Could the “Dream Team” enjoy the same fate as the “Big Three?”
Last year, the Philadelphia Eagles felt like the NFL’s version of the Miami Heat—sign a bunch of big names in the offseason, proclaim yourselves champions before playing even one game, and then suffer through a disappointing year.
We know what happened with the Heat in Year 2, after the public backlash and hatred seemed to die down. But could the same happen in Philadelphia?
Phil Steele sure seems to think so.
Steele—who admittedly devotes more of his time to college football than the NFL—has Philadelphia as his No. 1 power rated team in his NFL preview magazine.
“When you have the No. 1 team in the Power Poll at 7-to-1 to win the NFC and a very nice 14-to-1 to win the Super Bowl,” Steele writes, “it is worth a wager in Vegas.”
As of now, Philadelphia’s win total is resting at about 10 and the Super Bowl futures odds are at about 12-to-1.
Why does Steele like a team that went only 8-8 last year so much? A number of reasons.
The Eagles don’t have one overwhelming strength, but they don’t appear to have many weaknesses, either.
Steele power ranks each position unit (defensive line, wide receivers, etc.) on a 1-to-32 scale, and the Eagles are in the Top 13 in every category except special teams (No. 21). Surprisingly, the running backs are the lowest-rated unit at No. 13, and that’s where Philadelphia features one of the best home-run threats in the league in LeSean McCoy.
Running Backs: 13
Wide Receivers: 6
Offensive Line: 11
Defensive Line: 3
Defensive Backs: 4
Special Teams: 21
No Eagles fans need to be reminded about the nightmarish turnover situation last season.
They had a minus-14 turnover margin in 2011, tied for the second-worst in the NFL. Since 1991, 80 percent of teams with a minus-12 turnover margin or worse either improved or had the same record in the following season (69 percent improved).
Quarterback Michael Vick has a history of turnovers, but last year was among his worst with 14 interceptions and seven fumbles in only 13 games.
YARDS PER GAME
Steele has a theory that net yards per game can have some predictive value for the following season.
Every 10 net yards per game a team had should translate into one net win or loss. For example, if a team outgained its opponents by 320 yards in one season, that’s 20 net yards per game, meaning the team should expect to have a 9-7 record.
Last year, the Eagles outgained their opponents by 1,188 yards, or 74.3 yards per game. That means they should have had +7.4 net wins, or roughly an 11-5 or 12-4 record, yet they finished only 8-8. In fact, even in Philadelphia’s eight losses, the team still outgained its opponents five times and by an average of 33.6 yards per game.
Philadelphia lost five games by a touchdown or less in 2011, but won only two such games.
Since 2006, teams with minus-3 net close losses have improved or remained the same in the following year 75 percent of the time.
In a lot of ways, the previous two stats help explain this one. Despite consistently outgaining opponents, the Eagles were killing themselves with turnovers, resulting in a lot of close losses.
Steele has been known to make some bold predictions from time to time (like picking Florida State to win this year’s BCS national championship), but his reasoning here makes a lot of sense.
Some of his stats, though (like turnovers), don’t translate as well to the NFL game. For example, the New England Patriots are one of Steele’s teams expected to regress in 2012 because of their plus-17 turnover differential in 2011. But with Tom Brady at quarterback, the Patriots have finished with a positive turnover margin in nine of the past 10 seasons, so we’re past the point of calling it “lucky.”
If you have a solid quarterback running the show, there’s bound to be more consistency.
That’s where Steele’s bold prediction for the Eagles could run into some murky waters. Much of it depends on Michael Vick. If Vick can channel the 2010 version of himself and limit his mistakes, then sure, the Eagles are a threat for the Super Bowl. But if he’s forced into too many situations where he’ll have blunders, then the yards per game, turnovers and close losses could all pile up again.
“Look for the Eagles to finally display the ‘Dream Team’ promise that was expected last year,” Steele concluded.
We wouldn’t have the Eagles rated ahead of teams like the Patriots or Packers, but they should definitely improve upon their 8-8 record and make a return trip to the playoffs, where we’ve seen that anything can happen.
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