Editor’s note and some pre-game thoughts.

2As you hopefully noticed, I haven’t posted much this season.  I’m finishing up my JD/MBA program while trying to find full-time employment.  Unfortunately, this hasn’t left much time for posting, at least not enough to allow for the quality of analysis I expect (and you deserve).  However, I consider this to be a short-term problem, and hope to have much more time to post next season.  In order to keep things interesting here, I’ve added Patrick Causey as a contributor.  His posts thus far have been tremendous, and we should all be excited to read his future work.  If you would like to contribute, either on a one-off or regular basis, please email me at eaglesrewind@gmail.com.

Now…to the team.

This is a massively important game for a number of reasons:

  • Most clearly, the Eagles need the win.  As maddeningly inconsistent as the team has been (and as terrible on offense as they’ve been), they’re in the driver’s seat for the division title if they can beat Dallas tonight.  Let’s break it down a bit:
    • Dallas – A loss tonight puts Dallas at 2-6, with another week to go before Romo comes back.  Moreover, they play 4 of their next 5 games on the road, and 5 of their last 8 games on the road.  Their schedule includes games against Carolina (7-0), and at Green Bay (6-1).  Basically, the Cowboys, even with Romo, are not going to win out.  That puts them at no better than 9-7, and much more likely, 8-8 or worse.
    • Giants – The Giants are 4-4, but the Eagles hold the tiebreaker over them right now by virtue of the head-to-head win and a Giants loss to Dallas in week 1.  Here’s the key issue for New York:  According to Football Outsiders, the Giants have faced the 28th hardest schedule thus far.  Heading into this week, they have the 5th hardest schedule going forward.  In other words, the Giants have a .500 record through the easy half of their schedule, so we shouldn’t expect anything better over the rest of the year (I expect worse).  That puts the Giants, at best, at 8-8.
    • Washington – Washington is 3-4, same as the Eagles.  They’re currently getting killed by New England, so let’s just assume they’ll be at 3-5 soon enough.  How do things look the rest of the way?  Well, FiveThirtyEight’s ELO ratings have Washington as underdogs in EVERY game for the rest of the season.  That could, of course, change in the future.  But right now, it means Washington is very unlikely to string together a few wins.  They’re remaining schedule includes: New Orleans (suddenly looking competent), @ Carolina (still undefeated and winning by 20 over GB right now), 2 games against Dallas w/ Romo, and week 16 in Philadelphia.  Just 3 losses out of those games puts Washington at no better than 8-8, and that assumes they sweep the rest of their schedule (Buffalo, NYG, @ Chicago), which they won’t.

Where does that leave us?  Well, to put it simply, the Eagles have a great chance at the division if they can just get to 8 wins.  They have 3 right now.  Here’s the rest of the schedule, with the current FO rank and ELO win %:

  • @ Dallas (25th, 46%)
  • Miami (20th, 68%)
  • Tampa (26th, 79%)
  • @ Detroit (31st, 60%)
  • @ New England (1st, 17%)
  • Buffalo (14th, 66%)
  • Arizona (2nd, 49%)
  • Washington (18th, 79%)
  • @ NYG (15th, 46%)

They need 5 wins out of that stretch. Based purely on the ELO odds, the win expectation is 5.1 wins.  If the Eagles win tonight, the remaining win expectation is at least 4.64 (so closer to 9 wins than 8), and likely higher assuming the ELO odds improve to account for an Eagles win.

So that’s why tonight is important.  Win, and Dallas is basically eliminated and the Eagles become the clear favorites, needing just 4 wins against a schedule that includes 3 games in which the team is a heavy favorite.

A few other Dallas notes, then I’ll get to a few bigger picture bullets:

  • Matt Cassell has been awful this year.  Matt Cassel has also been bad for pretty much his entire career (save two seasons, the most recent of which was 5+ years ago).  The Eagles defense should be able to completely shut the Dallas passing attack down.
  • Darren McFadden is the Dallas “rushing attack”.
  • The Dallas defense ranks 17th by DVOA, and 20th against the run.  I really hope Ryan Mathews is healthy enough to play, but regardless, Chip needs to run the ball.  The Jason Peters injury hurts, but it shouldn’t dissuade Chip from sticking with the run.  This is not a game where they need to worry about the other team running away from them if they don’t get points up quickly.
  • The Dallas Punt Coverage unit ranks 3rd worst in the league by Football Outsiders.  Combine that with Matt Cassel and the Eagles defense, and we should be looking at a few big return opportunities for Darren Sproles.

The Eagles have been so inconsistent that I’m hesitant to make any prediction.  The Eagles SHOULD win this game.  But the amount of uncertainty around the Eagles expected performance is so large right now there’s just no way to be confident about it.

Now to a few higher-level notes:

Chip – This is a huge game for Chip.  As I explained above, the implications are enormous.  He’s had a bye week to plan/prepare.  Alonso and Kendricks are back healthy (I think). He’s going against Matt Cassel.  Dallas has lost 5 straight games.

In other words, there are absolutely no excuses for a poor performance.  The Eagles are the better team talent-wise, and they’ve had more time to prepare and rest.  If they don’t perform, it’s going to be really hard to blame anyone but Chip, especially because he’s now in charge of picking the players too.

Sam Bradford – He’s been terrible.  There’s no way around it, and if you’re defending him, just know that you’re doing so with absolutely no supporting evidence from his actual play.  Yes, the WRs have also been bad, and the dropped passes make Sam’s job a lot harder.  But remember that every WR drops some balls that should be caught.  The questions isn’t how many drops, it’s how many drops ABOVE what we should expect.  According to SportingCharts.com (full disclosure: I have no idea if this site is trustworthy or not), the Eagles have a drop rate of 6.6%.  That’s 3rd highest in the league.  The median drop rate is 3.9% (not using average because it would take too long to calculate right now and not make a meaningful difference).

