It seems like the Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants are the most popular picks to win the NFC East in 2017. I get it. The Cowboys are coming off a 13-win season while the Giants won 11 games and beat Dallas twice last year.
But just because these teams were good in 2016 doesn’t mean they’re bound to replicate that success this year. In fact, both teams are actually among the NFL teams most likely to decline in 2017. ESPN’s Bill Barnwell recently explained why metrics indicate New York and Dallas are poised to take a step back.
First up, the Giants.
New York’s defense made up for the fact that the offense was trash last year. That defense was much-improved from a unit that was historically awful in 2015. This kind of sudden improvement isn’t always sustainable, as history tells us.
The New York defense improved from 30th to second in both points allowed and DVOA, which is unprecedented in the case of the latter. The previous record was a 27-rank jump, which was pulled off by the 2011 Jaguars. The following year, the Jags fell all the way back to 28th and didn’t bound back up toward league average until 2016.
That’s an extreme example of what Bill James called the Plexiglass Principle, but teams who suddenly improve like the Giants did often give back some of their gains. Sixteen teams preceding the Giants improved their DVOA rank on defense by 20 spots or more between 1987 and 2015. Those teams declined the next year by an average of just over eight spots in the rankings.
The Giants still have a good deal of defensive talent, so it’s hard to expect them to be suddenly bad. But they could regress a…
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