A few thoughts for today’s game:
– At some point, you figure the Eagles injuries and inconsistent offense have to cost them. Today looks like a prime opportunity to drop a game. Here’s the good news: the Eagles took care of business over an easy start to the season, and have some room for error now. So my overview today focuses on one point: this is a relatively unimportant game for the Eagles. It might come into play for the wild card, but it’s pretty clear that the Eagles best opportunity for a playoff spot will come from winning the division. The worst they can do after today is a tie with Dallas. Meanwhile, the Cowboys are underdogs against New Orleans and the Giants (bye week) already have 2 losses.
So today is all about upside. A win puts the Eagles in a strong position to make a run at a top conference seed, but a loss doesn’t cost them much.
– Colin Kaepernick scares me today. The Eagles are down their most athletic LB (Kendricks), and I don’t know who is going to chase down the 49ers QB. Billy Davis likes sending A-gap pressure, but if the Eagles have nobody to contain a roll-out it will be a huge day for Kaepernick on the ground. The good news is that the 49ers passing attack isn’t that potent, so we should see Fletcher and Allen get a slight reprieve from last week, at least in coverage. They might still be called on to take down a runner…
– The 49ers have a mediocre STs unit, at least thus far. While there aren’t as many glaring holes as we saw against the Redskins, there should be some opportunity in the kick return game. In a close matchup, a field position advantage could easily swing the game.
– The 49ers, despite my misgivings, are not as good right now as they have been over the past few seasons. Particularly important for the Eagles is the 49ers pass-rush struggles. Last year, the 49ers had a sack rate of 7.16%. This year, they’ve recorded sacks on just 3.67% of drop-backs. Hopefully this is significant, and not just a short-term blip. If it is, then things won’t be quite as dire for the Eagles’ O-Line as many expect.
More thoughts below in my BGN piece, but today is a good day to not think too much. A win is very meaningful, a loss is not. We’re essentially playing out a free option, so enjoy it.
My picks record to date:
Line: 2 – 1
O/U: 1 – 2
Line: 2 – 1
O/U: 3 – 0
This week’s lines:
Eagles +4.5 (-115)
49ers -4.5 (-105)
Over 51 (-105)
Under 51 (-115)
Reviewing last week:
Enough is enough, I’ve learned my lesson. With Chip Kelly’s offense and Billy Davis’ defense, it looks as though you really can’t make the O/U high enough. The Eagles have hit the over in 6 of the last 8 games, and 8 of the last 10 road games. Regarding my analysis, I made one very big mistake. I significantly underrated Kirk Cousins. That didn’t hurt me on the line breakdown, but it definitely played into the Under pick.
This week’s matchup:
I’m thinking of this game as a pure bonus. The Eagles face a very tough matchup on the road against a 49ers team that is pretty desperate for a win (at least as desperate as a team can be 3 games in). Moreover, Colin Kaepernick is particularly troublesome given Mychael Kendricks’ absence. Throw in the offensive line injuries, and you can see why the Eagles are 4.5 point underdogs against a team with 1 win and a negative point differential. So, while you’re watching, try to keep that in perspective. The Eagles took care of business over an easy first 3 games and the team doesn’t really “need” this game. Now, to the FO rankings:
Eagles overall DVOA: 20.9% (8th)
49ers Overall DVOA: -1.9% (18th)
Eagles Offense DVOA: 5.1% (12st)
49ers Defense DVOA: 4.8% (21st)
Eagles Defense DVOA: -7.0% (7th)
49ers Offense DVOA: 5.4% (10th)
It’s also worth noting that the Eagles rank 3rd overall in STs DVOA, while the 49ers rank 22nd. Lastly, FiveThirtyEight.com has started putting out weekly ELO ratings and using them to create “true” point spreads. This week, the site has the same line as Bovada (49ers -4.5).
So, what the hell is going on? On paper, the Eagles have been a much better team. As you can see above, the Eagles rank better in each phase of the game, yet they’re still 4.5 point underdogs. Even if we assume 3 points for home field advantage (unless it’s Seattle I usually use 2), that still leaves the 49ers as the favored team on a neutral field. As I mentioned above, the 49ers have a negative point differential (-6), while the Eagles rank 3rd overall with a +23 PD.
We know the Eagles resume. Here’s what the 49ers have done thus far:
Beat the Cowboys in 28 – 17 (Road)
Lost to the Bears 20 – 28 (Home)
Lost to the Cardinals 14 – 23 (Road)
And there it is. The Bears are 5th in DVOA, the Cardinals are 12th. Clearly, the 49ers have played a much tougher schedule than the Eagles have. The Bears and Cardinals both rank in the top ten on defense, which might explain why the 49ers scoring output has been so poor (just 20.7 ppg). Despite a 7th defensive DVOA ranking, I’m not willing to put the Eagles defense on that level. That means we can expect the 49ers to outperform their average output so far. If we factor in home field and use the Cowboys as a comp (a little worse than the Eagles), we’re in a scoring range of 25 – 31 points. With the Kendricks’ injury, I think they’ll be at the high end of that range, so lets say 28-31 points for the 49ers.
For the Eagles, we have a much tougher analysis. The injuries to the O-Line are ridiculous. If it were any other team, I’d project a severe diminution in scoring. Of course, this is Chip Kelly’s team, and he’s currently on an extremely prolific scoring streak as an offensive coach. The Eagles are averaging 33.7 ppg this season and have gone over 30 each time. Going back to last season, the Eagles have scored 30 or more in 7 of the past 11 regular season games (starting after the Matt Barkley Giants game). Over that same stretch, the lowest number of points the Eagles have scored is 24. So we’ve really got to give Chip the benefit of the doubt here. I do think the Eagles will struggle to move the ball on Sunday, but one way or another the team always finds way to put points on the board (even if it comes on STs or D).
Still, the road game against what I believe to be a decent defense (certainly better than JAX and IND, probably better than WAS despite what DVOA says) coupled with the injuries on offense means I’m projecting output BELOW the average thus far (33.7). I’m going to go even further than that and say the Eagles expected point production will be towards the bottom of the range we’ve seen over the past 11 games. That puts us in the 24-27 range.
Let’s do this in matrix form:
Green means the Eagles cover, Yellow means the 49ers cover. As you can see, there’s more green than yellow. So, if we’re using this matrix, we should take the Eagles +4.5. It’s also pretty obvious from the chart that we’re looking at an Over 51 pick. Also note that there are no negative numbers up there. The ranges don’t overlap, so even though I’m taking the Eagles, I still see this as a loss.