Posted on January 18th, 2009 at 11:59 am by Cheesesteak Hoagie
There were a couple years there where “NFC Championship Game” was a phrase that had a certain “High Ankle Sprain” set of connotations for me (and I suspect many other Eagles fans). By the time the Birds actually won one, we’d already suffered enough through enough disappointments — none more cruel than the loss to Tampa, that was the effing worst — in those games that the resulting emotions were more about relief than elation.
Well, well, well — doesn’t that feel like a long time ago!
Am I going to feel relieved if things go the Birds’ way this afternoon? No way! I’m going to be giddy. Am I nervous as the game approaches? Sure, but there’s no sense of dread or fear. I actually couldn’t be more excited about seeing what happens. For the first time in a long time (well, at least since the Phils won, but still…), I will approach a big Eagles game with nothing but cheerful anticipation.
(I know, I know. Crazy. But I really do almost feel like a normal, rational human being about this game.)
I imagine that a lot of the good vibes here have to do with the part where I don’t think the Eagles will lose. Certainly we’ve been shocked before, but this time my heart and my head are agreeing on things.
What I’ll be shouting about:
It’s the defense, stupid. The Eagles certainly can’t win without playing well on offense, and casual fans tend to focus on the skill position guys (dudes they might know from their fantasy team or the highlight reel), but if you’re paying attention to the team at all, you get that the Birds are rolling because of their defense. Right? Everyone gets that? Points allowed over the past seven games (most recent game first) = 11, 14, 6, 10, 10, 14, 20. As noted yesterday, passer ratings allowed over the past seven games (most recent game first) = 40.7, 45.4, 55.8, 65.7, 28.3, 73.5, 65.7. This is the best Eagles defense since 1991. That’s not a bad asset to have heading into the NFC Championship game.
Further along with the defense-matters line of reasoning. The charming folks at Cold, Hard, Football Facts (CHFF) have a statistic called Defensive Hog Index that has correctly predicted the outcome of 18 of the past 19 NFL playoff games (the only one it missed was the AFC Championship from last year, when the #7 Pats beat the #5 Chargers). The Defensive Hog Index:
The top defensive front is that which posts the highest average rating across the board. The Defensive Hog Index is based upon these criteria:YPA – Yards Per Attempt. So simple, even you can understand it. This rates a defense’s ability to stuff an opposing ground game.NPP% – Negative Pass Plays, expressed as a percentage. This is how often an opponent’s pass plays end in either a sack or interception. Defenses that get after the quarterback and overwhelm the opposing offensive line naturally force sacks and INTs. These negative pass plays are calculated as a percentage of attempts. So if a team forces two sacks and two INTs in 40 pass plays, their NPP% will be 10 percent (4/40).3down% - Opposition success rate on third down. The lower the percentage, the higher the defensive success.
As an FYI, the Birds are ranked 2nd and the Cardinals are ranked 17th. The Steelers are actually #1 and the Ravens #3 (the Vikings were #4 and the Giants #9).
Speaking of, for those who are overly concerned about the Eagles’ offense. Note the rankings of the Vikings and the Giants above. While the Cardinals’ defense has played well in recent weeks, it will be the worst-rated defense that the Eagles have faced in the playoffs. Certainly that must bode well for the Birds.
I hope being three-point favorites hasn’t ruined the “Nobody Respects Us” thing. In a moment of extreme weakness, I attempted to watch the Donovan McNabb Show on PE.com. It’s definitely worth a quick look, if only for the intro sequence, which includes on-field footage from just before the start of the Giants’ game last Sunday. They have this bit where Dawkins goes around the horn with the other guys in the secondary and explains to each of them why the Giants don’t respect them (”Hanson, you’re too small to play football — THEY DON’T RESPECT YOU!” and so on). It’s very worth it. (Bonus sideline audio: I really liked hearing A.J. Feeley making the case against the intentional grounding call in the footage on Inside The NFL. Very solid.)
Looks like there will be chances for the kids to shine. Like the Vikings, the Cardinals are crap in the return game (good details at the FO NFC Championship Preview). DeSean Jackson scored TDs in the state of Arizona the past two years in college…that has to count for something, no? And Quintin Demps might feel at home in the Southwest? I’m reaching here, but the bigger point is that the indicators point to a big play in the return game.
This counts as a home game for McNabb. Finally, a chance for Dunavin to play in front of his neighbors and friends: people who love him, not like those jerks back in Philly who are always complaining and criticizing. The important thing is that McNabb remain focused on how much everyone in Philly hates him and how the only way to really stick it to those losers is to play really really well and win again.
Also, let’s not pretend that we don’t like that sly smile from B-West. I dunno, if Brian Westbrook is saying things like the following,
On how he feels right now: “I feel great.”
On whether today was the most he’s practiced all week: “Yes.”
On how the knee feels after practice: “It feels good.”
On whether it feels better than last week: “Yes, I would say better.”
On what has changed that his knee feels better: “It just feels good. I don’t know what it is.”
On whether it’s something about playing the Cardinals that makes his knee feel better: “I don’t know if it’s the Cardinals, I just feel good right now.”
Then we can’t feel too too terrible about how he might play in this game? Sure, he seems gimpy, but, well, maybe he has one more big game in him?
The only letdown is for the fans. In the early part of the week, I was concerned that this had the potential to be a letdown game for the Birds. GCobb was chasing this as well. But after listening to the team all week, I don’t think this’ll be the case. I think the Birds will be appropriately focused. For me, well, yeah. This is a letdown game — the Giants game was the biggest one I could imagine. But luckily I don’t actually play.
Actual game prediction. I think the Eagles will win because their offense is better than the Cardinals’ defense, because their defense is better than the Cardinals’ offense, and because they’re better than the Cardinals on special teams. Puh-retty straightforward. Crazy things can happen, McNabb could turn into a turnover machine, the wideouts could drop the ball like the Washington game, a kickoff could be fumbled and returned for a TD, etc etc. But even if some crazy things go down, I think the Birds will still get it done, and I’ll be making travel plans for Tampa by the end of the afternoon. Eagles 27, Cardinals 17.
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