Giants/Eagles Suddenly Huge



by Mathew Hurley, Managing Editor

It wasn't that long ago that the general consensus was that there weren't really any good teams in the NFC this year...and that all the power was over in the AFC.

Then, the New York Giants got hot...and suddenly got media hype as the 'best in the NFC' and a legitimate Super Bowl threat. Last week, Philadelphia played one of the most dominant games we've seen in a long time when crushing Washington 59-28 with a healthy Michael Vick. Now the media can't stop hyperventilating about what the Eagles can accomplish if Vick stays healthy.

As if on demand, this week's Sunday Night Football game on NBC is the New York Giants visiting the Philadelphia Eagles with tons at stake in the NFC East race and the overall playoff picture.

Before reviewing our key indicator numbers for both teams, let's check the standings for a fuller sense of the stakes.

NFC East
NY Giants 6-3
Philadelphia 6-3
Washington 4-5
Dallas 2-7

The winner of that group gets an automatic bid to the postseason. Obviously TONIGHT'S winner will have a leg up on the race. A Giants victory would give them a one-game lead, a tie-breaker edge, and the rematch at HOME that would give then a great shot of sweeping the series. An Eagles victory puts the Eagles in front temporarily, and would continue to build on the aura of Vick.

NFC STANDINGS (conference record in parenthesis)
Atlanta 7-2 (4-1)
Chicago 7-3 (5-3)
NY Giants 6-3 (5-1)
Philadelphia 6-3 (4-2)
New Orleans 6-3 (4-2)
Green Bay 6-3 (4-2)
Tampa Bay 6-3 (4-2)

Only five of those seven teams will make the playoffs because one spot is reserved for the NFC West (which Seattle currently leads with a 5-4 mark). So, you can see how tonight's game will impact the logjam. The winner goes to 7-3 and keeps pace with Chicago and stays within striking distance of Atlanta. The loser falls to a crowed race where 6-4 could easily end up being 'not quite enough.' Philly in particular doesn't want to lose a third conference game when so few Wildcard contenders have that many blemishes.

So...while it may be a playoff preview...or a 'clash of the midseason titans,' it's also one of the most important games on this week's card in terms of RIGHT NOW.

Both teams will bring their best stuff. Nobody's looking ahead to anything next week. What we see tonight is going to MATTER when it comes to evaluating these teams and their Super Bowl hopes. let's run the numbers from last Thursday's preview (if you missed that article and still have some time to handicap Sunday's games, please check the archives).

NY Giants: 13.3 offense, 7.2 defense (-5 TO's, 30th schedule)
Philadelphia: 15.3 offense, 12.7 defense (+12 TO's, 11th schedule)

The data represents Drive Points, a stat we invented many years ago that only counts points scored and allowed on drives of 60 yards or more. We've added turnover differential for additional context. And, we're including strength of schedule during the regular season this year because there are such dramatic splits amongst the contenders. It's fully possible that either the Giants or Eagles will get HOSED come January because other divisions are playing easier schedules.

That +6.1 differential is very impressive this deep into the season. It is certainly a playoff caliber differential, and would typically be representative of a team capable of earning a first round bye.

Turnovers are a problem. Eli Manning is throwing too many interceptions because his 'high and hard' stuff is too difficult to catch consistently. Receivers are being blamed for deflecting passes to defenders. If Eli was able to maintain his composure play in and play out, those deflections wouldn't be happening. A minus five differential is obviously NOT playoff caliber, and is a red flag warning that the Giants may have trouble stringing together wins vs. quality teams in the postseason.

Strength of schedule is awful for New York. There are 32 teams in the NFL. So, only two teams have played easier schedules to date. That means you have to bring that +6.1 differential down a bit of you want a better sense of where the Giants stand. And, the -5 differential is even more embarrassing.

Add it all up, and you have a team that's playoff caliber, but not quite what the media was leading you to believe a couple of weeks ago. The Dallas loss is less surprising once you make these mental adjustments.

The problem with using full season numbers for the Eagles is that Michael Vick has only been healthy in limited action. And, when he was healthy last week, it turned into a garbage time game that made the defense look more vulnerable than it really is. The stats on the whole are nothing to be embarrassed about anyway. Philly is at +2.6 in Drive Points per game which is enough to make a you a winner. Turnover differential has been huge...but probably so big that they can't sustain it. A degree of turnover differential is luck...and +12 through nine games historically has represented getting a few breaks. Strength of schedule is solid, certainly MUCH better than the Giants.

So, a 'composite' of the Eagles at quarterback is grading out pretty darned well. You could make the case that the Eagles are better in the overall composite once you factor in strength of schedule and turnover impact. If Michael Vick plays like he did last week, he's a lot better than the composite of an injured Vick and an inconsistent Kevin Kolb.

And, that's leads us to how you handicap tonight. We see the following as the key issues:

*The Giants defense vs. Vick! New York can terrorize opposing quarterback. And, there's certainly a chance Vick was playing over his head vs. Washington last week. If he falls back to earth against a front seven that scares people to death...then the Eagles are going to have troubles scoring. If Vick maintains what he showed last week...then few in this league are going to match up well against him.

*The Eagles defense vs. Manning! Eli is turnover prone against a defense that's forcing mistakes. That's not a recipe for success. Manning needs to maintain his discipline and hope the laws of math catch up a bit with the Eagles in this regard.

Clearly this is a game that could miss the Vegas spread of Philly -3 by at least 6-7 points in either direction. If Vick has 're-arrived' so to speak...then the Eagles are the better team and tonight's line is a market misread. If Monday was a bit of a fluke, you have a Giants team that's fully capable of winning this game outright and re-establishing superiority in the division.

JIM HURLEY has been working very closely with his scouts, his sources, his stat handicappers, his computer programmers, and his Wise Guy connections. He knows you expect the Sunday Night winner each week, and he does his very best to find the right side or total for his clients.

Other games getting extra attention from NETWORK on Sunday are:
Oakland at Pittsburgh
Houston at NY Jets
Green Bay at Minnesota
Atlanta at St. Louis
Indianapolis at New England

What a day! The early slate is loaded for bear. It's Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady in the late afternoon national TV window. Then, the Giants and Eagles bring a blockbuster Sunday to a close.

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Back tomorrow to preview Denver/San Diego in the Monday Night game on ESPN. Take care of business now so you can make the most of this FANTASTIC Sunday card!

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