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Sunday Night Football Preview: Early Supremacy in the NFC East

Can LeSean McCoy bounce back and help the Eagles take the early advantage over the Giants in the NFC East?

The New York Giants are all of a sudden a force to be reckoned with in the NFC.

After stumbling out of the gates 0-2 and being outscored 60-28, the Giants have reeled off three straight wins and confidently travel to the City of Brotherly Love to tangle with the NFC East leading Philadelphia Eagles in primetime.

The Giants resurgence has largely been due to the sudden improvement on offense, as Eli Manning has adapted to Ben McAdoo's high-octane offense, completing a fantastic 70% of his passes and moving from 31st to 14th overall among quarterbacks in Passing Net Expected Points (NEP). NEP is the key metric here at numberFire, and it helps determine how many points an individual player is adding to his team’s score on a game-by-game basis.

Because of this, Manning has also become a viable fantasy option again, and he is making the weapons around him better in the process. Wide receivers Victor Cruz and Rueben Randle have ascended from 78th and 120th, respectively, in Reception NEP to Top 50 options out of a total of 165 qualifying wideouts. The improvement is real.

The Eagles, based on our numbers, are really a surprise division leader. Quarterback Nick Foles is outside the top 20 in Passing NEP. Consensus top-three fantasy stud LeSean McCoy is dead last among running backs in Total NEP and is playing like the worst running back in football, leaving his owners with legitimate questions on what they should be doing with him. Philadelphia has truly been led by their defense, which ranks fifth in Adjusted Defensive NEP per play. That's our way of saying they're a top-five defense when accounting for schedule strength.

Primetime NFC East showdowns are usually pretty great games to watch, and this one should be no exception. Let’s see how this one should shake out:

Inside the Box Score

New York and Philadelphia have both been middle of the road offensive units, ranking 13th and 20th, respectively, in Offensive Team NEP. According to our advanced metrics, offense should not be an issue in this contest, as we have both teams gaining over 330 yards of offense and scoring more than 20 points each. The Eagles are a 2.5-point favorite in this one, and their 62.41% chances of winning is the tenth highest win probability of Week 6, so this game could really go either way.

When looking at a game like this without an overwhelming favorite, we refer back to games that have already happened to make predictions about the present, which you can find by checking out the Strongest Predictors on the game page. Sunday Night’s contest most closely matches a 2004 contest between the Houston Texans - representing the Giants in this scenario - and the Jacksonville Jaguars.

The Texans traveled to Jacksonville as underdogs and abused the Jags 21-0. Jacksonville compiled 159 yards of total offense and turned the ball over three times. Houston running back Domanick Williams rushed 31 times for 158 yards and a touchdown. Andre Johnson chipped in 4 catches, 46 yards, and a touchdown. The Houston defense racked up three sacks and scored a touchdown on a fumble recovery.

Meanwhile, Jaguar quarterbacks Byron Leftwich and David Garrard combined to complete just 47.6% of their passes.

For the Giants to win in Philadelphia, they will need their defense to suffocate the fast-paced Eagles’ offense. Considering the Eagles have only scored two offensive touchdowns over the last two games, this task doesn’t seem as daunting as it would have been just two weeks ago.

On the offensive side of the ball, New York's rookie running back, Andre Williams, will be forced to carry the load in relief of injured starter, Rashad Jennings, who currently leads the NFL in Rushing NEP among backs with 60 or more carries.

Do What You Do Best

The Eagles want to run plays. They are designed to gain large chunks of yards at lightning speed, and the talent they feature on offense fits this mold.

Moving the ball against the Giants is going to be slightly easier on the ground. The G-Men currently rank 15th in Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP per play but are 6th in passing per play. McCoy, alongside Darren Sproles, is going to have to right the ship immediately, as they are surprisingly just 23rd in rushing offense according to our metrics. Why is it such a surprise? Philadelphia was the best rushing offense in 2013 according to our data.

The strongest predictor showing how Philadelphia wins this game is a 2008 NFC East battle between the Giants - representing the Eagles - and the Washington Redskins. Offense was at a premium in this 16-7 slug fest, as the defending champion Giants rushed for 154 yards as a team and clamped down on the defensive end, allowing only 217 yards of total offense. Brandon Jacobs was the offensive standout in this game, rushing 21 times for 116 yards, helping the Giants maintain a 35:43-24:17 victory in the time of possession war.

As we can see from the Strongest Predictors, defense and the running game are the keys to victory for both sides despite running back issues for each squad. In this scenario, the Eagles will need a heavy time of possession advantage and a strong showing on the ground to win, but they currently rank last in the league in average time of possession. The formula is there, and the personnel is in place. It will be up to McCoy to break a season long slump right now in in this early-season battle for NFC East supremacy.

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