Yesterday, I explained why I believe the Eagles are a "true" 9 win team. In fact, prior to yesterday's post, I had them at 8-8, so I actually became more bullish. Today, I want to take a more conventional look at the season, using the schedule. First, though, a note about yesterday's post. (If you have no issues with yesterday's analysis, skip to the next section).
A lot of people seem uncomfortable with that type of analysis. The problem, I think, is that assigning such "values" lends an appearance of false precision and undue confidence. To say you expect the Eagles to produce points at a rate 15% better than league average sounds very precise (and wrongfully so). However, I don't believe we're actually falling victim to that issue here. Allow me to give you the base-case projection from the beginning, showing, more clearly, how I got to the assumption values.
I expect the Eagles offense to produce points at a slightly higher rate than the 2011 team. Similarly, I do NOT expect the team to produce points at a rate as high as the 2009 and 2010 teams. I won't go into the details, but comparing the rosters, luck statistics, and looking at the talent on team right now, I think that's a reasonable assumption.
Therefore, using this rationale, I expect the team's points production to fall between 2010 (+25%) and 2011 (+12%). That's our range. I chose +15% because it's closer to the 2011 team, which I thought was the more reasonable expectation, and because it's a round number, making it easy to use/explain.
For the defense, I expect this year's team to allow points at a rate similar to the 2010 team. For this assumption, I started with last year's defense (-22%). We essentially KNOW that the Eagles will not turn the ball over at anywhere close to the rate they did last year. I've covered this before, but if you disagree, take a look at the older posts on EaglesRewind.com for proof. Additionally, the Eagles DB corps figures to be improved as well, simply because last year was so terrible (being just bad will be an improvement). Overall, terrible play + terrible luck left us with a -22% value last year. Realistically, that sets one boundary of our range. In fact, the turnover luck was so historically bad (mostly in fumbles lost and fumble recovery rate) that our boundary is likely much higher than that (-15% perhaps?). Couple that with a look at the new personnel and the easier schedule, and I'm left with a team that should ALLOW points at a similar rate to the 2010 team.
That's all. Basically, I'm using what we know about previous Eagles teams to provide context for this year. The "values" actually reveal themselves. From there, it's just a matter of using those values to compute projected Points For and Points Against, and putting those points into the Pythagorean Win formula (which is close to unassailable as far as accuracy goes). You can ignore the numbers. Just know that my base-case expectation is for the team to produce points at a rate slightly better than in 2011 and allow points at a rate similar to 2010. In all likelihood, that gets you to 9 wins.
I hope that cleared a few things up, as far as how that analysis was put together. I left out most of the actual details regarding comparing rosters/stats, but that's the general framework.
Now to the point. Just because the Eagles should win 9 games doesn't mean they will. The schedule plays a big role in team performance. Here, of course, is good news. The Eagles, by virtue of finishing last in the division last year, get relatively easier schedule this year. I do this a bit differently from others. They idea here is NOT to pick every individual game. Teams lose games they should win (and win games they shouldn't) all the time. Instead, I break the schedule into sections and try to find out what the Eagles would NEED to do to realistically reach 9 wins.
So this isn't what the Eagles WILL do, it's what the Eagles HAVE to do, if they are to perform as well as I project. During the season, we can check back in with these benchmarks to see how on/off track the team is.
Here is the schedule:
Section 1 - The Sprint Start
3 games, 11 days. The Eagles first stretch, in my view, comprises these 3 games (Redskins, Chargers, Chiefs). The Chargers and Chiefs are both home games. The Eagles, realistically, NEED to win 2 of these 3 games. Again, it doesn't really matter which two teams they beat (beating the Redskins would obviously help within the division). However, the San Diego and KC games count as part of the "easy" side to the schedule. San Diego is a mess and they're coming across the country for an away game. Kansas City is much improved (I think they'll challenge for the playoffs, maybe get to 9 wins as well), and given the Andy Reid return and the McNabb ceremony, it'll be a crazy game.
Benchmark: 2 Wins
Section 2: The Darkness
Three straight away games. Denver, NY Giants, Tampa Bay.
This is the part of the season after which I expect a fair amount of hand-wringing. If/when that happens, remember what we've said here. The Eagles will probably lose 2 of these games, maybe even 3. Denver is a beast; Peyton Manning against this defense is a very bad matchup. I don't think the Giants will be as good as most expect, but it's still a road divisional game. Tampa Bay is a bit of a wild card.
The key here is getting 1 win. Again, it's most helpful if it comes against the Giants (division) or Bucs (conference), but that's a secondary concern.
Benchmark: 1 Win
Section 3: The Meat
At this point, the benchmark for the team is 3 Wins (so a 3-3 record). Now comes a 5 games stretch before the week 12 bye.
Cowboys, Giants, @Oakland, @Green Bay, Redskins
Three home divisional games. An away game against the Packers. That's a tough slate. Oakland is still Oakland. The entire NFC East figures to be tightly bunched this year, in terms of team ability (though I'm skeptical of the Cowboys). As a result, I don't see any NFC East team sweeping the others. The Eagles need to win 1 of these three divisional home games, as well as 1 more win from the remaining 4 games.
Benchmark: 2 Wins.
Section 4: Dessert
This is the important part. According to my "plan", the Eagles need to be 5 - 6 at the bye week. Not a great record, but it's good enough, because the final stretch of games sets up very well for the team.
Home games against the Cardinals and Lions. Either of these teams could "surprise" the league (the Lions are a popular pick), but at the same time, they don't seem unwinnable either. If the Eagles are as good as projected, a home game against the Cardinals shouldn't be a major hurdle.
Home game against the Bears, who are the same as they always are (great defense, erratic offense). Shapes up as a fairly good matchup for the Eagles, provided they can score some points.
@ Cowboys. Road divisional game to close the season, but it's against what I project to be the weakest divisional team. If the Eagles are to get to 9 wins and a playoff spot, the finale is likely to be a key game.
Cardinals, Lions, @Vikings, Bears, @Cowboys
The question here is: Can the Eagles win 4 out of 5? It's not a hard stretch, with 3 home games and an away game against the Vikings. Remember that to start this final push, the team will be coming off a Bye week, which should help (as well as increase the chances of a win versus the Cardinals).
Benchmark: 4 Wins
Putting it Together
Adding up the benchmarks gets you to 9 wins. To repeat, this isn't what I think the Eagles WILL do, it's what I think the Eagles HAVE to do in order to fulfill my projection of 9 wins. Overall, I think it's fairly conservative over the first 3 sections, then perhaps aggressive over the final stretch.
The biggest thing to note here is the timing of the schedule's "difficulty". It comes early, meaning the team could absolutely lose 3 consecutive games and still be in decent shape. It's probably a bit more risky with a first-year coach, since presumably losing 3 straight games will invite a lot of pressure/skepticism (maybe a QB change?). However, don't forget that the last 5 games are very favorable.
Finally, we can summarize the "W/L goals" as follows:
- Start strong. Win 2 of the first 3 games.
- Tread water.
Win 2 of the next 5 games. Win 1 of 3 against toughest stretch.
- Take care of divisional business. Win
3 of 6 2 of 5 games, including at least 1 divisional game.
- Capitalize on the schedule after the bye. Win 4 of the final 5 games, across an easy (relatively speaking) slate of opponents. For bonus points and a potential divisional crown, stick it to the Cowboys in the finale.
That's my course. 9 wins seems achievable. Obviously, a lot can go wrong. We'll check back in during the season to see if the team is hitting these benchmarks.
As always, you can follow/comment/complain @EaglesRewind.