Friday, October 16, 2009

Week 6 Pick: Eagles -14 @ Raiders

In week 6, I'm going with my first huge favorite of the season. It pains me to write anything favorable about the despicable city of Philadelphia or their abomination of a football team, but when the Eagles are giving only 2 TD's to one of the worst football teams I have seen in my 20 years of following the NFL, it's just too much to resist. So all ye BadNFL faithful, say it with me now: E-A-G-L-E-S (or however that annoying Eagles song that their fans always sing in sports bars goes). Here's why:

1. Oakland will generate next to nothing on offense.

Most readers will find this statement rather obvious. First, JeMarcus Russell's struggles have been well-documented, and I scarcely need to repeat them here. Suffice it to say his numbers are pathetic, and his performance on tape is even worse. His decisionmaking and accuracy have been so atrocious that the the Raiders don't even let him throw the ball; his 13 pass attempts last week tied an NFL record for fewest pass attempts in NFL history in a 35+ point loss. The result is a one-dimensional team that is constantly far behind, attempting to climb back into games relying on its pitiful running game facing defenses who can stack the line with impunity. As a result, the Raiders very rarely get into the red zone, and when they do, they don't score because their quarterback is a joke. Their offense is on pace to shatter the franchise record for fewest points scored, and they're regressing rather than improving as the season goes on. I heard a telling stat on Simmons's podcast this week that nicely encapsulates the Raiders' total futility on offense: the current Raiders are the first team since 1960 to generate fewer than 200 yards on offense in 4 consecutive weeks.

Such futility does not bode well for the Raiders as they take on the Eagles' 3rd-ranked defense. Almost every story you read about this game contains some opening line about how these teams are heading in opposite directions. While this is true on both sides of the ball, the Eagles' defense is undoubtedly licking its chops at the prospect of facing the Raiders' mistake-prone offense. The Raiders' offensive line is in Bills' territory: it's injury-ravaged, confused, and vulnerable to a variety of pressure packages. Unfortunately for the Raiders' beleaguered O-Line, the Eagles lead the lead in blitz frequency and will undoubtedly subject Russell to relentless pressure. As a result, look for the Eagles to generate bountiful numbers of negative plays and turnovers. After all, the Raiders are 3rd-worst in the league in giveaways while the Eagles are 2nd in takeaways. Look for that trend to continue.

2. The Eagles have an explosive offense that loves to blow out bad teams.

Most previews of this game also make note of the Eagles' explosive offense. Such compliments are well-deserved, as McNabb played nearly a perfect game last week, utilizing his wide variety of weapons and moving the ball at will. Indeed, one of the most reassuring elements of the Eagles' offense is its balance; if teams try and take one weapon away, like speedy DeSean Jackson, the Eagles will punish them by focusing elsewhere. In fact, the breakout last week of Jeremy Maclin will make it more difficult for the Raiders to simply rely on their admittedly excellent CB Nnamdi Asomugha to shutdown Jackson. Expect McNabb and the Eagles formidable aerial attack to have success.

Granted, the Raiders appear to have a mediocre but not terrible pass defense, ranking 15th in yardage allowed through the air. But this stat is misleading. Their pass defense is giving up 7.7 yards per play, good for 28th in the league, and their overall yardage stats look non-terrible only because Oakland is so far behind in most games that teams are content to run the ball in the second half. While Andy Reid is famous for relying on a pass-heavy offense, he will likely also give a rested Westbrook some additional work in the second half of this game to protect what will likely be a big lead. The Eagles have run the ball successfully when the circumstances have dictated; Football Outsiders' advanced metrics have them near the top of the league in rushing DVOA on 3rd down, and the emergence of LeSean McCoy will enable Reid to rotate his backs to keep them fresh while still executing an aggressive offensive gameplan.

And the Eagles will certainly be aggressive. In fact, no team of this era has been consistently better at blowing out bad teams than the Andy Reid/Donovan McNabb Eagles. The Eagles have won by well over 14 points in all 3 of their wins this year. Over the past 3 years, the Eagles are 3-1 against the spread when favored by 10+ points. They should have been favored by that amount last week, as they proved yet again that McNabb loves to annihilate bad teams. But even more tellingly, last year the Eagles averaged a whopping 24.6 point margin of victory in their 3 wins against teams that went 5-11 or worse. As I've detailed previously, teams with aggressive pass-centric offense and blitz-happy turnover generating defense provide a recipe for blowouts, and the Eagles have borne that theory out the past 2 years. Moreover, Oakland provides the perfect candidate to be blown out. They have lost by increasing margins each of the last 3 weeks--a factor that also led me to predict a Colts blowout of the Titans last week--and have only covered 3 of their last 11 games at home. They have historically shown limited ability to bounce back after a loss, given that, since 2006, they are 22-30 ATS in games after they fail to cover. The Raiders were completely dominated by the Giants last week, and the Eagles compare favorably to the Giants in most respects, particularly since Eli Manning only played the first half last week. I expect a similar blowout this week, and anything less than a 3-TD margin of victory would be a real surprise.


You don't have much margin for error when the line is 14 points, and I guess there's a possibility that this could serve as a trap game for the Eagles and that they might not win by enough points to cover. But while this worries me a little bit, the line ultimately seems much too low. The story of this season thus far, both in actual football circles and in the gambling world, has been the death of parity. Indeed, the big favorites--undefeated teams against the dregs of the NFL--have been routinely covering this year. In most years, 14 points might have been a lot, but this year it seems like this line should have been at least 21 points. The first reason was explained above; the Eagles routinely blowout bad teams, like they did last week to Tampa Bay, where they jumped out to a huge lead and never let up.

But perhaps even more importantly, this Raiders team has psychologically and emotionally given up. Their body language reeks of apathy, the Giants were so shocked by their lack of intensity that their middle linebacker compared their game last week to a scrimmage, and analysts around the league are reporting that none of the Raiders care. Their front office is calling teams around the league pondering a firesale of all of their players, and the NFL is investigating their coach for assaulting an assistant coach. In other words, the entire organization is a mess. While there has been some speculation that Antonio Pierce's derogatory comments might fire them up for this week, instead it appears that the players just laughed it off. The team has given up, the head coach is plagued by a preposterous lack of credibility, and I simply can't see any reason they have for fighting a blowout. Once the Eagles get ahead, Oakland will crumble. And finally, given the fan outrage surrounding the Raiders, playing at home will hurt, not help them. Eagles win big.

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