I cannot in good faith tell you that gambling money on Nick Foles is a good idea. No matter the result, you are paying a Super Bowl tax on a backup quarterback. Since 2014, there have been 36 quarterbacks to have at least 800 pass attempts.
From an ANY/A perspective, the passing stat most correlated with wins, Foles ranks 33rd on the list, ahead of just Blake Bortles, the now-benched Trevor Siemian and the now-benched Brock Osweiler.
Specifically, Foles has struggled the most in the red zone. Foles’ ANY/A of 4.36 in the red zone (100 dropbacks, 316 yards, 15 touchdowns and four interceptions) is the worst among the 41 quarterbacks with at least 50 pass attempts in the red zone since 2014. Fifteen touchdowns and four interceptions may sound like a good stat line until you realize how throwing in scoring range influences touchdown percentage.
To put 15 touchdowns to four interceptions into perspective, Marcus Mariota and Tom Brady have thrown a combined 137 touchdowns to just six interceptions over this same time period.
On top of a low scoring average, Foles is also a relatively risky option as an interception threat in the red zone.
Among those 41 quarterbacks, the average ANY/A for passes attempted in the red zone since 2014 was 7.03, meaning that playing Foles on 100 passing plays was equal to losing 268 yards relative to the average quarterback. In short, Foles in the red zone is like throwing short of the average NFL quarterback by three yards a play.
Even in the red zone last year, the Philadelphia Eagles got around this flaw in his game by throwing the ball to him from the goal line for a touchdown in the Super Bowl. In their entire Super Bowl run, only 12 of the Eagles’ 94 points came from Foles touchdown passes inside the red zone, despite the fact that most offensive touchdowns are scored from eight yards out or shorter.
In short, the Nick Foles Super Bowl run was unsustainable because he was unable to prove that he has overcome a career flaw: red zone quarterbacking.
At the same time, he is being given credit as a competent quarterback with this minus-2.5 line. It’s worth noting that Atlanta’s defense is one of the most athletic in the league, one which limits long touchdowns.
If Atlanta can erase long scores, which it has done well, and outscore Philadelphia in the red zone, which we should believe based on Foles’ history, then why exactly should the Eagles be favored here? If a ball bounces off a knee differently in the playoffs last year, we aren’t even having this conversation.
Don’t pay the ring tax.
Atlanta (+2.5) @ Philadelphia
If you’re someone who wants to believe in the Los Angeles Chargers but gets bit in the ass every single year, you’re not alone. Every year the stats say they should be coming around until the bullets start flying and we start asking ourselves the same questions as the year before.
One thing that is becoming very apparent, though, is that Philip Rivers has been adjusted to by frequent opponents. Since 2015, the Los Angeles Chargers are 4-14 against divisional opponents straight up.
Over that time, Rivers has dropped back 707 times for 4,500 yards, 28 touchdowns and 21 interceptions. That leaves him with an ANY/A of 5.82 against division opponents, roughly equal to the passing efficiency Josh McCown posted last year. Reminder: the New York Jets couldn’t wait to give Teddy Bridgewater a contract and draft Sam Darnold (who they gave up three second-round picks to move up three slots for) to ensure that McCown didn’t start Week 1 this season.
Against non-division opponents? Rivers has dropped back 1,201 times for 8,621 yards, 62 touchdowns and 23 interceptions. That is good for an ANY/A of 7.35, which was better than any starting quarterback in the league last season.
It’s not even subtle — Rivers looks like the best passer in the sport when he’s not playing against common opponents, but he plays like a below-average starter against division rivals. Common opponents is a trend that strongly influences certain passers, including Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton.
It’s smart to realize what Rivers’ situational splits are and lean into them. Truthfully, maybe a team with Rivers that has lost 14 of their last 18 against divisional opponents should be a full three-point favorite in this slot? By the way, Kansas City is a league-best 16-2 against divisional opponents over the last three years.
Kansas City Chiefs (+3) @ Los Angeles Chargers
At home early in the year, the Broncos are Nick Saban’s Alabama. There’s no other way to explain the phenomenon over almost five decades of football. Last year, they went 2-0, including a game off a short week, just to finish 3-11, showing us how different of a team they can be in and out of this split.
In the end, it is just foolish to think that conditioning at the elevation that Denver plays at would not be a factor early in the NFL season.
Had you blindly bet that Denver would have won by three points in every single home game in the first two weeks of the season since 1970, you would have only been wrong 16 times out of 59. Since moving to their new stadium, the team is 19-1. Accept the power of early season Denver and profit.
Seattle Seahawks @ Denver Broncos (-3)
What exactly have the Tennessee Titans done to be road favorites?
On offense, their best addition is Dion Lewis, a running back who may not start this season. On defense, they added cornerback Malcolm Butler, who the Patriots benched in the Super Bowl, linebacker Rashaan Evans, who arguably plays the least influential position on that side of the ball, and Harold Landry, who is talented but, like Lewis, is coming off the bench in their current lineup.
If this is basically the same team that looked lost against New England in the playoffs, and frankly were lucky to be there in the first place, then why should they open the year as road favorites?
While I do not think Miami is a great team, this line is broken. Remember, no quarterback who has started as many games as Jay Cutler has been as bad against the spread as him. Getting even average quarterback play (Ryan Tannehill’s specialty) makes the Dolphins more respectable, even if they are not a playoff team this year.
If this game were in Tennessee, this line suggests that the Titans would be a full touchdown favorite over Miami when you account for a three-point line swing on both ends for home-field advantage. In reality, there’s really not that much of a difference between these teams from a power ranking standpoint.
Tennessee Titans @ Miami Dolphins (-1)
Cut from the same cloth as the Tennessee-Miami game, we have another broke line with Cincinnati-Indianapolis. We know that the stat projection community basically believes that Andy Dalton and Andrew Luck are going to be equals, with Dalton usually having the edge, in passing efficiency this season.
Outside of Luck to T.Y. Hilton, the only thing to get excited about on the Colts’ roster this year is their offensive line. Unfortunately, a retirement of Jack Mewhort, a former second-round pick, opened up a bit of a hole on that line.
While Indianapolis has had to tap into depth, the Cincinnati Bengals’ defensive line may be one of the best in the league this year. Under tackle Geno Atkins and defensive end Carlos Dunlap are staples in the NFL as they continue to drink from the fountain of youth. Andrew Billings, a young defensive tackle, has shown out this preseason. Top-100 picks defensive ends Jordan Willis and Sam Hubbard can keep their teammates fresh for third down. Carl Lawson, a fourth-round pick who had three sacks as a rookie against Green Bay last year, could start for most NFL teams.
The only interesting parts of the Colts team are negated by the fact that Cincinnati has a better unit than them in contrast. While William Jackson III is not often talked about as a top cornerback in the league, he may be a better cornerback than Hilton is a running back.
You don’t want to overreact to the preseason, but Luck posted just a 78.1 passer rating this preseason. It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone if it takes him a year, after not throwing in an NFL game since 2016, to put it back together.
At this point, it’s hard to make the case that the Colts “win” in the passing game or running game on either side of the ball right now. Treating the Bengals and Colts as equals, as this line suggests, is not just.