Sunday, December 23, 2007

The Eagles are better than their record indicates

The Philadelphia Eagles are 6-8 and in last place in the NFC East. They have been eliminated from playoff contention for a couple of weeks. But looking at their past games, they really are a pretty good team in my opinion. Here are some reasons why:

- Looking at points scored versus points allowed: they scored 281 and allowed 268. Teams that score more points than they allow are usually .500 or better teams. It only takes one more win for the Eagles to be a .500 team.

- Looking at close games: close games have some luck in them. One good or bad bounce in a 21-point game may not change the winner of the game, but it may in a 6-point game. The Eagle's record in games decided by less than 7 points is: 1-5. Could they have easily gone 3-3 in those games? In my opinion, yes. If they had gone 3-3, they would be 8-6 with a chance to get into the playoffs.

- First down stats: gaining lots of first downs is a sign of a good football team. The top three offenses in terms of first downs are: NE, DAL and IND. No surprise there. PHI is 8th. On the defensive side, the top three teams in terms of first downs are: BAL, TB and PIT. Again, no surprises there as those three teams are well known for having good defenses (FWIW, NE is 5th, IND is 7th). PHI is tied with NE for 5th. So the Eagles are 8th best in first downs on offense, and 5th best on defense. That looks like a playoff team.

- Overall yardage: On Offense, PHI has accumulated 4,903 yards (9th in the NFL) and allowed 4,365 yards on defense (8th in the league). Again, this stat indicates they are a playoff-type team.

So why are they only 6-8? All the signs show they are a playoff calibre team. One possible explanation is that they've had bad luck in crucial spots. Another explanation is that they've palyed a tough schedule. With the exception of the Jets and the Dolphins, every opponent they've played has been decent or very good or great.

Great teams: NE, DAL (twice)
Probable playoff teams: GB, NYJ (twice), SEA, MIN
Decent teams: DET in week 3 when DET was playing well, CHI in week 7 when CHI was still a decent team, and WAS (twice) who still has a shot at the playoffs.

Using my current power rankings, the Eagles have had the toughest strength of schedule in the NFL. And yet, they've held their own (mostly).

So how do we make money from this opinion?

One possibility is to bet them in week 16 against the Saints and/or week 17 against the Bills. The problem with these bets is to answer the question: how motivated are the Eagles? In the last two weeks, when they were already probably out of the playoff race, they still played hard. They lost to the Giants by 3 and beat the Cowboys by 4. But those were tough divisional games. They probably would have played hard even if they were 10-4 or 4-10. The last two games are against non-divisional foes, the desire to win may not be there anymore. This is where the "art" in handicapping comes in. The Saints need to win in Week 16 to stay in the playoff race. Unfortunately the line isn't that high, the Saints are only favored by -3 -120 or so. Its not a no-brainer given that line to take an unmotivated Eagles team versus a motivated Saints team. Although it still could be a good bet, I know I definitely wouldn't take the Saints and lay the points, I'd either take the Eagles or pass on the game.

Another possibility is to look forward to 2008 and look to bet on the Eagles to win the NFC, the NFC East and Over on Regular Season Win Totals. Those lines haven't come out yet of course, so you'd still have to see if the market agrees or disagrees with the analysis. It is possible the market agrees, and there may not be any value in going long the Eagles. Also, there is the twist that the Eagles may get rid of McNabb. That may be good or bad, I don't know, but I do know it will change the team dramatically. If the Eagles do not have McNabb in 2008, then it may not be useful to use 2007 numbers as an indication of the 2008 team.