Friday, October 26, 2012
Better playoff chance: Eagles or Cowboys?
By Dan Graziano
Oh, the ESPN Stats & Information group has offered up a nice little Friday afternoon treat for us here on the NFC East blog. Their statistically minded debate post this week tackles the question of which 3-3 team has the better chance of reaching this year's playoffs -- the Dallas Cowboys or the Philadelphia Eagles?
Alok Pattani and Hyun Choi take the side of the Cowboys, citing the degree to which their schedule eases out after the next two weeks' games against the Giants and Falcons, as well as the Cowboys' superior performance so far in pass yards per attempt and "offensive success rate." They believe those are strong indicators of future offensive success, and the Cowboys are outperforming the Eagles in those areas:
Their quarterback, Tony Romo, has completed 68 percent of his passes (third-best in the NFL), eight percentage points better than Michael Vick.
The Romo-Vick comparison surely favors the Cowboys at this point, and the sack numbers are indicative not only of the way the offensive lines have performed (Dallas' better, Philly's worse as the season has progressed) but of the relative ability of the two quarterbacks to make plays when the protection breaks down.
In the fourth quarter or overtime, Romo has a 70.6 completion percentage, best among qualified quarterbacks and 15 percentage points higher than Vick’s.
The Eagles have allowed a sack every 16 dropbacks, compared to the Cowboys 27 per dropbacks, the fourth-best rate in the league. That pass protection should give the Cowboys the best shot at making the playoffs.
But Adam Grigely picks the Eagles in this debate, citing a defense that has been better at limiting opposing quarterbacks this season:
The Eagles defense has allowed just seven touchdown passes, tied for second fewest in the league, and has also picked off seven passes.
Two very different statistical paths, to be sure. I think the answer to the question is the Eagles, mainly because I think they have underperformed to this point and the Cowboy have not. Looking at those Romo-Vick comparisons in the Cowboys' side of the debate, you can make the case that Romo has played very well and the Cowboys are still just 3-3, while Vick has ample room for improvement which, if it occurs, should elevate the Eagles' offense while the defense continues to play well. The Eagles are also healthier, while Dallas is dealing with injuries to such key players as linebacker Sean Lee and running back DeMarco Murray.
The Eagles have been the hardest team to complete passes against, allowing the lowest completion percentage (52.7) in the league. The Cowboys are allowing opponents to complete 61.1 percent of their passes.
The Eagles have allowed a Total QBR of 28.8, third-best in the league behind the Houston Texans and Chicago Bears, both of whom are near-locks for the playoffs.
Being real, these teams are both 3-3, and there remains a strong chance that neither reaches this season's playoffs. It's not as though we're debating between the Vikings and the Packers here. But 3-3 is certainly no death sentence, and each of these NFC East teams is looking ahead to its final 10 games with plenty of hope. I just think the Eagles have more reason to hope than the Cowboys do.