Green Bay Packers at Philadelphia Eagles (-4, 47.5 o/u)
Do you buy into advanced metrics? Billy Beane made a career out of “moneyballing” as an MLB general manager, bringing sabermetrics into a new, respected light. Football has its own advanced statistics – most notably, DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average), which measures a team’s efficiency – that aim to calculate a team’s true strength, looking well beyond win-loss records.
If the Super Bowl was decided by advanced stats, the Philadelphia Eagles (5-5, 4-0 home) would be in an enviable spot, while the Green Bay Packers (4-6, 1-4 away) would be verging on irrelevant. But they don’t, and win-loss records count for everything come playoff time. The sad reality for the Eagles is that they’re currently last in their division and well back of a Wild Card spot in the NFC. The Packers, meanwhile, are third in the NFC North and stand a better chance of reeling in division-leading Detroit (7-4), especially if they can pull out a win when they travel to Philly on Monday (8:30 PM Eastern at Lincoln Financial Field).
The Eagles currently sit first overall in DVOA, including first in defense and first on special teams. The Packers are 20th overall and falling thanks to a Swiss cheese defense.
Green Bay has lost four straight and given up 40-plus points in back to back games. They haven’t held an opponent under 30 since downing the lowly Bears back in mid-October. Aaron Rodgers and the offense are looking decent (24.7 PPG, 10th overall), but backfield injuries have left the Green Bay attack pretty one-dimensional. (Green Bay is 10th in passing but 20th in rushing.) Lord knows head coach Mike McCarthy doesn’t need any help being uncreative.
McCarthy and company catch a break this week, however, facing a Philly offense that lacks playmakers on the outside. Rookie QB Carson Wentz is fully living up to expectations – and then some – but Jordan Matthews does not a receiving corps make.
They’d ordinarily lean heavily on their backs, but both Ryan Mathews (knee) and Darren Sproles (ribs) are banged up. Even if they suit up, they won’t be at 100-percent.
The strength-on-strength matchup in this game will be the Packer offense against the Philly D. The Eagles have smothered opponents at home this year, holding opponents to 9.5 points per game. Sure, that includes games against the Browns and Vikings, two of the worst offenses in the NFL. But it also includes limiting the high-flying Steelers and Falcons to three and 15 points, respectively.
That should make you awfully nervous about backing the Green Bay attack. It isn’t the same prolific unit that teams could only hope to contain. Aaron Rodgers is playing well, especially in the last few games, but not at the MVP level that made this offense the one of the most potent in the league. And without a real running game to shoulder some of the load, his small regression looks all the larger.
I’m somewhat of a believer in the predictive value of DVOA, but I’m not buying Philly as the top team in the league. And I don’t think I’m alone in that regard. At the end of the day, I like Green Bay getting four points in this game. I just can’t see Wentz torching the maligned Packer secondary the way Washington and Indy did. Philly doesn’t have the receivers to do so.
Running back Christine Michael should provide some modicum of a boost to the Green Bay ground game in his first outing in green and gold, helping Rodgers score enough to keep this one within a field goal.
Pick: Packers (+4).
Photo credit: Mike Morbeck (Flickr: Aaron Rodgers) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.
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