So…the TRUE drop rate we’re talking about is 2.7%.  That’s how much worse the Eagles have been than average, according to this source.  Bradford has 272 attempts.  If we normalize the drop rate, that means Bradford should have 7-8 more completions than he does.  Maybe a few more if we adjust for second-order effects as well (additional first downs).  Regardless, still think drops are why Bradford has struggled?

The only reason to have any hope is that Bradford is coming back from injury and is in a new system.  He has a relatively long track record, which he is currently underperforming.  That tells me that MAYBE, with a little more time to adjust/learn, he will get better.  But frankly, “better” doesn’t get you very far when you’re looking at one of the worst starters in the league.

He’s dead last in QBR, he’s 30th out of 33 qualifiers in Passer Rating. He has the 6th worst Interception Rate.  He has the 3rd worst Yards per Attempt (and adjusted Yards per attempt).

I hate to be so pessimistic, but it seems pretty clear to me that Bradford isn’t “the answer”, unless all you’re hoping for is league-average play.  And in that case, he’s far too expensive, and will continue to be far too expensive after this year (my projection, perhaps the market value will be much different).

The Defense – Not much to say here other than I told you so.  Not that anyone was disagreeing, but I made it pretty clear in my preseason write-up that this defense could be a top 5 unit.  Right now they rank #3 by FO.


Eagles vs. Falcons: Week 1 Pre-Game Thoughts

Some brief notes/questions/things to watch for heading into tonight’s game:

  • The Eagles are 3.5 point favorites on the road.  Atlanta went 6-10 last year and ranked 20th in DVOA.  The offense ranked 10th, while the defense ranked last in the league (also DVOA).  The O/U is 55.5, which was the second highest on the board this week.  Expect a lot of scoring.
  • Has Jason Peters’ slowed at all?  He’s still either the best or second best player on the roster, and the anchor of the OL.  His level of play is vital.  There’s no specific reason to expect him to be any worse than last year, but he’s entering his mid-30s, so it bears watching.
  • Are the Guards serviceable? Barbre and Gardner don’t have to be great. They don’t even have to be good.  But if the Eagles can’t get at least average/mediocre play from them, the running game won’t be nearly as potent as we’re all hoping or expecting.
  • How will the Kendricks/Alonso/Ryans rotation shake out?  Relatedly, how good is Demeco Ryans?  This issue is going to evolve over a few weeks (at least), but we need to see how close to 100% Alonso is, and if Ryans is going to be a strict 1-2 down player.  If Ryans is losing it and Alonso isn’t close to his pre-injury form, then what appeared to be a great strength for the team starts looking like a big hole.
  • Has the pass defense improved?  There are a lot of new names in the secondary, but it remains to be seen if there has been any improvement.  Julio Jones is one of the best WRs in the league, so it’s a good early indicator for the defense.  Last year the team ranked 18th in pass defense DVOA, and 7th in rush defense.  In other words, an improvement in the pass defense could place the overall defense comfortably among the top 10 in the league.  Meanwhile, the Falcons had the 8th best passing attack last year.  So this matchup will play a large role in deciding the game.  
  • Sam Bradford should have plenty of time tonight.  The Falcons registered the third worst adjusted sack rate last year (4.5%), and it seems like they’re betting on rookie Vic Beasley and FA signing Adrian Clayborn to fix things.  Maybe they help a bit, but a drastic improvement is unlikely.

That’s all I have time for.  I’m feeling pretty good about this game, but it’s week one, so inherent uncertainty is high.  Eagles win by a TD.

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 FiveThirtyEight.com’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.

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.




Eagles – Packers: Pre-game notes

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

More notes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My picks record to date:

Line: 4 – 5

O/U: 5 – 4

Reader record:

Line: 5 – 4

O/U: 7 – 2

This week’s lines:

Eagles +6 (-105)

Packers -6 (-115)

Over 55 (-110)

Under 55 (-110)

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

Reviewing last week:

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

This week’s game:

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

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

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

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

The DVOA Breakdown

Eagles Overall: 19.9% (5th)

Packers Overall: 21.3% (3rd)

Eagles Offense: -1.2% (17th)

Packers Defense: -0.7% (11th)

Packers Offense: 20.6% (2nd)

Eagles Defense: -10.6% (6th)

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

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

Comparable Games

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

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

Score Projection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eagles vs. Panthers: Pre-game Notes

Running way behind schedule (only 45 minutes to game time), so I’ll keep this brief.  Odds breakdown is below, but short version is: the line looks dead-on.  That makes betting difficult, but it means the Eagles really should win this game.

– This is basic stuff by now, but as a big favorite, the Eagles should look for a low-variance strategy.  That means relatively conservative play-calling, a special focus on turnover avoidance, and backing off the blitzes a bit.  All of that is relative, of course, 4th and 1 is still a go for it situation in most situations.

– The turnover avoidance point from above is the one that worries me.  The Panthers are averaging less than 20 points per game.  If they score more than that, it will likely be because the Eagles gave them great field position (or points) with turnovers.  Unfortunately, Mark Sanchez is extremely turnover-prone.  It’s certainly possible (perhaps probable), that Chip Kelly’s system will help Sanchez with easier reads/throws.  However, we can’t ignore Sanchez’s history (3.8% int rate, and 43 fumbles in 63 games).

This is a game that calls for pure “caretaker” play from the QB, and I’m not that confident in Sanchez’s ability to play that role.

– Evan Mathis is back, which means the Eagles are as close to being 100% healthy on the O-Line as they have been all year.  Herremans, of course, is gone, but I’m not sure there’s much of a drop-off in play from him to Tobin.  The upshot, of course, is that we can finally see if the Eagles rushing problems (and play-calling change from last year) were due to the line play, an actual Shady injury, or something else.  With Sanchez in the game, we should get plenty of opportunities to watch and evaluate the run game.  Kelce looked rusty last week, particularly with his snaps, but he also looked to have all of his athleticism back.

With the Kelce/Mathis combo back, look for a lot more action in the screen game.  There’s just no way to replicate the ability of those guys to get downfield quickly enough to stay in front of the RB at close to full speed.

