Is Washington Really the NFC East's Best Team?
The NFL's current playoff format, one that rewards division winners, puts a lot of weight into these four-team subsets.
While that can leave potentially deserving teams out in the cold, it makes divisional races exciting -- for better or for worse.
For much of the season (once the Indianapolis Colts began to struggle), it became fairly clear that the AFC South was the worst division in football and that an undeserving team was destined for the postseason. Both the Colts and Houston Texans have picked up their play of late, and now, it might be the NFC East that is the weakest division in football top-to-bottom.
But rather than get into that side of things, it's deep enough into the season to try to figure out which NFC East squad is actually best and which team has the best shot at clinching a playoff berth -- even if that means a playoff spot with a 7-9 or 8-8 record.
What the Analytics Say
Yes, we all know that Washington and the New York Giants are 5-6, that the Philadelphia Eagles are 4-7 (and tanking), and that the Dallas Cowboys are 3-8 (and cannot stay healthy).
This really whittles things down to a two-team race, though no team is really out of it just yet.
But in terms of our metrics and analytics, who is best?
Well, the best offense -- according to our schedule-adjusted Net Expected Points (NEP) metric -- belongs to the Giants. They have played 60.03 points above expectation this year after adjusting for opponent strength. That ranks 12th in the NFL.
Washington (35.15) ranks 18th.
Dallas (4.20) finds itself ranked 27th despite all of the injuries; Philadelphia (-0.42, 28th) has played below expectation-level offensively.
Defensively, Washington (43.10) ranks 15th, Philadelphia (44.16) is 16th, Dallas (53.66) is 19th, and New York (71.74) ranks 24th.
So, New York has the best performing offense but the worst defense.
Washington is the only one of the four with two top-20 rankings.
Bringing it All Together
In terms of nERD, which indicates how many by points a team would be expected to beat or lose to an average opponent on a neutral field, Washington is, indeed, the best team in the division.
However, their nERD score of -0.83 places them 16th in the NFL and suggests that they're worse than an average NFL team.
New York (-1.26) is 17th in the NFL. Philadelphia (-3.83) ranks 21st, and Dallas (-4.26) is 26th.
Washington is projected to finish with a final record of 7.6-8.4, slightly better than New York (7.2-8.8). The reeling Eagles aren't expected to do much to build on their 4-7 record, as they're pegged for a 5.8-10.2 finish.
Washington owns a 50.3 percent chance to reach the playoffs -- best in the division. New York is second at 39.1 percent. Philadelphia (12.3 percent) and Dallas (3.1 percent) are basically entirely dependent on clinching the division, though that can mostly be said for both 5-6 squads, too.
Only Washington (0.9 percent) has better than a 0.5 percent chance to win the Super Bowl, and that ranks them 13th in the NFL.
It's not pretty, and Washington is an average squad at best, but they really are playing like the best team in the NFC East. With the current playoff format, that's good enough.