We’re in the middle of narrative central– the calm before the storm which we’ve taken to filling with vapid, anticipatory, no-nothing takes. And I say that not to accuse anybody in the local media – the truth is, no one knows what to expect from the Eagles with Nick Foles as the quarterback – but to simply point out that this is one of the weirdest, hard-to-predict playoff runs in recent history.
In August, just before the start of this NFL season, ESPN’s Bill Barnwell made a detailed attempt to quantify which teams actually enjoy significant advantages in their home stadia. Beginning with the 1990 season, Barnwell calculated each team’s average point differential for regular-season home and road games. He then added those two figures and divided by two to get each team’s “observed point differential” – that is, the average advantage, in points per game, that a team derived from playing at home.
Why did Barnwell use point differential and not win-loss records? “Point differential,” he wrote, “does a better job of predicting future win-loss record than winning percentage itself.”
What Barnwell found should be sobering to Eagles fans and followers. Over the most recent 10-year period, 2007 through 2016, the Eagles’ observed point differential at home was 2.0 – the 21st-best mark among the league’s 32 teams. And over the entire 30 years that Barnwell examined, the Eagles’ average advantage at Lincoln Financial Field was worth just 1.7 points. Just two teams/homes were worse: the Dallas Cowboys/AT&T Stadium (1.3) and the Redskins/FedEx Field (1.2). Oh, and if you’re thinking that the 700 Level and that infamous artificial turf gave the Eagles a huge edge, think again: Their observed point differential at Veterans Stadium was just 1.9.
This was actually very similar to an article by Jason Mitchell in The Crosswalk two years ago, where he determined that all four of the major Philly sports teams are dead last in homefield advantage. He looked at winning percentages at home and on the road over the last 10 years, and the Eagles were the only team of the four (and in all of sports) to be worse at home.
No matter, as Bob pointed out the other day, the Eagles have been quite good at home under Doug Pederson, and, specifically, defensively under Jim Schwartz, going 13-3 and allowing only 231 points (14.1 per game).
Ironically, the one thing they might have going for them, depending on the cold, is the weather. Even though the offense has looked horrendous the last two games, the Eagles as a whole have gotten a chance to play in the cold for three straight weeks now. Gametime temperature for the Giants game in Week 15 was just above freezing, followed by two very cold games at home to end the season. And if nothing else, bad weather is the ultimate equalizer. So whatever talent gap the Eagles now face by virtue of missing Carson Wentz could, theoretically, be smoothed over by poor conditions. I don’t take the frigid cold weather as a negative, despite how the Eagles have played the last two weeks.
But a better indicator than any conjecture over homefield are the numbers put out by Vegas. Markets tend to have a way of distilling true probability.
That said, there are contradictions even there.
Sports Insights has the Eagles tied for second to win the NFC (+450) with the Rams and Saints. The Vikings are first (+165).
More granularly, though, a simulation by BetLab Sports, run 10,000 times using statistics adjusted for strength of schedule, likes the Eagles a bit better:
Mind you, those stats presumably include games played with Carson Wentz, so this likely isn’t the best measure of true probability.
Lastly, we come to potential Super Bowl spreads, also courtesy of Sports Insights. The Eagles don’t fare as well here, being favorites against only the Titans and Bills:
Eagles vs. Patriots (-7.5)
Eagles vs. Steelers (-4.5)
Eagles vs. Jaguars (-3)
Eagles vs. Chiefs (-3.5)
Eagles (-2.5) vs. Titans
Eagles (-3) vs. Bills
So what does this all mean? Not much, really. One set of numbers factors in past history (homefield advantage), another factors in public sentiment (odds), and another factors in stats that no longer apply (simulations). Not even the numbers know what to make of the Eagles.