Eagles Post Mortem?

IS THE NFL'S DREAM TEAM ALREADY OUT OF PLAYOFF RACE BY GAME 12?

Computer programs designed to determine playoff odds for NFL teams are showing that the Philadelphia Eagles are quite a longshot to reach the postseason this year. With a 4-7 record, that's pretty much common sense. But, you could make a case that a surge to at 9-7 finish WOULD be enough for a Wildcard spot given what else is out there in the NFC at the moment:

WILDCARD RACE
Atlanta 7-4
Chicago 7-4 (must try to win with Caleb Hanie at QB)
Detroit 7-4 (somewhat imploding of late, Suh out for two games)
NY Giants 6-5 (fading fast, with tough schedule ahead)
Philadelphia 4-7 (could be favored in 4 of last 5)

Atlanta is in good shape at the moment in terms of health and remaining schedule. The Eagles would have a lot of trouble catching the Falcons. But, there is clear vulnerability amongst the frontrunners for the sixth and final Wildcard spot. If the Eagles run the table for 9-7...who knows? It hurts that they lose the tie-breaker to Chicago because of a heads up loss. They would win a tie-breaker with the Giants because of a better divisional record were the Eagles to close 5-0.

Left for Philadelphia:
At Seattle tonight (Eagles favored by a field goal)
At Miami next week (would be favored if they beat Seattle)
Versus NYJ (probably a small favorite at home unless Vick is back to 100%, then the line goes up)
At Dallas (tough one, but the Eagles did crush the Cowboys once)
Versus Washington (would be a clear favorite if the game mattered)

The computers say it's about a 95-97% chance against the Eagles right now. Stick a fork in them if they lose in Seattle tonight in a game to be nationally televised by the NFL Network. And, they REALLY need a Bears collapse to become a serious player. There's a decent chance this will be the last time we're writing much relevant about the so-called "Dream Team" this season. A squad that was, at one time, the FAVORITE TO WIN THE WHOLE NFC is now just a few plays away from a disaster that few had imagined.

Andy Reid's job as head coach is on the line over the next month
Michael Vick's future as a true impact player is on the line if he can get back in the lineup
Vince Young's future as an NFL player will be shaped by the next month too

So much drama leading into a game matching 4-7 teams! Let's see what our key indicator stats say about the Eagles and Seahawks heading into tonight. It's odd to see a road favorite of a field goal when teams have the same won-lost record this deep into the season...particularly when the road favorite is starting their backup quarterback!

DRIVE POINTS
Philadelphia: 14.4 on offense, 13.9 on defense
Seattle: 8.3 on offense, 10.0 on defense

You regulars know we keep track of all points scored and allowed on drives of 60 yards or more. We  believe it's the single best indicator stat in all of sports, not just football. The Eagles are on the right side of equality here with a differential of +0.5. We should note that something like that isn't really playoff caliber though. The offense was surely playoff caliber in terms of raw production when Vick was healthy. The defense was way too soft...particularly vs. teams who played smart and just took what was given.

This isn't a case of Philly's defense playing rope-a-dope with leads the way Green Bay might, or even New Orleans this past Monday Night vs. the NY Giants. The Eagles were playing soft and LOSING because the defense just couldn't get the job done.

Seattle is at -1.7, and an offensive number in single digits is really bad this year because so much of the first half of the season saw scoring explosions. The Seattle defense is better than it's given credit for. We'll concede that some of that is strength of schedule. But, they're facing a Philly offense under Young who scored just 17 points two weeks ago (7 on a very short drive after a punt return), and only had 13 points until the final moments of the New England game last week. That Seahawks defense could be a meaningful factor tonight.

THIRD DOWN CONVERSIONS
Philadelphia: 43% on offense, 38% on defense
Seattle: 32% on offense, 37% on defense

This is where the class of the teams really shows through. Andy Reid teams often do have a very good sense of third down importance...and a +5 differential is playoff caliber. Seattle is a woeful -5, and it's hard to see that getting better with an unimpressive head coach and a young quarterback who doesn't have a sense of the fundamental percentages yet. If you're wondering why the Eagles are road favorites, a category like this really sets the table for you. The Eagles are MUCH better at a very important element of the game...which gives them on-field superiority when it comes time to win a hardfought battle.

Note that Young led the Eagles to a 52% to 35% advantage over the Giants in that Sunday Night road upset two weeks ago. So, this wasn't necessarily a "Vick stat" up above. The team has its priorities right in this important area. Unfortunately...

TURNOVER DIFFERENTIAL
Philadelphia: -9 (16 takeaways, 25 giveaways)
Seattle: even (19 takeaways, 19 giveaways)

This is where it all falls apart for the Eagles. They've completely screwed up the risk/reward ratio when it comes to turnovers. Vick was way too erratic, seemingly finding new ways each week to lose the ball on plays that shouldn't have been attempted. The offense as a whole was sloppy too, even if you were just looking at running backs and receivers. The horrible differential completely trumped the good things that were happening on third downs and in Drive Points. The Eagles are a 4-7 team because of giveaways. If they ever fix that, they immediately become a playoff contender (though probably not a championship contender given the numbers in the other two categories.

Seattle's break-even mark above can be considered a positive given the lack of experience at the position. It was widely expected to be a disastrous year on offense for the Seahawks this season. The points aren't there...but at least the team isn't imploding. That gives you a chance to beat teams who ARE imploding, particularly when you're hosting them in front of a boisterous crowd.

That to us is the key to handicapping tonight's game. Will the Eagles and Vince Young be able to avoid turnovers on the road at a tough site? Have the players thrown in the towel on the season anyway, meaning the effort's not going to be there on either side of the ball? Chemistry was a mess before Tom Brady and the Pats ran a clinic against them last week. If everyone isn't on the same page, turnovers will lead to a home dog win that could be surprisingly decisive.

On the other hand...the Eagles have the better talent...and nobody would have made this line -3 on the road before the season started even if they knew Young would be the quarterback. Philadelphia is capable of getting the job done and staying alive in the Wildcard race.

Our selection in this game will be available a few hours before kickoff right here at the website. JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK also plans to have something for you in West Virginia/South Florida from the Big East. And, it's a big night in THE BASKETS too with TV games like St. John's/Kentucky and Georgetown/Alabama highlighting the card. Take care of business with your credit card, or call the office at 1-800-323-4453 for more information about our packages.

We begin a two-part series of CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP previews in college football Friday here in the NOTEBOOK. We'll cover the MAC and Pac 12 games set for Friday Night, plus Saturday's early kick in the CUSA Championship in that first report. Then, Saturday morning we'll crunch the numbers in the SEC, ACC, and Big 10 title tilts.

BIG WEEK...BIG MONEY...so spend it with THE BIGGEST NAME IN HANDICAPPING, JIM HURLEY!

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