ColdHardFootballFacts.com breaks down Sunday's Philadelphia at N.Y. Giants game (1 p.m. ET, Fox).
Week 15 is the biggest yet of the 2010 season, with huge games up and down the schedule that will have an immediate impact on the playoff picture. The biggest game among many is the Glamour Division clash between the Eagles (9-4) and Giants (9-4) at New Meadowlands Stadium. The winner will likely win the always-tough NFC East and will have a legit shot at a first-round bye in the playoffs.
1. The Eagles field the most explosive "Big Play" team in football. The Cold, Hard Football Facts track something we call the Big Play Index. It measures the number of explosive plays each team generates on both sides of the ball, from long passes, runs and returns to interceptions and non-offensive touchdowns.
The Eagles top this indicator in 2010 and they've done it on both sides of the ball.
Quarterback Michael Vick's explosive athletic skills are well chronicled, especially his running the ball. But he's producing big plays with his arm this year, too: 17 touchdowns against just four interceptions, with a career-high 104.3 passer rating (third-best in 2010), and an average of 13.4 yards per completion (tops in the NFL).
Third-year wideout DeSean Jackson leads the league with a gaudy 23.1 yards per reception (42 catches, 972 yards). His 91-yard touchdown reception against the Cowboys last week is the longest in football this year, topping his 88-yard score against the Redskins in Week 10. He's on pace to become the first player since Flipper Anderson in 1989 to top 40 receptions and 23.0 yards per catch.
Second-year running back LeSean McCoy is fresh off a career-high 149 rushing yards last week at Dallas, averages a Jim Brown-esque 5.28 YPA on the ground and in his spare time leads the Eagles with 70 catches (ninth league-wide).
Philadelphia, meanwhile, averages an incredible 5.32 yards per rush attempt -- the most explosive running game in the NFL.
What, not impressed?
Consider that the 2010 Eagles are on pace to become the seventh best rushing team in pro football history:
1. 1963 Browns -- 5.74 YPA2. 1954 49ers -- 5.65 YPA3. 1963 Chargers (AFL) -- 5.57 YPA4. 1997 Lions -- 5.51 YPA5. 2006 Falcons -- 5.47 YPA6. 2007 Vikings -- 5.33 YPA7. 2010 Eagles -- 5.32 YPA
As a result of all these playmakers, the Eagles are No. 1 in total Big Plays (55), No. 1 in total offense (402.8 YPG) and No. 2 in scoring offense (28.8 PPG).
Philly also makes game-changing Big Plays on defense. The Eagles have grabbed more interceptions than any other team in football (22), led by Asante Samuel's NFL-best seven. The 2010 season could be the third in the cornerback's eight-year career in which he's led the NFL in picks. Philly also tops the NFC in turnover differential (+15).
Bottom line: Philadelphia wins because it outflanks, outguns and outruns opponents with its explosive playmakers.
2. The Defensive Hogs are the heart and soul of the Giants. The Super Bowl XLII champion Giants remain one of the great anomalies in NFL history. They had little statistical business winning the Super Bowl.
Quarterback Eli Manning was a below-average passer that season, with a 73.9 rating while leading the league with 20 INTs. The defense overall was fairly ineffective, surrendering 21.9 PPG -- 17th in the NFL that year and the second most points surrendered a Super Bowl champion. The Giants went 10-6, tied for the worst record ever by a Super Bowl champion. And they certainly had no shot to beat the 16-0 Patriots.
But they did.
And the 2007 Giants won the Super Bowl because they were very, very good in one area: they fielded the best defensive front in football, as ranked by our Defensive Hog Index. And in particular, the 2007 Giants got after the passer, forcing opponents into sacks and picks on 11.8 percent of drop backs. Only the Chargers were better that year. The Defensive Hogs proved their worth against the Patriots in the Super Bowl, making life miserable for record-setting Patriots passer Tom Brady and holding the highest-scoring offense in NFL history to 14 points.
Flash forward to 2010, and we're seeing the same scenario unfold in the Meadowlands.
Quarterback Eli Manning is once again merely average, with an 86.1 passer rating, He once again leads the NFL in INTs, this time with 19 picks through 13 games. The defense in 2010 is good, but not great, surrendering 19.2 PPG (ninth).
