The New England Patriots will get their chance to exact revenge on the Philadelphia Eagles. But this time, they’ll have to go through Carson Wentz.
Some NFL teams have been slow to embrace analytics. With the deep player-tracking era now upon us, the skeptical could get quickly left behind.
There’s no reason to rely on eye tests when player-tracking technology can assist with injury returns, and the Eagles are leading the way.
The young quarterbacks were out of this world in 2017 — before ACL injuries ended their seasons. Bill Barnwell details what to expect in 2018.
Folks, this is our annual foray into certainty. While ESPN’s Football Power Index, like all projections, works in a world of probability, today we take our model’s predictions and mold them into cold, hard facts.
If you want to see our regular projections, you can find them here.
Last year’s version of this story connected on five of eight calls — if we generously grant ourselves full credit for having the New York Jets draft Sam Darnold at No. 3 overall instead of No. 1.
But now, back to 2018 and the redemption story of those pesky Patriots. …
1. There will be a Super Bowl rematch
The Eagles and Patriots are on a collision course for another showdown, with each bringing back the key elements that brought them to Minneapolis last season. For Philadelphia, it’s a stacked roster, from Fletcher Cox to Alshon Jeffery to Brandon Graham, along with four-down fiend Doug Pederson. For the Patriots, it’s Tom Brady, Bill Belichick — and then nothing else seems to matter after that.
FPI makes each the favorite in their respective conference to reach the Super Bowl, and, if you want to know the actual probability of the matchup, it’s 7 percent — higher than any other.
As for who wins? Well, Philly, get ready to party again.
So why even play the season? We already know who wins!
Just kidding, this isn’t the NBA.
The model is opting to side with old reliable Philip Rivers over the Patrick Mahomes Mania that has swept the nation. After all, the Chargers had the fifth-most efficient offense (expected points added per play, with garbage time weighted less) a season ago.
One way for the Chargers to help themselves and this prediction? Rely more on Rivers — and less on Melvin Gordon. As Warren Sharp has pointed out, the Chargers’ eagerness to run on first-and-10 has hurt them. Last season Los Angeles ranked third in expected points added per play on pass plays on first-and-10 and yet passed in those situations at only the 24th-highest rate. The Baltimore Ravens passed more, and their quarterback is Joe Flacco!
Hunter Henry’s and Jason Verrett’s season-ending injuries are implicitly considered here, but if Chargers-itis continues, FPI may ask for a mulligan on this one.
3. Jimmy G and San Francisco 49ers won’t have a winning record
At some point, Jimmy Garoppolo is going to lose. In fact, it will happen at least eight times in 2018 if he stays healthy. FPI knows that while Garoppolo has been incredible (career Total QBR of 77.8), the sample is so small that it’s only reasonable to bet that he won’t be quite the same player in the long run.
Bill Barnwell has you covered on the long answer on what we know and don’t know about the quarterback in Santa Clara, but in general FPI thinks of Garoppolo as a well above average option among starting quarterbacks.
But because of the aforementioned small sample — and therefore the uncertainty about Garoppolo’s ability going forward — the model prefers players like Wentz and Dak Prescott, who have lower career Total QBRs than Garoppolo but have a narrower range of outcomes.
We’re talking no more than five wins.
And yes, these are the same Bills that squeaked into the playoffs last year. But you know what? Things change in the NFL awfully quick. Heck, there’s enough luck that the same set of players can have drastically different seasons if they played two back-to-back with the same roster. And frankly, the Bills weren’t that good last year. In terms of total efficiency, they ranked 17th.
And this isn’t the same players, anyway. The Bills jettisoned capable quarterback Tyrod Taylor, violating the unwritten (but should be written) rule that going from one good quarterback to zero should generally be avoided. Maybe Josh Allen will pan out, but there are some troubling signs based on his performance in college.
Keep in mind: Taylor’s numbers were down a bit last year, but his career Total QBR is 60.6. It seems safe to project that the Bills more likely than not will have worse production than that at the most important position in the sport.
5. The New York Giants will regret passing on first-round QBs
Technically, FPI doesn’t know how the 2018 NFL draft went down. But in order to justify selecting Saquon Barkley ahead of Sam Darnold or Josh Rosen, presumably those in the war room in the Meadowlands had to think Big Blue would be a real contender in 2018, even with Eli Manning at quarterback.
Assuming that’s the case, FPI thinks that was a severe misjudgment.
The Giants are almost twice as likely to draft in the top-five next year than they are to reach the postseason in 2018. Yikes.
Manning hasn’t cracked the top 20 in Total QBR since 2015, and now he’s 37 years old.
6. The Ravens will make the playoffs
Special teams play doesn’t matter — as much as offense and defense.
But it actually does matter, and we do have some ability to predict it, even if it’s more variant than the other two phases of the game. And it’s special teams that will help put Baltimore back in the postseason (it certainly isn’t Flacco). FPI considers the Ravens’ special teams to be worth almost a full point per game over an average unit. That’s after John Harbaugh — a former special teams coordinator, mind you — coached up his squad to finish in the top-four in special teams efficiency three years running.
And, heck, last year we predicted the Kansas City Chiefs would make the playoffs on the back of their special teams unit, and they did. So this one is guaranteed to come through.
Adam Schefter details the latest on Philadelphia’s QB situation as it chooses between Carson Wentz and Nick Foles as the starter for Week 1.
7. The New Orleans Saints’ defense will revert to its old ways
New Orleans’ defense was a nice story in 2017. For once, it wasn’t a mega-liability the way it had been in 2016 … and 2015 … and 2014. Drew Brees and Alvin Kamara are good enough that all they need from the other side of the ball is mediocrity. And frankly, mediocrity was what they got — New Orleans ranked 19th in defensive efficiency during the regular season. Like we said, that’s good enough to make the Saints one of the best teams in football!
But FPI just is not buying the turnaround going forward. It thinks New Orleans is a playoff team — don’t get us wrong — but that it will get there via the best offense in football and the second-worst defense in football. Hey, at least the worst defense in football — the Bucs — is in the same division.
8. The Jets will draft Ed Oliver
It worked last year with the Jets, so let’s try this again.
There’s more reason (well, one big reason) for optimism for the Jets this season, but FPI doesn’t believe in hype. It treats all rookie quarterbacks the same, so if you are 100 percent certain Darnold is the next Joe Namath, feel free to ignore this pick. But otherwise, join our model in thinking that the Jets have another very rough year in store for them. After all, the Jets may have Darnold, but the rest of the roster is lacking, which is why FPI gives the team the highest average projected draft pick in 2019.
ESPN NFL draft experts Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay both rate Oliver as the best overall prospect in next year’s class, so we’re preemptively awarding him to the Jets with the first overall selection in next year’s draft.