Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

09 Dec 2008

Any Given Sunday: Eagles over Giants

by Ned Macey

The linked article features some of the now familiar FO talking points on why the Eagles are a better team than their record would indicate. If a combination of our writing and Sunday's game didn't convert you to believe that the Eagles are one of the league's best teams, then nothing short of a Super Bowl win would do (as you are also the type of person who probably believes the Super Bowl winner is always the league's best team).

Anyway, lost in conversations about the Eagles' relative merits is much mention of their rebuilt defense. Like Tampa Bay, the Eagles peaked with a core of defenders and then slowly declined to mediocrity. The Eagles currently rank fifth in defensive DVOA and appear likely to finish in the top ten for the first time since 2002. Philadelphia has finally completed an overhaul that struggled to gain consistent momentum. The only two starters to make it from their Super Bowl appearance in 2004 to the game on Sunday are Brian Dawkins and Sheldon Brown.

The only Eagles defenders who ever seem to get mainstream mention are the grizzled veteran (and future Hall of Famer?) Dawkins and hotshot free agent acquisition Asante Samuel. The rest of the Eagles defenders are mostly anonymous. Quick, who is the Eagles middle linebacker? Wait, it isn't Jeremiah Trotter. No, it's Stewart Bradley, who leads the team in tackles and was all over the field on Sunday, limiting the Giants' running attack. Despite the presence of Samuel, most of the team was built from within. Five of Sunday's starters were drafted between 2005 and 2007, two others were drafted earlier, and two more were signed as undrafted free agents.

They are younger and faster than Eagles defenses of recent years. Additionally, Mike Patterson and Broderick Bunkley have developed into an unheralded but highly effective interior to anchor the run defense. The 2008 Eagles currently have what would be the best rush defense DVOA of any Eagles team dating to 1995. These personnel changes should have led the Eagles to the playoffs, but alas, the offense's inability to perform well late in close games will likely leave all this talent sitting at home come January.

Posted by: Ned Macey on 09 Dec 2008

23 comments, Last at 11 Dec 2008, 10:44am by Wanker79

Comments

1
by Dales :: Tue, 12/09/2008 - 4:56pm

"These personnel changes should have led the Eagles to the playoffs, but alas, the offense's inability to perform well late in close games will likely leave all this talent sitting at home come January."

The Playoffs Odds agrees with you, pegging them at 36% for making the postseason.

I think they are going to make it.

2
by Independent George :: Tue, 12/09/2008 - 5:00pm

I disagree; I remember distinctly remember Trent Cole for kicking Kareem McKenzie in the nuts.

3
by vinyltoupee (not verified) :: Tue, 12/09/2008 - 5:48pm

" (as you are also the type of person who probably believes the Super Bowl winner is always the league's best team)."

Incredible. Talk about the tail wagging the dog.

15
by Anonymous Too! (not verified) :: Wed, 12/10/2008 - 2:57pm

The Super Bowl winner is the league's best team that year. Unless and until the NFL decides to bow down to the superior intellect of people who provide "innovative statistics" and "intelligent analysis," thus it will always be. What would you propose? Some kind of Premier League table, but one where the champion is determined on a play-by-play efficiency basis rather than by wins?

I think "tail wagging the dog" is an apt description of Ned's thinking, though I might have chosen other anatomical comparisons just under the tail to describe him even more accurately.

Besides, isn't offering up the explanation that the Eagles are (almost) as good as the Giants kind of running counter to the whole theme of AGS? Or would you like to go back to the Giants loss in Cleveland and offer up a big "We told you so" for that one as well?

19
by MJK :: Wed, 12/10/2008 - 5:35pm

The Super Bowl winner is the league's best team that year

That's the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard. Do you honestly believe that in 2007 the Giants were better than the Patriots? That in 2005 the Steelers were better than the Colts? That in 2001 the Patriots were better than the Rams? Those are the most egregious recent cases, but you can make a pretty good argument that in 2000 Ravens and the 2006 Colts were not the best teams in their year, either. With the exception of 2003 and 2004 (years in which the SB winner won only by a late FG), the SB winner in recent years has not even had the highest winning percentage that year, so even if you go by raw wins, the SB winner is not necessarily the best team.

