Earlier this season, Giants head coach Ben McAdoo said "statistics are for losers." If this were baseball, his anti-saber comment would have been derided by a large segment of beat writers and game observers. But this is football, and a lot of statistics (that would seem to predict a team's wins and losses) are actually useless predictors.
In advance of Thursday’s matchup between the 10-4 Giants, who can clinch a playoff spot with a victory, and the 5-9 Eagles, who have been eliminated from postseason competition, let’s look at some of the following stats and try to guess which of these two teams it describes.
This team leads the NFL in time of possession (32:29) and second-half time of possession (17:07), which would seem to reflect a winning team that is trying to run the ball and protect its leads in the second half.
This team leads the NFL in average starting field position after kickoff (27.9), as well as in opponent starting field position after kickoff (22.4), which would seem to reflect a team with great special teams.
This team has registered the NFL’s fourth-lowest percentage of three-and-outs (17.4 percent), behind only offensive juggernauts like Washington, Atlanta and New Orleans.
This team ranks fifth in the NFL in red zone efficiency (47.7 percent), behind only, um, the Giants, Panthers, Steelers and Colts.
So, yeah, this is a team that controls the ball, consistently starts drives with great field position (while pinning its opponents relatively deep), sustains its offensive drives better than 87.5 percent of teams, and has one of the best red zone defenses in the NFL.
Yeah, that all describes the Eagles, who have lost five straight games after starting out the season 3-0.
All those stats are courtesy of the game notes provided by the Eagles’ media relations team. And they highlight how little we can really glean from many statistics that would seem to be positive indicators.
Frankly, in a late-season NFC East matchup at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, you can pretty much throw the stats out the window anyway. The Giants have everything to play for. The Eagles are a battered animal playing for pride and the opportunity to screw things up for a hated opponent. This one will be frothy.
Statistics aside, here are some things we should and should not look for in this matchup.
Look for: Victor Cruz to return to the spot on the field where he suffered a knee injury that kept him out of action for nearly two years.
Don’t look for: Cruz to catch his second touchdown of the year and his first since the season opener.
Look for: the Giants to continue splitting carries between Rashad Jennings and Paul Perkins.
Don’t look for: commentators to discuss McAdoo’s brilliant offensive play-calling.
Look for: the return of Eagles right tackle Lane Johnson, who is coming off a 10-game PED suspension.
Don’t look for: Giants defensive end Romeo Okwara to have much success rushing the quarterback against Johnson.
Look for: how well McAdoo is communicating the plays to Eli Manning.
Don’t look for: the Giants to illegally use a walkie talkie again after doing so when headset communication failed during last week’s game against the Lions.
Look for: Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to step in capably if Pro Bowl cornerback Janoris Jenkins is not able to go because of a back injury sustained in last week’s game.
Don’t look for: the Eagles’ mediocre receivers to threaten anyone deep.
Look for: the Eagles and Carson Wentz to throw screens and swing passes to Darren Sproles in an effort to get the team’s lone home-run hitter into space against the Giants’ lackluster linebackers.
Don’t look for: game-changing plays from Jonathan Casillas, Devon Kinnard, Kelvin Sheppard or Keenan Robinson.
Look for: Manning to hook up with Odell Beckham Jr. for at least one touchdown, as that’s about the only offense the Giants can seem to generate these days.
Don’t look for: Beckham to jump into the discussion for NFL MVP, even though it’s hard to imagine a player being more valuable to his team.