– Also keep an eye out for Zack Ertz.  This is completely speculative, but my guess is that Celek’s blocking was particularly valuable while the OL was banged up.  With those guys healthy again, Chip might be more willing to trade Celek’s blocking ability for Ertz’s offensive ability.

– Mychael Kendricks’ looked great last week.  For the long-term, he’s the most important player to watch tonight.  If he can consistently play as well as he did against the Texans, the Eagles have found themselves a major defensive piece for the foreseeable future.  Combined with Cox, that would form a really strong foundation on the defensive side of the ball.  Let’s see if he covers Greg Olsen at all tonight.  Olsen’s not great, but he’s a major part of the Panthers’ passing attack (along with Kelvin Benjamin).  It’ll be a good test  for whoever ends up covering him, but I’m most curious to see if Kendricks’ coverage skills have evolved.

On the other hand, the Panthers’ rush dominant offense should give him plenty of opportunities to make plays.  Last season he was over-aggressive at times, leading to some missed tackles and poor angles.  Cleaning that up is perhaps his biggest “to do” if he’s to fulfill his potential.

That’s all for now, see the breakdown below for more.


From BGN:

My picks record to date:

Line: 3 – 5

O/U: 4 – 4

Reader record:

Line: 4 – 4

O/U: 6 – 2

This week’s lines:

Eagles -7 (-105)

Panthers +7 (-115)

Over 48 (-110)

Under 48 (-110)

Reviewing last week:

Nailed the score range for the second week in a row (I also pegged the Eagles for 27 points the game before that).  I had the Eagles at 30-32 points and the Texans at 20-23. Final score was 31-21.  Fortunately this time the line was off by enough to give us an easy win. Let’s see if we can put a streak together here.

This week’s game:

This is a BIG line.  Especially given that the Eagles are starting a backup QB and just lost their starting MLB and defensive play-caller.  So what gives?

The Panthers are 3-5-1, and have a point differential of -59 points.  That’s bad (it ranks 26th in the league).  Since starting the season 2-0, and picking up a lot of hype in the process, Carolina has managed just 1 win, against the Bears at home.  Some attention has to be paid to the fact that the Panthers have had a very tough schedule.  Here are their losses:

Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Green Bay, Seattle, New Orleans

Those teams are a combined 25-17.    Of course, Carolina has lost those games by margins of 18, 28, 21, 4, and 18.  Basically, they’ve shown no indication they belong among the top half of the league.

Let’s see what DVOA has to say.

Eagles Overall DVOA: 14% (6th)

Panthers Overall DVOA: -11.8% (26th)

Eagles Offense DVOA: -2.6% (18th)

Panthers Defense DVOA: 6.4% (24th)

Eagles Defense DVOA: -7.1% (8th)

Panthers Offense DVOA: -5.0% (20th)

The Eagles are still 1st in STs DVOA, the Panthers rank 18th.

As is clear from the numbers above, the Eagles are the MUCH better team by DVOA.  I’m not that excited to see Mark Sanchez start, but since he has to, this is a pretty good time to do it.  Opponent QBs have a rating of 97.4 against the Panthers this season.

Opponents in common- Unfortunately, the Eagles have not played any of the same teams as the Panthers. That means we’re missing a valuable piece of information regarding relative strength.

Score Projection –

Out of the teams the Eagles have played, the Panthers defense ranks a little below Washington and the Giants, and a little above St. Louis.  Against those teams, the Eagles scored 37, 27, and 34 points.  That puts us around 32 points.  The Eagles are averaging 29.1 ppg thus far, so scoring a FG more than that against a bad defense isn’t exactly a stretch.  Mark Sanchez worries me a bit, and not necessarily because I don’t think he can play well.  Regardless of your feelings about him, there’s no question he presents a major risk factor.  So 32 points seems reasonable, but with a backup QB, it’s really hard to have a lot of confidence in the projection.

Of the Panthers’ opponents, the Eagles rank a bit below the Bengals.  Against them, the Panthers allowed 37 points.  In fact, the Panthers have managed to hold their opponents below 24 points just 3 times this year: against the Bucs and Lions in the first two weeks, and against the Seahawks two weeks ago.  Overall, the Panthers are allowing an average of 26.2 ppg.  In other words, the Eagles should be able to score a fair amount.  However, I don’t trust them to put up close to a full TD more than the Panthers are allowing on average (to a lot of really good teams).  Given that, I’m dialing the Eagles expectation back to 28 points.

From the other side, the Panthers offense ranks most similarly to the Giants, against whom the Eagles allowed 0 points.  The next closest opponents by DVOA are Washington (Carolina is a bit worse) and  San Francisco and Arizona (Carolina is a bit better).  Against those teams, the Eagles allowed 34, 26, and 24 points.  That puts us at 27-28 points.  However, the Panthers are averaging just 19.7 points per game overall.  The Eagles have a good defense.  Basically, I think DVOA is overrating the Panthers offense here.

If we view it from the other perspective, the Eagles defense ranks most similarly to Baltimore (a bit better), and is also close to Seattle (a little worse).  Against Baltimore, the panthers scored just 10 points.  Against Seattle, they scored just 9.  Now we have a problem.  Our two estimates are completely different.    On average, the Eagles are allowing 22.1 ppg, so I’m inclined to skew closer to that amount.  All told, I’m setting the Panthers expected output at 20-21 points.

That gives us a final projection of Eagles 28, Panthers 20-21.  The line is 7, so we’re very close.  On balance, the Eagles look like the slightly better pick, but remember what I said about Sanchez.  Him playing puts a lot of additional expected variance in the game.  In other words, be careful with this one.

Even more bad news:  the Over/Under is 48, meaning we’re right on target there as well.

The Eagles are hitting the over pretty consistently, so if I have to pick a side that’s what I’m going with.  Just know there’s not nearly as much opportunity in this game as there was last week.

