Sports

The Eagles are 2-0, but they don’t look like a Super Bowl contender

After coming up just short in last year’s Super Bowl, the Philadelphia Eagles are 2-0 in this young season. For Eagles fans, this might seem like a sign their team is destined for another Super Bowl run, or at least deserves to be considered one of the top championship contenders. However, a closer look at the numbers reveals that Philadelphia’s early success may not be as promising as it appears.

Let’s start with the Week 1 win over the New England Patriots. The Eagles jumped out to a 16-0 lead by the end of the first quarter, thanks to a stellar performance by their defense. Darius Slay secured an interception on the Patriots’ first drive, returning it 70 yards for a touchdown. The following snap, Jordan Davis forced a fumble, setting up a short score that further padded the Eagles’ lead.

But while the defense was showing out, the Eagles’ offense struggled to find its rhythm. Quarterback Jalen Hurts had difficulty pushing the ball downfield, with only one pass play exceeding 15 yards. Philadelphia’s running game also struggled, averaging just 3.9 yards per attempt on 25 carries. Philly’s offensive woes were further compounded by a late-game fumble by Hurts, which could have proved disastrous had the defense not bailed him out. The team’s 38 percent success rate — the rate of plays that either moved the chains or improved Philadelphia’s chances of scoring — marked the worst performance by the Eagles’ offense since Hurts took over as the starting quarterback in Week 14 of the 2020 season. It was also one of the luckiest wins from the opening week of the season.

The Bucs and Eagles were the two luckiest NFL teams in Week 1

A Thursday night Week 2 win against the Minnesota Vikings was also concerning, despite Philadelphia’s success rate improving to 56 percent. Hurts completed 18 of 23 passes for 193 yards, a touchdown and an interception, managing a success rate of 37 percent on passing plays. D’Andre Swift, meanwhile, barreled through Minnesota’s defensive line, tallying 175 rushing yards on 28 carries. Notably, the Vikings had four fumbles and lost all four, a perhaps fluky turn of events that cost them an estimated 14 points. The Eagles won by six.

The good fortune has obscured real problems for Philadelphia. Last year, the Eagles finished with the third-best offense and third-best defense after adjusting for strength of schedule, per defense-adjusted value over average, a metric that measures efficiency by comparing every play to a league average based on situation and opponent. This year, the Eagles are 13th in both categories. Philadelphia has been forced into three-and-out situations far more often than in the first two weeks of the previous two seasons. The team’s points per drive, plays per drive, yards per drive and red-zone efficiency are also down.

Instead of looking at Philadelphia’s record as an unblemished 2-0, we can look at how likely they were to be 2-0 based on their performance in the first two games. After stripping out the role luck played in those two games by adding or subtracting expected points added — the difference in expected points before and after a play, revealing how much a play contributed to or detracted from a team’s scoring potential — the Eagles’ performance indicates just an 18 percent chance of being 2-0. That’s the lowest of any of the league’s nine undefeated teams, although the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are close at 19 percent. But the Buccaneers were expected to struggle this season, while the Eagles were considered elite.

Why should we care how lucky an undefeated team has been? After all, a win is a win. But there are warning signs when teams win more games than the underlying numbers would have suggested. NFL teams that were fortunate to be 2-0 are more likely to have limited playoff success. The 2016 Minnesota Vikings, with just a 16 percent chance, were the luckiest team to start 2-0 since 2002, when the league expanded to 32 teams. They ended up missing the playoffs. Those Vikings were the only squad over the past two decades more fortunate to be 2-0 than this year’s Eagles. If we look at the luckiest 20 teams to be 2-0 from 2002 to 2022, almost half of them (nine) didn’t qualify for the playoffs. Four of the 20 lost in the first round. Three lost in the divisional round, but two of those — the 2008 Carolina Panthers and 2011 Green Bay Packers — had a bye past the first round, leaving them with without a playoff win. Four more of the luckiest 20 made it to the conference championship round or beyond, but the record demonstrates that two fortunate early wins offer no guarantee of future success.

On the other hand, of the 20 most deserving teams to be 2-0 since 2002, just four missed the playoffs and five made it to the Super Bowl.

And yet the Eagles remain among the top three choices in the betting markets for eventual Super Bowl champion, with a price of about +750. Only the Kansas City Chiefs (+600) and San Francisco 49ers (+700) have shorter odds. Time will tell if the Eagles’ performance can match their record, making them legitimate contenders in the NFL. Until then, it’s best to approach their success with cautious optimism.


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