets injured more often (this would be a good offense)
4. Your offense runs more plays and your opponent gets injured more often

Again, if the rate of injury increases with more plays, we should see relationships in each of these situations. So what do we see?

#1 – So earlier we saw defenses suffering more injuries as the game goes on…and yet, when we look at number of defensive plays per game and the rate of defensive injury, there really doesn’t seem to be any relationship. Teams with defenses that are on the field a lot don’t seem to get injured at a higher rate than those who execute fewer plays.

#2 – Our next picture shows a similar lack of correlation, this time between defensive plays per game and the rate of opponent offensive injury. This idea would be that if an opposing defense is really bad, your offense gets more plays, and might get hurt more frequently. But the data shows nothing that looks like a relationship.

#3 – Now we’re on the offensive side of the ball, looking at whether an offense that runs a lot of plays suffers a higher rate of injury. There’s actually a relatively weak negative correlation between running lots of offensive plays and suffering offensive injuries. If you want to believe in things like Chip Kelly’s Sport Science program, you would expect a negative relationship as teams that employ high tempo offenses are more adequately prepared to stay healthy while running it. While a very slight relationship exists, it doesn’t look to be that large, if it even exists at all.

#4 – Hmmm…now it’s officially interesting. When we look at the rate of defensive injury against offensive plays per game, there is our most significant positive relationship. A correlation of 0.39 is significantly more than we’ve seen in the other three instances, and it’s also the only one where there is a clear incentive to fake injuries.

Taken alone, this relationship might be explained by the fatigue theory, but I think it’s tougher to make that argument when you don’t see anywhere close to the same relationship in all other situations. When a defense is bad and on the field a lot, they don’t get hurt more often, when an offense is good and runs lots of plays, they don’t get hurt more often, and when a defense is bad and their opponent runs a lot of plays, they don’t get hurt more often. The only ones who show a substantial increase in injury stoppages as plays increase are opposing defenses.

To me, that’s pretty freaking suspicious. Either opposing defenses are the only ones who suffer from fatigue-related injuries…or maybe some of the injuries aren’t injuries at all.

Now, this is far from 100% conclusive. It may be that defensive players naturally get more fatigued than offensive players due to their roles (i.e., offensive players can take more plays off because they know the play calls)…but I don’t really buy that. I think there’s at least a little bit of shenanigans.

It’s also an entirely different question as to how much this even matters. Any fake injury will happen on the margins, as you see the number of total injury stoppages remain relatively small (2-3 total per game). But for an Eagles team that narrowly missed the playoffs, the marginal differences matter.


So is there a way to address teams that fake injuries? There are certainly options, but some of them are just impractical. The NHL has a penalty for diving, but you really can’t ask the officials to diagnose injuries and try to penalize fakers. You could charge a team a timeout, which the NFL already does if an injury occurs in the last two minutes. That’s much easier than trying to penalize teams, but also provides incentive for coaches and players to hide injuries (also, what do you do in the case of a ‘Body Bag Game’?)

One idea I think might actually be workable, is to tweak the NFL’s current rule for injured players. As it stands today, an injured player who causes a stoppage has to miss at least one play. Well, if you want to eliminate fake injuries, you should raise the cost to those players for faking, and you can do that simply by making them sit out longer. What if, when a player is injured and causes an official stoppage, they must sit out not for just one play, but for the remainder of that series or until a change of possession?

Missing the rest of a series is a bit more significant than missing just one play, and is something that could balance the equation on faking injuries. It also dovetails nicely with the NFL’s stated emphasis on player safety (interpret my use of the term ‘stated’ as you will, based on your own level of cynicism)

If there are fake injuries happening, such an increase in missed time might be enough to keep anyone from acting hurt. Requiring a player to miss the remainder of a series also isn’t as significant as forcing them out for the rest of a quarter or a game.

Some would argue that this isn’t even a problem worth focusing on. But if fast-paced offenses gain greater acceptance in the NFL (which will happen if more of them succeed), the issue will only become more prominent (beyond the realm of the paranoid Eagles fan) and could materially impact the game.

Summary Data

Below is a table of all the raw data I used here, as a reference:

Bonus – Jevon Kearse All-Stars

One last thing I did with this data, after pulling it together, was dig through and sum up all the specific players who sustained injuries in a game this season.

I wanted to look into it because I was really interested in what I’ve termed the ‘Jevon Kearse All-Stars.’ It may just be a bad memory on my part, but one of the things I really remember about Jevon Kearse’s tenure with the Eagles was his tendency to hurt himself and fall to the ground like he got shot. I feel like his injuries always looked more serious than they actually were. It’s possible I’m misremembering, and if so I apologize to the Freak. But with that said, here were the league leaders in injury stoppages in the NFL this year:

Now I’m not accusing these guys of faking injuries, these just happened to be the guys with the most injury stoppages in the play-by-play data (excluding special teams, which most of these guys don’t play anyway).

Enjoy your spot on the Kearse All-Stars guys – the trophy (it’s an ace bandage) is in the mail!

The Eagles QB Situation

It’s time.  I’ll save my comments about yesterday for later, because I just can’t wait any longer to address the QB situation.  The general narrative seems to be: Sanchez sucks, but Foles is also bad, so the team isn’t going anywhere until it gets a QB.  If you take the next step and assume the Eagles won’t be drafting in the top 10 anytime soon, you start to see a relatively depressing future taking shape.

Before we go that far though, let’s take an in-depth look at the Eagles QB performance this year.

Ill start with Mark Sanchez, because I think he’s less controversial.  However, it’s important that we properly evaluate just how bad he has been, because we’re inevitably going to compare him to Foles from early this season.

So, here are Sanchez’s headline stats:

Screen Shot 2014-12-21 at 11.37.56 AM

You might notice that his numbers aren’t bad. 64.1% completions and a rating of 87.3 are nothing to complain about.  The Sack Rate and Interception Rates are the serious weaknesses here, they’re both far too high.  But even more important to highlight is the level of competition.  Let’s take a look at defense-adjusted performance.  How do you think Sanchez does?

Note that these stats are from before this week’s game.  They haven’t been updated yet, but they won’t change significantly enough to alter the overall takeaways.  From Football Outsiders: Mark Sanchez has a DYAR of -40.  That’s defense-adjusted yards above replacement, and it puts him 28th in the league, just behind Colt McCoy and just ahead of EJ Manuel.  Sanchez has a DVOA of -13.7%.  That places him 31st in the league.  You can check out the source stats here:

I’m guessing most readers expected bad numbers, but not THAT bad.  What gives?  Well let’s take a look at the schedule Sanchez played against.  Here are the teams he played against, along with their Pass Defense ranking from DVOA (also from before this week’s games).

Screen Shot 2014-12-21 at 11.56.46 AM

Starting to get it now?  I haven’t checked (and won’t), but there’s a very good chance that Sanchez has played against the easiest defensive schedule in the league.  In particular, half of his games have come against teams with pass defenses ranked 22nd or worse.  He also faced just one defense ranked in the top third of the league.  Let’s take a look at how Sanchez performed against these teams.  I’m using QB Rating because its relatively comprehensive and easy to find, but it’s obviously not a perfect stat.