Eagles – Texans Pregame Notes

I’m feeling pretty good about today’s game.  Obviously, the Eagles have demonstrated they can give games away to worse teams (even if they haven’t actually done so just yet).  Anytime you turn the ball over multiple times, the other team is going to have a very good shot at winning, regardless of quality.  However, consider these (some from the odds breakdown below):

Opponents in common.  Here are the outcomes:

Giants: Eagles win by 27 (home).  Texans lose by 13 (road).

Washington: Eagles win by 3 (home). Texans win by 11 (home).

Colts: Eagles win by 3 (road). Texans lose by 5 (home).

On balance, the results favor the Eagles by a significant margin.

– For as much grief as Nick Foles has caused this season, his numbers are remarkably similar to Ryan Fitzpatrick’s:

Foles: 59.2% Comp., 4% TD, 3% INT, 6.49 NY/A,  2.3% Sack Rate

Fitzpatrick: 63.4% Comp., 4% TD, 3.1% INT, 6.98 NY/A, 6.6% Sack Rate

That’s not meant to absolve Foles from criticism, but it does raise a pretty important issue for today’s game: Even with Foles playing like crap, the Eagles don’t have a disadvantage at QB.

– From the previous bullet, look at Fitzpatrick’s sack rate.  It’s 6.6%.  The Eagles defense has a sack rate of 6.5%.  In other words, we should see a lot of pressure from the DL today.

– The Texans are averaging just 23.1 points per game this year.  Moreover, they’ve yet to play a defense as good as the Eagles, at least by DVOA.  Arian Foster is having a really good year, and DeAndre Hopkins scares me a bit, but on paper the Eagles should be able to shut down Houston.

– The game will really hinge on the performance of the Eagles offense.  The Texans are allowing just 20.8 points per game this year.  Now, they’ve played a pretty easy schedule as well.  Their best opponents thus far are the Cowboys, Colts, and Steelers.  Against those teams, the Texans are 0-3 and have allowed 20, 33, and 30 points (average of 27.6).  The Eagles offense hasn’t been as good as those teams’ units, but there’s clearly opportunity there.

The Eagles scored 20 points last week on the road in Arizona, against a much better defense.  They SHOULD be able to do much better today.

– Darren Sproles is back.  That’s a big deal, especially today. The Texans have a relatively weak punting unit, so if Sproles is healthy he might be able to give the offense a big advantage via strong field position.  The combination of good field position and a strong kicker means the offense really doesn’t need to do much in order to get points on the board.  Just as big, perhaps, is that Maclin won’t have to return punts.  With #18 back there, a turnover seems to be inevitable, as he’s just not reading the punts very well.

– Jason Kelce is back too.  I think Kelce/Mathis has been a much bigger loss than any of us projected.  I think it’s effected Chip’s play-calling, Shady’s ability to contribute, and consequently Nick Foles’ efficiency.  With Kelce back, we can start to analyze whether that hypothesis is true.  If it is, the upside for this team is immense.  If it’s just wishful thinking, though, we’re in for rough ride as far as Foles evaluation/hand-wringing goes.

That’s enough for now.  The spread says this should be a close game, but I don’t see it.  If the Eagles avoid turnovers (admittedly a big “IF” at this point), I think they win by a TD or more.

My picks record to date:

Line: 2 – 5

O/U: 3 – 4

Reader record:

Line: 3 – 4

O/U: 5 – 2

This week’s lines:

Eagles -2 (+115)

Texans +2 (-105)

Over 49 (-110)

Under 49 (-110)

Reviewing last week:

Last week was a great example of why it’s so difficult to win money by betting on the NFL.  Here’s what I said: “the Eagles at 20 and the Cardinals at 20-24 points”.  The line was 3.  Unfortunately, the Cardinals hit the one value in that range the fell outside the point spread.  Fortunately, we did hit the under.  I’m not 100% sure, but I believe it’s the first time the readers chose the under.  Good timing.

This week’s game:

The Houston Texans are 4-4, but there is a pretty big split in quality between the teams they’ve beaten and the ones they’ve lost to.

Wins: Washington, RaidersTitansBills

Losses: GiantsCowboysColts, and Steelers.

Which group of teams do the Eagles fit better with?

The Numbers:

Eagles Overall DVOA: 12.4% (6th)

Texans Overall DVOA: -4.8% (22nd)

Eagles Offense DVOA: -3.7% (23rd)

Texans Defense DVOA: -2.5% (13th)

Eagles Defense DVOA: -6% (8th)

Texans Offense DVOA: -2.5% (19th)

With Darren Sproles back, the Eagles appear to have a very large advantage on STs.  The Eagles still rank 1st, while the Texans are 27th.  The punt return game for the Eagles looks especially promising.

Clearly, the Eagles are the better team by DVOA.  It’s not even close.  The Texans defense is decent, but nowhere near as good as the Cardinals, so the offense should LOOK much better on Sunday.

The two teams do have several previous opponents in common.  Here are the outcomes:

Giants: Eagles win by 27 (home).  Texans lose by 13 (road).

Washington: Eagles win by 3 (home). Texans win by 11 (home).

Colts: Eagles win by 3 (road). Texans lose by 5 (home).

On balance, the results favor the Eagles by a significant margin.

Score Projection:

The Texans’ defense ranks most similarly to Washington, with just 1.3% DVOA difference (Houston is better).  The Eagles scored 37 against Washington.  Houston also ranks just a bit worse than both Jacksonville and San Francisco.  The Eagles scored 30 and 21 against them (SF was all STs).  That puts us around 30-32 points. The team is averaging 29 points per game, so that seems reasonable.

Meanwhile, the Eagles’ defense is the best the Texans will have faced (by a big margin).  The closest ranking defense Houston has played is Washington (14th).  Against them, Houston scored just 17 points.  In fact, Houston has scored 30 points just twice this year, against Tennessee and Oakland, the 24th and 25th ranked defenses by DVOA.  The Texans are averaging just 23.1 points per game this year.  As demonstrated, they’ve faced a very weak schedule when it comes to defenses.  I’m setting the Texans expected points at 20-23.

