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Have The Eagles Joined The NFL’s Ruling Class?

In Week 6, the NFL’s best showed off their very worst. The Falcons blew a 17-0 lead to the Dolphins at home. The Patriots flirted with disaster against the Jets. The Chiefs were uncharacteristically lackluster in a loss at home. And the Packers suffered the worst loss of all when Aaron Rodgers broke his collarbone. One contender that did take care of business: the Philadelphia Eagles. And it might be time to start taking them seriously.

The Eagles beat the Panthers on the road on Thursday to improve to 5-1, and it appears that the NFC East could have its 13th consecutive season with a different champion (don’t even think about it, Giants fans). The Eagles now have a 76 percent chance of winning the division according to FiveThirtyEight’s NFL forecast; that’s the best chance of ending the season atop a division for any team other than the Chiefs. While it might be too early to bet the house that the Eagles will win the Super Bowl, there are plenty of reasons for optimism.

Philadelphia’s defense is one major reason. Through Week 6, Doug Pederson’s rush defense is ranked No.1, surrendering just 66 yards per game. The Eagles have been so good that the 394 total yards that their defense has given up on the ground are the fewest they’ve conceded through six games in 63 years. Oh, and rookie sensation Kareem Hunt of the Chiefs is the only running back to rush for more than 35 yards1 against the Eagles this season, and even he ran for less than he has against other opponents this season, on average.

Running backs perform poorly against the Eagles

Rushing yards gained against the Eagles vs. season average against other teams, among running backs with five or more carries in games against Philadelphia

YARDS GAINED/GAME
WK. TEAM PLAYER VS. EAGLES SEASON AVG.* DIFF.
1 Washington Rob Kelley 30 51 -21
2 Kansas City Kareem Hunt 81 110 -29
3 N.Y. Giants Orleans Darkwa 22 54 -32
3 N.Y. Giants Paul Perkins 25 12 +13
4 L.A. Chargers Melvin Gordon 22 67 -45
5 Arizona Chris Johnson 21 31 -10
6 Carolina Jonathan Stewart -4 50 -54

*Not including yards gained vs. the Eagles.

Source: ESPN

The domination of the Eagles’ front seven has meant that opposing teams have been forced to try their luck through the air. Philly ranks 29th in the league in total passing yards given up per game, but that’s largely because opposing teams have launched an onslaught on the Eagles’ secondary — Philly’s defense ranks No.1 in the league in pass attempts faced. Also, the Eagles have already faced Kirk Cousins, Alex Smith, Philip Rivers and Carson Palmer — four of the top six quarterbacks in passing yards per game through Week 6. When you strip the numbers back, the Eagles’ defense ranks 17th in the league in yards given up per passing attempt and 14th in opponents’ passer rating — still not great, but not terrible either.

On the other side of the ball, the Eagles have gotten by with a balanced offense that ranks third in the league in total yards gained per game. Second-year quarterback Carson Wentz is off to a solid start to the year — Wentz has thrown 13 touchdowns and three interceptions and has a 99.6 passer rating through six games. And Eagles fans may be thinking this is the return of the Wentz they saw in the first three games of last season, when the team started 3-0 and before Wentz threw 14 interceptions in his final 13 games (when the team went 4-9). Thanks to the contributions of tight end Zach Ertz and running back LeGarrette Blount, Philadelphia is the only team in the league to have three players averaging more than 50 receiving yards per game2 and a running back averaging more than 60 rushing yards per game.3 With much of the hype surrounding the team’s defense, the offense has quietly emerged as one of the most dynamic in the game.

So can the Eagles keep on winning? The answer might be “yes” — in the regular season at least. The Eagles’ opponents in their remaining 10 games have an average team Elo rating of 1484 (that’s a metric that estimates each team’s skill level using only the final scores and locations of each game — an Elo rating of roughly 1500 is considered average). Of those 10, just two — Washington and the Los Angeles Rams — have top-10 passing offenses (by passing yards per game). With Rodgers down for what could be the rest of the season, the Eagles could do some damage in the playoffs too. Now, obviously, a lot can change with 11 weeks remaining in the regular season, but of NFC teams currently in playoff positions, only the Saints’ Drew Brees ranks in the top 10 in passing yards per game.

FiveThirtyEight vs. the crowd

Week 6 in our NFL prediction game — in which we invite you to pick football games and try to outsmart our Elo algorithm — was full of surprises. In fact, it was the fifth-most-upset-laden week in the NFL since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger, according to the Brier Score of this week’s games (that’s a measure used to show how accurate each team’s pre-game win probabilities were).

There were multiple games that both our Elo algorithm and you, the readers, got wrong. One of the biggies was the Green Bay-Minnesota game — but readers really took a bath on the Packers’ defeat, losing 14.2 points on average even compared with Elo. Readers also lost big when the Giants won (you read that right) on the road against the Broncos. It wasn’t all bad for readers, though — their best game of the week came when the Rams beat the Jaguars on the road (that’s what Elo gets for betting on the Jags).

Elo’s dumbest (and smartest) picks of Week 6

Average difference between points won by readers and by Elo in Week 6 matchups in FiveThirtyEight’s NFL prediction game

OUR PREDICTION (ELO) READERS’ PREDICTION
PICK WIN PROB. PICK WIN PROB. WINNER READERS’ NET PTS
JAX 66% JAX 55% LAR +10.5
OAK 68 OAK 61 LAC +5.7
NE 67 NE 78 NE +3.7
KC 77 KC 73 PIT +3.2
BAL 75 BAL 72 CHI +2.4
CAR 57 CAR 53 PHI +1.4
TEN 59 TEN 63 TEN +0.3
HOU 83 HOU 85 HOU -1.0
WSH 83 WSH 80 WSH -2.9
ATL 78 ATL 83 MIA -9.5
NO 58 DET 51 NO -11.3
ARI 58 TB 53 ARI -12.4
DEN 77 DEN 84 NYG -13.6
GB 56 GB 66 MIN -14.2

CORRECTION (Oct. 17, 6 p.m.): A previous version of this article incorrectly said that if the Eagles were to win the NFC East this season, it would be the eighth consecutive season that the division would have a different champion. It would be the 13th season.

Check out our latest NFL predictions.

Footnotes

  1. Los Angeles Chargers’ running back Austin Ekeler rushed for 35 yards on just one attempt in Week 4.

  2. Minimum 1.875 receptions per team’s games played.

  3. Minimum 6.25 attempts per team’s games played.

Daniel Levitt is a sports writer at FiveThirtyEight. He’s an alum of the University of Missouri.

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