One team in NFL history has made the playoffs after starting a season 1-5, the 1970 Cincinnati Bengals. That team actually started 1-6, before winning the final 7 regular season games to stun NFL power Cleveland, who had joined the AFC that season with the merger. However, an 8-6 record, or it’s equivalent of 9-7, will probably not be enough to get the Eagles in the postseason. They already have a home loss against the Giants, a team 2 games in front of them for the last playoff spot. The Eagles probably need to sweep the Redskins, currently leading the division, to surpass them.
One potentially encouraging thing is that they haven’t been blown out, and have only been outscored by 7 points all year. However, when I went back and looked at the “best” teams to start 1-4 by point differential (and this would apply to Minnesota as well, which has outscored opponents for the year after the Cardinals’ blowout), they don’t contain teams that turned it around. Of the top 20 teams in point differential since 1978 to start 1-4, only one of them, the 1989 Saints, finished the season with a winning record (9-7).
In a further illustration of how performance in close games doesn’t carry over, those teams went 6-66 in games decided by a touchdown or less in the first 5 games. They went an even 52-52-1 the rest of the year in close games. However, they still only won 40% of their games overall for the rest of the season. If you are 1-4 with a decent point differential, it’s because you won one game by a large margin, and lost close games. The median result (close loss) was more indicative of the team quality going forward than one big game.
That said, looking at yards, rather than point difference, at least gives more hope for the Eagles. The Eagles are -10 in turnover margin, another notoriously fickle indicator, while outgaining each opponent this year but failing in the red zone and with turnovers. 11 teams since 1978 have outgained opponents by at least 400 yards in the first five weeks, while posting a losing record. Those teams averaged 6 wins over the final 11, and two of them made the playoffs (1990 Eagles, 1990 Oilers). The Eagles are a good candidate to bounce back, but simply winning more games than they lose at this point won’t be enough.
The other issue is that same yardage rationale applies to Dallas, except I think Dallas is better at it. Dallas is 2-2 against a much tougher schedule, and with outgaining opponents more, even with key injuries at receiver and in the secondary over this stretch.
This week, though, the Eagles must win against the Redskins. One hidden positive? They play well in D.C. Several years ago, I looked at the effect of both distance and temperature differences between cities in regard to home field advantage. Divisional opponents who are in close proximity and both play outdoors show very little home field advantage when they play each other.
The Eagles and Redskins are separated by less than 140 miles and generally play in the same conditions. Over the last decade, the road team has won 13 of the 20 meetings, going 14-6 against the spread. Just last year, the Redskins won in Philadelphia in an upset, and then the Eagles destroyed the Redskins in Washington when Vick played the best game of his career.
Philadelphia won’t be playing a typical road game for them, and they should be able to bounce back if they can avoid the costly turnovers. I’m making a bold prediction that the Eagles win this game outright and stay alive, tightening the East race. If they don’t, it is likely too high a hill to climb. If they do, they still have to shore up the defense, or they will be looking at more 8-8 and frustration about what could have been.
[photo via Getty]