You’ll notice that’s a HUGELY different from the spread (Eagles -2).  Usually when we’re this far from the spread, it means we’ve done something wrong.  I really don’t see what though.  The Texans have a .500 record, but they’ve built that with wins, albeit strong ones, against relatively subpar teams.  You can say the same thing about the Eagles, but the Eagles performance in losses has been much more impressive.

Basically, I’m getting a similar feeling to the Giants game a few weeks back.  I think the Eagles roll, and I’m taking them -2. On our over/under, the real risk is the Texans.  As I said, they’ve yet to play a defense playing as well as the Eagles are right now.  They might struggle just as the Giants did.  But I don’t think that’s likely.  I’m taking the Over 49, but I like the spread bet a lot better.

Eagles – Giants Pregame Thoughts

I went a little overboard with the odds breakdown this week, so I’ll mostly let that speak for itself.  However, I’m going to do a higher level check-in post later this week in an effort to get back into broader strategic analysis.  Not that you care, but I decided to take the bulk of the Wharton core through accelerated classes (I’ve got four finals this week).  That hasn’t left much time for anything else, but it should pay off (i.e. much more time) starting next week.  Until then, though, we’re stuck with previews.

For today’s game, here are some additional thoughts, some of which are elaborated on in the breakdown below:

– Very big game for the Eagles, but not because of the opponent.  I still haven’t seen anything from the Giants to change my ex-ante belief that they’re not a playoff-caliber team.  Given their schedule, it’s still possible they’re just the best team of the bottom third of the league.  Instead, the game is important because the Eagles schedule after the bye week is very difficult.  It looks like it’ll take at least 10 wins to win the NFC East.  So a win tonight and the Eagles only need to go 5-5 the rest of the way to hit the target.  In other words, things are going to get a bit ugly starting in two weeks and the team will likely need all the margin for error it can get.

– Much is being made about the Eagles potential for regression on D/STs, specifically regarding TDs.  That’s absolutely correct.  The Eagles will not keep scoring TDs on D/STs at such a high rate.  However, the Eagles offense is also primed for POSITIVE regression.  Hopefully it starts tonight.

A lot more below.  As I say at the end, I’m actually much more bullish about tonight’s game than my breakdown suggests.  I think the Giants’ statistics are very skewed by an easy schedule (moreso than the Eagles).  Still, I’d be lying if I said I was confident in the Eagles offense right now.  Just because they “should” improve doesn’t mean they will.

My picks record to date:

Line: 2 – 3

O/U: 2 – 3

Reader record:

Line: 2 – 3

O/U: 4 – 1

This week’s lines:

Eagles -3 (-105)

Giants +3 (-115)

Over 51 (-105)

Under 51 (-115)

Reviewing last week:

The Over hit comfortably, so that’s a win for everyone.  Unfortunately, Billy Davis and the DBs decided they didn’t like the idea of a dominating win.  Not only did they let the Ramstake the backdoor cover, they also gave them a chance to win outright.  I said I was very confident in the Eagles -7, but they only won by 6.  Of course, as soon as the lead was 13 I knew how it was going to end.  So it’s a loss for me on the line, but things aren’t all bad.  While I said I liked the Eagles, I also advised you to wait until close to kickoff before making any wagers (confirm Lane Johnson’s condition).  If you did that, you should’ve got the line at just -4.5, giving you a 2-0 week.  I still have no idea why the line dropped so much in just 24 hours (no major injuries), but I hope you took full advantage.

This week:

Huge game for the Eagles.  I’m actually not too worried about the Giants being a true division title contender, so that’s less of a factor for me than for most others.  Instead, I’m looking at the schedule after the bye week:

@Cardinals, @TexansPanthers, @Green Bay

A win this week puts the Eagles at 5-1 heading into that stretch, meaning they could lose 3 out of those 4 and still be 6-4.  After that stretch above, the Eagles play the Titans at home before getting a Dallas, Seattle, Dallas sandwich.  In other words, the Eagles are probably going to lose a bunch of games over the next 8-9 weeks, so they need as many wins now as they can get.

The Breakdown:

First, the DVOA comparison:

Eagles Overall – 5.6% (13th)

Giants Overall – 9.8% (8th)

Eagles Offense – -5.5% (22nd)

Giants Defense – -8.8% (7th)

Eagles Defense – -1.0% (16th)

Giants Offense – 3.2% (14th)

On Special Teams, the Eagles have a very big advantage.  The Birds rank 1st in the league, and along with Atlanta and Buffalo are well ahead of everyone else.  Meanwhile, the Giants are 23rd.

Well that doesn’t look very good, does it?  The Giants have the better offense and the better defense. Naturally, they rank better overall, though not by a huge margin.  Regardless, the DVOA breakdown points towards the Giants, especially because they’re getting 3 points.

Now let’s look at actual results to make our score projection:

Of the teams the Eagles have played this year, the 49ers (8th) rank closest to the Giants (9th) on defense by DVOA.  The Eagles scored 21 points against San Francisco. However, all 3 touchdowns came from Defense and Special Teams.  That makes this a tough benchmark to use, since we really don’t want to be projecting D/ST scoring.  Of course, certain media members (cough…Bill Barnwell…cough) are writing off this factor too easily.  Start Tangent – Yes, the Eagles are unlikely to keep scoring on D/STs.  BUT, in games like this one, where there appears to be a huge STs advantage, the field position effects alone can have a significant effect on the offense.  Additionally, you can’t just write off one area as due for regression without looking for others.  I’m talking specifically about the Eagles offense.

Putting on my Bayesian hat for a moment, we have to remember our ex-ante expectations for the team.  It’s fairly unlikely that the Eagles went from one of the league’s best offenses to one of the league’s worst offenses in one offseason.  There are a few roster changes to account for (D-Jax and the injuries), but that’s it.  The Eagles weren’t particularly lucky last year, so that’s not a factor.  Put simply, the Eagles offense is more likely to improve a bit than it is to get worse or stay the same.  We diminish the weight we place on last season’s results, but we can’t forget them entirely; not without a very compelling and logical reason.  Even with the Mathis/Kelce injuries, the Eagles almost certainly are not as helpless on offense as the have seemed the past couple of games.  End tangent.