Look at the name of this article: Any Given Sunday. If you keep every win and every loss the same, and just mix up the order the games are played in, you could produce a different SB winner in every year (except for 1972). Because the playoffs are a 1-and-done format, the playoffs and SB are an exciting way of giving away a trophy, but not of determining who is actually the best team.

22
by Anonymous Too! (not verified) :: Wed, 12/10/2008 - 8:50pm

"If you keep every win and every loss the same, and just mix up the order the games are played in, you could produce a different SB winner in every year (except for 1972)."

Sounds like the next project for FO. Devising arguments to explain why the league's champion should be determined in Week 9.

If my claim is the most ridiculous thing you've ever heard, then I'll have to conclude that you don't hear much.

The whole point of the season is to make the playoffs, and that's a test that only 12 teams pass. Then you have to beat the three or four teams you face from among that group to win the championship. Sounds like a pretty good process to me.

How else do you determine the best team? Winning percentage, as you suggest? DVOA? Call me old-fashioned, but the best team is the one that wins the most games in the playoffs, after winning enough games to get that chance. It's not the team with the most regular season wins or the team with the best DVOA, DYAR, or DAVE.

23
by Wanker79 :: Thu, 12/11/2008 - 10:44am

You're not old-fashioned, you're obtuse. Nobody is suggesting that we need to change the process for determining the league champion. But if you can honestly look at some of the fluky ways teams win in the playoffs (the tuck, the music city miracle, the immaculate reception, the Tyree catch, just to name the most famous events) and say that being able to put together 2 or 3 good games makes you the best team in the league, you're delusional. Hell, you even hear baseball fans talk all the time about how in a 5 game series the less talented team has a better chance of winning than a 7 game series. What do you think that says about a 1-and-done system.

But the Super Bowl isn't meant to determine the best team each year, it's meant to determine the Super Bowl winner. Those two things aren't necessarily the same thing. And they don't have to be.

4
by foos (not verified) :: Tue, 12/09/2008 - 6:35pm

The Giants game was a must-win for the Eagles, they had ten days to prepare, and the Giants were a wee bit distracted and missing their top receiver. Let's see the Eagles make the playoffs before we crown their asses, eh?

5
by Red Hedgehog (not verified) :: Tue, 12/09/2008 - 6:39pm

Eh? The articles makes pretty clear that he thinks the Eagles won't make the playoffs.

6
by bubqr :: Tue, 12/09/2008 - 7:44pm

From the ESPN link :

Sponsored Links
"Donovan McNabb’s IQ = 114"
"Avg Eagles Fan’s IQ = 137"

8
by Harris :: Tue, 12/09/2008 - 8:26pm

The number for the Eagles' fan average IQ has at least one digit too many.

"A little celery is always nice after a good pee."

11
by CathyW :: Tue, 12/09/2008 - 11:40pm

But which digit?

12
by emcee fleshy .S... :: Wed, 12/10/2008 - 2:36am

the 6

16
by Anonymous Too! (not verified) :: Wed, 12/10/2008 - 2:59pm

The reported IQ scores in those web ads MUST be true. After all, they ARE on the Internet.

7
by mattman7 (not verified) :: Tue, 12/09/2008 - 7:51pm

Reid has made several changes on defense over the last three weeks, beginning right after the earlier loss to the Giants when they just couldn't get off the field. First they introduced a new 3rd-and-long pass-rushing line with Trent Cole and Chris Clemons at DE, and Darren Howard and Victor Abiamiri at DT. Second, WLB Omar Gaither was benched in favor of the speedier Akeem Jordan. Finally, Joselio "Toastolio no more" Hanson was promoted to #3 corner over Lito Sheppard. All three moves have worked out very well, improving an already impressive (but flawed) unit. Victor Abiamiri in particular has been impressive, seeing time at both DT and DE a la Justin Tuck.

