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Eagles likely to improve in 2017 based on advanced metrics

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Eagles likely to improve in 2017 based on advanced metrics

If analytics are to be believed, the Eagles have an excellent shot at improving upon last season’s 7-9 record in 2017. Better still, the Giants and Cowboys are likely to experience declines based on the same metrics.

The Eagles were among five NFL teams chosen to improve, while their NFC East rivals make up two of the five picked to decline by ESPN’s Bill Barnwell, all based on advanced statistics. A Football Outsiders alumnus, Barnwell uses the gap between a club’s win total and “Pythagorean expectation” from the previous season to find trends that could point to their rise or fall the following year.

Or, in layman’s terms, basic figures such as the Eagles’ point differential (+36), record in games decided by seven points or less (1-8), and strength of schedule (.544) in 2016 – when taken together – can be a sign of things to come. It just so happens the Eagles were statistical outliers in all three categories, which bodes well.

No team has a better stat-nerd case for jumping into the postseason in 2017 than the Eagles. Advanced metrics suggest Doug Pederson's team was already playoff-caliber last season…

Instead, the Eagles became one of five teams in 2016 to post a losing record despite a positive point differential, which is a particularly weird feat because it hadn't happened once in the league across either of the previous two campaigns. Philadelphia's gap between expected wins and actual wins was the largest of those five, owing to that 1-8 record in games decided by a touchdown.

The Eagles also played either the first- or second-most difficult schedule in the NFL based on metrics, while the ’17 slate projects closer to league average, per Barnwell.

Although strength of schedule may be virtually impossible to predict, the Eagles’ point differential and particularly their inability to win close games is something we’ve already touched on here. As many as five losses last season were decided not merely by one score, but one play. Pure regression to the mean could potentially account for an extra win or two in tight games.

That’s before we even consider the development of Carson Wentz, the expectation Lane Johnson won’t be suspended, the additions of LeGarrette Blount and Alshon Jeffery to the offense, and the hope the defense continues making progress in Year 2 under Jim Schwartz.

Compare the metrics to the Giants, who had a worse point differential (+26) and went 8-3 in games decided by seven points or fewer en route to an 11-5 record last season – all while playing the league’s 15th-ranked schedule (.506).

The biggest reason the Giants turned things around is one you'll rarely hear from a fan: They stayed healthy. It's easy to notice when teams struggle with a season of injuries, but teams who are far healthier than the league average often slip through the cracks. By adjusted games lost, the Giants ranked as the most injured team in the league each of Coughlin's final three seasons at the helm. They ranked as the seventh-healthiest team in football last season.

Or look at the Cowboys, who went 7-2 in games decided by seven points or fewer and played the 12 th-easiest schedule (.491) en route to a 13-3 finish.

One of the biggest reasons the Cowboys leaped up the standings in 2016 was their massive improvement in turnover differential…

History tells us the sort of leap the Cowboys made almost always gives way to some decline the following season. Teams that improved by 20 or more turnovers in a given season saw their margin decline by more than 11 turnovers the following year. They declined as a group by an average of more than one win. (Quarterback Dak Prescott) probably won't post a sub-1 percent interception rate next year. That's reality.

And if all of this sounds like a bunch of razzle dazzle with no real substance behind it, consider this: four of the five teams Barnwell predicted to improve in 2016 did just that, while two of the five picked to decline followed suit as well.

The Eagles won the Super Bowl! So how come I’m not happy?

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The Eagles won the Super Bowl! So how come I’m not happy?

It’s now been two weeks since the Eagles finally won their first Super Bowl. In that time, I’ve re-watched the game five times, re-watched the parade 15 times, and purchased six Super Bowl champions t-shirts, four sweatshirts and five hats. And that’s just from the next morning.

We won, like I’ve always wanted. We’re Super Bowl champs. It wasn’t a dream. I was led to believe that once the impossible happened and we reached the promised land, I'd have nothing more to worry about, ever again. 

So how come I’m still not happy?

I’ll tell you why: It’s because of Cris Collinsworth’s bias. And the unfair coverage of our celebrations; the national media won’t tell you this, but once the Super Bowl was over, not a single Eagles fan punched a horse.

There were the ridiculous crowd-size estimates. And Mike Francesa objecting to Jason Kelce’s language and calling for him to be cut. And the oddsmakers putting our Super Bowl odds below the Patriots’.  And Duracell, for that tweet about Philly fans throwing batteries. Disgraceful. From now on, I’m only throwing Energizers. I’ve also yet to hear an apology from Donovan McNabb, Andy Reid or Joe Banner for not winning us a Super Bowl before now.

At the parade, as we all remember, Jason Kelce sang “no one likes us, we don’t care!” But he was wrong. I care.

Maybe I’m not used to the feeling yet. Maybe it’s because I’ve been chasing this my whole life, and at this point, what else is there to chase? Maybe this sort of existential despair is what I’ve been fearing all along.

Nah, who am I kidding. It’s Cris Collinsworth.

Anyway, here’s my solution for the quarterback thing: Play Carson Wentz, AND Nick Foles. At the same time. Defenses won’t know what hit them, and besides, I’ve got a feeling if it comes down to it, Foles would make a hell of a wide receiver.

So don’t trade Foles. But DO trade Nate Sudfeld. I bet Cleveland would give up a 1 and a 4.

Other Philly sports takes:

- I’ll tell you what, Markelle Fultz caught a break. If not for the Eagles making a Super Bowl run and winning, he’d be all we had to talk about for the past month.

- The Michael Carter-Williams trade was three years ago this week, and let me tell you, I’m still mad about that.

- Jason Kelce appeared in Clearwater for the start of the Phillies’ spring training this week. I just wish he’d go through the entire Phils roster and list everyone’s faults and weaknesses.

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Mike Francesa admits to not really knowing what he was talking about with Kelce's speech

Mike Francesa admits to not really knowing what he was talking about with Kelce's speech

Mike Francesa probably wears flip flops in the city in the middle of winter.

The former radio host absolutely tore into Jason Kelce last week for his legendary speech on the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Francesa even went so far as to say Jeff Lurie should cut Kelce for it.

Now, Francesa did a total 180 on it. 

Just to refresh, here's what he said last week:

“Should have stayed home, the jerk," Francesa begins on Kelce. "Why is that I have to be in my car when these guys win championships, and they decide that they are going to grace the audience with this profanity-laced stupidity. You gotta turn it off, your kids can’t even listen it. He sounded like a total moron. How about going up there and acting like a champion and not acting like a total moron? I turn that stuff off. I’ve seen LeBron James do that, now I’ve seen him do that. You know what? It’s not the time or place. You ever heard of winning like a champion? Somebody should have taken a hook and pulled him off.”

And here's what he had to say today as a guest on Angelo Cataldi's morning show on 94 WIP:

Bottom line is, I went back last night and watched the thing in its entirety, and I have to say, it was not as bad as I thought it was when I watched it and got to see it. I wish he hadn’t used any profanity because it would have been a classic, it was really well done, he did a great job. I thought it was one that would last and could be used a long time. I know it’s popular in Philly even with the profanity but to me those are such special moments that I wish they would raise their level. I’d like to see them do it so they can be used time and time again. Take the profanity out of it.

No. 1, I overreacted. I wouldn’t cut him. I take that back, I apologize to Kelce for that. No. 2, it was not as bad as I thought. I just wish he had raised his vocabulary a little. That was a great speech. He did a great job. 

"Should have stayed home, the jerk!" to "That was a great speech. He did a great job." Okay.

I guess the first step is admitting you have a problem.

You can listen to the full interview here.