Screen Shot 2014-12-21 at 12.12.19 PM

Also note that while Sanchez’s total QB Rating is weighted, the opposing numbers are not.  As you can see, Sanchez’s headline numbers are obscuring the fact that he actually performed worse than average against nearly every opponent.  I’ve seen a number of comments about yesterday especially.  Sanchez recorded a very strong 99.9 Rating.  However, on the season, Washington is allowing opponents a Rating of 108.9.  Sanchez dramatically underperformed.

We could go a bit deeper here, but I don’t see the need.  The takeaway is that, overall, Sanchez was pretty bad, and much worse than his surface-level stats make it seem.

Now let’s look at Nick Foles.  The big question here isn’t “is Foles the answer?”, there’s no way to answer that right now.  The question is “is he definitely/probably NOT the answer?”  That’s the question that many are jumping too quickly to answer.  As you’ll hopefully see, there’s no reason to jump off the Foles bandwagon yet.  

Here is his headline stat chart, next to Mark Sanchez’s.

Screen Shot 2014-12-21 at 12.37.53 PM

Pretty similar, overall.  Sanchez has the better Rating, Comp %, and Y/A, but the differences aren’t that big (aside from Comp %, which I’ll get to).  However, Sanchez’s turnover rate is higher, and his sack rate is MUCH higher.  Of course, we also have to adjust for defensive strength.  This is the part many fans are missing.

First, the FO numbers.  Foles has a DYAR of 300.  That places him 16th overall, ahead of Russell Wilson and Carson Palmer.  His DVOA is 3.6%, good for 17th overall.  Of course, those aren’t great numbers.  We certainly want our QB to be well above the middle of the pack.  However, it’s not as bad as I’m guessing a lot of readers/fans believed.  Let’s take a look at the opposing defenses Foles faced:

Screen Shot 2014-12-21 at 12.34.21 PM

Hold off on the bottom-line numbers for a minute.  Just look at the rankings.  Foles played in 8 games (Houston was partial).  In that time, he faced 3 of the top ten defenses in the league, and just one defense ranked worse than 20th overall.  Remember that Sanchez faced 4 such teams.  Foles’ headline numbers look similar to Sanchez’s, but that hides the fact that he played a MUCH tougher schedule.  Not only that, but we haven’t even mentioned the offensive line yet.  Foles played in 8 games.  He had just one game with Evan Mathis.  He had just 4 games with Jason Kelce.  4 games with Lane Johnson.  In other words, the offensive line was a mess when Foles was healthy.  Of course, that’s going to happen every once in a while, and you’d love your QB to play well regardless.  However, if you’re going to compare Foles and Sanchez, you’d be foolish not to account for the dramatic difference on the offensive line.

Now let’s talk about the bottom-line numbers above.  Foles did not play well relative to QB-Rating average.  However, there are a couple of big points to note.  First, it doesn’t account for sacks, which Foles did a particularly good job of avoiding this season (maybe TOO good actually).  Second, the San Francisco game was absolutely dreadful.  That single game had a dramatic negative effect on Foles headline numbers.  We need to be very careful about picking and choosing result; every player looks good if you take away his worst games.  But it’s also important to recognize negative outliers when they occur.

Outside of that game, Foles’ completion percentage was 61.5%.  Not great, but OK, and not terribly far from last year’s 64% (2.5 compilations per 100 throws).  Without the San Francisco game, Foles’ YPA jumps to 7.34, more than a full yard above his season average.  Here’s a table showing Foles #s with and without the SF game (at least the ones I could calculate):

Screen Shot 2014-12-21 at 1.38.04 PM

Not bad, huh?  Again, we can’t just absolve Foles of a terrible game, but I want to highlight just how big of an impact that game had on his overall stats.  Now remember that was a road game, against the 4th best passing defense and 4th best overall defense in the league.

Do you know what the offensive line was that game?  Peters – Tobin – Molk – Kelly – Herremans.  Tobin, Molk, Kelly… LeSean McCoy had 10 rushes for 17 yards.  That’s another way of saying Foles should have played better, but it’s about as bad a position to put a QB in as is possible.

Third, we need to talk about the STs effect as well.  This is a bit tougher to parse.  Basically, the story against Foles is that he was helped a lot by the defense and STs TDs.  No doubt that’s a big part of the story.  However, it’s not as simple as that.  You have to factor in the opportunity cost of the lost drives.  At the extreme, think of the San Francisco game, but now imagine that both Malcolm Jenkins and Darren Sproles are tackled at the 5 yard line rather than scoring.  If Foles takes the ball there and throws TDs, suddenly his numbers look much better and the story looks a lot different.  Of course, that would be inflating his value, just as writing off the opportunity cost completely deflates his value.

Fourth, we need to discuss his “weapons”.  Remember, Foles top options at WR this year were Maclin, Cooper, Matthews, Celek, and Ertz.  Maclin has been great.  The other guys…not so much.  Matthews has had a fantastic year for a rookie WR, but rookie WR’s are graded on a big curve.  Moreover, Matthews has emerged since Foles went down, and we have no idea how much of that was Matthews actually getting better and how much of it was Sanchez just looking for him more often.

The point is, Foles lost his best WR from last year, and that player was no even close to replaced.  It shouldn’t surprise anyone that his YPA and TD % dropped significantly; losing the best deep threat in the game will do that.  Instead, we have to realize that Chip Kelly consciously took a step back on offense this year, at least in terms of talent.  It’s probably safe to say he didn’t realize how bad Cooper actually was, but we do need to assume he realized Matthews and Huff would not be huge contributors this year.  Morevoer, the reluctance to play Ertz also suggests Kelly isn’t just trying to put his best receiving talent on the field as much as he can.  There are long-term strategic arguments to be made in favor of that decision, but it has an unmistakeable negative effect on the passing game (for both QBs).  This is a really long way of saying that the Eagles talent on offense is more likely to improve next year rather than regress, and we should see the QB’s numbers (whoever he is), rebound to reflect that difference.

Wrapping Up

Let me close with a few quick points that hopefully tie things together a bit.

– Mark Sanchez was worse than he seemed this year.  He should not be anything more than a backup QB, and asking him to start more than 1-2 games is too much if you actually want to win.  He faced an easy schedule with a healthy supporting cast, and put up pedestrian numbers despite those advantages.  Not only that, but his failure to lead TD drives last night, in a must-win game against a terrible defense, was inexcusable.  There were open WRs all game, he had time to throw, and he still couldn’t get it done.  Just remember that Sanchez was, in fact, the backup QB, and that it’s VERY hard to win consistently if you have to play the backup for a long period of time.

