Crunching The Numbers: Week 16

Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Merry Christmas! I hope everyone wished for a postseason berth. Enjoy your time today with friends and family!

Wow, what a game! The Eagles really showed up in a game that technically meant nothing to them and everything to their opponent. Of course, I stand by that there is no such thing as a "meaningless" game - you play to win, it's as simple as that. Or, as Chip Kelly said, "We're from Philadelphia and we fight." I couldn't think of a better way to invoke the spirit of the city. And picture if Chip had rested the starters. Sure, he would have been protecting them from injury, but could you imagine how they would feel going into Dallas with the Minnesota game as their last performance as opposed to the showstopping masterpiece they presented us on Sunday? It was a huge momentum shift that primes them for a postseason run, not a season-ending letdown.

On a personal note, it was even better for me because I was there. That was only the second Eagles game I have attended in my life, with the other being the now-famous "44-6" game in 2008. If you're keeping track at home, in the two games I have been to the Eagles have outscored their opponents 98-17. Clearly, as Eagles fans you all have an obligation to pitch in and send me to as many games as possible. Just putting that out there.

Enough friendly chit-chat. The rankings are below, and make sure to read Brandon's take if you haven't by now.

The Rankings

Rank Team Score Last Week
1 Seattle 16.945 1
2 Kansas City 13.958 2
3 Denver 13.440 5
4 Carolina 13.432 3
5 San Francisco 13.064 4
6 New England 9.352 8
7 Cincinnati 9.219 7
8 New Orleans 8.473 6
9 Philadelphia 6.505 12
10 Arizona 4.856 9
11 Indianapolis 4.625 11
12 San Diego 3.912 10
13 St. Louis 3.018 13
14 Detroit -0.668 16
15 Miami -0.918 14
16 Dallas -1.365 17
17 Baltimore -2.791 15
18 Buffalo -2.877 23
19 Pittsburgh -3.254 20
20 Tennessee -3.905 21
21 Green Bay -4.000 19
22 Tampa Bay -5.797 22
23 Chicago -6.112 18
24 Cleveland -9.877 24
25 New York Jets -11.826 29
26 Atlanta -12.024 26
27 New York Giants -12.274 28
28 Oakland -12.519 27
29 Minnesota -12.614 25
30 Washington -14.190 31
31 Houston -16.193 30
32 Jacksonville -19.234 32

Interestingly enough, with only one game to go, the top ten went through a surprising overhaul. Seattle is still head-and-shoulders above the rest which is why they remained on top in spite of their loss. But Denver, Carolina, San Francisco, New England, New Orleans, Philadelphia, and Arizona all find themselves in a different position than the previous week. The other teams are starting to fall into obscurity as the postseason seeding starts to become more clear. Some fighters like Arizona, San Diego, Miami, and Baltimore are all hanging out in the middle. Things do not bode well for Pittsburgh at nineteenth.

The Eagles jumped to ninth, which is where the were after the Snow Bowl before laying an egg against the Vikings. This is slightly above the average around the web. In terms of the rankings, they are seven spots ahead of the Cowboys, which puts them in a pretty good position. They still have to take care of business, but essentially the Eagles are right to be favored in this game. Let's take deeper look at the playoff picture.

Playoff Picture

PLAYOFF PICTURE
Seed AFC NFC
1 Kansas City (2) Seattle (1)
2 New England (6) Carolina (4)
3 Cincinnati (7) Philadelphia (9)
4 Indianapolis (11) Detroit (14)
5 Denver (3) San Francisco (5)
6 San Diego (12) New Orleans (8)

Things are really starting to come together after the reshuffling of the top ten I mentioned earlier. There was a big swing in both conferences. New England finally surpassed Cincinnati in the rankings to snag the AFC's second seed in my predicted playoff picture. The opposite happened in the NFC, where Carolina usurped New Orleans for the second seed, which reflects the prediction I had been making since, well, forever.

The NFC is probably the most perfect alignment I've ever had between my rankings and the actual postseason seeding, with Detroit being the stubborn odd man out. It should be noted that the Lions have been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs even after Chicago and Green Bay spent the past two months trying to force-feed the division title to them. However, the overall play from those two teams has just been so bad that they have been unable to unseat the disappointing Lions in my rankings. People have been making fun of how bad the NFC East has been recently, but they have been nowhere near as mediocre as the NFC North.

In the AFC, San Diego is the only team there projected to make the playoffs in my system that is not currently slated to make the playoffs in the official standings. Unlike Detroit, the Chargers do have an outside shot of making the playoffs, but they will need help in the form of losses by Miami to the Jets and Baltimore to the Bengals. When you consider the fact that no wild-card hopeful in the AFC controls their own destiny, there are worse positions to be in.

As I said before, the Eagles are in good position to earn the third seed, as their most immediate competition (the Cowboys) are ranked sixteenth. Even though division games are wild, I'll come out and say that the Eagles should beat Dallas even if Tony Romo was completely healthy. Statistically, they are the better team, and they have momentum on their side after that win over Chicago. But what will it take to beat them?

Scouting the Enemy

This is it. The final showdown. The penultimate "boss battle." It's essentially a playoff game, with both teams facing a win-or-go-home scenario. It's Cowboys-Eagles. Philadelphia should win this matchup, but division games are always unpredictable and the Cowboys are a perfect 5-0 in that regard this season.

Here is where I think the Eagles will find the success to earn a game in January.

The Running Game. Chicago had the worst run defense in the league and Chip Kelly milked that for all it was worth (and then some). Dallas is in a similar situation, as they give up 4.8 yards per carry. They have a journeyman defensive line that should be outmatched by the athleticism that the Eagles bring to the table in their offensive line. Monte Kiffin had a good game plan against the Eagles in their first meeting, but Kelly is nothing if not a student of the game. As the saying goes, "Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me." He will not be fooled twice.

Third Down Defense. The Eagles have somewhat struggled in this regard, but Dallas is below-average in converting third downs (35.5%). When you add in the fact that the defense will be facing a purer pocket passer in Kyle Orton rather than Tony Romo and his play-extending antics, they could be poised for some solid play on third downs. It will be important if they want to get the offense back on the field.

Offensive Scoring. After last Sunday's thrashing of the Bears, the Eagles are officially the highest-scoring offense in the conference and are second in the league only to the Denver Mannings. While they were playing halfway decent football when the teams first met in October, a rash of injuries has lead to a virtual collapse of the Cowboys' defense. They give up just over twenty-seven points a game, and with the Eagles averaging four touchdowns per game on offense, it could be a big day on the scoreboard.

That about wraps things up here... I hope everyone reading this has a safe, happy, and healthy holiday. Drive carefully if you're in bad weather, and don't forget to count your blessings even if you didn't get what you wanted for Christmas. Of course, what we all really want for Christmas is a division title, but the determination of that will have to wait until Sunday.

And if you happen to get a Red Ryder BB Gun with a compass in the stock and this thing that tells time, don't shoot your eye out! Merry Christmas!

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