If the playoffs started now, the Philadelphia Eagles would be on the outside looking in. But statistical metrics say the Eagles could be the second-best team in the NFL.
That sounds ludicrous to say about a 5-5 team with just two wins since September, but Football Outsiders lists the Eagles as the best in the NFL on defense and special teams. Only the Seattle Seahawks have a higher efficiency rating on FO’s Defense-adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA) metric, and the Eagles play like a team that should have eight wins.
The other teams at the top of FO’s DVOA rankings are unsurprising. The Seahawks are No. 1, with the New England Patriots at No. 3 and Dallas Cowboys at No. 4. Down in last place are the Cleveland Browns.
But the rankings also reveal which teams are underperforming and which ones are finding more wins than they should:
A 3-0 start to the season has been spoiled by losses in five of the last seven weeks, including an 0-3 record against NFC East opponents. But only three teams have allowed fewer points than Philadelphia, and the team is No. 14 in points scored.
Only the Cowboys and the Patriots have a better point differential than the Eagles.
Basically, the Eagles have won blowouts but are struggling to win close games.
Yes, the schedule has been tough since the team’s Week 4 bye, but the Eagles have been able to avoid getting shredded too much by injuries. Philadelphia has turned the ball over 12 times in the last seven weeks but has forced 10 turnovers, so it hasn’t been a huge issue.
Altogether, the Eagles have played like a team that should have 8.1 wins, but are 5-5 instead. With games against the Green Bay Packers, Cincinnati Bengals, Baltimore Ravens, and the entire slate of NFC East opponents, there’s still time to make a run, but Philadelphia has to start converting good play into wins.
San Francisco 49ers
Football Outsiders says the Eagles should be a playoff team. It doesn’t say the same about the 49ers. But they shouldn’t be 1-10.
San Francisco entered Week 12 with their estimated wins at 3.5, but the team hasn’t managed to get a win since its Week 1 shutout of the Los Angeles Rams. Quarterback issues and terrible defense are big reasons why the 49ers haven’t been able to find another win, but the team’s nightmarish schedule is primarily why F.O. thinks they’ve lost 10 straight.
No team has faced a more difficult slate so far in 2016, with losses to the Patriots, Seahawks and Cowboys all in the rearview mirror.
While the 49ers are clearly a below-average NFL team, F.O. gives them a higher DVOA than four teams, including the 6-4 Houston Texans.
That’s right, the Texans at 6-5 have a lower DVOA than the 1-10 San Francisco 49ers.
Entering Week 12, Houston played like a team that should average 3.1 wins, but instead escaped the first 11 weeks with a 6-4 record. Along the way were blowout losses to the Minnesota Vikings, Patriots and Denver Broncos, and narrow victories over the Indianapolis Colts and Jacksonville Jaguars.
The team is No. 32 in F.O.’s offensive rankings and No. 31 in special teams. Only the No. 12-ranked defense saves the team from being down at the bottom of the NFL with the Browns.
All five games left on the schedule for the Texans are against teams below .500, including divisional games against the other three teams in the AFC South. Only a few more wins could get Houston in the postseason, even if it’s played more like a team that should be picking in the top 10 of the 2017 NFL draft.
Trailing in the fourth quarter of the first 11 games of the season isn’t the best road to the playoffs, but the Lions are closing in on an NFC North title. Matthew Stafford tied the record for fourth-quarter comebacks in a season with a come-from-behind win on Thanksgiving. But things would be a lot easier if the Lions could just carry a lead into the fourth quarter instead.
The team is No. 32 in F.O.’s defensive rankings and entered Week 12 with an expected win total of 4.1, rather than the six wins it had before Thursday. The victory over the Vikings improved the Lions to 7-4 and locked up the tiebreaker over the Vikings for the NFC North crown.
A bit of luck has been on Detroit’s side, but Stafford has been playing the best football of his career and the 28-year-old knows how to steal close games. It’s been enough to keep the Lions in the postseason mix, even if the team isn’t playing playoff-level football for all 60 minutes.
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With a month left to play, there’s still time for a regression to the mean. Teams playing like playoff teams without the wins to show for it still have time to make a run, and teams winning despite glaring flaws could still collapse.
But time is running out for the Eagles, while the Texans and Lions could sneak in thanks to the lack of competition in their respective divisions.