I'll try to stay out of the way of Grizz's preview of this week's matchup, by looking at a few stats and some history. Hopefully I won't step on his toes; he normally looks at different things than what I'm going to talk about, so I should be okay.
This Year's Matchup:
The current betting line has Dallas by three. Taking into account the normal home field advantage of about three points, the current betting equilibrium believes Dallas is six points better than the Eagles. What you should know is traditionally Dallas has an enthusiastic following in the betting world, and that has caused frequent overinflation of point spreads in the past.
The Sagarin ratings are a sound way of looking at how teams have performed relative to their competition in a given year. They take into account location, margin of victory and how well their opponents have done. It's not a perfect system, because it doesn't take into account all variables, and there's a fair amount of variance on the numbers, but it does give you a good overview of how teams are doing. Right now, Dallas is ranked as the third-best team in the NFL, with a value of 26.78. Even though Philadelphia is 3-4, they are ranked as the tenth best team, with a value of 22.60. When one takes the home field value of 3.22 points into account, that would mean, based on past performance, Dallas would be slightly more than a one-point favorite.
The Sagarin ratings also take trends into account. Dallas is predicted to be holding about the same, as 26.70, but Philadelphia is forecasted to be significantly improving to 24.77. If one takes these trends into account, and gives the Eagles their 3.22 home field advantage, the Eagles would actually be favored by a little more than a point.
More food for thought. Dallas has been starting very slow, and finishing strong. The Eagles are the exact opposite, outscoring their opponents in the first half, but getting outscored in the second half. I think staying close will be important in the first half of this game.
The Eagles are a notoriously slow-starting, strong-finishing team. They were 5-6 last year, after the Colts annihilated them, and they looked like toast, but then won their final five, including in our house. We beat them in 2003 to improve our record to 4-1 and drop theirs to 2-3, but they won nine straight and finished 12-4.
Also, Andy Reid holds a 7-1 home record against Dallas since he's been the Eagles' head coach, and the only loss was that miraculous 21-20 come-from-behind victory two years ago. He's won three close games, including a meaningless 2004 contest after they had locked up NFC home field advantage, and four double-digit margins of victory. It's been a very tough place for Dallas to play this decade, and until we prove we can go into their house and dominate them, or even just play well, I think it's ill-advised to assume this will be an automatic victory, or worse, that we'll walk all over them.
They still have a very good team with an outstanding defense, and McNabb is just starting to get healthy. I see this as a dangerous game, probably the riskiest of the next three. I know we have much more firepower on offense, with a better offensive line, and an offensive coordinator who thinks on his feet. I know our defense is deeper, more athletic and better coached than any time in the last decade. This game still makes me the most nervous. If we win--I expect it to be a very intense, hard-fought game--but if we win, we will have for all intents and purposes consigned them to fighting for a wild card slot. Overcoming a four game lead with eight to play will be next to impossible, if we continue playing like we have. But if we lose, they will have climbed right back into the division race, and the ghosts of the last decade will start to reappear.
Okay, I don't want to make everyone nervous; I think we have a pretty good shot at winning this game, just because we're so much better than in years past. I just can't see us winning a 37-10 blowout, and if we win, I expect it to be close.