And once again, Big Blue is led by its defensive front. The Giants this year are No. 2 on our Defensive Hog Index, just a smidge behind the Chargers. More importantly, Osi Umenyiora (team-high 10 sacks) and pals get after the quarterback better than any bunch in football.
New York entered Week 15 with a league-high 39 sacks (the Chargers surpassed the Giants with a six-sack effort Thursday night against San Francisco). More importantly, the Giants lead the NFL in forcing what the Cold, Hard Football Facts call Negative Pass Plays: 11.66 of opponent drop backs end in a sack or interception, the highest rate in the NFL, and nearly the same exact rate of mistakes forced by the 2007 champs.
Bottom line: most teams win because they have great quarterbacks. The Giants win because their Defensive Hogs dominate the trenches.
3. The Giants might live to regret their Week 11 gaffes against Philly. And the Eagles might live to regret their flat Week 12 against Chicago. Giants quarterback Eli Manning has cost his team dearly with bad picks -- are there any other kind? -- at bad moments. As noted above, he leads the NFL with 19 interceptions.
And, in particular, his disastrous fourth quarter cost the Giants a potential win against the Eagles back in November, in a game that would have dramatically altered the entire NFC East playoff picture. Manning threw three picks that day and simply fell apart with two of those INTs and a lost fumble in the final five minutes of what was a one-score game.
He was picked by Asante Samuel late in the fourth quarter, but got a gift when the Philly cornerback fumbled the ball back to the Giants. Handed a second chance, Manning fumbled the ball away four plays later. The Eagles took over at their own 40 and quickly iced the 27-17 victory with a final field goal. Manning fired another pick on a final desperation drive.
The game should have been a springboard for the Eagles and part of a six-game win streak right now. Instead, Philly came out flatter than an old bottle of Yuengling Lager against Chicago the following week. The Bears struck for a pair of first-quarter touchdowns and never looked back. They carried a 31-13 lead into the final frame, before Philly rallied with 13 too-little, too-late fourth-quarter points. It was Philly's worst defensive effort of the season, allowing Chicago QB Jay Cutler to throw a career-high four touchdowns.
The worst part for Philly is that the loss to the NFC North leaders may prove the difference between a first-round bye and a third or fourth seed. After all, Chicago holds the head-to-head tiebreaker and would enjoy the week off ahead of the Eagles.
The Giants, meanwhile, took care of business against the Bears back in Week 4 with a 17-3 win. So the G-Men are happy to settle for the head-to-head tiebreaker should the first-round bye come down to it. But that advantage over the Bears probably won't matter if New York drops a pair of games to the Eagles.
Love the ground game? Eagles-Giants should give you plenty to cheer about.
Philly's defense actually bottled up New York running backs Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs back during the Week 11 encounter. The tandem combined for just 39 yards on 17 carries that day -- nearly half of them on a single 17-yard run by Bradshaw.
But the two Giants have been on fire otherwise. Their combined totals make for one hell of a season: 344 attempts for 1,809 yards, 5.26 YPA and 16 TDs, still with three games to go.
And they absolutely punished the Vikings Monday night: Bradshaw and Jacobs combined for 219 yards on 25 carries. That's an incredible 8.76 YPA. And the Vikings, for all their problems, boast a great run defense. They entered the game with the third-best run stoppers in football (3.58 YPA).
The Giants, meanwhile, enter Week 15 with an average of 4.87 yards per attempt on the ground. Only the Eagles, and their historically prolific rushing attack, have been better here in 2010.
The Giants have lost five straight games to the Eagles. But it's hard to see them playing as poorly this week as they did during their earlier meeting. After all, Philadelphia needed five turnovers (and a +3 margin) to carry the day.
It's hard to see the Giants coughing the ball up so many times again. And it's hard to see the Eagles stuffing Bradshaw and Jacobs in back to back games. If the NFL has proven anything, it's that a performance between two teams in one meeting simply does not replicate itself in the next meeting.
Look for the New York ground game to regain the lead in the NFC East with in a conservative game plan that limits Manning's opportunities to make mistakes against the league's top intercepting defense. Look for a triumph of smash-mouth football over the league's most explosive gamebreakers.
N.Y. Giants 27, Philadelphia 24
(Week 14 prediction: New England 26, Chicago 21. Result: New England 36, Chicago 7.)