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ESPN Football Power Index Predicts 8-8 Record For Giants

Will the Giants break .500 in 2017?

NFL: New York Giants at Philadelphia Eagles James Lang-USA TODAY Sports

ESPN’s analytics team has released its 2017 NFL projections, called the FPI (Football Power Index).

The FPI predicts the final record for every team and ranks how it thinks they will finish in the division.

For our purposes, the FPI is predicting that the New York Giants will take a three game step backwards, finishing 8-8 (8.2-7.7), and come in second in their division, with a 22.6 percent chance of winning the division.

Unsurprisingly, they are also predicting that the Dallas Cowboys will win the division (46.4 percent chance), with a 9-7 record (9.4-6.6).

The Giants are ranked 11th overall by the FPI, while the Cowboys are sixth.

About the NFC East as a whole, ESPN’s analytics team says:

The Cowboys are looking to become the first repeat champion in the NFC East since the Eagles won four consecutive titles between 2001 and 2004, and FPI gives Dallas a 46.4 percent chance to do so. "The field" of the Giants (22.6 percent chance), Eagles (19.3) and Redskins (11.7) collectively has a higher probability than the Cowboys (53.6), so don't bet against the title changing hands yet again.

But how did they arrive at that conclusion? Well, ESPN don’t give out the formula(s), but it does offer a glimpse behind the curtain.

For starters, “EPA” or “Expected Points Added” is used as the basis for predictions. Essentially it is a measure of how good an offense is (or was), based on how many points per play they have.

One of the analysts behind the FPI had this to say about what they’ve found about offense and defense in the NFL.

As I expected, performance from past seasons is a strong indicator of performance in subsequent seasons. However, to my surprise, offensive performance tends to be noticeably more consistent from season-to-season than defensive performance. The NFL is a QB-driven league, which contributes to this trend.

These two factors — the consistency of offensive performance and inconsistency of defensive performance — are likely the two biggest reasons why the FPI has the Giants falling back to earth after a resurgent 2016.

The Giants’ winning record was based almost entirely on the strength of their defense, a defense that until recently was bad. Under both Perry Fewell and the first year of Steve Spagnuolo’s return, the Giants’ defense was porous against both the run and the pass. Even this time last year, the defense wasn’t expected to be anywhere nearly as good as it became.

It’s only natural that an analytic based on models from past performance will predict a regression to the mean. They simply don’t have a long enough track record (yet) to balance out the bad years.

However, this defense is talented, and it has the rare privilege of keeping almost its entire defense together. There have been some losses, such as Johnathan Hankins and Leon Hall, but what was a smothering defense is largely intact. They might even be adding talent overall with the return of Jason Pierre-Paul and Darian Thompson, not to mention the further development of many of their younger players.

On the flip side, the Giants’ offensive ineptitude last year seem to weigh heavily on the FPI. Last year the Giants were plagued by breakdowns in protection, predictable and limiting formations and play-calling, and poor play.

First-year head coach Ben McAdoo took the bulk of the criticism for the offensive scheme — after all, it is his offense and he called the plays. But it is fair to wonder whether, or rather how much, he was constrained by the players at his disposal. This offseason they have worked to change the offense, which could have a noticeable impact on the scheme. They have brought in bigger, more physical players like Brandon Marshall, Rhett Ellison, and D.J. Fluker, while parting ways with older, less effective players like Victor Cruz and Rahsad Jennings.

The NFL is a quarterback driven league, and the signal caller is the most important player on the team. That does lead to a certain expectation of offensive consistency when that player is the same year-in and year-out. But the quarterback is also part of a team, and that team impacts the quarterback’s play as well as vice versa.

Elsewhere, it’s (likewise) easy to see why the FPI likes the Cowboys. Their offense is built for consistency. Built on a bruising rushing attack, they can score points, wear down defenses while hiding their own defense. That rushing attack is built on a big and athletic offensive line that functions like a well-oiled machine.

However, that machine has a couple new parts. Right tackle, and veteran of the group, Doug Free has retired, and left guard Ronald Leary went to the Denver Broncos in free agency. They will have to replace them, and right now Chaz Green and La’el Collins seem to be the front runners. However, Collins has been inconsistent as a player while Green has dealt with injuries throughout his career. It would be folly for the Giants to assume the Dallas offense would be in any way diminished, but it might also not be as consistently dangerous as it was in 2014 and 2016.

Final Thoughts

So, will the FPI be correct and 2017 will see the Giants fall back to mediocrity?


And considering that the FPI is a stats-based prediction, it’s a reasonable conclusion. However, sometimes stats lie and this could be one of those times. It’s entirely possible — even likely — that the Giants are establishing a new trend of reliably good play on the defensive side of the ball, and have made the moves to correct at least some of the flaws that plagued their offense in 2016.

No team has repeated as the winner of the NFC East since 2003 and 2004, well over a decade ago. Giants’ fans have good reason to be more excited this year than in years past, and this is one case where past performance may not accurately predict the future.