Each week, Patrick Wall previews the upcoming game (or bye week) by looking at the biggest storylines of the week.
What's the Difference?
There may come a day for sober reflection on this season. There may be a day to analyze and overanalyze each throw, each run, each coaching decision. There may come a day, on some cold and dark evening, deep in the heart of winter, where Eagles fans will need answers.
But that day is not today. And it definitely won't come while the Eagles are playing this well.
At this point, the biggest surprise of the Eagles' season might not be how well the team is playing. It might actually be how so few of us saw this coming. By virtue of their 34-3 throttling of the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Eagles are now owners of by far the best point differential in the NFL.
With 92 points scored and only 27 given up (that's only two touchdowns, for those keeping score at home), the Eagles' point differential sits at 65. The next highest team is the New England Patriots, whose differential sits at a paltry 36.
In general, differential is a useful way to see which teams are among the elite in the NFL. Since 2011, eight of the 10 participants in the Super Bowl have finished inside the top four in this stat (the outliers being, ironically, the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens and New York Giants in 2012 and 2011, respectively). The logic makes sense - the best teams score lots of points and down't allow other teams to score lots of points, right?
Below is a list of teams over the past decade whose point differentials through the first three games have been similar to the Philadelphia's:
|Year||Team||Record||Points For||Points Against||Point Differential||Season Record||Playoffs?|
|2015||Cardinals||3-0||126||49||77||13-3||Lost in NFCCG|
|2013||Broncos||3-0||127||71||56||13-3||Lost Super Bowl XLVIII|
|2013||Seahawks||3-0||86||27||59||13-3||Won Super Bowl XLVIII|
|2009||Saints||3-0||120||56||64||13-3||Won Super Bowl XLIV|
|2007||Patriots||3-0||114||35||79||16-0||Lost Super Bowl XLII|
|2007||Steelers||3-0||97||26||71||10-6||Lost in Wild Card Round|
|2006||Bears||3-0||79||23||56||13-3||Lost in Super Bowl XLI|
|2006||Chargers||2-1||80||23||57||14-2||Lost in Divisional Round|
Not too shabby, huh? Five of the eight qualifying teams went to the Super Bowl, including two winners. Heck, both of those teams actually had lower differentials than the Eagles through three games. Plus, every single team on the list made the playoffs, eight of them won at least one postseason game, and all but one finished the regular season with more than 10 wins.
Of course, there is one major, unavoidable, "IMPORTANT"-written-on-a-giant-neon-sign-sized caveat here. Of all the teams on this list, only the 2016 Eagles did this with a rookie quarterback. So while it's absolutely impressive that the Eagles are even in this company, it's fair to wonder when (or maybe it's if, now?) Carson Wentz will actually hit that rookie wall.
We already know Wentz is in historic territory here. He's the only quarterback in NFL history to throw more than 100 passes without an interception. So through three games, it's essentially impossible to predict how he'll look as the season progresses and the pressure intensifies.
At this point, ESPN's standard projections say Wentz will throw for 4,101 yards, 27 touchdowns and no picks (take that, Nick Foles!). That is obviously not going to happen, but if the first two come to pass, Wentz would be the first rookie quarterback in league history to pull it off. Again, will that happen? Almost definitely not. But even the mere fact that it's not out of the realm of possibility is cause for excitement.
You Said It!
It took a break last week, but much like the Death Star, the You Said It! turbines are now fully operational. This week, we wanted to know whether you thought the Eagles' current point differential was sustainable.
Hi friends, #YouSaidIt is back! This week's question:— Patrick Wall (@ByPatrickWall) September 27, 2016
The Eagles lead the NFL in point differential with 65. Do you think it's sustainable?
@ByPatrickWall The NFL is so up and down all the time not much is sustainable. However, I do think this is an 11 or 12 win team.— Football (@Randyljobst) September 27, 2016
@ByPatrickWall I voted no only because it's so drastic. I can't see them being that dominant for an entire season.— Howie Do-dat (@MattGrumbrecht) September 27, 2016
For the first time all season, the pessimistic view won out! To be fair, the pessimism is probably actually realism - or at least, that's what a pessimist would say. Wentz is bound to struggle at some point this year, and I'd venture to guess that the defense will eventually get scored on through the air. The key for the remaining 13 games will be the degree to which both things happen.
Congratulations to those who were featured here, your My Buddy dolls are in the mail.
The Schwartz Is With Us
For all the praise being heaped on Wentz and the offense, the defense really deserves even more kudos. You know, the group with six takeaways, 10 sacks and no passing touchdowns allowed.
Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz has his guys flying around and causing all kinds of beautiful mayhem. As BGN Radio's John Barchard said on the podcast, the Eagles may have the best safety tandem in the NFL to go along with an elite front four.
Schwartz has been rotating his players, even at middle linebacker, where Jordan Hicks played about 82 percent of the snaps against Pittsburgh. Guys are staying fresh, and making the most of their opportunities. Brandon Graham and Fletcher Cox are tied for fifth in the league with three sacks, and the defense is allowing the third-worst quarterback rating, with signal-callers averaging a rating of 66.1 through three games.
...since the 2003 Kansas City Chiefs, every team ranked No. 1 in DVOA after Week 2 has made the playoffs and finished at least 10-6. These teams have averaged 12.5 wins and finished with an average DVOA rank of 3.6.
But because this column has more couching than the 1999 Browns, it's important to note that the Eagles are unlikely to remain in the top spot next week, since after Week 4 the rankings are adjusted for quality of teams played. Still, the Eagles' offense and defense are ranked in the top five, which is pretty impressive.
Maybe the best news about the defense is that, barring injury, their recent performance is more likely to continue than that of the offense. Lane Johnson is expected to miss at least a handful of games to suspension after the bye, and a Wentz regression, however brief, is extremely likely. But if anything, the defense could get better. Leodis McKelvin is no world-beater, but his return should help the defensive back group. And guys should find themselves more comfortable as the year goes on, as is usually the case after a scheme change.
The "yeah, but" qualifier of the Browns and the Bears is now gone. The haters and losers will now say some variation of "it's only been three games", but those three games haven't just been impressive - they've been historic. It's unclear whether these good times will continue to roll, but one thing's for sure: if nothing else, the rest of the ride will be even more wild than the start.