– Foles was not as bad this year as he seemed.  He played a very hard schedule, his stats were significantly hurt by one very bad game, and he was dealing with a decimated OL and a nonexistent running game for much of his playing time.  Adjusting for strength of schedule, Foles was firmly in the middle of the pack.  That’s not good enough, but it’s also not bad enough to warrant throwing him away, especially after last season.

– I still don’t know what to do with QBR, but Foles’ is 62.21.  That’s the 12th best in the league, and puts him one spot above Russell Wilson and one spot behind Andrew Luck.  Note that QBR does not adjust for strength of schedule, which would likely give Foles a boost.  I’m definitely NOT saying Foles is better than Wilson or as good as Luck, that’s ridiculous.  However, it’s important context that should remind everyone that Foles wasn’t anywhere close to BAD this year.

– Foles started 8 games this season.  The Eagles were 6-2 over that span.  Those losses were both on the road, in close games, to good teams (and very good defenses).  Over the past two season, Foles is 14-4 as a starter.  Are you really in a rush to move past someone with that record?  Remember that he’s also been throwing the ball downfield more than any other QB in the league over that time period (so he’s not just been going along for the ride).

– The Eagles offense will get better.  Matthews, Ertz, and Huff all have very high upside, and play positions that take several years to develop.  Matthews and Ertz, specifically, look very good if you compare their statistics to other young players at those positions.  Huff clearly has high-impact potential, but again, he plays a position that typically requires 3-4 years of development before really seeing peak ability.  If the Eagles can find some way to maintain a decent offensive line, there’s a lot of upside to this group of players (hopefully Cooper just quietly fades away).  Maclin is a big question, because of the contract he’ll require, but I don’t see how the Eagles could let him go.  Losing DeSean and Maclin in consecutive years would be too much to overcome IMO.  It would set the rebuilding plan back at least another year, which seems unlikely given the men in charge (I don’t get the sense that Chip or Lurie are THAT patient).

– Finally, there are a lot of other aspects to the QB position that warrant a deep-dive, but I like to keep these posts somewhat contained.  The overall message for now is: It is far too early to give up on Foles.

My odds breakdown is below, but it’s relatively inconsequential if you’re not betting the game.  Washington is TERRIBLE.  According to Weighted DVOA, they’ve been the wort team in the league over the past few games.  In other words, this game shouldn’t be close.

I know a lot of people are down on the team after the previous two weeks, but the pessimism is a bit overdone.  We knew coming into the season that the Eagles were a good, but flawed, team.  Nothing that has happened since then changes that assessment.

That said, the Eagles still have a good chance at the playoffs.  I’m guessing everyone is familiar with the pathways, and clearly the most realistic one involves Dallas losing tomorrow.  Given the spread, Dallas has about a 55% chance of winning the game.  Not too different from a coin-flip, so no reason to be hopeless just yet.

Also, using 538’s ELO ratings, I’ve calculated that there is just a 29% chance of Dallas, GB, and Detroit all winning this weekend.  Conversely, that means the Eagles have a 71%+ chance of staying alive (not including the odds of Dallas winning this weekend but losing next).

Now, a few points about today’s game:

– Mark Sanchez is not a good QB.  We knew that.  However, by DVOA, Washington has the worst pass defense in the league.  If Sanchez just plays a mediocre game, he should still end up with a very nice stat-line.

Washington has the worst Special Teams unit in the league.  The Eagles have the best.  That means field position should benefit the Eagles greatly today, giving the offense a head start.  In particular, Washington’s kickoff and punt coverage teams are awful.  They kick touchbacks just 37.1% of the time.  So they’re bad at covering returns and allow a lot of them.  Eagles returners might have a very big day.

– RG3 is playing for Washington, and his headline stats have been OK.  He’s completing nearly 70% of his passes, and has a rating of 89.8.  If we dig a little deeper, though, we see some serious weaknesses.  He’s taking sacks at a rate of 15.7%.  The Eagles are sacking opponents at a rate of 8.4%, second best in the league.  Put those together and we get a recipe for a dominant day by the defense.  RG3 has also thrown just 3 TDs in 150 pass attempts (2.0%).  That’s VERY low impact.

– Let’s not belabor this game too much.  The Eagles will almost certainly win. They have a close to 80% chance according to the spread, which I think understates thing a bit.  Washington is a train-wreck and the Eagles are still a good team, despite consecutive losses.  Moreover, the Eagles should be pissed about their recent performance and anxious to prove they can still beat up bad teams.  Remember, outside of the first Washington game, the Eagles have performed very well against bad teams.  Here are the win margins against teams at the bottom of the league:

Jacksonville (17), Giants (27), Tennessee (21), Carolina (24).  We can also throw St. Louis in there, which was a 6 point win due to a couple of prevent-aided TDs.

Basically, don’t let the Eagles middling performance against good teams obscure their relatively consistent strong performance against bad teams.  Win big today, put the pressure on Dallas, and hopefully watch them crumble tomorrow.


My picks record to date:

Line: 6 – 8

O/U: 8 – 6

Reader record:

Line: 7 – 7

O/U: 11 – 3

This week’s lines:

Eagles -8 (-110)

Washington +8 (-110)

Over 50.5 (-110)

Under 50.5 (-110)

Reviewing last week:

Uggh.  If we go back to the first matchup, the only worry was Dez Bryant.  He’s an elite receiver, and clearly a terrible matchup for any of the CBs.  However, in that matchup Bryant was well-contained.  This past week…not so much.  That, combined with one of the flukiest plays I’ve ever seen (the opening kickoff debacle), was too much for the team to overcome.  Fortunately, we hit the Over, splitting the action yet again.

This week’s game:

Strictly a “take care of business” type of game.  Washington is an absolute train-wreck, and the Eagles need a win to hold onto playoff hope.  Washington has 11 losses this year, and 8 of them have come by 10+ points.  The Eagles should be quite motivated after a tough 2 week stretch, and there’s a lot of potential for recency bias here (against the Eagles).

DVOA Breakdown:

Eagles Overall DVOA: 12.3% (7th)

Washington Overall: -27.5% (29th)

Eagles Offense: -2.2% (16th)

Washington Defense: 9.3% (27th)

Eagles Defense: -5.4% (8th)

Washington Offense: -12.2% (27th)

The Eagles are #1 in STs, Washington is last.

Not much to parse here.  The Eagles are still a good team, they’re just clearly a step below true “contender” status.  Washington, meanwhile, is absolute garbage.  By Weighted DVOA, they’re the worst team in the league.

Opponents in Common

Turns out ESPN has this section in its Insider PickCenter.  So let’s use their chart:

One Dallas result, Jacksonville, and SF favor Washington slightly.  The rest favor the Eagles, most by a significant margin.  The Eagles obviously have a head-to-head win as well.  However, that was all the way back in week 3, and with how much each team has changed that result doesn’t offer much value to us.

Score Projection

Washington’s defense ranks just worse than Dallas and just better than Tennessee.  The Eagles scored 33 on the road against Dallas, 27 at home, and 43 against Tennessee at home.  Even with Sanchez’s struggles, the Eagles should have no trouble topping 30 points tomorrow.  For what it’s worth, in the first meeting this year, the Eagles scored 37 points.