If they can manage to win out and reach the playoffs, they could easily become this year's Giants. (And this year there's no 16-0 Goliath to knock off)

10
by CathyW :: Tue, 12/09/2008 - 11:38pm

La-la-la-la-la-la! *Fingers in ears* Stop it, you're jinxing it!

If, if, if. If the Eagles win all three of their last games, AND Atlanta loses at least once, they could make the playoffs. That is as far as I'm prepared to go.

This team has enough personalities to give Sybil a run for her money, and I won't believe anything until I see the Lombardi trophy being paraded down Broad Street. And I'm certain that I most likely won't see that in my lifetime, so I'm not holding my breath.

9
by Never Retreat (not verified) :: Tue, 12/09/2008 - 9:51pm

I know they are technically long shots, but I don't know that it's time for pessimism. Winning out will be hard, but certainly not impossible, and I could see the Bucs beating the falcons this coming Sunday.

13
by Xeynon (not verified) :: Wed, 12/10/2008 - 9:05am

If the Eagles win all three of their last games, AND Atlanta loses at least once, they could make the playoffs.

No, if they win their final three games, and Atlanta loses at least once, they WILL make the playoffs. No non-division winner in the NFC North or West is going to have a record as good as 10-5-1, and right now the only other team ahead of the Eagles for the second wild card spot is the Cowboys, who at best will finish 10-6 if the Eagles win out because the two teams play each other again.

Their chances aren't great (that Bengals tie may come back to haunt them), but they're not miniscule either.

14
by Unverifiable (not verified) :: Wed, 12/10/2008 - 12:38pm

Ned,

I hate to be a stickler but ( I yam what I yam) you state "McNabb only threw one ball that travelled 15 yards in the air." I think you mean 15 yards downfield. Or else every pass (except one) was short and over the middle.

17
by Anonymous Too! (not verified) :: Wed, 12/10/2008 - 3:02pm

I wonder if Ned's error on this point qualifies as an "innovative statistic" or as "intelligent analysis." or maybe it's neither, since it was pimped out to ESPN.

18
by Anonymous Too! (not verified) :: Wed, 12/10/2008 - 3:06pm

From the ESPN article:

"Philly has outgained its opponents by almost 1,000 yards, outscored them by 76 points and won the turnover battle, owning a positive differential. The Eagles' point differential is the second best in the NFC."

Aren't these [gasp of horror] CONVENTIONAL STATISTICS? And hence, meaningless? Where are the innovative statistics? You can't serious be arguing your point with things like yards and points, can you?

20
by MJK :: Wed, 12/10/2008 - 5:44pm

I don't recall anyone ever saying that conventional statistics are useless, or at least that all conventional statistics are useless (frankly, "tackles" are a pretty useless way of evaluating defensive players, since a high tackle total can reflect either skill, scheme, or ineptitude of teammates).

If I want to make the point that it's cold out, I can tell you that it is exactly 20.37°F, or I can say it's "not down to zero but below freezing". Measuring whether it's below zero, between 0 and freezing, between freezing and 100, or 100°+ isn't meaningless. It's just not as precise as giving you the exact temperature.

Saying the Eagles have, on average, outgained and outscored their opponents isn't meaningless, just because these statistics are less precise than more carefully designed statistics. We could also cite that the Eagles have the 3rd best DVOA in the league, which would be more precise than noting that they've outscored their opponents, or we could go further and explain how much better they perform than league average relative to a four year baseline in various different situations that arise in a game. The overarching point of the article remains the same...that the Eagles have won more convincingly than they've lost and are a better team than their record indicates. Why give a length in mm when all you want to point out is roughly how many miles it is?

21
by MJK :: Wed, 12/10/2008 - 5:46pm

Anyone have any thoughts on Ned's comments about how this game may have exposed some ways to attack the Giants? Regardless of whether or not the Eagles make it, can potential playoff opponents exploit these weakensses? I don't follow the NFC enough to know...