The Eagles are 3-0, and since Sunday’s blowout win over the cross-state rival Pittsburgh Steelers, everyone in the NFL has been trying to figure out just how good this team really is. For the first two weeks, the “undefeated Eagles” was a nice storyline given Carson Wentz’s rookie debut and all, but the Cleveland Browns and Chicago Bears aren’t exactly the toughest back-to-back tests to start a season. Pittsburgh, however, opened some eyes.
The Eagles are 3-0 and they beat up on the Steelers. It’s time to start thinking maybe this team is for real.
Only, how real?
Before you run out and set up a lawn chair on Broad St. to get ready for February’s parade — pro tip: head down around Spruce or Lombard and set up across the street from the Kimmel Center. It’s close enough all the energy around City Hall but you’ll probably have more space to camp out — it’s important to know what kind of team we have here.
Is 3-0 good? It’s great!
Are the Eagles good? Sure.
What does Vegas say?
Remember when the Eagles traded Sam Bradford and announced Wentz would be the starter? It was less than a month ago, and way back then the Las Vegas odds for the Eagles winning the Super Bowl had plummeted down to 100-to-1. Right now, as teams prepare for Week 4 and the Eagles kick back during the bye week, their odds are 22-to-1, better than the team has had at any point since last year’s Super Bowl.
According to Vegas Insider, only eight teams in the NFL have better odds to win the Super Bowl than the Eagles, much better than the “every team but the Browns and 49ers” list the Eagles were on a month ago. The oddsmakers are, however, hedging their bets (literally) with the Eagles, as they have the same odds to win the Super Bowl as the Cowboys and Giants. Washington’s odds are now down to 100-to-1. Cleveland, which started the year 200-to-1 are now at 1000-to-1.
Now, remember, Vegas odds are only good for one thing: getting people to bet on them. The casinos don’t want to lose money, but only one team is going to win the Super Bowl, so setting and re-setting the odds throughout the season is merely a way to continue to get action on as many teams as they can. That’s why the eight teams ahead of the NFC East trio are, in this order: New England, Green Bay, Pittsburgh, Denver, Seattle, Minnesota, Arizona and Carolina.
Wait. Vegas has Arizona and Carolina, both 1-2 after three games, ahead of the Eagles? Pittsburgh is still 10-to-1 to win the Super Bowl — the third best odds in football — after they were decimated in all phases of the game by the Eagles?
What do the pundits say?
Okay, so Vegas has the Eagles right in the mix in the NFC East and still behind the five teams in the conference that everyone expected to fight for the Super Bowl, including Sam Bradford’s Minnesota Vikings. What about the pundits? The talking heads? The people paid to analyze this kind of stuff and make sense of it all for Joe Sports Fan?
The Eagles have to be darlings of the national media at this point, yes? What better way to see how teams really stack up than Power Rankings!
• Elliot Harrison of NFL.com has the Eagles ranked sixth, ahead of the Steelers but behind the 2-1 Seahawks and Packers. Three undefeated teams top his list — New England, Denver and Minnesota — with the last undefeated team, Baltimore, ranked 10th.
• How about Pete Prisco at CBSSports.com, who has the Eagles fifth behind the three aforementioned undefeated teams and the Green Bay Packers, ahead of the Steelers and the Seahawks. Prisco has the undefeated Ravens eighth, but does question how good they really are. Prisco, like Harrison, gave “love” to the Eagles defense.
• Then there’s the group of anonymous pundits that make up the ESPN Power Rankings, which has the Eagles seventh, up from 15th a week before, behind Denver, New England, Seattle, Minnesota, Arizona and Green Bay.
For those not playing too close attention to teams outside of Philly, Seattle’s defense is very good, maybe the best in football by season’s end, but they scored 15 points the first two weeks of the season, combined, before beating up on Chip Kelly and the woeful 49ers this past week. If not for a game-saving drive in Week 1, at home against the Dolphins, Seattle could be 1-2 with one of the worst offenses in the league. Instead, they’re 2-1…with one of the worst offenses in the league. Another reason why Power Rankings are so arbitrary and fun.
• Chris Burke at SI.com has the Eagles fourth, behind New England, Denver and Minnesota. Our friends at USA Today have the same top four in their Power Rankings, with the Eagles slotted fourth overall behind three other undefeated teams.
Most Power Rankings are, to be honest, nonsense. They are a way for pundits to justify their prognostications week-to-week in an easily digestible list format. That said, putting the Eagles fourth makes a lot of sense. The rest are just being silly.
So forget Vegas and forget the talking heads. How can we figure out how good the Eagles really are?
What do the stats say?