The Eagles offense ranks 16th, which puts it slightly ahead of San Francisco and Houston, as well as the Giants (by a little bit larger margin).  Against those teams, Washington allowed 17 (road), 17 (road), 45 (home), and 24 (road) points.  Note that 3 of those games took place in the first 4 weeks of the season (Phi, NYG 45, and Houston).  The San Francisco game (17 points) is by far the most recent.

The Eagles are averaging 29.7 ppg, Washington is allowing an average of 26.4 ppg.  The Eagles have topped 30 points in 8 of 14 games this season, and I see little reason to believe they won’t hit that mark again.  Remember the big edge in Special Teams.  I expect the Eagles to have several short-field opportunities tomorrow, leading to a lot of red zone chances.  Even if Sanchez struggles, I see the Eagles getting 28-32 points.  If he’s on his game, this could easily go to 40.  For a projection, I’ll stay on the low side and call it 32 points, just above the Eagles average.

Washington’s offense is also bad.  The closest comps on the Eagles schedule are Arizona and St. Louis, both of which are slightly better than Washington.  Against those teams, the Eagles allowed 24 (road) and 28 (home) points.

The Eagles defense ranks 8th, just below St. Louis.  Against them, Washington scored 0 points.  That game took place just 2 weeks ago.  In fact, over the past 5 games (since the bye week), Washington is averaging just 12 points per game.

On the season, the Eagles are allowing 24.8 ppg, and Washington is scoring 18.4.  However, as I mentioned above, Washington’s recent performance has been dreadful.  Robert Griffin is back and playing OK, but he’s also taking sacks at a rate of 15.7%.  That makes it really hard to sustain drives.  Given the Eagles’ pass rush, I don’t see many long Washington drives.  DeSean might get free for a big play or two, but outside of that I can’t see where the offense will come from.  2 DeSean bombs and a TO-aided TD still gets you to just 21 points.

I think Washington scores less, but for the sake of the spread, I’ll stick with 21 for Washington. The spread is 8, and I’m looking at a projection of Eagles 31, Washington 21.  As bad as everyone feels after last week, I’d take the Eagles. I have stayed away from teaser recs this year, but this looks like a great option for that type of play.  The 8 point line is big for a road team, especially one starting Mark Sanchez, but Washington really is terrible.  Tease the line down to a TD or better and throw them in a teaser.

On the Over/Under, we’ve got a little difficulty.  The line is 50.5, and I think the Eagles might get close to that on their own.  However, we might see a replay of the Giants game.   No matter how good the offense is, if the other team doesn’t score it’s really hard to hit the over.  My projection says 52 points, so that points to the Over.  However, I think there’s some serious downside risk in the Washington score projection, so wager accordingly.

Eagles v. Dallas II: Pre-game notes

We’re all familiar with the Cowboys, so I’m not really doing notes for today.  The Cowboys offense is good, but its defense is bad.  The Eagles can absolutely win a shootout, provided Sanchez doesn’t give the game away.  Special teams is again a big advantage, especially in the return game.  I see a lot of points coming, so field position isn’t as important, but I also see a much closer game than last time.   You can see the odds breakdown below, but I’ve got the Eagles (-3.5) and the over.

Something to remember: this game is important, but a loss doesn’t kill the Eagles’ playoff hopes.  The wild card would be a possibility, but the division would still be in reach as well.  Dallas plays the Colts next week.  The Colts have just 4 losses this year, to the Eagles, Broncos, Patriots, and Steelers.  If Dallas beat the Eagles today but lost to the Colts, the Eagles would retake the division with wins over Washington and the Giants.  Not the best scenario, but very possible.


My picks record to date:

Line: 6 – 7

O/U: 7 – 6

Reader record:

Line: 7 – 6

O/U: 10 – 3

This week’s lines:

Eagles -3.5 (-105)

Cowboys +3.5 (-115)

Over 55 (-110)

Under 55 (-110)

Reviewing last week:

That didn’t go quite as planned.  The Seahawks offense/Eagles Defense matchup went as projected, but the reverse did not.   The Eagles struggled to produce points and obviously dropped the game.  That gives us a loss on the line, but a win on the O/U.  Mistake was likely due to underrating the Seahawks’ defense rather than overrating the Eagles’ offense.  Fortunately, now we’re back into divisional games, which means we should have a LOT of information to work with.

This week’s game:

Huge for the Eagles.  A win essentially clinched the division title and keeps the team in the race for a playoff bye.  A loss isn’t catastrophic, but the Eagles would then need the Cowboys to lose to the Colts next week to be able to reclaim the top spot in the division.  Of course, the most interesting aspect to this game is that these teams played just two weeks ago. As everyone here knows, the Eagles won the game cleanly, by 23 points on the road.

This week, the line favors the Eagles by just 3.5 points.  Thus, we’re left with an interesting exercise in new information integration.  First, let’s review the Thanksgiving game breakdown:

The Cowboys were favored by 3.

However, our breakdown suggested a final score of 29-31 points for each team, so I had it as a toss-up.  The Eagles scored 31, hitting the range nicely.  The Cowboys, though, scored just 10 points.  Tony Romo struggled mightily, and the big question for this week is whether that performance was due to his back and whether it will reappear this Sunday.

In any case, though, we’re left with the following building blocks:

– We thought the Eagles-Cowboys in Dallas should be a toss-up.

– The Eagles then beat the Cowboys by 23.

– Since then, the Eagles lost to the Seahawks at home by 10.  The Cowboys won in Chicago by 13.

Before I get to the breakdown, I’m going to say that with these pieces alone, we’re looking at Eagles -6 or so.  We’ll check that against the breakdown, but the fact is two weeks ago we though these teams were close to even (Eagles slightly better).  Since then, we’ve moved even farther towards the Eagles.  Note that the Cowboys actually beat the Seahawks in Seattle, so that result favors them by a fair amount.  However, it’s outweighed by the head-to-head result.  Lastly, a win against Chicago doesn’t mean very much at this point, no matter where it takes place.  Chicago ranks 25th by DVOA, and at this point in the season we pretty much know both Dallas and Philly are better than Chicago, so the informational value of a win is quite low.


Eagles Overall DVOA: 13.7% (7th)

Cowboys Overall: 3.6% (13th)

Eagles Offense: -2.6% (16th)

Cowboys Defense: 10.2% (28th)

Eagles Defense: -7.2% (7th)

Cowboys Offense: 13.3% (6th)

The Eagles are #1 in STs, the Cowboys are 13th, with a DVOA just above zero (0.6%).

The DVOA breakdown has moved in the Eagles favor since Thanksgiving, and it now suggests a fairly significant gap in team strength.  The biggest highlight above is the Dallas defense:  They’re not good…at all.   The Eagles looked terrible against Seattle, but the Seahawks rank 4th by DVOA (and improving fast).  The Cowboys are on the other end of the spectrum, and the defense is the only unit from either team that’s actually BAD.

