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Projections: Mark Sanchez with the Eagles

Philadelphia's savior

Philadelphia's savior.

Nick Foles is going to miss at least the next month, and perhaps the rest of the year, with a broken collarbone. To the Eagles’ rescue comes…. Mark Sanchez?

Yes, the quarterback who in his best years provided more below-average value than any other passer in NFL history. That Mark Sanchez. Of course, the Jets passing attack has not been very good in the post-Sanchez environment: in fact, Geno Smith has been even worse than Sanchez. Statistically, Sanchez has been the best of the six quarterbacks who have thrown 20+ passes for New York since 2009. Of course, being better than Geno Smith is a pretty low bar; the more telling statistic is that and Sanchez ranked 2nd-to-last — in between Blaine Gabbert and Matt Cassel — in both passer rating and ANY/A in his final year in New York.

On the other hand, Foles has not been particularly good this year, either. Some regression was to be expected based on his otherworldly 2013 numbers, but he’s suffered noticeable declines in most categories in 2014: [click to continue…]

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The Eagles Are 3-0 But In Unusual Fashion

Why are we surprised that the Eagles are winning ugly?

Why are we surprised that the Eagles are winning ugly?

Last week, Neil Paine wrote that while the Eagles were 2-0, it was not all sunshine and rainbows in Philadelphia. The Eagles posted Game Scripts of -7.1 against Jacksonville and -4.8 against Indianapolis; based on Neil’s research, the Eagles had the worst Game Scripts of any team to start 0-2 since at least 1978.

Against Washington in week 3, the Eagles fell behind 17-7 before coming from behind and again emerging victorious. As a result — and after trailing the Jags 17-0 and the Colts 20-6 — Philadelphia became the first team since at least 1940 to start a season 3-0 despite trailing by at least 10 points in each game.

In fact, only three teams had ever overcome a deficit of a touchdown or greater in each of their first three games: the 2000 Rams, the 2000 Jets, and the 1960 Giants. Those teams finished the season 10-6, 9-7, and 6-4-2 respectively, which means they went just 16-17-2 the rest of the season after starting 9-0.

In general, teams that have started 3-0 despite constantly falling behind have not been as successful over the rest of the season as other 3-0 teams. In fact, if you add up the worst margin for each 3-0 team in each game, 25 teams have trailed by an “aggregate” of 21+ points in those three games. On average, those teams won just 53.5% of the remainder of their games. [click to continue…]

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Predictions in Review: NFC East

During the 2013 offseason, I wrote 32 articles under the RPO 2013 tag. In my Predictions in Review series, I review those preview articles with the benefit of hindsight. Previously, I reviewed the AFC West, the NFC West, the AFC South, the NFC South, the AFC North, the NFC North, and the AFC East. Today, we finish the series with a look at the NFC East.

Eli Manning was about as good in 2012 as he was in 2011, July 15, 2013

On the surface, Eli Manning’s numbers dropped significantly from 2011 to 2012; after further review, his “decline” was entirely due to two factors: attempting fewer passes and lower YAC by his receivers. And since Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks were largely responsible for those declines, it seemed fair to wonder how much of the blame should go to Manning. [click to continue…]

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How will DeSean Jackson age?

DeSean Jackson crosses the goal line before discarding the ball

DeSean Jackson crosses the goal line before discarding the ball.

If you believe the rumors, the Eagles are desperately trying to trade wide receiver DeSean Jackson; absent an eligible suitor, and Philadelphia may even cut the three-time Pro Bowler. This is a pretty weird situation; what’s even weirder is how few tangible reasons have been given as to why the Eagles desire to remove him from the roster.

Jackson has a cap hit of $12.75M this year and $12M in each of the next two seasons; that’s obviously a significant amount, and I don’t doubt that Philadelphia feels a bit of buyer’s remorse on that contract. But reading the tea leaves indicates that a high salary cap figure is only part of the issue; unfortunately, without knowing the other reasons, it’s impossible to suggest whether a team would be wise to trade for him. This might be a Randy Moss-to-New England situation, or it could just as easily be a Santonio Holmes-to-the-Jets disaster. [click to continue…]

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I have to deal with Chip Kelly?

I have to deal with Chip Kelly?

