Nelson Signing Proves Eagles Mean Business

Last Sunday, the Philadelphia Eagles — desperate for a cornerback to pair with 2017 All-Pro designate Darius Slay — signed free-agent cornerback Steven Nelson.

The "CB2" position was a major sore point for the Eagles in 2020, but presumably won't be in 2021 now that they have brought Nelson on board (earlier, the Eagles had signed free-agent free safety Anthony Harris, late of Minnesota — so the Philadelphia secondary should be significantly improved from the unit they sent out on the field a year ago, which wasn't very good to say the least).

So the cliches "swing for the fences" and "strike when the iron is hot" would appear to fit the Eagles in their approach to the upcoming season to a proverbial T.

But what makes them feel this way?

The main reason would appear to their schedule: not only do the Eagles play the easiest schedule in the NFL, using static analysis, but using dynamic analysis, they are taking the biggest drop in strength of schedule from what all 32 teams played last year, based on last year's records — and the drop they are taking, a staggering 107 percentage points (their 16 2020 opponents had a .537 winning percentage in 2020, their 17 2021 opponents had a .430 winning percentage in 2020) is the fourth steepest drop in this century/millennium — and as Mark Twain said regarding anyone finding a moral in Huckleberry Finn, anyone who thinks that the 21st Century/third millennium began in 2001 and not 2000 will be banished!

But isn't this just another one of these stats that don't mean a hill of beans?

Hardly. Over the last 21 years, the 22 teams taking the biggest drop in strength of schedule (in 2012, the Rams and the Buccaneers tied for it), improved their records from an average of 4.8 wins "the year before" to 7.8 wins "the year after" — and if one redacts the 2007 Patriots, who finished 16-0 (during the regular season), but then went 11-5 in 2008 after Tom Brady suffered a season-ending injury not even halfway into the first quarter of their Week 1 win over Kansas City, those respective averages become 4.2 and 7.7 — an all-too-convenient three and a half games, since it means that if they merely meet that average, the Eagles will improve from 4-11-1 in 2020 to 8-8-1 in 2021 (Why not? Didn't they play a tie game last year?) on the schedule alone.

Besides the aforementioned Patriots, only two other teams taking the biggest year-to-year drop in strength of schedule since 1999-2000 — the 2016 Bears and the 2019 Bengals — saw their records worsen "the year after" from "the year before." Yet this hasn't stopped numerous pundits from predicting a 4-13 or even a 3-14 finish for the Eagles this season.

It must also be pointed out that since 1999, the Eagles have finished last in the NFC East five times — and on all five occasions, they made the playoffs the following year — in 2000, 2006, 2008, 2013, and 2017, reaching the Elite Eight four times — in '00, '06, '08, and '17, of which they reached the Final Four twice, in '08 and '17 — and, of course, winning Super Bowl LII on the latter occasion for their lone Super Bowl title in franchise history.

And with the defending NFC East champions, the Washington Football Team, having handed their quarterbacking reins to Ryan Fitzpatrick, who is a Steve DeBerg-like 59-86-1 as a starter — DeBerg, you may recall, was characterized by Bill Walsh as "always playing just well enough to get you beat" (DeBerg was 7-28 in his three seasons at San Francisco, the last two under Walsh) — there is clearly an opening for the Eagles, considering that Daniel Jones is looking more like a bust every minute (he's 8-18 as a starter) and questions still swirling around Dak Prescott's health.

Even with the NFC East likely to at least give the appearance of improving in 2021 — instead of the brutal NFC West and AFC North, which they played in 2020, the division will be playing the far more reasonable NFC South (especially with Drew Brees gone) and AFC West in 2021 — it won't take too many victories to win the division.

If the Eagles even marginally exceed the average improvement that teams in the same situation as they are in have managed over the past more than two decades, it should be enough for them to win the NFC East this season.

Plus, if the Eagles do win the NFC East, they will almost certainly get to play either a warm-weather or domed-stadium team at what promises to be a frigid Lincoln Financial Field on the weekend of January 15-16 — and such teams are 24-103 in postseason games played at northern, outdoor stadiums since the first such game was played in 1950, leading to a likely trip to the Elite Eight for the Eagles, and with it, Coach of the Year honors for Nick Sirianni, whose hiring to replace the fired Doug Pederson was greeted with a mixture of astonishment and derision.

And at 75-1 to repeat their Lombardi Trophy of four years ago (courtesy of William Hill — about as authoritative a source as it gets), did someone say "bet-hedging opportunity?"

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