So the Eagles are averaging 31.2 ppg, but against the most comparable competition they scored just 21 points (none on offense).  Of course, that was a road game, so there’s some clawback factor there as well.  If we call that 3 points, we get to an expected output of 24.

From the opposite viewpoint, among the Giants opponents thus far, the Eagles rank closest on offense to Arizona (24th) and Detroit (20th).  Against the Lions on the road, the Giants allowed 35 points.  Against the Cardinals at home, the Giants allowed 25 points.  Together, that’s an average of 30 points allowed, which is fairly surprising given the Giants strong overall rank on defense.  Using that number with our Eagles-centric projection, we get a range of 24-30 points.  Taking the midpoints gives us 27 points for the Eagles.  That’s about 4 points beneath the Eagles season average

Quick aside, you’ll notice I’m doing a lot more manipulation of the DVOA numbers than in previous weeks.  As the year goes on, I tend to put more and more weight on these (as the sample increases).

Now, from the opposite side:

Of the Giants opponents to date, the Eagles defense (16th) ranks closest to Houston (15th) and Washington (18th).  Against Houston at home, the Giants scored 30 points.  Against Washington on the road, the Giants scored 45 points.  That’s pretty strong output.  Averaged, that comes to 37.5 points, which is ridiculous.  On the season, the Giants are averaging 26.6 ppg, which is still a very good rate, but a far cry from 37.  So what do we do?  Well we can’t ignore the comparison stats, but I also don’t feel comfortable projecting the Giants to score 10+ points above their season average.  Keeping it simple, let’s split the difference and call it 32 points. Also recall that Demeco Ryans might not play, so 30+ is very reasonable.

Together, that gives us a projection of Giants 32 – Eagles 27.  As is customary by now, we’re taking the over 51. Sticking with out projections, we also get a fairly strong signal towards Giants +3. I hate given that as a recommendation, but it is what it is.

I do want to mention something important though.  As much as the Eagles have benefited from an easy strength of schedule, the Giants have benefited more.  Let’s play a little transitive property game.  We’re going to look at what I will call transitive wins.  Basically, you get credit for the wins of all the opponents you’ve beaten.  It will give us a good look at just how impressive each resume is.

The Giants have wins against 3 teams this year, Houston, Washington, and Atlanta.  Here are the transitive wins, along with each team’s overall DVOA:

Washington – 23rd, (beaten by Houston)

Oakland – 30th, (beaten by Houston)

Buffalo – 15th, (beaten by Houston)

Jacksonville – 32nd, (beaten by Washington)

New Orleans – 25th, (beaten by Atlanta)

Tampa Bay – 31st , (beaten by Atlanta)

15th, 23rd, 25th, 30th, 31st, 32nd.

The Eagles have beaten four teams this year, Jacksonville, Indy, Washington, and St. Louis. Here are the Eagles’ transitive wins:

Jacksonville – 32nd, (beaten by both Indy and Was)

Tennessee – 26th, (Indy)

Baltimore – 4th, (Indy)

Houston – 24th, (Indy)

Tampa Bay – 31st, (St. Louis)

4th, 24th, 26th, 31st, 32nd, 32nd.

Basically, the only thing the Eagles and Giants have proven thus far is that neither of them are among the worst 6-7 teams in the league.  Depending on your preseason NYG outlook, that might be new information.  For the Eagles, though, it doesn’t really tell us anything we didn’t already know.  The upshot is that, while I have to make picks for this column, I wouldn’t actually touch the line on this game.  We don’t actually KNOW that much about either team by virtue of how the schedule has shaped up so far.

I always like to end with a hopeful note, so here it is:

The Eagles might be the best team the Giants have faced thus far this season.  I don’t think you can say the same in reverse (both Indy and San Fran are better in my opinion).  Given the Eagles relatively strong performance against those teams, I’m actually more hopeful heading into this game than my breakdown above suggests.

Eagles – Rams: Pregame Thoughts

Breakdown is below, but here are some brief thoughts for today:

– Remember how I said last week didn’t really matter?  Well today’s game is the opposite. It doesn’t feel like an early season game against a non-divisional, mediocre-bad team should be meaningful, but it is.  Home games against teams clearly worse than you need to be converted to wins.  Doing so gives you the margin for error you need heading down the stretch.  Andy Reid’s team often dropped these games, which is why the late-season runs were so stressful.  Take care of business today (and for all of these games) and the end of season divisional stretch becomes much easier.

– I hate to be obvious, but today really is about Nick Foles, Shady, and Lane Johnson.  The Rams have just 1 sack in three games, so the stage is set for an Eagles offensive rebound.   I’ll be paying close attention to Johnson and the interior of the o-line.  If that part of the team performs, Foles will be fine.

– Look for the deep ball.  That was a big part of Foles’ success last season, and he’s struggling with it this year.  Not a surprise given the Eagles lost the best deep threat in the game, but there have still be opportunities for big plays.  Foles has overthrown Maclin and Cooper on a number of occasions.  If he can’t dial it in and adjust to their speed, the Eagles become a much less dangerous team to play against.

– Austin Davis is an unknown.  I screwed up earlier this year by underestimating Kirk Cousins, and this feels like a similar situation….but it’s not.  Where Cousins had Alfred Morries, Pierre Garcon, and D-Jax…Davis has Zach Stacy, Jared Cook, Brian Quick, Kenny Britt, etc… This should be a much easier matchup for the Eagles’ defense.

– The Rams have been lucky so far recovering fumbles.  They’ve put the ball on the ground 7 times in 3 games this year, and they’ve recovered 6 of them.  That doesn’t tell us anything about what will happen today, but it does suggest that the Rams are even worse than their record/point differential suggests.  This is just not a good team.

