April 22, 2015
The Eagles' schedule is out, and now that I've had a chance to digest it, let's take a look an analytic look (or perhaps over-analytic look) at the advantages and disadvantages of it.
First a snapshot of the schedule, courtesy of the Philadelphia Eagles, for reference:
• The Eagles' 2015 opponents have been known since December, so we already knew what their strength of schedule was, but we'll note it here once again anyway. The teams the Eagles will face in 2015 had a combined record of 121-134-1. It is the 10th easiest schedule in the NFL. The teams the Eagles will face in 2015 had a combined point differential of -155 in 2014. While there are certainly some surprise teams that go from being good to bad, or bad to good one year to the next, more often than not the good teams stay good and the bad ones stay bad. The idea that the NFL is enormously unpredictable is overblown. Here's a chart showing every team in the NFL and how many wins they had in 2013 vs 2014:
|Team||2013 wins||2014 wins||Change in wins|
19 teams had a change in wins of 2 games or less, and many of the teams with the biggest changes (Texans, Panthers, Saints, 49ers, Jets, Packers, etc) were very predictable, based on their individual circumstances. The NFL isn't this insane parity machine it's made out to be. The Eagles only have to play six games against teams that had a winning record a year ago, which is good, considering they've failed to beat many good teams in the last half decade.
• Six of the Eagles' first seven opponents had losing records in 2014. In theory, it's better to get the bad teams on your schedule early. You already know they'll likely be bad, whether they're banged up or not. Meanwhile, when you play the better teams later, there's an increased chance you'll play a team missing a key player on their roster, like the Eagles had in 2013 when they beat the Packers sans Aaron Rodgers. (Not that we'd ever advocate rooting for injuries, of course).
• The Eagles will not face any teams coming off their bye week in 2015. In 2012, they had to face four teams coming off their bye week, and lost all four.
• The earliest you can get a bye in 2015 is Week 4. The latest is Week 11. The Eagles' bye week is Week 8, which isn't perfect, but we'll call it a win because it isn't too early in the season. Players view early season byes as a waste. The later in the season you can get them to rest injured bodies, the better. You certainly don't want to get a bye Week 4.
• The Eagles' bye also comes at a very opportune time. The Cowboys will have to play the Seahawks Week 8, while the Eagles rest up for their Week 9 game in Dallas. The Cowboys having to play Seattle the week before is especially noteworthy. Last season, there was a stretch of 10 consecutive opponents who lost the following week after playing the Seahawks. Here's that list of teams:
|Seattle played...||The following week that team...|
|Rams||Lost 34-7 to the Chiefs|
|Panthers||Lost 28-10 to the Saints|
|Raiders||Lost 41-17 to the Broncos|
|Giants||Lost 16-10 to the 49ers|
|Chiefs||Lost 24-20 to the Raiders|
|Cardinals||Lost 29-18 to the Falcons|
|49ers||Lost 24-13 to the Raiders|
|Eagles||Lost 38-27 to the Cowboys|
|49ers||Lost 38-35 to the Chargers|
|Cardinals||Lost 20-17 to the 49ers|
Teams playing the Seahawks the week before not only lost a lot of games, but a number of them lost to really bad teams. Two of them lost to the Raiders, and overall, the above teams lost by an average margin of about 12 points.
• The Eagles play on Thanksgiving, which is a disadvantage we'll note below, but they get 10 days to gear up for the Patriots the following week. The Pats, meanwhile, have to play in the high altitude in Denver the week before they face the Eagles.
• The Jets play on Monday the week before they face the Eagles Week 3, giving them one less day of prep.
• The three game home stretch in December is very favorable, and the one road game following that home stretch is a short drive up the turnpike to the Meadowlands.
• The Eagles barely have to travel at all. Here are the distances to their road opponents in 2015, in flight mileage:
|Road opponent||Flight mileage (one-way)|
|Giants (East Rutherford, NJ)||No flight|
|Jets (East Rutherford, NJ)||No Flight|
|Redskins (Landover, MD)||No flight|
|Patriots (Foxboro, MA)||278|
|Lions (Detroit, MI)||440|
|Panthers (Charlotte, NC)||449|
|Falcons (Atlanta, GA)||667|
|Cowboys (Dallas, TX)||1300|
Of course, those cities aren't exactly fun destinations for sportswriters, but the short flights are good for the Eagles.
• The Eagles Week 1 game is in Atlanta on Monday night. Starting the season on Monday is of no benefit at all. You have all summer to prepare for Week 1, so that extra day is meaningless, and then you have a short week of prep for Week 2.
• Playing on the road on Thursday is difficult, as your preparation time is severely limited. The Eagles play on the road on Thanksgiving for the second consecutive Thanksgiving, this time in Detroit.
• The Redskins get 10 days to prepare for the Eagles before their Week 4 matchup, and the Cardinals have 10 days to prepare for the Eagles before their Week 15 matchup. However, the Cardinals do have to travel from the west to play a 1 p.m. start on the east.
Obviously, the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages. The NFL schedule makers were indeed very kind to the Eagles this year.
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