The Giants are who we thought they were! I had a strong suspicion that the Giants hype was built largely upon a really easy schedule, and it looks like that was correct. Unfortunately, I really heavily on the numbers, so I ended up taking a loss on both sides. The Eagles covered against the Giants (by 24 points) but failed to clear the over. That gives me a loss on both sides. To be fair, though, I did say I would actually touch the line. But this column isn't much fun if I don't take a side each week, so losses it is. Readers split the action, winning with the Eagles but losing on the over.
This week's game:
Another "big" game for the Eagles, because the Cardinals are currently 5-1 and appear as though they could be competition for a top playoff seed. Similar to last week, I'm skeptical. The Cardinals point differential is just 21 points, which ranks 10th in the league. That means the teams "expected" record is just 3.6 wins. Now, we can't be too dismissive here, because the team took a -20 hit in its game against Denver (in Denver). By comparison, the Eagles PD is 51, for an "expected" record of 4.1 wins.
Beyond that, the Cardinals are a very tough team to peg on paper. The team has wins against the Giants, Washington, and the Raiders. As we know, that doesn't tell us anything about the Cardinals beyond "they're not terrible". It is interesting to note that they've won those games by 11, 10, and 11 points. Those are strong margins, but if the Cardinals were really a great team, we'd expect to see them blow a few bad teams away.
Of more concern, if you're an Eagles fan, are the Cardinals' wins against San Diego and San Francisco. Both of those came within the first 3 weeks of the season, so they're informational value is declining, but they still stand as high quality wins, albeit home wins.
Eagles Overall DVOA: 14.5% (6th)
Cardinals Overall DVOA: 0.6% (15th)
Eagles Offense: -2.9% (18th)
Cardinals Defense: -10% (5th)
Eagles Defense: -6.3% (8th)
Cardinals Offense: -11.2% (25th)
The Eagles have a big advantage on STs (as they have against everyone) and rank 1st in the league in STs DVOA. The Cardinals rank 15th.
The DVOA breakdown is quite positive for the Eagles. They rank as the better team by a significant margin. Additionally, the Cardinals offense is the weakest unit of the group. Given that the Eagles are underdogs, DVOA would lead us to take the points and side with the good guys.
Let's look at a few comparative match-ups:
The Cardinals and Eagles, despite only having played 6 games each, actually share 3 common previous opponents. Each team has played the Giants, Washington, and San Francisco. The results:
That's an advantage for the Cardinals. Against the same competition, the Cardinals have performed a bit better on balance. However, the difference isn't stark enough to provide a really strong signal towards the Cardinals.
Using our DVOA comps:
The Cardinals offense does not rank similarly to any other Eagles opponent thus far. Arizona is much worse than both Washington and New York, but is a lot better than Jacksonville. Of course, against those teams the Eagles allowed 34, 0, and 17 points. That's very low value information given the dispersion.
From the flip side, the Eagles defense is a bit better than San Francisco, against which the Cardinals scored 23 points. If we write off the Giants game as an anomaly, that result fits well with the results from the previous paragraph. Overall, it gives us an expected point range for the Cardinals of 20-24 points. For the season, Arizona is averaging 23.3 points per game, so our range looks very reasonable.
The Cardinals defense is very good. It's better by DVOA than any team the Eagles have faced this year. The closest comparison is with Indianapolis and, to a lesser extent, San Francisco. Against Indy (in Indy), the Eagles scored 30 points. Against San Francisco, the Eagles scored 21 points, with ZERO coming from the offense. As I explained two weeks ago, it is NOT correct to just write that off. However, it is a warning sign we need to account for.
On the other side, the Cardinals have allowed 14, 14, and 20 points against the Giants, 49ers, and Washington. Each of those teams ranks almost identically with the Eagles by offensive DVOA. If we use all of those results, we come to an average of about 20 points and a range of 14 - 24 points (skewed to the low end because of the 49ers game). Let's take the midpoint of 18 rather than 20.
BUT, we still haven't accounted (at least fully) for the fact that A) the Eagles are coming off a bye week and B) the Eagles have a very significant STs advantage. Qualitatively, people tend to place a lot more weight on the bye week advantage than is probably warranted, but it can't be ignored. Last season, the Eagles also played the Cardinals just after the bye week, beating them 24-21. But the spread was 3.5... As I said, the bye week is an advantage, but not a huge one. I'll give it 1 point, moving the Eagles to 19.
Now, STs must be accounted for, but as everyone knows, Darren Sproles probably deserves a lot of credit for the Eagles great return game. He's currently listed as questionable, but I'm operating under the assumption that he won't play. That's a shame, because the Cardinals' punt team is particularly weak, at least according to Football Outsiders. There are just 5 teams that have worse punting units, whereas the Eagles have the second best return unit. Even without Sproles, that's a potential source of variance in the Eagles favor. However, as good as Cody Parkey has been, Arizona has a sizeable advantage on the Kick/FG side. That seems really strange, and I'm still figuring out how that's possible, but I can't ignore the numbers. That's a long way of saying STs is largely a wash. If Darren Sproles were definitely playing, I'd be inclined to add 2-3 points for the Eagles. With him potentially missing the game, I'll dial it back to 1.
That moves us to an expected point output of 20 for the Eagles. That's REALLY low, especially considering the team is averaging 30.5 points per game. Fortunately, the spread is 3, which means the Eagles at 20 and the Cardinals at 20-24 points largely points towards taking the points. The big margin of safety from the Eagles difference from average just increases the confidence a bit more. Take the Eagles +3.
Lastly, with two good defenses and no Darren Sproles, it looks like under 48 is the play. That goes against our general rule (always take the Eagles over), but the breakdown points strongly in that direction. Nick Foles, as he's playing now, and Carson Palmer do not seem likely to combine for a shootout. If Sproles really is out, I think the under is actually a really attractive play.