Opponents in Common

This is very similar to the section from two weeks ago.  We just have to add the head-to-head and the Seahawks.

Jacksonville – Eagles won at home by 17.  Cowboys won on the road by 14. (Tie)

Washington – Eagles won at home by 3.  Cowboys lost at home by 3. (Advantage Eagles)

49ers – Eagles lost on the road by 5.  Cowboys lost at home by 11. (Eagles)

Rams – Eagles won at home by 6.  Cowboys won on the road by 3. (Tie)

Giants – Eagles won at home by 27.  Cowboys won at home by 10.  (Eagles).  The Cowboys also beat the Giants on the road by 3.

Arizona – Eagles lost on the road by 4.  Cowboys lost at home by 11. (Eagles).

Houston – Eagles won on the road by 10.  Cowboys won at home by 3 in OT.  (Eagles).

Titans – Eagles won at home by 19.  Cowboys won on the road by 16. (Tie).

Seahawks – Eagles lost by 10 at home.  Cowboys won on the road by 7.  (Cowboys).

Head-to-Head – Eagles won by 23 on the road.  (Eagles).

As you can see, the opponents in common points strongly towards the Eagles.  The Cowboys have just one advantageous result, the Seahawks game.  While that’s the most recent result for the Eagles, the Cowboys comp took place back in October (Week 6).

Score Projection

The Cowboys rank 28th by DVOA on defense.  The Eagles, of course, played them and scored 33 points on the road.  The Eagles also played the Titans, who rank just below the Cowboys on defense.  Against Tennessee, the Eagles scored 43 points (at home).

The Eagles offense now ranks 16th by DVOA, just ahead of Houston and a few spots beneath Chicago.  Against those teams, the Cowboys allowed 20 (Houston at home) and 28 (Chicago on the road).

For the season, the Eagles are averaging 29.9 ppg.  The Cowboys are allowing 23.2 ppg, a rate that doesn’t look terrible but is skewed by the easy schedule Dallas has played (though you can say the same about the Eagles).  I’m going to try not to overthink this one too much.  The Cowboys defense is bad, the Eagles are at home, and we have a very recent direct comp.  All together, I’m setting the Eagles projection at 33-35 points. 

On the other side, the Cowboys’ offense ranks 6th by DVOA.  That’s just one spot behind Seattle.  Against these teams, the Eagles allowed 10 points (Dallas on the road), and 24 (Seattle at home).

The Eagles rank 7th by DVOA, behind Arizona, SF, and Seattle but a little ahead of St. Louis.  Against those teams, the Cowboys scored 17 (ARI home), 17 (SEA home), and 30 (SEA road).  Against St. Louis, the Cowboys scored 34 on the road.

We see a pretty big home/road split for the Cowboys, so we’ll need to adjust our expectations upwards a bit.  All told, those games point to a scoring range in the mid-high 20s.  For the season, Dallas is averaging 26.4 ppg.  The Eagles are allowing 23.8 ppg.  Given the matchup, we should expect both teams to perform worse than average (Eagles have a good defense, Cowboys a good offense).  That gives us a projection of 24-26 for the Cowboys.  With the big home/road split, I’m inclined to raise the Cowboys high end a couple of points.  It’s tough to quantify this tip of thing accurately (is it real or coincidence?), but we should at least add a buffer just in case.  That gives us a Cowboys range of 24-28 points.

Together, we get a projection of Eagles 33-35, Cowboys 24-28.  Using the midpoints, we’ve got a spread of Eagles -8.  That seems aggressive.  Note, though, that the spread is just 3.5, so we have a fairly large buffer.  Moreover, I didn’t shift the projection at all to account for the Eagles big advantage on Special Teams.  Checking that against our back-of-the-envelope spread up top, we’ve actually come out more bullish on the Eagles (thought Eagles -6 initially).  That’s a potential flag for confirmation bias, but that’s why I use things like DVOA and comps.  On the flip side, it’s a good sign that the numbers back up what we thought initially.

In total, take the Eagles -3.5. We haven’t seen a difference this big in a while, but I think there is a lot of opportunity here.  The real question is:  Why is our spread so much different?  First, recency bias.  The Eagles are coming off a loss, the Cowboys a win, so there might be some recency at work here.  Two, narrative.  This is a big one.  The Eagles JUST BEAT THE COWBOYS cleanly, in Dallas.  However, the reaction to that has been to point to the home/road splits for the Cowboys, talk about the short week hurting Dallas’ prep (nevermind that the Eagles had the same short week), and to talk about Romo not taking a shot before the game.  Those are all possible explanations for why we shouldn’t put too much stock into the head-to-head result.

We need to think probabilistically, though, and in my opinion, odds are those explanations are bullshit.  Maybe I’m wrong (always a significant chance of that), but it looks like the narrative is obscuring a pretty clear Eagles advantage here.

For the O/U, the line is 55.  Or projection midpoints get us to an O/U of 60, so take the over again. However, keep an eye on the conditions.  It’s a night game, so the temperature will likely be close to freezing at game time.  Right now there’s a 10% chance of precipitation.  Wait to play here until we’re closer.  If there’s rain, stay off.  If it’s snow, go for it.

Lastly, for what it’s worth, some other sources:

FiveThirtyEight’s Elo system has the Eagles -4 (64% chance to win).

ESPN’s PickCenter says take Dallas.  (Eagles by 1-3 points).

Eagles vs. Seahawks: Pre-game notes

Today’s the day we find out whether the Eagles are legitimate contenders or not.  A win puts them in the driver’s seat for a top 2 seed in the playoffs and the bye that comes with it (hugely important).  Also, a bye likely means avoiding the Packers until the NFC title game.  On the other hand, if the Eagles get overwhelmed by the Seahawks, we’ll have a pretty good sign that the team isn’t quite ready to join the upper echelon of the conference (they’d have losses against GB, SEA, and SF).

With that, let’s take a look at a few key factors:

– The Eagles match up much better against the Seahawks than they did against the Packers.  The Seahawks are not a strong passing team.  They’re averaging just 192 passing yards per game, and while Russell Wilson has played very efficiently (94.7 rating, 15 TDs, 5 ints), the team is really powered by its defense and run game.

In other words, the Seahawks don’t seem equipped to exploit the Eagles’ biggest weakness, the Corners and Safeties.  Play-action will probably still be a problem, but there aren’t any premier WRs to worry about.

– On defense, this game comes down to whether or not the D-Line can get off their blocks and put some hands on Marshawn Lynch.  Lynch is one of the most difficult RBs in the league to tackle.  He’s second in the league in Yards After Contact (Murray is first) and leads the league in Misses Tackles (both from PFF).

That means the LBs need some help.  If the D-Line can’t do anything to hold Lynch up, he’ll likely make the rest of the defense look bad.  So Bennie Logan and Fletcher Cox, in particular, need to be at peak performance.

