Crunching The Numbers: NFL Week 15

Jim O'Connor-USA TODAY Sports

Well, that wasn't much fun. The Eagles still hold onto the division lead in the rankings this week, but they don't have a ton of room for error - which reflects the situation in reality.

The only real constant is change. And change slammed the Philadelphia Eagles this week like a freight train. All of the streaks and consistencies came crashing down in Minnesota as the Eagles let a great opportunity slip away from them like sand through a sieve.

But the one thing that didn't slip through the cracks was hope. This is because the Cowboys lost in spectacular fashion on Sunday, allowing the Eagles to retain their division lead. Perhaps I should modify my first sentence: the only real constant is change... and Dallas losing in December.

So what does Philadelphia have in store for them this week? We'll see in a minute, but first let's check out how they stack up against the rest of the league in this week's rankings, where the Eagles find themselves one spot behind Brandon's take:

Must Reads

The Rankings

Rank Team Score Last Week
1 Seattle 19.080 1
2 Kansas City 17.140 2
3 Carolina 13.019 3
4 San Francisco 12.740 6
5 Denver 11.602 4
6 New Orleans 9.999 5
7 Cincinnati 7.478 7
8 New England 6.331 8
9 Arizona 4.690 10
10 San Diego 3.788 11
11 Indianapolis 2.940 13
12 Philadelphia 2.570 9
13 St. Louis 1.583 16
14 Miami 0.880 12
15 Baltimore 0.826 15
16 Detroit 0.004 14
17 Dallas -1.175 17
18 Chicago -1.822 18
19 Green Bay -2.801 19
20 Pittsburgh -3.099 22
21 Tennessee -4.265 21
22 Tampa Bay -4.801 20
23 Buffalo -5.957 23
24 Cleveland -8.954 24
25 Minnesota -10.507 26
26 Atlanta -11.027 28
27 Oakland -12.639 25
28 New York Giants -13.239 27
29 New York Jets -14.291 30
30 Houston -14.614 29
31 Washington -15.120 31
32 Jacksonville -20.704 32

The basement of the top ten saw a little stir this week as the "on the bubble" teams either had great performances or awful ones. Teams who are most likely on the outside looking in this season (Arizona, San Diego) find themselves surging while division leaders took some steps back (Philadelphia, Detroit). And then there are the stubborn teams, like Kansas City and Cincinnati, that always manage to stay put where they are no matter how they play. I suppose that bodes well for them, but only time will tell.

And then there are the Eagles at twelve, which is about their average around the Internet. They are still holding on to that third seed, although it's not nearly as comfortable as it was last week. Their play will have to revert back to how it was throughout November if they want to have a game in January. What happened on Sunday isn't the end of the world (thanks largely to the aforementioned Dallas loss), but it will have to be an anomaly for the Eagles to continue their playoff run. Yet another reason to look at the postseason picture!

Playoff Picture

PLAYOFF PICTURE
Seed AFC NFC
1 Kansas City (2) Seattle (1)
2 Cincinnati (7) Carolina (3)
3 New England (8) Philadelphia (12)
4 Indianapolis (11) Detroit (16)
5 Denver (5) San Francisco (4)
6 San Diego (10) New Orleans (6)

They are a little less accurate this week, with San Diego overtaking Baltimore for the sixth seed and Detroit remaining the fourth seed (although not by much). Cincinnati had a great chance to overtake New England like I've been predicting but blew it with a putrid loss to the Steelers. The Saints were demoted to the sixth seed after their loss to the Rams, but they should still take the first-round bye regardless. Things will be looking grim for them should they have to travel in the playoffs.

As I said before, the Eagles are still in relatively good shape. They are most definitely farther along than most people expected them to be in Chip Kelly's first season. Philadelphia will have to take care of business if they want to keep it that way, however. And it all starts with the Bears.

Scouting the Enemy

The Eagles will certainly have their hands full when Chicago comes to town on Sunday night. The Bears have a very good offense headlined by their tall, physical receivers and reliable running back, Matt Forte. The defense is another story altogether. That will be the primary focus here, because Philadelphia should anticipate to win a shootout if they want to celebrate in the locker room this Sunday.

The Running Game. Did I really need to say this one? After breaking the franchise record against the Lions, LeSean McCoy got a measly eight carries against Minnesota. That won't be the case this week, as the Bears give up a hilarious (and league-worst) 5.2 yards per carry. There is no way that they'll be shutting down the league's leading rusher and I think Kelly may have learned his lesson last week and will stick to a balanced game plan.

Pass Protection. Nick Foles hasn't been lights-out recently, so I'm a little apprehensive on saying that the passing game will succeed. We all know that holding the pocket hasn't been the Eagles' strength this season, but the Bears aren't very good at rushing the passer (1.9 sacks per game). This might be a byproduct of teams being able to run so well on them, but if the Eagles can open up play action - which they will - it won't be hard to imagine Foles having a decent pocket to throw from.

Turnovers. I'm not as confident on this one as I usually am. The Bears do get picks (3.84% interception rate) and have some talent in the secondary. However, Jay Cutler isn't exactly the greatest quarterback in terms of ball security. If the game gets out of hand and Nick Foles has to force some throws, there will be picks. In all other cases, I'll hedge my bets on Cutler tossing an interception before Foles does.

Coming off that loss, this season can shape up in one of two ways. It can end like 2008 after the loss to Washington, or it can end like 2010 after the loss to Minnesota. Either way, just like those seasons, we'll have both fond and not-so-fond memories of the way things played out, which is more than we can say about 2011 or 2012. These Eagles have already shown that they are on the rise for seasons to come. An idea of how long it will take to reach the top will be given with their play in the last two games left in their pleasantly surprising 2013 campaign.

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