Kansas City/Indianapolis Preview

New Orleans Saints (11-5) (+2.5) at Philadelphia Eagles (10-6), Saturday 8:10 PM ET

We’re fully immune to the Saints offense at this point. Drew Brees just threw for for 5,162 yards and 39 touchdowns and it didn’t even register on most radars. One reason for that: both of those numbers represent three-year lows for the Saints star. Jimmy Graham shook off early-season leg injuries to lead the league with 16 touchdowns, and rookie Kenny Stills led the NFL in yards per target. Both Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles topped 70 receptions — two of just five running backs this year to do so — and I didn’t even know that until five seconds ago. Pinball numbers are the expectation when dealing with the Saints offense.

But the real change is on defense, as the team just finished one of the most remarkable turnarounds in NFL history. Did you know that the Saints finished fourth in points allowed this year? That’s only the fourth time New Orleans has ranked in the top five in that statistic in franchise history, with the other three occurrences all coming during the Dome Patrol era. What makes New Orleans’ success even more remarkable is that the team ranked last in points allowed in 2012. New Orleans is the first team in NFL history to jump 27 spots in the points allowed rankings. Prior to this year, the 2011 Houston Texans (4th after ranking 29th) and 1993 New York Giants (1st after ranking 26th) had been the most improved defenses with 25-slot jumps. Now the Saints probably aren’t as good as their points allowed rank would imply (Football Outsiders has them 9th, Advanced NFL Stats ranks the unit 10th), but unparalleled feats remain astounding.

The main reason for the team’s improvement is the pass defense. The Saints ranked last in Net Yards per Attempt allowed last year, but 7th this season, another remarkable jump. In fact, only 10 teams have ever made a jump of 25 spots in the NY/A allowed rankings: [click to continue…]

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Can you believe we get to play in the NFC East?

Can you believe we get to play in the NFC East?

Let’s pretend that each team in the NFC East is equal in strength. That’s probably not true, of course, but I wan to stipulate that Eli Manning = Robert Griffin III = Tony Romo = Nick Foles, and that goes for the other 52 players on each of their teams, too. If that’s the case, the schedules will play a big role in determining the eventual champion.

The Cowboys and Eagles are tied atop the division at 5-5, with Dallas having the easiest remaining schedule (opponents have a 0.435 winning percentage) and Philadelphia having the second easiest (0.472). Washington (0.508) and New York (0.533) are both 3-6, with even more challenging schedules the rest of the way than the two division leaders.  But I think it’s instructive to look at the schedules in a different way.

As you know, each team plays six games against the other three teams in the division. Of the remaining ten games, eight are the same — and this year, they come against the AFC West and NFC North. The final two games of the season are what I’ll call “Strength of Schedule” games, as they are determined by each team’s rank in the division in 2012. That means Washington, the #1 team in the division in 2012, is scheduled to play last year’s division winners from the NFC South and NFC West, the #2 team gets the runners up from those divisions, and so on. Let’s start there, because these “SOS” games already put one team behind the eight ball.

In the tables below, I’ll put a 1 in the cell if the team won the game, a 0 to represent a loss, and a 0.5 to indicate that the game has not yet been played.
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Fast and Faster

Fast and Faster.

The number one storyline in the NFL in week one isn’t the health of Robert Griffin III, but the presence of two other men occupying FedEx Field that night. The football world is anxiously awaiting to see how Chip Kelly’s offense, piloted by Michael Vick, will work in the NFL. We don’t know much, but we do know that the coach plans to incorporate the fast-paced, up-tempo style that his teams used at Oregon to obliterate opponents.

In May, I took a stab at discussing tempo in the NFL, and I presented a couple of lists that measured the number of plays run per second of possession in the NFL. Today, I want to revisit the questions of tempo and pace using more precise measurements.  Let’s start with some league-wide data. The table below shows the average number of seconds between snaps for NFL teams last season. I’ve excluded a number of plays from this sample, including all plays at the start of a quarter, all overtime plays, plays after a changes of possession, and plays in the final three minutes of the first half or five minutes of the second half (where teams are less likely to operate at their normal pace).

secs btw plays
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Benn against the Redskins

Benn against the Redskins.

To the casual fan, Arrelious Benn is one of many nondescript wide receivers in the NFL. The Buccaneers selected him in the second round of the 2010 Draft, he gained 862 yards in three seasons, and Tampa Bay just traded him to Philadelphia for a 7th round pick in the 2013 draft.

