Momentum: Descriptive or Predictive in the NFL?

How much is momentum an actual thing in the NFL, and how much is simply a figure of our imagination?

Last year, Eli Manning and the New York Giants went on an unexpected playoff run to win the Super Bowl. Many people chalked up the victory to unstoppable momentum. After almost eliminating themselves from playoff contention, the Giants had their work cut out for them. Defeating both the Jets and division-rival Cowboys in Weeks 16 and 17, Eli and company snuck in as the 4-seed.

I am a skeptic, though (and an Eagles fan). I remember the same team that lost to the bottom-dwelling Washington Redskins twice and lost at home to a dismal Seattle team. The Giants finished No. 14 in total NEP (No. 7 on offense and No. 23 on defense); all told, they were an average team. This should be qualified, since they were dealing with injuries the entire year, predominantly on the defensive side of the ball. Guys like Osi Umenyiora, Chase Blackburn, and Prince Amukamara all missed significant time to start the season and returned for playoffs.

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