– On offense, Mark Sanchez needs to play very intelligently.  I’m worried.  On the outside, the match-ups clearly favor the Seahawks.  That’s not a huge problem for the Eagles though.  Sanchez has preferred Jordan Matthews in the slot as a target, as well as his TEs.  As I mentioned, I think the Eagles match up relatively well against Seattle.  If Sanchez can keep the ball in the middle of the field, and doesn’t get aggressive on the outside or downfield, the Eagles can score.

However, that game plan has a fairly predictable consequence.  The Seahawks will compress their defense, meaning gains will be short.  That leads to a lot of 3rd down plays, and the conversion rate of those plays might determine today’s outcome.  For the season, the Eagles are converting 43.72% on third down.  That ranks 10th in the league. However, that number has improved over the last 3 games (46+%), potentially due to the healthiest O-Line.

That, plus Darren Sproles’ obvious hatred of 4th downs, leads me to believe the Eagles will be somewhat successful.

– The Seahawks defense is drawing a lot of attention, allowing 6 points combined over two games will do that.  For the season, Seattle is allowing just 18.4 points per game.  However, the team has performed much better at home than on the road.  On the road, Seattle has allowed 30 (SD), 17 (WAS), 28 (STL), 9 (CAR), 24 (KC), and 3 (SF).  That’s good, but not spectacular, especially when you factor in the strength of those offenses.

More encouraging, Seattle is scoring just 21 points per game on the road.  The Eagles, meanwhile, haven’t scored fewer than 27 points in a home game this year and are averaging 36.7 ppg.  That’s a huge differential, but it holds the key to my optimism for today.

Home/Road splits are really hard to properly account for, but if they hold any informational value, things look good for the Eagles.

Full odds breakdown is below, I’ve got the Eagles winning a very close game.  Note that the line has shifted since I did the write-up and the Eagles are now 1 point underdogs.


My picks record to date:

Line: 6 – 6

O/U: 6 – 6

Reader record:

Line: 7 – 5

O/U: 9 – 3

This week’s lines:

Eagles Even (-115)

Seahawks Even (-105)

Over 48.5 (-110)

Under 48.5 (-110)

Note: The line opened at Eagles -1.5.

Reviewing last week:

Won the line, lost the O/U.  I had the Eagles performance pegged fairly well, though I have to admit Mark Sanchez exceeded my expectations.  The Cowboys, though, were much worse than I had projected.  That’s really good for the Eagles, but makes hitting the over tough.  Anyway, I’m now sitting right on .500 for the season, meaning I’m within range of my target >.550, but need to finish strong to hit it.  The readers, meanwhile, are having a great season, riding the market’s underestimation of the Eagles for the first half of the season.

This week’s game:

Last week’s game was huge for the division.  This week’s game is huge for the conference.  Below is a screen grab from’s interactive playoff odds graphic.

As you can see, a win puts the Eagles at close to 75% for a 1st round bye in the playoffs, while a loss drops them to below 20%.  With so much at stake, and some extra time to prepare, I think we’ll see peak Chip Kelly.  The question, of course, is whether or not that’s good enough to beat the Seahawks.

The Seahawks’ bandwagon is growing quickly, for obvious reasons.  The defending Champs have won 5 of their last 6 games and have held two division opponents and playoff contenders to a combined 6 points over the past two weeks.

Before we get to the breakdown, I do want to point out that wins over Arizona and San Francisco aren’t quite as impressive as they sound.  Arizona, a team many were skeptical about during its 9-1 start to the season, is falling apart and might actually miss the playoffs (tough schedule coming up).  San Francisco is a good team, but Colin Kaepernick has struggled.  The team’s offense is averaging just 19.2 ppg and its offense ranks 18th in the league by DVOA.  That’s a long way of saying the Seahawks’ defensive performance in these games has been impressive, but far from the otherworldly level you might have guessed based on what national writers are saying this week.

DVOA Breakdown:

Eagles Overall DVOA: 16% (7th)

Seattle Overall: 21.4% (5th)

Eagles Offense: -1.4% (15th)

Seattle Defense: -9.7% (6th)

Eagles Defense: -8.6% (8th)

Seattle Offense: 12.6% (7th)

The Eagles STs ranks 1st overall (8.8%), while the Seahawks rank 18th (0.9%).

By DVOA, this is a very close matchup.  More importantly, the numbers clearly indicate the Seattle is a good team, not a great one.  By weighted DVOA, which overweights recent performance to try to gauge a team’s current strength, the Eagles (5th) are actually better than the Seahawks (7th).  The only unit that really sticks out above is the Eagles’ offense. Really surprising given what we believed heading into the season, but its the offense that’s holding this team back right now.

Opponents in Common:

These teams have 8 opponents in common thus far.  Here’s how they performed:

Washington: Eagles won by 3 at home, Seahawks won by 10 on the road.  (Advantage Hawks)

Arizona: Eagles lost by 4 on the road.  Seahawks won at home by 16.  (Seahawks by 17).

Giants: Eagles won by 27 at home.  Seahawks won at home by 21.  (Eagles by 6).

49ers: Eagles lost by 5 on the road.  Seahawks won by 16 on the road.  (Hawks by 11).

Dallas: Eagles won by 23 on the road.  Seahawks lost by 3 at home.  (Eagles by 29).

Carolina: Eagles won by 24 at home.  Seahawks won by 4 on the road.  (Eagles by 17).

St. Louis: Eagles won by 6 at home.  Seahawks lost on the road by 2.  (Eagles by 5).

Green Bay: Eagles lost on the road by 33.  Seahawks won at home by 20.  (Hawks by 50…ouch).

That’s a 4-4 split if we just go by the advantages, but if we adjust for home field and add up the advantages, we get a Seattle advantage of 21 points.  Across 8 games that’s not that bad, especially when you consider the Seahawks entire advantage is driven by the GB comp.  Seattle played GB in week 1 while the Eagles got them in week 11.  That’s not an excuse for the Eagles, but it means the comp is less valuable informationally than if the games had been played close together.

Overall the advantage points to the Seahawks, but it’s narrow.

Score Projection:

Of the Eagles defensive opponents this year, the Cardinals are most comparable (one spot better than SEA by DVOA).  Against them, on the road, the Eagles scored 20 points.  Against the second best defense by DVOA, San Francisco, the Eagles scored 21, also on the road.

Of Seattle’s opponents, the Eagles offense ranks most similarly to to San Francisco (Eagles are better by 3 spots).  Against the 49ers, on the road at home, the Seahawks allowed just 3 points.  On the road, however, the Seahawks allowed 24 points against KC (4 spots better than Eagles by DVOA).

For the season, the Eagles are averaging 31.2 ppg, while the Seahawks are allowing 18.4 ppg.  The Eagles have yet to score fewer than 20 points this season, and at home they’ve scored at least 27 in every game.  Combining the factors above, I’m setting the Eagles projection at 24-25 points.

