Football Outsiders is back with some 2017 NFL win projections. Prior to this year’s NFL Draft, the FO folks had the Eagles finishing third in the NFC East with an 8-8 record. Their latest statistical prediction model, however, has the Eagles dropping down to another fourth place finish. Via ESPN In$ider:
Dallas Cowboys: 10-6 (9.7 mean wins, SOS: 2)
New York Giants: 8-8 (7.8 mean wins, SOS: 4)
Washington Redskins: 8-8 (7.5 mean wins, SOS: 3)
Philadelphia Eagles: 7-9 (7.3 mean wins, SOS: 1)
Last year, all four NFC East teams finished in the DVOA top 10, and this again looks like the strongest division in the NFL. Our projections are a little lower for Washington and Philadelphia in 2017, but the entire division still comes out as above-average in mean projected DVOA. The problem isn't just these teams beating up on each other for six games -- the NFC East also draws the two West divisions, which means facing many of the league's top defenses. Right now in the NFC East, it isn't good enough to be good. You need to be great. With an easier schedule, an NFC South or West team doesn't have to play as well as an NFC East team to make the postseason as a wild card.
We still have Dallas repeating as the most likely scenario, although our projections may underrate the importance of their defensive losses because there may be a compound effect from losing so many players at the same position (defensive back). The Giants should be better on offense but may face regression on defense (where they went from 30th in 2015 to second in 2016). Philadelphia was better than its record in 2016 but has dropped slightly since our April forecast, while Washington has moved up a little bit. However, we still have Washington lower than last season, as the Redskins must adapt to a new offensive coordinator and overcome the loss of their top two wide receivers.
As you can see, Football Outsiders projects Philadelphia to have the league’s most difficult strength of schedule (SOS) this year. Not great, Bob.
A quick look at the Eagles’ schedule shows that it’s sure not a cake-walk. Along with playing six NFC East games, the Eagles also have to face the AFC West and the Seahawks in Seattle. Three of Philadelphia’s first four games in 2017 are all on the road. In addition to making two separate trips out of the West Coast, the Birds have to play three straight road games in December.
Now, it’s not as if the Eagles’ schedule is without advantages. Philadelphia doesn’t play a single team coming off a bye. The Eagles will have extra rest in several key matchups against division opponents.
Hopefully the Eagles can take advantage of that extra rest and fare better against their NFC East rivals this season than they did last year. Philadelphia went 2-4 in 2016 division games and one of those wins came against the Cowboys’ backups.
Though the division projects to be highly competitive again, I don’t think the Eagles should be shaking in their boots when it comes to playing their rivals. They played better than the Cowboys did in Dallas last year. They deserved to win that game but they let it get away from them. The Eagles also had late shots to beat the Giants and Washington but blew those opportunities. It’s not like they were getting blown out by their rivals.
I’m not expecting the Eagles to suddenly dominate their division, but I don’t think we should just assume they’ll be last again. Carson Wentz is in Year 2 and finally has some legitimate weapons to work with. Philadelphia boosted their pass rush and added some young talent at cornerback. I realize the Eagles’ NFC East rivals haven’t been inactive in addressing their needs as well. Again, the division will still be tough. I just don’t think the Eagles should be completely counted out ... hardest schedule in the NFL or not.