Crunching The Numbers: Week 17

Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

As we break out the champagne and sing along to "Auld Lang Syne," let's take one last look at the NFL teams from a numbers perspective.

Happy New Year! I hope everyone enjoyed themselves last night and has come up with a few resolutions they can stick to this year (nothing like seeing the gym crowd in January, amirite?). This time last year we were all hoping for a fresh start after Andy Reid got the ax, and boy did we ever get one. Now we can look ahead and hope for a playoff win on Saturday... isn't it funny how much can change in a year?

Below you will find the final results of my ranking algorithm. I'll be looking over the rankings and how they evolved during the season to make an ultimate judgment on how well I fared, but that will be the subject of another post. For now, make your own call on how my system fared and compare it to Brandon's power rankings.

The Rankings

Rank Team Score Last Week
1 Seattle 18.026 1
2 Denver 14.675 3
3 Kansas City 13.406 2
4 San Francisco 13.377 5
5 Carolina 12.775 4
6 New Orleans 10.211 8
7 New England 9.812 6
8 Cincinnati 9.766 7
9 Indianapolis 7.070 11
10 Philadelphia 6.123 9
11 Arizona 4.211 10
12 San Diego 3.876 12
13 St. Louis 1.227 13
14 Detroit -0.477 14
15 Pittsburgh -1.345 19
16 Miami -1.880 15
17 Dallas -2.089 16
18 Tennessee -2.367 20
19 Green Bay -3.972 21
20 Baltimore -4.379 17
21 Buffalo -5.166 18
22 Chicago -6.548 23
23 Tampa Bay -9.021 22
24 New York Jets -9.665 25
25 New York Giants -10.061 27
26 Cleveland -10.841 24
27 Atlanta -11.746 26
28 Minnesota -12.006 29
29 Oakland -13.848 28
30 Washington -14.565 30
31 Houston -15.939 31
32 Jacksonville -20.302 32

Not too much radical change overall, but I finally - finally - got a belated Christmas miracle from the Broncos. All season, everyone knew that Denver was better than Kansas City... except for my algorithm, which stubbornly placed the Chiefs as the better team. But with the Chiefs' narrow overtime loss and the Broncos' domination of Oakland, the Mannings got the mathematical nod over their division rivals. Vindication, thy taste be sweet.

The Eagles did drop one spot to tenth, but I think we can take that with a grain of salt. Dallas, to their credit, played a hard game on Sunday and gave Philly all they could handle. All of the teams ahead of them are playoff teams, even if it is arguable whether or not they are better. When we look at the playoff picture, where do the Eagles fit in?

Playoff Picture

PLAYOFF PICTURE
Seed AFC NFC
1 Denver (2) Seattle (1)
2 New England (7) Carolina (5)
3 Cincinnati (8) Philadelphia (10)
4 Indianapolis (9) Detroit (14)
5 Kansas City (3) San Francisco (4)
6 San Diego (12) New Orleans (6)

I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little proud of myself. I came up with a statistical formula that ignored how many games each team won and it almost perfectly predicted the solidified playoff picture, with the frustrating exception of the NFC North. It was almost a race to the bottom with those teams, and I guess Detroit lost in more ways than one.

Of course, there are a lot of factors in play, and until the algorithm shows that it will do this from season to season I can't rule out the possibility that there were some coincidences here. With that being said, I did correctly predict that San Diego would be the AFC's sixth seed since Week 14, Carolina would have the second seed since Week 10, and that the Eagles would win their division since Week 11. So I feel like I'm on the right track here but there is always room for improvement.

The Eagles captured the third seed, but they are ranked four spots below their first-round opponent, New Orleans. Of course, that rankings includes the Saints' home games, where they were 8-0. This doesn't render the Saints as a pushover; far from it. But there is no ignoring the fact that the Eagles' got the worst road playoff team in their conference. They will need more than that history to beat the Saints, which is what I'll look for this week.

Scouting the Enemy

As we are all well aware, the Eagles have had struggles recently beating New Orleans. The last time they defeated the Saints was 2007 when both teams had been eliminated from playoff contention. This doesn't mean the Eagles can't beat them. They are a different team than Andy Reid's group and have a ton of momentum with their 7-1 second-half run. It will be a tough test for sure, but here are some ways I think that Philadelphia can exploit their opponent on Saturday.

Rushing Defense. It's been a while since I've felt comfortable saying that the defense has a favorable matchup against their opponent, but the Saints simply don't run the ball very well. They are only averaging 3.8 yards per carry, which is what the Eagles are allowing. Everybody is afraid of Drew Brees and Jimmy Graham (and rightly so), but if the Eagles can consistently stuff the run with their base defense it will make pass coverage a lot easier, at least theoretically. It will definitely negate the effectiveness of play-action, which could potentially kill the Eagles with the receivers that the Saints employ.

Rushing Offense. It's no secret that the Eagles can run the ball. They have the best rushing offense in the NFL (5.1 yards per carry) and the league's rushing champion. For as improved as New Orleans' defense has been this year, they have been underwhelming against the run (4.6 yards per carry allowed). Establishing the run early will be crucial for the Eagles because they might find themselves in a situation where it is imperative to keep Drew Brees and the Saints' offense off the field. It should also set up some deep passes, which will be important against a decent secondary (6.1 yards per attempt allowed).

Turnovers. The Saints are dead-even on the season when it comes to turnover margin per game, and the Eagles are one of the better teams in the league at +0.8 turnover margin per game. This could very well be the key statistic for the game, as it usually is. These two teams match up well with each other and whoever takes the ball away the most will probably have the last laugh.

As daunting as the Saints are, they are not the unbeatable team we are used to seeing. The Eagles have a very decent chance of winning on Saturday if they keep their heads on straight. It will be a good, hard-fought game for sure, but I think that we can be confident that the winner will be the better team.

But we want to be able to answer the question, "Who dat team gonna beat dem Saints?" Given everything that's happened this season, why can't that team be the Eagles?

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