There are only two teams in football averaging more than 30 points per game: Atlanta (34.7) and Philadelphia (30.7). Offenses always gets credit for teams’ points-per-game figures, when defenses and special teams rarely get credit for the points they score or field position battles they win that can lead to easier scores for the offense. Therefore, points scored isn’t just an offensive statistic; it’s a measure of how the entire team is playing.
Through three games, the Eagles are playing better than almost anyone, if the goal of the game is to put points on the board. Which, how about that, it is.
It’s also a goal to stop the other team from putting up points, and as good as the offense has been, the defense under Jim Schwartz has been better.
The Eagles have given up 27 points the entire season. They’ve scored that many or more in each game, and are surrendering, on average, nine points per win. And even that number is skewed after a garbage-time touchdown on a punt return in Week 2. Still, points are points, and the Eagles refused to give up a touchdown to the Steelers at any point in the game last week, even well after the outcome was decided. There is a ton of pride on that side of the ball. Also, a ton of talent.
The Eagles are second in the league in turnover margin at plus-6, and haven’t turned the ball over yet this season.
Seriously, 27 points allowed, 92 points scored, six takeaways and zero turnovers with a rookie quarterback and skill position players who have bad hands? That’s just nuts.
But, really, what does all that mean? After all, it was the Browns and Bears before the Steelers.
Football Outsiders has a statistic called DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average) which essentially ranks each team on offense and defense compared to the league average. After Week 4, when we really start to see what teams are, the stat will be adjusted to account for opponents, but for now, DVOA rankings are still a good barometer for how teams are doing relative to the rest of the league.
The Eagles offense ranks 5th in DVOA, behind Oakland, Atlanta, Detroit and Dallas. The Eagles offensive DVOA number is 18.8 percent, meaning their offense rates 18.8 percent better than the league average. Dallas, for comparison, has a 20.4 percent rating through three weeks. Breaks pumped.
The Birds’ overall numbers are hampered by their run game, which rates at a -4.6 percent, or worse than the league average, though ranked 15th out of 32 teams.
That said, the Eagles’ passing game, behind Wentz’s arm and Doug Pederson’s play-calling, is rated at 58.7 percent, by far the best passing offense in the league — seven percentage points higher than the Raiders, who rank second — and that’s with all the drops, too.
On the defensive side of the ball, Seattle leads the league in Defensive DVOA at -34.8 percent, but the Eagles are rated ahead of Minnesota, second in the NFL at -29.0 percent to the Vikings’ -28.6 percent. (Negative numbers are better on defense.)
According to Football Outsiders, the Eagles have the third-best pass defense and the eighth-best run defense, which equates to, after three games, the second-best defense in football.
Now, the some projections (ed note: we erroneously attributed these to FO’s DAVE stat before) suggest the Eagles should regress to the mean as their season rolls along. They are not expected to be a great team all year, but they are a very good team right now and one that should make the playoffs.
According to FO’s complicated prognostication system, the Eagles average 10 wins over their 50,000 season-long simulations, with Dallas averaging 8.8 wins and the Giants 8.2 wins. The Eagles, right now, have a 69 percent chance of making the playoffs and a 52.7 percent chance of winning the NFC East. The Cowboys, by comparison, have a 24.8 percent chance of winning the division and just a 45 percent chance at the playoffs.
That that, Vegas.
Again, it’s early, but according to the numbers, the Eagles have the second-best chance to make it to the NFC championship (28 percent) behind Seattle (43.2 percent), giving them the second-best odds in the NFC (14.2 percent) to get to the Super Bowl.
Take that, pundits.
Not to throw cold water on the parade plans — in February that would probably create frostbite — but it’s worth noting that not all predictors are the same. The site PredictionMachine.com, which also runs each simulation 50,000 times, has the Eagles winning just 8.4 games, finishing third in the division with less than a 38 percent chance of even making the playoffs.
So, again, who knows?
What do the teams say?
Pederson isn’t getting ahead of himself, coachspeaking the heck out of his press conferences with the kind of “we’re taking it one game at a time” and “we can’t look ahead” talk that only happens to teams that are exceeding expectations. That’s a good problem to have. Still, Pederson knows it can fall apart fast, and 3-0 can quickly become 3-3 or, heck, 3-13.
“It’s the way this business goes,” he told reporters this week. “You’re the top of the world one minute and you could be at the bottom of the heap the next. You just need to keep things even-keeled. You can’t get too high, can’t get too low. Approach it the same.
“You can’t substitute for hard work and that pays off on Sunday. We just have to stay the course, and there’s a lot of football left.”
In other words, we’re not getting any bulletin board material from Pederson or the Eagles. But what about their opponents?
Well…take that, NFL.