My curiosity with Benn dates back to his college days. He came to Illinois as a five-star recruit and he gained 676 yards and 2 touchdowns as a true freshman.   While that might not sound impressive, he gained more than twice as many receiving yards as any other player on the team, and his production earned him Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors. That 2007 Illini threw the fewest passes in the Big Ten, suppressing Benn’s numbers, but landed in the Rose Bowl based on a run-heavy attack led by Rashard Mendenhall. They were quarterbacked by Juice Williams, a running “quarterback” in name only, and coached by Ron Zook, the two men who would torpedo the Illinois offense over the next two seasons.

As a sophomore, Benn again more than doubled the production of the next best receiver on the Illini: he caught 67 passes for 1,066 yards and ran 23 times for 101 yards. Those numbers were good enough to lead the conference in receiving yards during the regular season, although Minnesota’s Eric Decker passed him in Minnesota’s Bowl game. Illinois didn’t have a Bowl game, as the team imploded and finished 5-7.
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Morhinweg

Mornhinweg and Vick plan for their dream season.

On Friday, the Jets finally concluded their search for a new offensive coordinator by hiring Marty Mornhinweg. The reaction was predictably mixed, but one of the facts trumpeted by the pro-Mornhinweg crowd was that he has been an offensive coordinator for 11 years and his teams never ranked lower than 15th on offense. Besides my initial reaction of “well, that’s about to change“, my next thought was: wait, the 2012 Eagles were a top-fifteen offense?!

Philadelphia turned the ball over 37 times last year, tied with the Jets and the Chiefs for most in the league. The Eagles ranked 29th in points scored. But when people speak of things like a top-fifteen offense, the convention is to refer to a team’s rank in yards gained, and Philadelphia did rank 15th in yards in 2012.
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Season in review: AFC and NFC East

This season, I published power rankings after each week where I stated my updated projected number of wins for each team. The point of those posts was to put in writing my thoughts at that time, so that once the season was over, I could look back and see how I did. Over the next two weeks, that’s exactly what we’re going to do.

The picture below graphs my projections for each team for each week of the season. I’ve also added the Vegas futures win totals for each team from the pre-season as the first data point in each graph and the final number of regular season wins for each team as the final data point. My projected win totals for each week N come following the conclusion of week N (i.e., my week 1 power rankings were released after week 1).

AFC East

New England Patriots

Pre-season Projection: 12 wins
Maximum wins: 13 (after weeks 1 and 14)
Minimum wins: 10 (after weeks 6 and 7)
Week 1 comment: Incredible offensive weapons, an improved defense and a cupcake schedule. Only injuries on the offensive line or to Tom Brady could derail them.

The Patriots started hot with a big win over the Titans, but managed to lose nail-biters to the Cardinals and Ravens the next two weeks. A loss in Seattle — which was an upset, at the time — dropped them to 3-3 and my projected total to just 10 wins. An overtime win over the Jets the following week was unimpressive and didn’t cause me to bump them, but I kept steadily increasing their win total after that.

In the end, it was another monster statistical season for Brady and the Patriots. New England broke a record for offensive first downs and finished with the third most points scored in a season. I was a little bumpy in my New England projections, but they ended up landing right on the Vegas number.

New York Jets
Pre-season Projection: 8.5 wins
Maximum wins: 9 (after weeks 1 and 2)
Minimum wins: 6 (first after week 8)
Week 1 comment: The additions of Quinton Coples and LaRon Landry were easy to mock, but these two could make the Jets defense a top-three unit. So far, so good. Right tackle Austin Howard exceeded expectations by infinity against Mario Williams, and his play this year will be tied to the Jets success on offense.

The Jets best game of the season came in week 1, which inspired a glimmer of early-season hope. In the end, Coples and Landry had strong seasons, but the loss of Darrelle Revis and the disappointing years by Calvin Pace, Bryan Thomas, and Aaron Maybin prevented the Jets from having a complete defense. Mark Sanchez regressed, and injuries to Santonio Holmes, Dustin Keller, and Stephen Hill didn’t help the offense. Rex Ryan lost control of the team, again, and the Jets struggled against good teams early before disappointing against bad teams late. For the second straight year, the Jets lost their final three games of the season, and it appears like they will fire the offensive coordinator again, too.
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