"It ain’t over till it’s over" as the great Yogi Berra once said. As long as the Eagles are not mathematically eliminated from playoff contention, I am still going to hold out hope that the Eagles will make the playoffs. To be honest, I thought it was over after the loss to the Niners that dropped the Eagles to 1-3 and started thinking about our next head coach. I thought it was even more over after the loss to the Bills and was certain Reid will be gone after the season. Then I looked around the NFC East and the entire NFC. Other than the Packers, Lions and Saints, who else look like top notch teams? The Giants, Bucs, Bears, Atlanta and the Eagles included, all embarrassed themselves this past week. It’s pretty much a given that one of the wild card spots is going to a team in the NFC North(Lions or Packers). That leaves the division and one wild card spot up for grabs between seven teams. I believe those teams are the Redskins(3-1), Giants(3-2), Bucs(3-2), Cowboys(2-2), Falcons(2-3), Bears(2-3), and the Eagles(1-4). Why the Eagles and not the Seahawks(2-3) or any of the other 1-4 teams you ask? Well…the Eagles have something the rest of them don’t and that’s elite talent up and down the roster.
Seriously, this has to be the most talented 1-4 team in the history of football. It’s mostly mistakes and poor coaching that put the Eagles in this position. Mistakes (drops, missed tackles, and turnovers) can be reduced and coaching can get better (Both Castillo and Reid). The Eagles have dug such a deep hole for themselves that it’s going to take badger-like digging ability to get out of it. The odds are extremely against them. Since the current playoff format was adopted, 110 teams have opened the season 1-4. Only five of them made the playoffs with the Packers being the most recent back in 2004. That’s a 4.5 percent success rate. Also, the 2008 Chargers made the playoffs after recovering from a 4-8 hole to win the division at 8-8. At this point, the Eagles have to be dependent on other teams’ failures in addition to turning their own ship around.
Analysis of the NFC and poll after the jump….
|Total Offense||Scoring PPG||Rush YPG||Total Defense||PPG allowed||Pass Def||Rush Def|
The Wide 9 and the run defense
The Eagles still have a dangerous offense. This team can score with the best of them. The biggest problems so far have been the rush defense, redzone defense and turnovers. They are 30th in rush defense giving up 140 yards per game at 5 yards per carry. That’s historically bad for this franchise. Some people are blaming the wide 9 while others are blaming the linebackers and safeties. It’s neither but Andy Reid and the front office. The Eagles have been a great run defending team the past few years because of JJ’s 2 gap system. The D-line will rush with contain to make sure it's not a running play. If it's not, then they will rush upfield. DTs lined up right in front of the guards and had to maintain both A and B gaps. Ends lined up right outside the tackle. It required more gap responsibility. It was a more read and react system and it ate up blocks, allowed the D-line to stop the run and the linebackers to make tackles without shedding too many blocks. Also there weren’t such huge gaps between linemen. That’s why Chaney and Fokou are struggling this year when they were excellent run defenders last year. They are put in a position where they are not used to. The Eagles are on pace to miss 128 tackles for the season. Last season, they missed 95. The wide 9 is pretty much the opposite of JJ's system. It works very well when you a have a physical defense that can shed blocks, take proper angles and tackle. The players on this defense do not fit the scheme. Andy Reid should have known that and brought in proper personnel to fit this defense. The Titans had Keith Bulluck, Stephen Tullock, Cortland Finnegan, Chris Hope and Michael Griffin who are all excellent tacklers. That’s why it worked so well for the Titans. You scheme to fit the personnel, not the other way around.
Andy Reid and Jim Johnson didn’t draft linebackers high or sign the big ones because they never needed to. The prior scheme allowed the defense to succeed with average to below average linebackers. For the wide 9, you need good linebackers. Now, since it’s kinda too late to be adding viable replacements, we can only assume that the team will get better as the season goes along. The second half of the Bills game from the middle of the third quarter on, the defense shut down the run and the Bills offense. In previous games, the defense couldn’t stop the run even when the entire stadium knew it was coming. Buffalo ended the game with just a 4.1 avg. Nate Allen and Brian Rolle had very good games. They combined for 22 tackles in which 10 of them were stops. They have to sustain that kind of play for the rest of the season. If the defense plays like they did in the last 1.5 quarters of the Bills game for the rest of the season, the Eagles’ run defense will be just fine. Let's hope they do.
