Monday Night Football Preview: An Early-Season Must-Win for Philadelphia?
If you simply look at the records, you'd think Monday night's matchup between the New York Giants and the Philadelphia Eagles would be a display in mediocrity. The Giants are 3-2, while the Eagles are 2-3. They're in a disappointing division ravaged by injuries. It is swimming in meh-ness.
In actuality, both teams appear to be better than the records let on. The Giants are two late touchdowns allowed from being 5-0, and the Eagles possess a plus-14 point differential. Additionally, they both sit in the top half of numberFire's power rankings. These two teams really aren't all that bad.
When you add in the division implications, this thing gets even more interesting. The Giants hold a one-game lead over the Eagles and the snake-bitten Dallas Cowboys. If they win, they'll have a healthy cushion in the division. If the Eagles win, they tie things up atop the standings. Me likey.
So before they take the field, let's break this puppy down numberFire style. We'll be using the game projections page, which is available for every game each week to premium subscribers. It has a look at the projections for each team's stats, the odds against the spread and the over/under, and similar games throughout history that could paint a picture of what to expect in the contest.
We'll also be using numberFire's Net Expected Points (NEP). On each play, there is an expected number of points a team will score on that drive. A positive play (such as a three-yard rush on 3rd and 2) will increase the number of expected points; a negative play (such as a three-yard rush on 3rd and 4) will decrease the number of expected points. NEP totals up these fluctuations over the course of the year for both players and teams, pumping out a number that shows their value relative to expectations. The team total is adjusted based on strength of opponent.
Heading into this game, there are four important questions that will go a long way toward deciding who comes out on top. Let's run through those before showing what numberFire's algorithms predict will happen Monday night.
How Important Is Odell Beckham Jr. to the Giants?
As of Sunday night, it was looking as if Odell Beckham would be good to go for the Giants Monday. That's obviously a good thing as he means a crazy amount to their offense.
Through the first five games, Beckham has accounted for 41.35 Reception NEP, the fifth highest total in the league. He has been targeted 52 times, accounting for 26.94 percent of the team's total this year. The next closest is Larry Donnell, who has been targeted 22 fewer times. Beckham might be a focal point of the team.
Not only has Beckham provided the volume, but he has also been able to maintain a decent amount of efficiency. His 0.80 Reception NEP per target ranked 21st out of 63 wide receivers with at least 20 targets, though only four of the receivers ahead of him in that category had been targeted more than 40 times. Among the high-volume guys, his efficiency is near the top of the bundle.
Beckham's emergence has had a profound impact on Eli Manning. Manning entered Week 6 ranked fourth in Passing NEP, trailing only Andy Dalton, Tom Brady, and Carson Palmer. He is also fourth in Total NEP (which takes rushing into account); in his first 11 seasons, Manning's best finish has been ninth on three separate occasions. The combination of these two has taken Manning to a new level of performance.
If Beckham can't go, the team won't be completely sunk. Rueben Randle has been adequate this year and actually sits higher than Beckham in Reception NEP per target in 16th place. Dwayne Harris has managed to get the job done, as well, so they could get by, but it's certainly far from ideal.
Have Sam Bradford's Struggles Been Exaggerated?
There are plenty of things you can point to as being the root of the Eagles' struggles thus far. The most common scapegoat through the first five weeks has been Sam Bradford.
Bradford came in as a major question mark prior to the season, given his disappointing tenure with the St. Louis Rams. But, if Chip Kelly could turn Nick Foles and Mark Sanchez into serviceable quarterbacks, why not the former first overall picK?
It wasn't quite that easy. You don't need NEP to tell you that Bradford struggled at first, slogging through a few games as the Eagles got off to an 0-2 start. He finished those two weeks ranked 22nd in the league with 3.84 Passing NEP on 90 drop backs. Sanchez finished last year with 49.51 Passing NEP, so questions about whether Bradford was truly the best option on the roster weren't totally off base.
