NFC East Preview

HANDICAPPING NOTEBOOK

COWBOYS KICK OFF 2010 PRESEASON
VS. BENGALS TONIGHT IN CANTON

by Mathew Hurley, Managing Editor

The NFL Preseason begins tonight in Canton, Ohio when the Dallas Cowboys battle the Cincinnati Bengals in the annual Hall of Fame game. Tonight also features the start of our August series of previews for the eight NFL divisions. We'll focus on the NFC East and Dallas tonight. Our next report will run Thursday...as we feature the AFC East to get you ready for the New England/New Orleans game on national TV. We'll pretty much go daily after that so you update your Power Ratings and strategies during one big all-out blitz.

The NFC East is our favorite conference to right about...and that was true long before Kim Kardashian started dating a Dallas Cowboy. It's loaded every year. Any team can make the playoffs in any given year. Washington fell off the pace last year, then immediately hired a playoff caliber coach in Mike Shanahan so they can get back in the mix immediately.

Making things even more interesting in 2010, starting quarterback Donovan McNabb was traded within the division from Philadelphia to Washington. Talk about an insult! The Eagles got so down on McNabb that they didn't mind trading him to a team they'd have to play twice this season!

Before outlining this year's expectations, let's crunch our key indicator numbers from 2009. First, the basics. Won lost record...turnover differential...and strength of schedule. An understanding of history, and those three stats, will do most of the heavy lifting when it comes to predicting the transition from one year to the next.

2009 FINAL NFC EAST STANDINGS
Dallas............11-5.....+2 turnover differential....14th ranked schedule
Philadelphia....11-5...+15 turnover differential....13th ranked schedule
NY Giants......8-8......-7 turnover differential......9th ranked schedule
Washington.....4-12...-11 turnover differential....20th ranked schedule

There are 32 teams in the NFL, so a schedule ranking 16th would be about average. Three teams played above average schedules, while Washington surprisingly struggled against a softer slate. That means they have a bit more ground to make up than it seems at first.

Turnover differential tends to be fickle. We did a study several years back suggesting that teams 'control' about a half a turnover per game in differential. That means that sharp teams who execute can get to +8 consistently over a period of years...while sloppy teams who are worse than -8 eventually regress to the mean because they make the required changes to solve their problems. With that in mind...we're looking at Philly falling back to earth here...and Washington taking a step forward. Maybe McNabb will be the decisive force in BOTH of those occurrences simply from his change of address!

So...based strictly on what we've seen so far...Dallas should be about an 11-5 type team again...Philly is in danger of dropping back toward .500...the Giants have a chance to move forward against a softer schedule and a better turnover rate...and the Redskins should get better, but maybe not so good that they contend for a divisional crown.

Now, as we do every year in these previews, we move on to our favorite indicator stats. Many season ago we invented and presented to you a stat called Drive Points. These are simply points scored and allowed on drives of 60 yards or more. It's the single best stat we've ever seen for describing the abilities of an offense or defense. It's arguably our favorite stat in ALL sports. From the traditional boxscore realm, we like to focus on third down conversions. As you saw with the Colts and Saints last year, the ability to move the chains and drive the field is more important now than ever. BOTH of these stats get us focused on that critical element of the sport.

In 2009, the Jim Hurley Network hit 64 percent in the Pre-Season and the previous two years were even better! Another run at The Dollars of August starts tonight! Click here to win Sunday's Hall of Fame Game!

OFFENSIVE DRIVE POINTS PER GAME
Dallas 14.2
Philadelphia 13.9
NY Giants 13.8
Washington 10.3
NOTEBOOK: These are good numbers (for the top three at least), but not great. Standards have gone up since holding rules were liberalized. The best teams in the NFL are now up around 17.0 per game (New Orleans made a run at 20 with 19.4 last year). So, something around 14 represents a playoff caliber offense, but not a championship caliber offense. Washington looks to improve with a better coach and quarterback. Philly hopes Kevin Kolb can pick up where McNabb left off.

