The Philadelphia Eagles have been favored to win the NFC East in 2012 by several different odds-makers. The question is, should they be?
Somewhat surprisingly, the Eagles have been declared the favorites in several different ways already. Sportsbook has opened with the Eagles being favored to win the NFC East while Vegas Insider has the Eagles as 12-1 favorites for winning Super Bowl XLVII, better odds than any other NFC East team.
So, it appears that most gambling operations seem to think the Eagles will be the best team in the division and one of the best teams in the conference and/or league. Odds-makers make a living on identifying what teams stand the best chance of winning so they don’t lose too much money if and when these teams win.
These are pretty lofty expectations for a team that finished 8-8 in 2011 and failed to make the playoffs. What could the odds-makers be looking at to make them see the Eagles as one of the top contenders?
For starters, the Eagles have the best division record over the past three seasons. Against NFC East foes, they have gone a combined 13-5 during regular season matchups over the past three years.
In contrast, the Giants have gone 10-8, Dallas has gone 9-9 and Washington has gone a putrid 4-14 against the division. So while the Eagles have only won the division once in this three year span (2010), they seem to have the other teams’ numbers.
And when you can beat the teams in your division with regularity, it boosts up your odds of winning the division. This is probably the key stat in which the odds-makers are considering because, not coincidentally, the order of the records of each of the teams in the East coincide with their odds to win the division (Eagles, Giants, Cowboys, Redskins).
However, there are other reasons to think the Eagles will be the team to beat even though the Giants are the defending Super Bowl champions.
The Eagles ended 2011 with a four-game winning streak and many people thought they were one of the hottest teams to close out the season. The perception is/was that the team finally started play like everyone thought they would after all of their offseason star acquisitions.
Then, you take into consideration what the Eagles have done this offseason to further improve upon what they were building last year.
There have been a few additions by subtraction in getting rid of Vince Young, Steve Smith and Ronnie Brown. They have also tremendously improved team morale by re-signing and/or extending several key players.
Furthermore, the Eagles added a blue-chip linebacker in Demeco Ryans and followed that up with an outstanding draft that should fill any lingering holes in the team, and then some.
The Eagles also finished 2011 ranked the highest in offense and defense in the NFC East as well as in the top 10 in the NFL. They finished fourth overall in total offense and eighth overall in total defense, as per NFL.com.
In comparison, this is where the rest of the NFC East teams finished in the rankings: Giants (8th in offense, 27th in defense), Cowboys (11th in offense, 14th in defense) and Redskins (16th in offense, 13th in defense).
As you can see, the Eagles are the only team in the division ranked in the top 10 on both sides of the ball.
We can also take a look at the talent level on each team in the division and see how they stack up. Below are my personal rankings based on a mix of observation and stats (i.e., they’re not based solely on stats):
Wide receiver: (1) Giants (2) Eagles (3) Cowboys (4) Redskins
Running back: (1) Eagles (2) Giants (3) Cowboys (4) Redskins
Quarterback: (1) Giants (2) Eagles (3) Cowboys (4) Redskins
Offensive line: (1) Eagles (2) Giants (3) Cowboys (4) Redskins
Defensive line: (1) Eagles (2) Giants (3) Cowboys (4) Redskins
Linebacker: (1) Redskins (2) Cowboys (3) Giants (4) Eagles
Cornerback: (1) Eagles (2) Giants (3) Cowboys (4) Redskins
Safety: (1) Giants (2) Redskins (3) Eagles (4) Cowboys
Overall offense: (1) Eagles (2) Giants (3) Cowboys (4) Redskins
Overall defense: (1) Redskins (2) Eagles (3) Giants (4) Cowboys
Special teams: (1) Giants (2) Cowboys (3) Redskins (4) Eagles
Some of those rankings may leave you wondering a little bit, but like I said, that’s how I see it and I based them off of watching the teams play, stats from NFL.com and PFF stats.
Even though I have the Redskins ranked lower in most defensive categories except linebacker, I still see them as having the most “complete” defense and they play very well as a unit, which is why I have them ranked first in overall defense.
Otherwise, out of the 11 categories I have ranked, the Eagles lead the way with five No. 1 rankings in the division in that respective category. The Giants come close with four, and for the most part, it’s back and forth between New York and Philly.
However, even though I actually labeled them, some of these rankings are extremely close. With the exception of the woeful Redskins, I actually see the Eagles, Giants and Cowboys as having talent levels all within the same talent spectrum.
I don’t see any one team as head and shoulders above the rest. The only area that comes close to there being a wide margin of talent level is at running back. LeSean McCoy is worlds better than the rest of the NFC East ‘backs.
Out of the division, the Eagles have had the best offseason so far to supplement what they had in 2011. The Redskins have made several additions to try and better their team and could be the surprise team in 2012.
With Robert Griffin III on board and a very good defense, Washington may be ready to move out of the basement and into second or third place.
The Giants could end up suffering from a Super Bowl hangover, although the last time they won the Super Bowl they followed that by winning the division the next year. However, they’ve lost a few players this offseason and haven’t made any real additions so far.
The Cowboys are always a wild card. What team will show up? They always seem to have good talent but it is never consistent on the field. And their head coach is still largely unproven.
Coaching, by the way, is what could ultimately decide who comes out on top in a tight divisional race. Tom Coughlin leads the way as he has two Super Bowl wins on his resume, but he also has a history of his teams folding down the stretch.
Andy Reid, once again, has a chance to break free of the “good, but not great” stigma that has described his career in Philly. If the Eagles are to win the East and make some noise in the playoffs, Reid will have to be on top of his game in 2012.
In looking forward to how the teams will play in 2012, the Eagles are clearly the team that has the best combination of talent, potential and motivation. Not that the rest of the teams don’t have these same ideals, I just see there being a stronger sense of urgency in Philadelphia.
The NFC East is a very competitive division. Two of the past three years there have been two teams that finished with the same record and last season three teams finished within one game of each other.
However, the Eagles are the team that has made the right moves this offseason to give them a leg up on the competition.