We all remember how terrible Mcdermott’s redzone defense was last year. Opponents scored touchdowns in the redzone 78.26% of the time which was the worst in the NFL in the past 20 years. Well, Castillo’s defense is currently worse at 78.57%. In comparison, the Niners are 1st at a mere 26.57%. The median is at 50.00%. Bills were 3-4 in the redzone so it still hasn’t been improved over the past 5 weeks. That’s a huge problem. It’s both play calling and the players not making plays. A totally new defensive system, cast and a year later we are seeing the same issues. Juan needs to look up tape of the Niners(26.57%), Vikings(33.33%), and Lions(35.29%) to see what they are doing right and instill that into this defense. Allowing 26 ppg will not get you into the playoffs much less the superbowl.
The Eagles have a -10 turnover differential. A lot of analysts will say that’s the most important team stat in football. The turnover battle is what separates two good teams from each other. The top five teams in turnover differential are Buffalo (+11), Baltimore(+7), Detroit(+7), Green Bay(+7) and New England(+3). Their combined record is 21-3. The bottom five are Philly(-10), Pittsburgh(-10), Kansas City(-5), Denver(-5), and Miami(-5). Their combined record is 7-17. At 3.0 giveaways per game, the Eagles are the worst in the NFL. At only 1.0 takeaway per game they are tied for 26th. You have to take care of the ball and/or take the ball away. You can’t not do both. The Eagles don’t take care of the ball nor do they cause turnovers. We saw how Buffalo plays defense. Their players go for the strip and are always going after the ball every chance they get. That’s a lot on coaching. Recently, Eagle players are defending the coaches and saying it’s the players on the field and not the coaches fault. Well, it’s the coaches’ job to drill it into the players’ heads to keep the ball high and tight when they run or to try to strip the ball whenever you’re in process of securing a tackle. It’s the coaches’ job to make sure the players are always turning around to look for the ball whenever it is in the air. Do we see Eagles go for strips? Do we always see Eagles holding the ball securely? How many times did we see Eagle players not turn around in time? I remember specific instances Nnamdi, Coleman, and Chaney could have prevented a touchdown if they only turned and looked for the ball quick enough. Andy Reid teams usually have a positive turnover differential. Last three years they were top 7 in the NFL in turnover differential. It’s both the coaches and players job to make sure they take care of the ball and cause turnovers. This problem is correctable and it should be fixed.
@ Washington(3-1), vs Dallas(2-2), vs Chicago(2-3), vs Arizona(1-4), at NYG(3-2), vs New England(4-1), @ Seattle(2-3), @Miami(0-4), vs NYJ(2-3), @ Dallas(2-2), and vs Washington(2-2).
Combined current record of remaining opponents: 23-27.
There is only one elite team that the Eagles will have to face and that’s the Patriots. The game will be at home and the Patriots are not as good away from Foxborough. It’s a very favorable schedule. The Eagles will have a good shot at making the playoffs if they go 9-2 and finish 10-6. That’s very possible with a team with this much talent. That could win them the division or the wild card. Of course, it’s easier said than done. The Eagles not recovering and finishing under .500 is just as likely.
The NFC East
Now, let’s take a quick look around the NFC East...
They are sitting pretty atop the division for now at 3-1. I love how all the "analysts" at ESPN and NFL Network are on the Redskins bandwagon. Do they even watch the games or double check who they’ve beat so far? Their record will make it seem like they are a good team but they are not. They are average at best. They beat the Giants week 1 in a home game by two touchdowns which was their only good win. After that, they beat the Cardinals(now 1-4) by one point coming back from an eight point deficit in the 4th quarter to win on a FG with less than two minutes remaining. Not very impressive. They followed that game up by losing to the Cowboys by two points in a high octane offensive showdown. Not really. There was one touchdown and 9 field goals in that game. Then they managed to beat the worst team in football by seven points. Dominating performance. They have a legitimately good defense and a decent rushing attack of Hightower, Helu, and Torain although none of those backs will scare anyone. They still have a lackluster passing game due to their quarterback being Rex Grossman and struggle to score points. They average just under 21 points per game and could be easily outscored by a good offense.