That’s all for now but see the breakdown below for a bit more.   I’m very confident about this game, but even a 7 point favorite loses about 20% of the time.

My picks record to date:

Line: 2 – 2

O/U: 1 – 3

Reader record:

Line: 2 – 2

O/U: 3 – 1

This week’s lines:

Eagles -7 (-110)

Rams +7 (-110)

Over 47.5 (-110)

Under 47.5 (-110)

Reviewing last week:

That was a tough one.  The Eagles were 2 yards from a probable win, and readers here probably realized they were also 2 yards from covering the spread AND hitting the over.  Close doesn’t count, though, so rather than my first perfect week, I had my first winless one.  The injuries on the O-Line finally affected the offense in a big way.  Lest anyone forget, the Eagles’ offense is heavily dependent on the run game.  They get a lot of big plays through the air, but that’s mostly via play-action and doesn’t work without the rushing threat.  When Chip Kelly won’t even try running the ball from 2 yards out, you can be damn sure the offensive line is having an awful game.  Still, aside from the hit to my record, the loss really doesn’t hurt the Eagles that much.

This week’s game:

The Eagles are big favorites, as they should be.  The Rams rank 29th overall by DVOA, compared to 9th for the Eagles.  Most importantly, the Rams defense ranks 30th.  They’ve only played 3 games (bye last week), but gave up 34 points in two of them (Vikings andCowboys, both at home).  With Lane Johnson back in the lineup, I expect big things from the Eagles offense this week.  I know the Eagles’ offense looked terrible last week, so forecasting a big day might seem foolish.  However, it’s really hard to exaggerate just how bad the O-Line struggled.  The fact that Herremans can slide back to G means the team has potentially made two BIG upgrades.  Along with a bad defense, that’s a recipe for a strong rebound.

The Eagles are averaging 30.5 points per game this season, and given what I said above I see no reason to expect them to perform below average.  30-31 points for is our floor.

On the other side, the Eagles defense is allowing 26 points per game.  However, the team ranks 11th overall in defensive DVOA.  3 of the four offenses the Eagles have faced can be considered mediocre (by DVOA).  The fourth, Jacksonville, is just bad (last in the league).  The Rams currently rank much closer to Jacksonville than they do to WAS, SF, or IND.  If we assume the Rams will be better than Jacksonville, but worse than the Eagles average opposition thus far, we get a range of 17-26 points against. On the season, the Rams are averaging just 18.7 points per game, and have played all three games against defenses currently ranked in the bottom third by DVOA.  Accounting for the competition, we’ve got a much narrower range of 17-19 points against for the Eagles.

There is, of course, one last complication.  The Rams are coming off a bye week, which has to count for something.  At most, I’m willing to credit them 1-2 points.  However, we can give them a full FG for the bye, bring the high end of their range to 22, and still have the Eagles winning by 8.

Thus, take the Eagles -7. Note that this is the first game I’m willing to assign high confidence to.  That’ll probably come back to bite me in the ass, but since I’m picking every Eagles game, regardless of confidence level, I think it’s important to note when I think there’s actually an attractive wagering option.  Maybe I’ll think of some catchy name for it, but for now it’s just “High Confidence Pick”.

On the O/U side, we can add the low ends of the expected output ranges to get 47 points.  If we add the high ends we get 50 points.  Unfortunately, the line is set at 47.5, within our range.  Remember, though, that I said 30-31 points is really the low end of our projection.  So while I can’t assign as high a level of confidence to this pick, we still have a clear signal to take the over 47.5.

I’d probably wait to make sure Lane Johnson is definitely suiting up, but if he is, take a shot.

Eagles – Washington Pregame Thoughts

As promised, below is my odds breakdown from BGN.  Not much opportunity in this line (6.5), I think Vegas is dead-on.  Beyond that, here are a few more pre-game thoughts:

– This is a big game.  That’s pretty obvious.  A win puts the Eagles at 3 – 0 and gives a divisional opponent a loss.  Moreover, it sets the team up for a good chance at 5-1 as the next three games are home against the Rams and Giants and away against the 49ers.  Also, don’t forget that Lane Johnson returns soon, and being 4-0 or 3-1 when he comes back would be a very good result over what could have been a tough stretch given the O-Line injuries/suspensions.

– Marcus Smith might play.  That’s a big deal, at least for me.  As I’ve said numerous times: the Eagles need high-impact players if they’re going to contend, and those players come disproportionately from the 1st round of the draft.  I know Smith is a “project” and thus expectations are lower than usual, but I’d still like to see him get on the field.  With Kendricks’ injury, the table is set for Smith to make a contribution.  I actually think he fits well in that role, even though most have him pegged as an OLB.  He’s athletic and should be able to rush the passer from the ILB position.  Let’s hope he gets a chance.

– Darren Sproles is a very important piece today.  Washington was terrible last year on STs and hasn’t played well this year either.  Specifically, WAS ranks as the 2nd worst punting team this year by Football Outsiders.  Last season, WAS was dead last in punting by a VERY large margin.  That means Sproles has an opportunity to have a big impact in this game, without even considering offensive touches.  Foles has struggled thus far, but great field position goes a long way towards making an offense look good.  The Eagles should have that today, assuming the defense can force punts.

There are other points of emphasis, but those have all been covered well by others.  It would be really nice to see Foles get in a groove.  The O-Line has a tough test against Ryan Kerrigan.  The D-Line needs to play well to take pressure of whoever the ILB ends up being.  We’re all waiting for a “click” game, where the offense hits a lot of the big plays it has left on the field the last two weeks.  Today would be a great time to see it.


My picks record to date:

Line: 1 – 1

O/U: 1 – 1

Poll Record:

Line: 2 – 0

O/U: 2 – 0

This week’s lines:

Eagles -6.5 (-110)

Redskins +6.5 (-110)

Over 50 (-110)

Under 50 (-110)

Note: A few sportsbooks have this line at 7 points, but Bovada is 6.5.  That’s a very important half point.

