Why the New York Giants Will Win the NFC East
With a quarter of the 2015 NFL season in the books, there appears to be very little separating the four teams in the NFC East. At first glance, the division looks like a cluster of mediocrity, with none of its members over .500 and only the AFC South laying claim to a worse cumulative record through the season's first month.
The Eagles stand at 1-3 while the Cowboys, Giants, and Redskins are all 2-2. But according to our algorithms, the likelihood of the Giants winning the NFC East is nearly double that of any other team in the division. While we peg the respective likelihoods of each of their divisional foes winning the division at somewhere between 15.5 and 22.2 percent, the Giants boast a whopping 44.3 percent chance of being crowned NFC East champions.
Why is that?
A Closer Look
The Giants' defense surprisingly ranks first in our schedule-adjusted Defensive Rushing Net Expected Points (NEP) metric.
Their score of -16.57 indicates that they have kept roughly 17 points of scoring off the board against the run through four weeks. The Jets at -15.06 are the only other team better than -10.
Big Blue is ranked first at 69.8 yards per game allowed on the ground, and their 3.1 yards per carry allowed is tied for first yards in the league, despite having faced our 22nd, 14th, 4th and 2nd ranked rushing attacks. Ostensibly a soft spot entering the season, the stout rushing defense has buoyed the Giants' overall Adjusted Defensive NEP per play ranking of 12th, to go along with their 9th ranked offense.
But perhaps the main reason the Giants are in the driver's seat in the NFC East is the schedule. The Giants' remaining opponents have a cumulative nERD (our expected point differential metric) of -0.62, while those of their three divisional foes are 0.47 (Redskins), 0.98 (Eagles), and 1.43 (Cowboys).
For context, if the Giants' remaining opponents were a single recurring team, that team would rank 19th in our power rankings, while the Redskins, Eagles, and Cowboys face teams with cumulative rankings of 16th, 15th, and 13th, respectively.
Drilling down paints an even rosier picture of the Giants' remaining schedule. After last Sunday's victory in Buffalo, the Giants don't have a single road game left on their schedule against a team with a nERD ranking better than 15th. By comparison, the Eagles have three such games remaining (at Carolina, New England, and the Giants), the Cowboys have three (at the Giants, Buffalo, and Green Bay), and the Redskins have four (at Atlanta, Jets, New England, and Carolina).
The Smart Choice
Subjectively, every team in the division can make a case that a mid-season surge is within the realm of possibility.
For the Cowboys, much will depend on how deep a hole Tony Romo and Dez Bryant find themselves in when they return to action. If a healthier Redskins secondary can patch some holes in its 21st ranked passing defense, or if the Eagles' anemic rushing offense -- currently ranked dead last with a -14.46 Adjusted Rushing NEP -- can begin to click, then the tide of the NFC East may begin to turn.
Still, if not for two fourth-quarter comebacks, the Giants would be 4-0, and both the math and the calendar suggest that the smart money is on New York.
When the dust settles, it's not unlikely that the NFC East champion will be a team with single digit wins (we only project a paltry 8.6 wins for the Giants). But with two improbable Super Bowl runs during the Coughlin-Eli era -- both after sneaking into the playoffs with just 9 and 10 wins -- would anyone really want to travel to East Rutherford on Wild Card Weekend?