Of the Seahawks defensive opponents this year, the Eagles rank closest to Arizona (Cardinals are better by 3 spots).  Against them, at home, the Seahawks scored 19 points.  The Eagles defense ranks 2 spots ahead of St. Louis (though the DVOA gap is large).  Against, the Rams on the road, the Seahawks scored 26 points.

The Seahawks’ offense ranks 7th by DVOA.  That’s one spot above Dallas.  Against the Cowboys, on the road, the Eagles allowed 10 points.  Against Indianapolis, which ranks 13th (next closest), the Eagles allowed 27 points on the road.

Together, that all points to a range of 20-24 points.  Overall, the Eagles are allowing an average of 23.8 ppg, while the Seahawks are scoring 24.8 ppg.  Once you factor in the home/road splits, that’s right in line with our range.  That gives us 20-24 points for the Seahawks.

On Special Teams, the Eagles have a big advantage, especially in the punt return vs. punt team matchup.  Since we expect Seattle to punt a lot, that could end up meaning a lot.  Given that, and the general disparity in STs DVOA, I’m giving the Eagles another 1 point to move the top of their range to 26 points.

That gives us a final score projection of Eagles 24-26, Seattle 20-24.  If we take the midpoints, it gives us a base-case of Eagles 25-Seattle 22. That’s a very unlikely final score, but we’re just looking for a direction signal.

Since the line is even, we get a narrow signal to take the Eagles. Not much room here, but that’s the pick.  On the O/U, we’ve got a range of 44-50 points.  The line is set at 48.5, so this is a tough call.  Eagles games have averaged 55 ppg this year, but Seattle’s have averaged just 43.4 ppg.  I like the way the Eagles defense matches up against Seattle, so I’m going against our Over rule and taking the under 48.5.

More generally, the Seahawks don’t seem positioned to take advantage of the Eagles’ weakness (defensive backfield).  With the D-Line playing so well, I like our chances to force punts and hold Seattle to FGs.  Seattle’s defensive strength on the outside is bad for Maclin/Cooper/Huff, but since Sanchez targets Matthews a lot anyway, that strength is mitigated.  If Sanchez can keep his focus on low-risk throws to the middle of the field, leveraging Matthews, Celek, and Ertz, I like the Eagles to win a close game.

If he tries to push the ball downfield or to the sidelines, though, we could see a number of turnovers…  Lastly, if the Eagles do that, expect Seattle to load the box, which will lead to a number of 3rd and 1-5 yard situations.  If that happens, Darren Sproles once again becomes the key to the game.

Time Out for a Good Cause

It’s that time of year again.  For those of you who’ve been here long enough, you’ll remember that last year I went on a service trip to Iraq.  While there I, along with several other IRAP volunteers, conducted interviews with refugees, made connections with NGOs, and helped people whose lives are in imminent danger apply for asylum in the U.S.

For obvious reasons, I will not be returning to Iraq this year.  I will, however, be going to Lebanon.  The country has seen an incredible influx of Syrian refugees, who are caught in the fight between an oppressive ruling regime on one side and radical islamic fundamentalists on the other.  The organization I volunteer for, the Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project, helps these people navigate the bureaucratic nightmare that is the U.S. asylum and immigration procedure.  I want to emphasize that we target out limited resources towards the clients judged to be in immediate, life-threatening danger.  We help them apply for asylum in the U.S., prepare them for their interviews, push the immigration services for case resolutions, and file appeals on client’s behalf when they have been wrongly rejected.

For those of you who donated last year, I’m pleased to tell you that one of the clients a met with, a young LGBT Iraqi man, has already been resettled safely in the U.S.  So don’t worry about results, because we get them!

Unfortunately, the trip is expensive.  To help defray the costs, we’ve set up a fundraising page here.  Any help is greatly appreciated (and tax deductible).

Even if you can’t donate, you can watch the video below.  It’s just a few minutes long, and it will give you a feel for the type of clients we deal with and the issues they face.

For those of you with some additional time (17 mins), here’s a clip from Last Week Tonight with John Oliver that gives a really good overview of the issue.

Thanks again.  If you’re reading this blog, you probably have a relatively stable life.  Not everyone is as lucky, so if you can afford it, please do help us.


Eagles – Cowboys: Thanksgiving Day Notes

The Eagles need a win against Dallas.  BUT, it doesn’t HAVE to be today.  What today’s game is really about is whether the Eagles are good enough to make a real run at a bye.  I’m confident they’ll take the division.  To do so, the Eagles just need to win one against Dallas, beat WAS and NYG and have the Cowboys drop a game (they play the Bears and Colts, both very lose-able games).  However, keeping up with the Packers is a taller order, and probably requires the team to go 2-1 over the next three (and win the final two).

Now, to the matchup-

– Dez Bryant scares me.  He’s really good, and Tony Romo is really good as well.  The only QB/WR combo the Eagles have played with as good a combination are the Packers (Rodgers/Nelson).  That didn’t go so well.


In Dallas’ three losses this year, Bryant has recorded a TOTAL of 100 yards receiving.  He can absolutely be contained.  The key is to avoid situations where he gets one-on-one deep.  Normal 50/50 balls turn into 60/40 or 70/30 balls when Dez is involved.  He’s probably not going to beat you deep, but he doesn’t have to.  If the Eagles can jam him at the line and get reasonably responsible Safety play over top, they an hold Dez to a less-than-catastrophic game.

– Dallas’ O-Line is overhyped.  The run-blocking has been great (#1 according to Football Outsiders), but the pass-blocking has not (20th by FO, with an adjusted sack rate of 6.9%).  That’s the key to the game, and something people are overlooking.  The Eagles can absolutely get pressure on Romo, and whether they DO or not will go a long way to determining the outcome.

– Against the run, the Eagles LBs are going to have to play really well.  I’m mostly looking at Barwin and Kendricks here, because its foolish to rely on the other guys.  Also from Football Outsiders, Dallas is #1 in Second-Level blocking.  If the LBs can’t get off their blocks or work around the Dallas O-Linemen when they get downfield, Murray is going to gash this defense.

– Turnovers.  Stating the obvious here, but they’re key.  Mark Sanchez will likely turn the ball over at least once, and I’m betting on twice.  That’s not the important part.  The important part is getting them back on the other side.  Demarco Murray has 5 fumbles this year, and the Cowboys overall have 19 turnovers on offense.  That’s almost 2 per game, and that’s what I think the Eagles need to get to win this game.

– As has been the case in nearly every game this year, the Eagles have a big advantage on Special Teams.  That’s they’re leverage point, and without it I don’t see much of an edge.  Practically speaking, if the Eagles don’t get a couple of big returns or pin the Cowboys back with good coverage consistently, it’s going to be hard for the Eagles offense to keep up.

The Cowboys defense isn’t good (25th by DVOA), but the Eagles’ inconsistency worries me.  A couple of short fields would be a big help, even if it just results in Parkey FGs.

