We are so very early into the 2021 NFL season, but that hasn’t stopped any of us from letting our minds run away from us. At present time the Dallas Cowboys sit at 1-1, but with games against some inferior opponents coming up before the bye, it’s natural to wonder if America’s Team can be sitting at 5-1 or 4-2 during their week off.
What makes Philadelphia, Carolina, New York, and New England not-exactly-intimidating, though? That group includes an undefeated team, two at .500, and one who has yet to win a game this season. Our preconceived notions about them go a long way at establishing how we view them as threats, but how can we confidently say that the Cowboys should win those games over the next month and a half?
Starting this week we will be taking a look after every round of games at the Cowboys remaining schedule with a unique twist. We will be looking to see what the Cowboys advantages (or potentially disadvantages) look like from an offensive and defensive EPA standpoint after every week of NFL games.
The Dallas Cowboys look like they are going to have an advantage on offense in most games
It is important to remember that we are only at Week 3 which means that our sample size is set to grow by 50% this week. Understanding that caveat, there is no denying that the Cowboys have an advantage on most of the field that they are playing against when it comes to their offense.
EPA stands for Expected Points Added. On offense, every play has an EPA value that is calculated; essentially how many points it added/was worth based on the current circumstances of the moment (down, distance, field position). The higher a play’s EPA the more beneficial it is to the team’s offense.
On defense things work the same way, just in the opposite direction. You are hoping that your defense (in this case the Cowboys) generates a negative EPA per play value which would mean that they are contributing negative points to the opposing offense.
With all of that being said, here is how the rest of the Cowboys season looks like with their offensive and defensive EPA per play relative to how their opponents are currently stacking up (this data was gathered prior to the Panthers game on Thursday night).
The dotted grey line represents the current Dallas Cowboys offensive EPA per play (.126) where the blue dotted line represents their current defensive EPA per play (.033). The solid lines indicate where their opponents are currently at through this point in the season.
We are comparing colors to colors here so the dotted grey line (Cowboys offense) against the solid grey line (opponents’ defense) and the dotted blue line (Cowboys defense) against the solid blue line (opponents’ offense).
From an offensive standpoint the Cowboys do have an advantage in just about every game remaining. Their EPA per play outranks the defensive EPA per play of every opponent remaining save for the Carolina Panthers and New England Patriots. Obviously the Patriots are difficult to overlook based on who they have been historically, but the Panthers are a bit of a paper tiger right now. They have pitched shut outs in the first halves of each of their two games and have a strong chance to do so again on Thursday night against the Houston Texans, the overall point is that they may be a bit of a mirage.
On the other side of this coin the Cowboys only have an advantage right now when it comes to their defense EPA/Play against another team’s offensive EPA/Play in two games - against the Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints. The Saints are such a difficult team to figure out given their wide-ranging results over the season’s first two weeks, but right now the Falcons are a bit more obvious. They are very not good.
As the season goes along we will obviously learn a lot more about every team on the Cowboys schedule and about the Cowboys themselves. But for now it is interesting to look at where the team is theoretically better than everyone they are going to play, it is certainly a different lens to look at things through than just wins and losses.