Remaining schedule: vs Philly(1-4), @ Carolina(1-4), @ Buffalo(4-1), vs San Fran(4-1), @ Miami(0-4), vs Dallas(2-2), @ Seattle(2-3), vs NYJ(2-3), vs New England(4-1), @ NYG(3-2), vs Minnesota(1-4), and @ Philly(1-4).
Combined current record of remaining opponents: 25-29
Record wise their remaining schedule looks easy but the Eagles, Panthers away, Seattle away and Minnesota won’t be easy. There is a good chance the Redskins will lose 7 of the next 12 games and finish 8-8. I’m calling an Eagles drubbing of the Redskins this Sunday and that they will lose the next two games after that as well.
They are 3-2 and also a team that is not as good as their record says. They should be at least 2-3 right now. The refs handed the Cardinals game to the Giants in what was one of the most idiotic calls in NFL history. Yeah, Cruz definitely knew about the rule and gave himself up while the Giants are trying to score the winning touchdown. Sure he did. He slipped and fell and thought he was touched. He wasn’t and it should have been Cardinals ball. Even Eli said after the game they caught a break there. They beat the Rams, Cardinals and the Eagles after Vick went down. They lost to the Seahawks at home. Just like the Redskins, they are an average team at best.
vs Buffalo(4-1), vs Miami(0-4), @ New England(4-1), @ San Fran(4-1), vs Philly(1-4), @ New Orleans(4-1), vs Green Bay(5-0), @ Dallas(2-2), vs Washington(3-1), @ NYJ(2-3), and vs Dallas(2-2)
Combined current record of remaining opponents: 30-20.
Giants have a tough road ahead of them. They have to face five teams 4-1 or better. Miami is the only easy one on the schedule. They still have a very good offense and Eli has been playing very well except the three INT performance vs the Hawks. Defensively they have issues due to the amount of injuries they sustained. You can pass, run and score on this team. Even with some of the players returning like Osi, Tuck and Amukamara, I just don’t see them being a playoff team. I’m seeing an 8-8 or a 9-7 season at best for them.
Although they are 2-2, I think the Cowboys are the biggest threat to win the division. They lost both their games by a combined 7 points and they were to the Jets(2-3) away and the Lions(5-0) at home. Both those games, there were turnovers in the 4th quarter that cost them the game. Against the Jets, there was a blocked punt that resulted in a touchdown and a Romo pick that resulted in a game winning field goal by the Jets. They blew a 14 point 4th quarter lead against the Lions when Tony Romo threw two pick 6’s. They are very good offensively(6th in yards, 12th in points) and good defensively(4th in yards and if you take out two pick 6’s, 10th in points). In my opinion, they have been the most complete team in the division and it’s been Romo’s costly turnovers at the end of games that cost them two victories.
@ New England(4-1), vs St. Louis(0-4), @ Philly(1-4), vs Seattle(2-3), vs Buffalo(4-1), @ Washington(3-1), vs Miami(0-4), @ Arizona(1-4), vs NYG(3-2), @ Tampa Bay(3-2), vs Philly(1-4), and @ NYG(3-2).
Combined current record of remaining opponents: 24-32.
Very favorable schedule. The Patriots and Bills are the only current elite teams they will face. They have St.Louis, Arizona and Miami who are a combined 1-12. Division games are always tough as well but the Cowboys right now look like have the highest chance of winning the division. Good thing is the Eagles still haven’t face them yet and a sweep of the ‘Boys will go a long way in assuring they don’t win the division. I’m thinking they go 10-6.