Reviewing last week:

Another strange game, but the results were very similar to my projections here.  From last week: “I think this game shakes out in the 27-24 range, one way or the other.”  Both teams exceeded expectations by 3 points.  Unfortunately, Parkey’s winning FG pushed the point total above the O/U line, leaving me with another split game.  Meanwhile, you readers are perfect so far.  Of course, I doubt picking the Eagles and the Over in every game will keep working.  However, given how difficult I believe early season betting to be, I’m happy with an even split so far.

This week:

Big game for the Eagles overall. A win puts them at 3 – 0, with home games against theGiants and Rams over the next three games.  So…how do things look?

We know what the Eagles have done over the past two weeks.  Over the same timeframe, Washington has lost to Houston (in Houston) 17 – 6 and destroyed Jacksonville at home, 41 – 10.  Neither resume is very impressive.  Yes, the Eagles are 2 – 0 and scoring a lot of points, but the Colts and Jags are also both 0 – 2.

We’re now in a bit of a no man’s land as far as Football Outsiders’ ratings go.  Last year’s performances mean less and less but we still have a very small sample from this year to work with.  Properly weighting the two sources is the key to making a good projection.  Before putting that together, let’s look at the overall numbers:

Eagles 2014 Overall DVOA: 16.7% (10th)

Eagles 2013 Overall DVOA: 15.2% (8th)

Redkins 2014 Overall DVOA: 40.4% (2nd)

Redskins 2013 Overall DVOA: -26.2% (29th)

As you can see, the Redskins’ performance this year has been a lot more surprising than the Eagles’.  More important, though, is the magnitude of Washington’s performance swing.  It’s extremely unlikely that Washington has gone from one of the worst teams in the league to one of the best teams in one season.  Rather, Washington is benefiting from last week’s annihilation of Jacksonville, as well as it’s strong defensive performance thus far.  By FO’s metrics, Washington has had the best defensive performance in the league so far, by a very big margin.

Maybe the team really is that good, but I’m very skeptical.  Instead, I think Washington just hasn’t faced a decent offense yet.  Obviously, that’s about to change.

Despite the small sample of games, we do actually have one that would seem to have decent informational value.  Both the Eagles and Redskins have played the Jaguars.  The Redskins performed much better against them than the Eagles did.  That’s the biggest note of caution heading into this game.   From a handicapping perspective, we also have to deal with two major sources of uncertainty: Kirk Cousins and Mychal Kendricks.

Cousins will start, Kendricks has been ruled out.  Of the two, I’m much more worried about Kendricks’ absence.  With an Eagles hole at ILB, Washington has a clear invitation to put the game in Alfred Morris‘ hands.  That could make things very difficult for the Eagles.  Not only could Morris gash the middle of the defense, but a strong running performance would also keep the Eagles offense off the field.  In the first two games, the Eagles started slowly but figured things out.  Unfortunately, that method requires a lot of possessions.  I’m not that confident they’ll get them tomorrow.

That brings us to what I believe is the biggest question for tomorrow’s game:

Can the Eagles offense click early?

If it can, then I don’t think Jay Gruden will have the discipline to stick with the running game.  Despite what Washington fans want to believe, Kirk Cousins is probably not a great QB, and putting the game in his hands versus Morris’ would be great for the Eagles.

From a personnel perspective, Ryan Kerrigan is the only player that stands out as a potential headache for the Eagles on offense.  He’s had 8.5 sacks in each of the past two seasons and already has 4 this season.  At 26 years old, Kerrigan might be starting a “breakthrough” season, and the Eagles patchwork O-Line probably isn’t going to stand-up too well against him.  This is really up to Chip Kelly.  So far, I don’t think Kelly has done a good job of playing to his personnel.  Many of his play calls appear to be straight from the gameplan as it looked when the O-Line was completely healthy. He’s gotten away with it because neither the Colts nor the Jaguars have any real pass rushers.

So, second question: Do you think Chip will adjust his game plan this week?

Call me an optimist, by I think the answer is yes.  Chip has hopefully been scared straight by the back to back close games and inconsistent offense.  Moreover, it’s a divisional game, meaning “win at all costs” really is the mindset.

Given that assumption, I think the Eagles put up 25-30 points.  For a specific prediction, that gives us 27.5.  I’ll round down to 27 to make things simpler.  I’m counting a lot on the Redskins from last year reappearing on defense and for Kerrigan to be somewhat contained.  If Foles can remember how to complete open passes, mid-high twenties seems like the most likely outcome.  Additionally, Washington’s special teams has not been good this year, ranking 28th by FO.  While I would normally caution against relying on a 2 game sample, we can be more confident here because Washington ranked 32nd in the league last year.  With Sproles’ strong performance as a punt returner so far, the Eagles should be looking at good field position most of th day, meaning it won’t take much to get in scoring range, even if it’s for FGs instead of TDs.

On the other side, it really comes down to whether or not the Eagles LBs can stand up without Kendricks’ athleticism.  In general, though, I’d much rather lose him against a power rushing team than against a passing offense or one with a strong TE threat.  While I’m worried about Morris, I really don’t believe in Cousins. He’s only thrown 236 passes in the NFL, so we can’t be sure of anything with him.  However, a 57.6% completion rate is worrisome.  So is a 10 – 10 TD/INT ratio and a 74.3 Rating.  Those aren’t terrible numbers for a rookie as far as future projection goes, but for a one week projection, they don’t scream “offensive explosion”.

With the Eagles D-Line looking strong, I’m projecting Washington for 21 points.

Putting it together, that means I’ve got a projection of Eagles 27, Redkins 21.  BUT, remember my projection before rounding off was for the Eagles to score 27.5.  Unfortunately, that puts us right on the 6.5 line.  In other words, I think Vegas has this one right.  So my official stance is Redskins +6, but that’s a low confidence bet.  For the over/under, I’m taking the Under 50.  Not too much wiggle-room in this one either, and a backdoor over is clearly in play, but that’s where we’re at.

Lastly, post-merger, teams favored by 6.5 at home have won the game 65% of the time (n=291).