The NFL is a quarterback driven league, and QB play (both good and bad) was the difference in the vast majority of games played this past weekend. In this week’s Wiseguy Report, I’ll take an overview of some of the ongoing QB situations in the NFL. The goal? Identify undervalued and overvalued quarterbacks (and therefore, teams) to wager on or against during the stretch run of the season.
Let’s start with the biggest injury of the weekend, when Cincinnati Bengals star Andy Dalton went down with a thumb injury after making a tackle following a red zone interception on the Bengals first drive. Dalton has developed a well-deserved reputation as a bet-on QB in the regular season, despite his repeated postseason failures. This has been, by far, his best year as a pro. Dalton had a 106.3 QB rating when he got hurt, well above his previous career best of 88.8. He’d thrown a career low seven interceptions and averaged a career high 8.4 yards per attempt, spreading the ball around to Cinci’s bevy of skill position weapons. It’s an impact injury, for sure!
Former Alabama QB AJ McCarron got his first meaningful NFL action following the Dalton injury. McCarron didn’t settle for dinks and dunks, taking his fair share of shots down the field, throwing for 288 yards, while connecting on completions of 20 yards or more with four different receivers. McCarron looked fairly poised in the pocket despite a difficult situation – trying to come from behind, using a one dimensional pass heavy attack – although he did throw a pair of interceptions. And his post-game quotes were encouraging.
"You have to embrace [the situation]. I love it. You have to love pressured moments. That's where the great ones really shine. I guess Tom Brady was in the same situation when he had the opportunity. I've got to make the most of it and do my job each week. I know we have an unbelievable defense and if we don't turn the ball over, we have a great chance...I stepped in, and I have to play better. I'm going to play better. I promise you that."
The Bengals entered Week 14 as the second healthiest team in the NFL according to Stats Inc., missing only 62 games (as a team) for the entire season – only Miami had suffered fewer injuries. The Bengals didn’t have to put a single player on season ending IR until after Week 11. But with Dalton’s injury, a concussion sidelining stellar TE Tyler Eifert, and numerous players limping off the field for extended stretches of that physical loss to the Steelers, Cinci’s health took a significant turn for the worse on Sunday. Power ratings should be adjusted accordingly!
Another starting QB to get knocked out of the game was Indianapolis Colts backup Matt Hasselbeck. With regular starter Andrew Luck still ailing (no potential return date has been announced), should the injury woes to the oldest starting quarterback in the league be serious, the Colts will be down to ineffective third stringer Charlie Whitehurst, who completed just two passes for ten yards with an interception in his eight attempts on Sunday. Whitehurst has been nothing short of awful in previous stints with the Chargers, Seahawks and Titans, all of whom moved on from him rather quickly.
Hasselbeck hurt his ribs and his neck in Indy’s 35 point loss to the Steelers last week, and he took some big hits on Sunday. The final blow to knock him out of the game for good is being called a rib injury, even though he came up holding his shoulder.
Head coach Chuck Pagano: “He took a couple good shots there. Still basically the ribs that he's dealing with. We'll know more (after the MRI)... We’re all going to come under fire (after two straight blowout losses). We can’t do anything about it. We made this bed. It starts with me and everybody else. We’re in this thing together. This team will stick together, I know that.”
Tight end Dwayne Allen: “We have to man up. We’ve taken our bumps, our bruises and our ass-whuppings the last two weeks. Nobody in this locker room has quit. We have to dig down and grab a little bit of what our mamas and daddies gave us and go out and get the job done.”
Yes, it was only a win over the hapless 49ers, but the Cleveland Browns offense has looked much better with Johnny Manziel behind center than with any other QB on the roster taking snaps. Manziel has been the starter for two of the Browns three wins this year. He threw for a career best 372 yards in his previous start against the Steelers, before his latest round of injuries, benching and off-field drama. Then on Sunday, Manziel was sharp against the 49ers. He threw a single very bad interception, but he also averaged 8.7 yards per pass and competed more than 67% of his throws.
Manziel’s quote: “I've only gotten to play six or seven games. The number is starting to climb but for me, these mean a lot to me. I still have a lot to prove. I feel like I'm just getting started."
The Philadelphia Eagles have won two straight since their Thanksgiving debacle against the Lions, despite getting out-yarded in both contests; enjoying the fruits of big plays on defense and special teams. Let’s not forget that Philly led the NFL by a wide margin in non-offensive TD’s in 2014, more capable than most teams of generating points without their offense on the field.
It’s also worth noting that the Eagles are 6-3 SU in Bradford’s last nine starts, falling off the map only when Mark Sanchez was taking snaps. This Bradford quote sounds meaningful to this bettor: “I feel more comfortable, more confident in what we're doing."
Since a midseason slump saw them lose four out of five, the New York Jets have gotten solid QB play from Ryan Fitzpatrick during their current three game winning streak; their longest winning streak since 2011. (Defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson: “It took us long enough.”).
With Eric Decker and Brandon Marshall both healthy, Fitzpatrick is probably working with the best receiving corps of his career. Coordinator Chan Gailey has the Jets offense ranked in the top 10 right now, showing excellent balance when Chris Ivory has holes to run through, like he did against the Titans on Sunday.
Fitzpatrick has been bouncing around the league since 2005 and a consistent starter since 2008. He’s clearly getting better with age. In 2014 with Houston, Fitzpatrick enjoyed the best QB rating of his career. And his three TD effort on Sunday brought his season total to 25 passing TDs, the most he’s thrown in any season in his career. The Jets are locked in a tight battle with Pittsburgh and KC for a Wild Card berth (all sitting at 8-5 right now). They’ll need Fitzpatrick to continue to play well in order to outlast the Steelers and Chiefs to reach the playoffs.
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