Although the past three weeks have been far from perfect, things have been getting better. Bradford now has 18.43 Passing NEP, pushing him up to 15th in the league in the category. From an efficiency standpoint, he's 18th in Passing NEP per play out of 36 quarterbacks with at least 50 drop backs. Clearly, he's still below where the team would like him to be, but it's at least no longer a straight dumpster fire in Philly.
Things may continue trending in the right direction for Bradford in Week 6. The Giants rank 21st in Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play. As such, our algorithms see Bradford turning in a decent night with 295 passing yards on 43 attempts (6.86 yards per attempt) to go with 2.11 touchdowns and 1.05 interceptions. Again, this isn't world-breaking efficiency, but it is at least better than what we saw the first two weeks.
Can DeMarco Murray Repeat Last Week's Performance?
Speaking of early-season struggles, DeMarco Murray is well versed in such a subject. He had 21 carries for 11 yards in the first two weeks. He would require more than 53 carries to hit 100 yards if he kept that pace. Not ideal!
Things have started to swing in his favor ever since he returned from injury. He was efficient with 10 touches in Week 4 before he totaled 120 yards and a touchdown in Week 5. Is it possible he has now turned a corner?
It might be a bit too soon to say that. First, the Eagles were facing the New Orleans Saints. The Saints are 22nd in Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP per play, and they just allowed the Atlanta Falcons to rack up 150 rushing yards on 21 attempts earlier in Week 6. That's not a great measuring stick for a rebound.
Additionally, Murray still wasn't overly efficient in that contest. He was able to add 0.83 Rushing NEP on the day, which isn't bad, but it's also not enough to raise an eyebrow. He is now 49th in Rushing NEP per play out of 55 running backs with at least 25 carries.
It doesn't stop there, though. Murray has a Rushing Success Rate of 26.5 percent, meaning he has only picked up positive NEP on 26.5 percent of his carries this year. That is 54th out of those 55 backs. Ryan Mathews, on the other hand, has done so on half of his carries, the fifth best mark in the league. It's not all about the offensive line; Murray himself has also just struggled.
Things don't figure to get much easier this week. The Giants entered Week 6 ranked third in Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP per play. They hadn't allowed more than 88 yards total on the ground in any single game this year before the San Francisco 49ers racked up 124 last week. They've got some tough cookies in their rush defense.
Our projections aren't overly negative on Murray. They see him rushing for 74 yards and 0.25 touchdowns to go with 3 receptions for 28 yards and 0.11 touchdowns. From a fantasy perspective, Murray is rebounding, but his overall effectiveness still has strides to make.
Can the Giants Maintain Their Lead in the NFC East?
With the Eagles entering this game as five-point favorites, it's clear Vegas isn't quite as sold on the Giants as our algorithms may be. Does this mean they have a shot at pulling out the victory?
As you'll recall, the game projections page includes a list of similar games from history that can help us figure out how things will go down Monday night. The game labeled as the strongest predictor at 90.06 percent similarity is actually one that sees the G-men taking home another victory.
This was a game between where the San Diego Chargers (playing the role of the Giants) were on the road to face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who were favored by 4.5 points. The Chargers went in and posted 21 points in the fourth quarter to take home a 41-24 victory.
This was very much a Philip Rivers game, as he fills the role of Manning, the man for whom he was traded only 11 years ago. Rivers threw for 287 yards on 31 attempts (9.23 yards per attempt) with 4 touchdowns. That was compared to his counterpart, Jeff Garcia, who only had 232 yards on his 34 attempts (6.82 yards per attempt) with 1 touchdown and 2 interceptions. Basically, the more efficient passing team won. That would bode well for the Giants.
Obviously this would be dependent on Beckham's status, but our algorithms don't quite see a Rivers-esque game out of Manning. He's slotted for 275 yards on 39 attempts (7.05 yards per attempt) with 1.60 touchdowns and 0.92 interceptions. If the Giants want to pull off the upset, they'll most definitely need a big game out of that man right there.
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