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Crunching The Numbers: Week 14

With three games to go, playoff contenders are beginning to separate (except for the NFC North, which is going in the other direction). The Eagles (finally!) have sole possession of first place and don't plan on slowing down now, as the numbers show.

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

You can say a lot about the Eagles. You can say that they got to play the Lions in the snow, which took out Reggie Bush and effectively neutralized Calvin Johnson. You can say that they haven't played a team's starting running back since Washington and that the trend will probably continue next week. You can say, in a nutshell, that they have gotten lucky, but you can't go against the numbers. The numbers say that the Eagles are ninth in scoring offense, thirteenth in scoring defense, and seventh in turnover margin per game. In terms of the division, they are in the driver's seat, but let's see where they are in the rankings (check out Brandon's opinion here):

The Rankings

Rank Team Score Last Week
1 Seattle 17.465 1
2 Kansas City 15.423 3
3 Carolina 13.369 2
4 Denver 13.020 5
5 New Orleans 12.467 6
6 San Francisco 11.312 4
7 Cincinnati 8.647 7
8 New England 6.825 8
9 Philadelphia 5.011 9
10 Arizona 4.624 10
11 San Diego 2.941 17
12 Miami 0.922 18
13 Indianapolis 0.363 11
14 Detroit 0.106 12
15 Baltimore 0.003 15
16 St. Louis -0.043 13
17 Dallas -0.460 14
18 Chicago -1.806 20
19 Green Bay -2.478 19
20 Tampa Bay -2.918 23
21 Tennessee -3.209 16
22 Pittsburgh -3.927 21
23 Buffalo -7.613 22
24 Cleveland -8.127 25
25 Oakland -9.003 24
26 Minnesota -12.119 28
27 New York Giants -12.143 26
28 Atlanta -12.503 30
29 Houston -13.663 29
30 New York Jets -14.140 31
31 Washington -15.409 27
32 Jacksonville -20.953 32

Boy, is the middle getting muddled. You've got the Colts sliding two spots, Miami and San Diego both jumping six, Dallas and the Rams both dropping three... all this does is reinforce the current playoff picture in the NFC and make things all the more confusing in the AFC. Things certainly look like they will come down to Week 17, which seems like eons away at this point. It's hard to imagine how things will look once the dust settles on December 29.

But what about Philadelphia? Well, they added about two points to their score and stayed put. This is still consistent with how they are ranked on the Internet. And, given their Jekyll-and-Hyde play on Sunday, this seems about right. The important takeaway is that they've been doing enough of the right things on a regular basis to put them in a great position to make a run at the postseason. Speaking of which...

Playoff Picture

1 Kansas City (2) Seattle (1)
2 Cincinnati (7) Carolina (3)
3 New England (8) Philadelphia (9)
4 Indianapolis (13) Detroit (14)
5 Denver (4) New Orleans (5)
6 San Diego (11) San Francisco (6)

The NFC picture is starting to settle in, like I mentioned before. The combined losses of the Cowboys and Lions allowed the Eagles to jump up to third in the official playoff picture, as I've been predicting for the past several weeks. In the AFC, the Colts finally fell to the fourth seed, as the rankings have shown for practically all season, but the Bengals are still placed with a bye. Interestingly enough, Cincinnati still has a shot at the second seed since they own a head-to-head tiebreaker over the Patriots. They also have a decidedly easier schedule than Tom Brady and Co. As far as Kansas City and Denver... I give up. It's a flaw in my system that I'll address during the offseason. I don't see anything there changing in the last three weeks.

The Eagles have controlled their destiny since they became tied with Dallas for the division lead, but now they set the pace rather than the other way around. The rankings predict that they should hold on to the third seed for the rest of the way out, but there are still three very important games to play. Starting with the first one up:

Scouting the Enemy

This week, the Philadelphia Eagles travel up north to take on the Minnesota Vikings, who in spite of their abysmal record have been playing with a lot of tenacity the past few weeks. Philly might catch a lucky break if Adrian Peterson doesn't play (or isn't even at full health), but they still put up a good fight against the Ravens in Baltimore without him last week. Regardless, I expect the Eagles to win this game, mostly because they are peaking at the right time and are a strong road team. Here is where I specifically think Philadelphia will excel:

Turnovers. In spite of Nick's first interception last week, the Eagles have been taking good care of the ball, and the Vikings, well... they don't. They lose almost one fumble a game (0.8) and have an interception rate of 3.1. Both are below average, although I suppose the interception rate deserves an asterisk since the Vikings have basically had open tryouts for the quarterback position.

The Passing Game. While Minnesota's run defense is just slightly below average, they are giving up seven yards per pass attempt. Nick Foles averaged eight yards per attempt last Sunday, and that was in the snow with a terrible first half. It still needs to be determined how long-term of an answer he is for this franchise, but he should post a decent stat line on Sunday.

Scoring. The Vikings have some pieces in place on offense (except for quarterback, of course), but their once-vaunted defense is just atrocious. They are second-worst to the Redskins in points allowed with opponents scoring around thirty points a game. Chip Kelly should be able to work his magic this week when scheming up his game plan against this embarrassing defense.

The Eagles are streaking and the Cowboys are reeling. Reminds me of 2008... But by how much is still the question. Three more games. A one-game hold on the division lead. It's time to nut up or shut up.

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