That’s all for today.  Odds breakdown is below, and as you’ll see, I don’t see a strong edge either way.  The opponents in common breakdown strongly favors the Eagles, but their 3 point underdogs, meaning Vegas sees them as roughly 42% to win.  I think the line is off (I’d have it at pick-em or Dallas by 1 point), but the takeaway is the same: this is a very close matchup.  In that case, natural variance will likely decide the winner.  Hopefully you’re feeling lucky.


My picks record to date:

Line: 5 – 6

O/U: 6 – 5

Reader record:

Line: 6 – 5

O/U: 9 – 2

This week’s lines:

Eagles +3 (+105)

Cowboys -3 (-125)

Over 56 (-110)

Under 56 (-110)

Reviewing last week:

The Eagles took care of business, as did we.  2-0 for the third time in three weeks, putting me in position to make a run at >55%. for the year.  Not much to take away from the game itself, the Eagles are a much better team and the result reflects that.

This week’s game:

This is a big game, no way around it.  BUT, I want to remind everyone that the Eagles don’t “need” this win by any stretch of the imagination.  Looking at the rest of the schedule, as long as the Eagles win against Washington and the Giants to close out the season, going 1-2 over the DAL-SEA-DAL set gets the team to 11-5.  Here’s the key: as long as that win comes against Dallas, the Eagles are in really good shape to win the division.  The Cowboys still have games against Chicago and Indianapolis, and I don’t think they’ll win both.  By virtue of the Cowboys’ loss to Washington, the above results would give the Eagles a tiebreaker over Dallas for the division (better division record).

So…a win tomorrow takes a lot of pressure off the team and keeps them in the race for a bye, but a loss really isn’t THAT damaging.  It would just mean the Eagles need to win at home against Dallas in two weeks.

Now for the breakdown:


Eagles Overall DVOA: 12.4% (8th)

Cowboys Overall: 8.5% (10th)

Eagles Offense: -2.2% (16th)

Cowboys Defense: 6.1% (25th)

Eagles Defense: -5.3% (8th)

Cowboys Offense: 14.5% (5th)

The Eagles STs reclaimed the #1 ranking, with a DVOA of 9.4%.  The Cowboys STs rank 13th at 0.1%.

As you can see, the DVOA suggests a really close game.  The Eagles offense has struggled to find consistency, but the Cowboys defense is in the bottom third of the league.  On the other side, the Cowboys offense looks really good, but the Eagles defense is playing well also (notwithstanding the Packers game).  As has been the case several time this year, it really could come down to special teams, where the Eagles have a large advantage.

In general, though, the numbers point to a tossup, which squares with the spread (2-3 points for home field).

Opponents in Common

Here’s where things look interesting for Eagles fans.  These teams have EIGHT opponents in common.  Being in the same division will do that for you.  Anyway, here are the results:

Jacksonville – Eagles won at home by 17.  Cowboys won on the road by 14. (Tie)

Washington – Eagles won at home by 3.  Cowboys lost at home by 3. (Advantage Eagles)

49ers – Eagles lost on the road by 5.  Cowboys lost at home by 11. (Eagles)

Rams – Eagles won at home by 6.  Cowboys won on the road by 3. (Tie)

Giants – Eagles won at home by 27.  Cowboys won at home by 10.  (Eagles).  The Cowboys also beat the Giants on the road by 3.

Arizona – Eagles lost on the road by 4.  Cowboys lost at home by 11. (Eagles).

Houston – Eagles won on the road by 10.  Cowboys won at home by 3 in OT.  (Eagles).

Titans – Eagles won at home by 19.  Cowboys won on the road by 16. (Tie).

Now you see why I thought they were interesting for Eagles fans.  Of the 8 comps, the Eagles clearly performed better in 5 of them, with the other 3 a coming out as ties (with each exactly accounting for a 3 point home field advantage).

Basically, this says to me that the Eagles, in a vacuum, are probably a slightly better team than the Cowboys.  Of course, that doesn’t mean a head-to-head matchup would play out that way.

Score Projection

The Cowboys defense ranks 25th by DVOA, just behind Washington and just ahead of Carolina.  Against those teams, the Eagles scored 37 and 45 points, both at home.  The only other worse defenses the Eagles have played are the Giants and Titans, against whom the Eagles scored 27 and 43.  That’s a pretty bullish signal for the Eagles offense.

Meanwhile, the Eagles offense ranks 16th, slightly better than San Francisco and Houston.  Against those teams, Dallas allowed 28 and 17 points, both at home.

Those are tough results to reconcile.  On the season, the Eagles are averaging 31.1 ppg, while Dallas is allowing 21.8 ppg.  Facing a poor defense, it seems unfair to expect the Eagles to perform below average, but you could say the same thing from the other perspective.  Overall, I think an expectation between those averages is reasonable, but the results point strongly to the high end of the range.  With that, I’m setting the Eagles projection at 28-30 points.

The Cowboys offense ranks 5th by DVOA, a few spots below GB but with a large value gap (10% DVOA).  Unfortunately, the next highest ranking offense that the Eagles have faced is Indianapolis, now ranked 13th with a DVOA of 3.1%.  Against them, on the road, the Eagles allowed 27 points.  Against GB, the Eagles allowed 53.  For obvious reasons, I think the Colts is a better comp, but neither of them is a really strong match.

From the other side, the Eagles defense ranks 8th, just behind Seattle and a few spots ahead of Jacksonville.  Against those teams, the Cowboys scored 30 and 31 points, both on the road.  Knock those up a couple of points for home/road and combined it with the Indy comp and we’re left with a range of 29-31 points.

On the season, the Cowboys are averaging 26.5 ppg, so a range starting at 29 against a good defense seems generous.  The Eagles are allowing an average of 25 ppg, but have only played one offense better than Dallas, against whom they were destroyed.  Factor in home field and I don’t see any good reason to adjust the range.  I’m setting Dallas at 29-31.

That gives us a score projection of Dallas 29-31, Eagles 28-30.  In other words, a razor thin margin, and well within our relatively wide margin of error.  We also haven’t adjusted for the STs advantage, which I think is worth 1-2 points.  That puts us dead on a 50/50 game. In that case, take the points.

I’m terrified of Dez Bryant against the Eagles’ secondary, and Tony Romo is a much better QB than most Philly fans like to admit.  HOWEVER, the Dallas O-Line hype-train is a little out of control right now.  The run-blocking has been great, but that plays into the Eagles strength (relatively).  The pass-blocking, on the other hand, has not been good.  Romo is taking sacks at a rate of 6.3%.  Demarco Murray has 7 TDs…but 5 fumbles.

I’d feel a lot better if Nick Foles was the QB, since I think 2 interceptions is inevitable for Sanchez, but the Cowboys could very easily give those TOs right back.  In all, buckle your seat belts, because this should be a wild game.

The O/U is 56 at Bovada, but you can get it at 55.5 other places.  Regardless, my projection points to a range of 58-62, depending on how you factor the Eagles STs.  That means take the over, which the Eagles have now hit in 8 of 11 games this season.