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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.

A surprising Eagle keeps getting drug tested

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Jake Elliott IG

A surprising Eagle keeps getting drug tested

Jake Elliott has been a revelation for the Philadelphia Eagles after Caleb Sturgis went down with an injury early in the season.

But has he been too good...

The rook has made 12 of his 14 attempts for the Birds this season.

If you're looking for a good laugh today, go check out this reddit thread that starts with a photo from Elliott's Instagram story in which he points out he got flagged for his third drug test in two weeks!

The comment section is as good as a Jake Elliott 61 yarder.

"Well, he does bleed green...," abenyishay says..

"Is kickers doping really a thing?" ChaosFinalForm wonders, as do we.

What do you think? Just the way the random drug draw fell the last few weeks, or does the NFL think Jake Elliott is into something?

76ers Season Opener: One more moral victory before we start winning for real

76ers Season Opener: One more moral victory before we start winning for real

We've all been so excited about the start of the Philadelphia 76ers season that it feels like nobody even bothered to look at the first three games on the schedule this year: At Washington, home for Boston, at Toronto. The Sixers may be the fifth best team in the Eastern Conference when healthy this season -- Jeff Van Gundy thinks so, at least, as he kept gushing last night on the ESPN (!!) broadcast of 76ers-Wizards -- but they play three of the four teams ahead of them to kick off the season, their first after the supposed summation of The Process. It's a pretty cold way to welcome the Sixers to the land of the NBA living, really. 

So yeah, the Sixers lost last night in their season opener for the fourth time in four seasons -- and forever shout out to Michael Carter-Williams, Spencer Hawes, Evan Turner, and the rest of the squad that pulled off arguably the greatest regular-season upset in franchise history against LeBron and the Heatles on opening night, 2013. But the Sixers lost last night merely because they were playing the Washington Wizards, arguably the second-best team in the East last season and only stronger in the new year, in DC. And they still came a couple late-game deflections away from walking away with more wins than losses on their docket for the first time since... hey, don't forget James Anderson and Tony Wroten on that '13-'14 squad, either. Remember James Anderson? 

No, you don't, of course, because the Sixers don't have any James Andersons anymore: They have 10 professional basketball players, and arguably even more on the bench who might not crack the rotation this year until things go very south. (I'd take Furkan Korkmaz over all but maybe three players on the '15-'16 squad; we might not even see him on the court until we reach the deepest recesses of December garbage time.) And all of 'em looked good last night -- except for Amir Johnson, who went 2 for 27 from within three feet of the basket and somehow fouled out in 15 minutes. Even he should have nothing on the infuriating Sixers of years past: Brandon Davies ain't walking through that door anytime soon.

Everyone else was beautiful. Ben Simmons had a sparkling debut, posting an 18-10-5 with just one turnover, with shocking efficiency for a ball-handler who didn't attempt a shot outside six feet. Markelle Fultz was really impressive making plays for himself and others around the basket -- though he similarly balked at shooting from any kind of range, and his free-throw motion still looks disturbingly close to my fourth-grade form -- and fought on defense, generally showing that he can be a positive contributor even while he works on fixing his busted jumper. And we probably should've known that Joel Embiid's minutes limit was just a red herring: He played 27, posted 18 and 13, and got the crowd chanting "Trust the Process" like the Verizon Center was just an oversized Chickie's and Pete's. Dario Saric played unexceptionally -- 3 points on 1-5 shooting -- but he's Dario, so he's beautiful by default. 

But the real difference was in the wings. Robert Covington and J.J. Redick combined for an absolutely staggering 11 triples on 19 attempts -- the Sixers routinely went entire months at the beginning of the Process without the team making double-digit threes in a single game, now we have two guys doing it entirely on their own. Covington was of course the real superstar, accounting for seven of those triples on his way to a game-high 29 points with typically exceptional D. But man, when Redick pulls up into a quick-trigger three off the dribble... it's like, you didn't even know players were allowed to do that. Not Sixers players, anyway. 

And even with all that, the Sixers still lost, 120-115. Oh well. If Bayless can get the ball to an open Simmons under the basket in the final minute, or if Covington can swing a pass to an open Bayless in the corner a possession later -- both passes were deflected and stolen -- the game may have ended very differently. But it also may not have -- the Wizards have John Wall, they have late-game experience, and they have organizational consistency: In other words, they should win games like this, even against a team as improved (but still as green) as the Sixers. It's fine. It's great, honestly.

Of course, Redick and Covington won't always combine for 11 three-pointers, Embiid won't always be available for 27 minutes a night, and Simmons won't maintain a 5:1 assist:turnover ratio for the entire season. But it's not like any of that won't ever happen again, either: This is just a good team of good players now, and there will be games where they hang in against teams they shouldn't be hanging in against, and even escaping with the win on occasion. 

Will it happen in any of the team's first three? Maybe, maybe not -- it's a little frustrating that the Ballers might not get to demonstrate how improved they are in their W-L record for the season's first stretch, and you have to hope the team (and fanbase) don't fall into some Same Old Sixers malaise as they scrap against the conference elite. But watching the team last night in Washington, the feeling couldn't have been more different than even last year, when they nearly scraped together an opening-night win against an undermanned OKC team. It's not gonna be long before the Philadelphia 76ers are the team that makes the rest of the East go "Oh crap, we have to play them on opening night?"