Wild Card Contenders
The 2-3 Falcons are an average team who are worse than last year even after they traded the farm for Julio Jones who by the way is out of the next game with a hamstring injury. Many thought their offense would be unstoppable with Ryan, Jones, White, Gonzalez and Turner but that has not been the case at all. They have been poor both offensively(21st in points, 19th in yards) and defensively(24th in points and 24th in yards). They’ve lost to the Bears, Buccaneers, and Packers. They beat the Eagles after Vick went out and edged out Seattle.
Remaining Schedule: vs Carolina(1-4), @ Detroit(5-0), @ Indy(0-5), vs New Orleans(4-1), vs Tennessee(3-2), vs Minnesota(1-4), @ Houston(3-2), @ Carolina(1-4), vs Jax(1-4), @ New Orleans(4-1), and vs Tampa Bay(3-2).
Combined current record of remaining opponents: 26-29
I see just two easy ones which are at Indy and vs Jacksonville. I wouldn’t be surprised if any of the other teams beat them. They still have a lot of talent and are very good at home so I think they finish 9-7.
The young Bucs are sitting at 3-2 but have not played well. They just got thrashed by the Niners 48-3. Their three wins came against Minnesota, Atlanta, and Indy by a combined 14 points. They are struggling both offensively and defensively. They are scoring just 17.4 ppg(28th) and average just 336.6 ypg(20th). Defensively, they give up the 22nd most points at 25.0 per game and 378 yards per game(23rd). They have some good young talent but don’t look ready to roll with the big boys.
vs New Orleans(4-1), vs Chicago(2-3), @ New Orleans(4-1), vs Houston(3-2), @ Green Bay(5-0), @ Tennessee(3-2), vs Carolina(1-4), @ Jax(1-4), vs Dallas(2-2), @ Carolina (1-4), and @ Atlanta(2-3).
Combined current record of remaining opponents: 28-26.
Their next six games are going to be tough and will prove exactly what kind of team they are. If they come out of it 3-3 or better they will have a good chance at winning a wild card spot. With the way they’ve played so far, it’s unlikely. I think they finish 9-7 and out of the playoffs.
Last year, even though they had a poor cast of receivers and O-line, the Bears’ defense kept them in games and allowed them to make it to the NFC Championship game. This season, their defense is poor as well. The defense is allowing 24.4 ppg(17th) and 419.6 ypg(29th). Peppers' MCL sprain isn't helping things either.The Lions ran for 181 yards on them last Monday night. Castillo wanted to emulate the Bears defense and now he’s accomplished that. Their O-line is still terrible having already given up 18 sacks(3rd most) and 31 QB hits(4th most). They’ve beaten the Falcons and the Panthers so far.
vs Minnesota(1-4), @ Tampa Bay(3-2), @ Philly(1-4), vs Detroit(5-0), vs San Diego(4-1),@ Oakland(3-2), vs KC(2-3), @ Denver(1-4), vs Seattle(2-3), @ Green Bay(5-0), @ Minnesota(1-4).
Combined current record of remaining opponents: 29-27.
Bears have quite a few tough games in the schedule. The Tampa Bay, Philly, Detroit, San Diego, Oakland and Green Bay games are going to be a pain. Maybe Minnesota as well. Based on what I’ve seen so far, I don’t see this team making the playoffs. 8-8 or 9-7 at best.
The Eagles have not looked like a good team but fortunately for them neither do most of the other teams in the NFC. The Eagles are still not out of it. Now, it is not likely that they will go 9-2 and make the playoffs. Frankly, it will be somewhat of a miracle. However, as we’ve seen before, miracles do happen. Even if they finish 10-6, that still might not be enough to make the playoffs due to tie-breakers. Check out this link for tie-breaking procedures. Like I said, until they are mathematically out of it, I am still going to hold out some hope, at least until this Sunday. If they lose to the Skins, it’s over for good. Under the current playoff format, no team in NFL history has made the playoffs starting 1-5. Even if the NFC East or the entire NFC is not that good, they are not that bad either. 3,100 words later, all I’m saying is all hope is not lost and don’t give up yet. As a wise man once said, "Eff you, we’re winning anyway!"