DRIVE POINTS ALLOWED PER GAME
Philadelphia 9.4
Dallas 10.0
Washington 10.9
NY Giants 14.9
NOTEBOOK: The big surprise here was the NY Giants. They went from having a great defense to having a horrible one in a fingersnap! Part of that was players getting old or getting hurt, and watching part of the braintrust go to St. Louis to run the show didn't help either. New York just can't be taken seriously as a league power until their defense is fixed. We talked about this a lot last year in our game reports. The media was very slow to pick up on the problem. Our game-by-game Drive Point data announced the issue very quickly.

Outside of the Giants, this is a good defensive division. Nobody here is as good as the Jets or Ravens. But, something around 10 is solid...and New Orleans won a Super Bowl last year with a 12.8 mark because their offense was so productive. This is a division of quality to be sure. Washington holds its own in these numbers, suggesting turnover differential was the bulk of their trouble last year.

OFFENSIVE 3RD DOWN PERCENTAGE
NY Giants 43%
Dallas 41%
Washington 40%
Philadelphia 36%
NOTEBOOK: Last year, 40% was basically the cutoff for 'knowing what you're doing.' If you were in the 40's or higher, you could move the ball. If you were in the 30's, you needed to improve. Nothing great here. And, frankly, Dallas and Philadelphia are surprisingly low given their Drive Point production. They were big play teams rather than 'move the chains' teams...which became a big deal in the playoffs. Philly got routed by Dallas...Dallas got routed by Minnesota...and you didn't get the sense either would have matched up well with New Orleans at peak intensity. It may not matter until the playoffs again...but this is something you should be monitoring as you assess the Super Bowl potential of this division as the year progresses.

DEFENSIVE 3RD DOWN PERCENTAGE
Philadelphia 33%
Dallas 35%
NY Giants 39%
Washington 40%
NOTEBOOK: Great defensive production as a whole. They were the best in the NFC, and second best to the AFC East overall. The quarterbacks get a lot of the media coverage in this division. It's important to remember that these defenses make it hard for opponents to move the chains. That matter's more in crunch time! The NFC East is going to matter as long as its defenses keep doing this on third downs. Dallas in particular deserves more credit than they get in this particular area.

2010 NFC EAST OUTLOOK:
This is always a fun division...and it's hard to imagine that things will get boring this year.

*Dallas will be in the headlines as always, with a legitimate shot to work their way into the Super Bowl picture if they stay healthy again.

*Philadelphia's hopes sit on the shoulders of unproven quarterback Kevin Kolb. If he lives up to his hype, a 12-win season or better is possible. If he's not ready for the pressure, Philly could be this year's Washington.

*New York doesn't want to waste the heart of Eli Manning's career dealing with defensive issues. They'll certainly be playoff caliber if they can get back anywhere near past form on that side of the ball. If not, we're looking at another wasted year.

*Washington is fascinating, with early Preseason headlines only stirring things up even more. Is there a more volatile team than the Redskins this year? A rise back to respectability is expected, and a playoff run wouldn't be a shocker. A complete implosion of 'past their prime' key elements is also a possibility. Shield your eyes from the possible glare...but watch this team very closely. Once they establish a tendency the Vegas line may be three points or so behind for at least a month.

We wanted to start our Divisional previews on the first day of football action. We'll return on the second day of football action to pick up where we left off. Please come back Thursday for an AFC East preview that will get you ready for Tom Brady's showdown with the New Orleans Saints that night. We'll gradually work our way across the map from that point forward, in a multi-day blitz that will have you chomping at the bit for the regular season to get here.

Don't forget that great rates are available for JIM HURLEY'S football. Just $60 gets you the full Preseason, including tonight's Cowboys/Bengals selection. Pay $199 and you'll get the full season of BLUE RIBBON action (college and pro!). Details are available at 1-800-323-4453. You can also take care of business here at the website with your credit card.

Enjoy the game tonight on NBC. And, make sure you join us DAILY in the NOTEBOOK so you know what's really happening in the world of sports!

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21
Nov

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